As usual, I am reading far too many things at once.

Yulia and I are signed up for a class on Sunday. This particular class is Primal Move, which comes from the folks associated with DragonDoor, the home of the Kettlebell system that I use so often, and write about when I’m not lazy as hell.

Several natural-movement based systems have sprung up in the last few years. You can count in there the barefoot running, minimalist shoe movement, MoveNat, and Primal Move, is the latest. I particularly like that it has foundations in Grey Cook’s Functional Movement Systems, as well as Krav Maga, and a bunch of other ingredients.

I like to prepare for courses and classes like this. The last class I took at this studio was with Pavel Tsatsouline, and was based on his books Bulletproof Abs and Naked Warrior. I already had those books before the course, and I re-read them before starting the course.

So when we signed up for this, I took time on the Primal Move site (primalmove.com) and read interviews with the founder, Peter Lakatos (who I was familiar with from Russian Kettlebell training). He mentioned Grey Cook, Kettlebells, and several other inspirations for the system, one of which is the book Play by Stuart Brown M.D.

Naturally, I had to prep for the course by starting to read this.

I’m about halfway in, but It is such an absorbing and moving read that I have been really amazed with every page. There are a lot of motivational elements that I have found as I have followed a Paleo diet over the last year or so, and the lofty idea of getting back to the general roots of the human animal has been one of the most basic yet strongest elements.

At our core, we are all animals, and whether we like it or not, we thrive best in an environment that fits in with out mind, body and soul, as opposed to trying to bend the world in a way that we don’t fit into ourselves. Animals trapped in unnatural zoos slowly go mad, and we aren’t all that different.

The book, Play, addresses one bar in the cage of our human zoo, and works to shatter it, freeing us just a bit. It starts with setting a definition:

Play is a state of mind, rather than an activity. Remember the definition of play: an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.

We should note that purposelessness does not necessarily imply a waste of time. On the contrary, the book goes into detail about how animals, including the human animal, use play on an elemental level to teach ourselves communication, limits, signals, and so many more things in a depth that the modern rote learning can never reach.

The concept that – the opposite of play isn’t work , but instead depression¬†- rings so true. We can learn, work, and exercise all interspersed with play. There is nothing stopping us aside from our preconceived notions of what is the proper or adult thing to do.

We limit ourselves, and what we are willing to do, and how we are willing to act, not by what works or doesn’t, and not by what we want, but more by how we expect to be perceived from the outside. Only to our detriment.

We can live healthier, happier, and certainly more fun lives if we are willing to open up just a bit.

I am looking forward to playing on Sunday. And I am even more pleased that I get to play with my wife.

So I completed my Deadlifting cycle for a bit. That was a ton of fun. (Actually, if you add all the pounds moved, it was well over a ton, but that involves doing a lot of math, so I’ll just round down)

As I have written before, I use Pavel Tsastouline’s Power to the People protocol for Deadlifting. But I was able to have even more fun with this. Over the summer I had picked up Easy Strength by Pavel and Dan John. Easy Strength is an amazing book that details out how to understand and identify your goals for lifting and training, track progress, and set your programs to hit those goals.

I had read through it twice, and found a great protocol that I thought would fit my Goals (general fitness as opposed to sport specific) and it fit both my skills and equipment. The program worked out to be:

2-week Block Training (for a minimum plan of 10 weeks (5 sets))

Block 1: Single-arm Kettlebell Clean and Presses with Goblet Squats
Block 2: Power to the People Deadlifts

If you aren’t familiar with these these things, I’ll clarify.

Block Training is an old training method (very popular in the Former Soviet Union) where different exercise types are organized into Blocks, with a period of two weeks being the most common. You alternate the blocks over a period of several weeks before changing or moving to something new. Each block would differ from the others by either area worked (say, and Upper body block followed by a Lower body block) or it could differ by exercise type (in my case, a Pressing and Squats block followed by a deadlift block) You can run at a fairly high intensity as you recover from one type of work as you change to the other. Also, it lets you combine things in a way that keeps everything interesting.

Kettelbell Clean and Presses are surprisingly less common that I usually think. While kettelbells are very popular via Crossfit right now, most folks out there are just using them for swings (and typically the American Style over-the-head swing. – I follow RKC methods myself). I favor the C&P because when you are handling a large overhead weight on one hand only, then add the inherent eccentric balance of the Kettlebell, you turn an upper-body exercise into a whole-body lift. You need tight Glutes, core, and lats to achieve a good, straight lift, or you just wobble all over the place.

The Goblet Squat is one that Dan John promotes all the time as a way to dial in clean Squat form. Holding a weight out n front of your body, you pull yourself down into a low squat, with elbows resting on the inside of your kneecaps. It is very hard to get out of alignment with this exercise, and it really dials in great squatting form. The Kettlebell handle is a perfect alignment for the grip in a goblet squat, making it a perfect bookend for pressing sets.

With varying weights, this made my sets look like the following:

Block 1:
Single Arm Presses & Goblet Squats

Monday (16kg x 5, 20kg x 5, 24kg x 5) X 4 sets
Wednesday (32kg x 2, 24kg x 5) X 4 sets
Friday (20kg x 5, 24kg x 5) X 4 sets

Block 2:
Power to the People deadlifts

Monday: 185lbs/135lbs
Tuesday: 205lbs/185lbs
Wednesday: 225lbs/205lbs
Thursday: 215lbs/205lbs
Friday: 225lbs/205lbs
Saturday: 235lbs/225lbs

After a Kettelbell week I would see if I felt up to adding an extra set for each day. At the end of a lifting week I would dial back 20 pounds, then add 10 each day. If the set felt too hard, I dialed back a bit.

This progressed fantastically! By the last Kettelbell week, I could get in 5 solid sets, and I was on track to break through a deadlift of 300 pounds. A few days before my cycle completed, I racked up 285 pounds to the bar.

In proper form, I made two excellent pulls. On my third pull, elves snuck in and glued the weights to the floor.

I mean, the bar didn’t move at all.

I was at my body’s limit, so I cut it short. I was well past my Personal Record, I had finished 9 weeks of solid, intense training, made amazing gains, and had no injury. So when my body said stop, I listened.

I took the next two weeks to recover with walking and some light bodyweight. Then is is on to the next challenge…

When I first got the bug up my ass to quit killing myself slowly with the couch, and actually try to get in some kind of shape, I was not motivated by the standard new years resolution, but by the impending doom of MY 40TH BIRTHDAY! It was good motivation.

I had been demotivated from working out so many times in the past, usually because I never saw any results, or I got hurt. Needless to say, this sucked. So I did the thing any OCD-enhanced individual would do, I started reading.

I buried myself in magazines, blogs, books – pretty much everything I could find about effective exercise. Doing some prep work turned out to be a good plan. Through one of my chains of reading I found out about Kettlebells, and the assorted books by Pavel Tsatsouline. In Enter The Kettlebell, There is an entire chapter entitled “It’s Your Fault”.

This was terribly enlightening. The whole section is the opposite of the usual bravado that you read in any fitness writing, and is an admonishment to pay attention and not get hurt. I really hadn’t read that anywhere else, as an explicit fitness topic, and it is one of the things that has kept me buying Pavel’s books.

After that, one of the online friends through the kettlebell forums summed it up better in a single phrase:

“Don’t move into Pain”

Of course, the difficulty in following that advice, is that as you push yourself harder towards a fitness goal, it hurts. You are moving heavier weights, testing your endurance, and frankly, hurting.

It is a fine line between pushing yourself through the hard work, and not injuring yourself. And if you are new at it, it can be a very fine line. For me, fine enough where I ended up almost damaging a tendon in my elbow before I realized that this wasn’t just part of my lifting, but something was wrong. It ended up costing me three months of physical therapy to recover, and probably another three months of starting from scratch.

That was fine. It gave me time to focus and see the difference between stopping before the pain, which is there to warn you about getting hurt, and ignoring the suffering that pushing yourself to the limits causes.

Really, we are actively seeking out that suffering, and trying to drive through it. That’s what makes us stronger – both physically and mentally.

When I did the Livestrong Ride two years ago, it was my first time doing an organized ride of that size. it was 45 miles, of flats, hills, city and back streets. It prepped myself and trained for the distance, but the race day was miserable. It started cold, then once we were part way into the race, started to rain. It was sticky, oily roadspray, with cold, biting winds. my hands froze on the handlebars, and I was sore all over. My lesson to myself as I was on the road was that I could tell that while I was sore, tired, and freezing, I wasn’t actually hurting or in Pain. I was just suffering through a crappy ride. It actually cleared just a bit as I made it to the finish line.

I had nothing left in the end. I could barely walk to the car until I warmed up, but I felt great. The sense of reward and accomplishment was indescribable.

After that experience, I would add an addendum to my earlier advice:

Don’t move into Pain, but feel free to punch Suffering right in the cock.

*Now*, I’m getting sore.

Yesterday I had a chance to attend a 6-hour hands on class led by Pavel Tsastouline. If you read anything I ever write, you would know that he writes pretty much the best Kettlebell and strength training stuff out there right now (unless you are an elite lifter, but that’s a whole separate field.)

These classes were “Bullet Proof Abs” for abdominal work, and “Naked Warrior” for bodyweight work. I already had both of these books, and was interested to go over them in detail. The class was held at Kettlebility in Seattle, and had 20 people or so in attendance. This was great, because Pavel could give us individual attention, and a little nerve-wracking because when Pavel gives you attention you know it.

What Pavel made clear from the start, was that this was a class about learning and practicing concepts, not just exercises. This made perfect sense to me, as I have read most of his books, and all of them lay out some core concept or set of concepts, and then build a system upon it. It is the opposite from most everything I had read up to that point, which was all “Do these 10 exercises!” type junk.

“Strength is a Skill” gets said a lot with Pavel. We heard it in class, and put it into practice. For the first class, we went step by step through how to activate the abdominal muscles in turn, then in unison. We went through several sets of exercises that applied basic principles, then learned how to apply all this into designing your own ab workouts. We did the same for pushups and pistol squats in the second class.

All of this was based on learning basic movements individually, then applying them in unison. pavel went over using these same techniques for lifting and other exercise. I can’t count how many situps and pushups I did over the class time. By the end, we were all wiped out. But the skills we learned were worth it.

Pavel seemed pretty pleased with the class, folks were better prepared than his last class, and listened to instruction as well as can be expected. (at least we didn’t have to do burpees for not listening.)

It was fun, and I learned a lot. I hope I can attend another such class in the future.

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