After Forty Morphing into After Fifty

In the last year I have been more or less consistent with the training for GS style snatch. The more I think about it, the more I believe that girevoy sport is one of the better choices of exercise for people of my age group. GS is a compact sport, both from the point of view of space and time it requires to keep the trainee fit and reasonably strong. Ten minute snatch with 12 kg is not an impressive feat, but it is similar to a vigorous run: it gets you out of breath, makes you sweat and sends your heart rate up. Add to it couple of heavier and shorter sets plus a few barbell circuits - and you get a very nice workout.

I started this blog in the middle of 2008. During that time my allegiances changed several times, and my training ADD got me switching between girevoy sport, barbell squats and deadlifts, bodybuilding DoggCrapp-like routines, running and cycling several times. Still, I keep coming back to girevoy sport. My current goal is to be able to snatch 24 kg for 10 minutes, and I think I am on the right track. 

Recently I went through the posts of this blog. Things changed since started it in 2008. Girevoy sport is old news now. OTW wars are over, the arguments on Irongarm don't happen anymore, and even jokes about the boredom of GS are rare these days. I like it this way.

Anyway, I went through posts and realized that I put a lot of effort in this blog. And it is not a bad place to get information about girevoy sport. Obviously, hiring a qualified coach beats everything, but if you want to train on your own this blog can give you lots of tips. The only problem is that theoretical posts are mixed with my training log, which is neither exciting not exemplary.

I don't have the heart to delete my training posts and don't have the patience to back them up. I decided to start another blog, transfer posts which I think are useful and continue publishing interesting stuff and my own thoughts.

As I am now fifty-something the address of the new blog is  Anyone who's interested in girevoys sport is welcome. 

Tweak recovery time

After the workout on the 7th of June, where I did snatches with 26 kg bell, I felt some pain on the left side to the thoracic spine. Felt sort of as someone stuck a small knife in there. The pain was worse on deep inhalation and during some movements of the torso. A tablet of Feldene, and the next day I didn't remember about this. 

On the 10th I started another session, and within 10 minutes the pain returned. I tried to make it an easy workout and limit it to long sets with 12 kg snatches. Six minutes with the left hand was ok, but one minute with the right made me very sore. I stopped, and this time it took more than one NSAID pill to get better. 

Now, two weeks after the event the matters are not better. Moderate pain is there most of the time, it gets worse when I move in a certain way or when I sneeze. 

Day before yesterday I did some simple lifting - a few sets of light front squats, pull-ups and some KB pullovers, and I am sore. One activity which doesn't aggravate the pain is cycling, and I have been using the bicycle fair bit. 

I am planning a complete lay off from kettlebells for the next three weeks. Incidentally, this Thursday I am leaving for holidays. Re-evaluation on return. 

Transition template

Transition is the key to any endurance sport. For example, if you want to prepare for a 10 km run you start with building the volume to a reasonable level, say 5 km, and then increase the speed for that distance. The logic being that running fast for 5 km prepares you for slower run for 10 km. Alternatively, you can train to jog 10 km and then increase the speed while running this distance every training session. 

The downside of the latter is clear: you quickly run into the dangerously high combination of volume and intensity and run the risk of injury. On the other hand you get used to 10 km runs, and during competition just have to make an effort to run it fast. 

The former method is probably safer, but it does not expose you to the competitive distance, and on the big day it may turn out to be too much. 

The trick is to combine several methods, and one of the popular templates, Run Less Run Faster includes interval sessions, lactate threshold runs - distances shorter than competition but long enough, at the speed higher than competition run, and long slow distance runs, slower and longer than competition distance. Eventually though one of these modalities will be dominant in terms of determining progress, and some runners will tell you that for them, for instance, intervals were most useful for increasing competition speed. 

The OTW debates are pretty much over. Girevoy sport has grown a lot among Western amateurs, and it is now possible to make a few conclusions regarding most productive training. That's what I think. 

Ten minute sets with competition weight every session for double bell lifts - jerk and long cycle - are not productive and may lead to injury. As discussed earlier in this blog, intensity in girevoy sport, besides the weight of the bells, is also determined by the duration of the set. Twenty jerks done in five minutes are more difficult than the some number of reps in two minutes, simply because of the increase of time under load. That's why training templates usually involve a progression over the microcycle, both in terms of weight and the duration of the set, ending with one ten minute set. 

Snatch is physically a more merciful lift, obviously, because you're lifting one bell instead of two, though the number of reps for snatches is higher than for double lifts. At the same time snatch is most technically demanding. So it makes sense to do long sets with light bell every session: ten minutes or even longer. 

I've been training with Rudnev since November and so far am happy with the progress. The session typically consists of a shorter set with heavier bell, followed by ten minute set with light kettlebell in gloves. Gloves serve double purpose: they protect the skin of the palms from high volume to prevent tearing calluses and they force you to watch the technique, because your grip is weakened by slippery gloves and fatigues rapidly if you're sloppy or forcing the reps. 

Every session includes some sort of circuit and aerobic training. According to Sergey, one kilometer run equals 100 bodyweight squats (so I have this excuse to avoid running). 

From what I can tell about my progress I feel these long sets with light bell are most productive for me. In November I could hardly last 10 minutes in gloves with 12 kg. Today I did 10 minutes with 17 kg, 59 and 69 reps with the left and right hands, respectively. Over a few months I can feel my technique improving. My back used to nag me after snatching even 12 kg for time, now it feels good. In December my grip was close to failing with 12 kg, and my forearms were seriously painful for a few minutes. Now the grip is holding well, and I am not close to failure. These long sets taught me how watch my technique every rep. Mistakes tend to accumulate over couple of minutes, and every one of them should be technically good if you want to last. With long sets you learn to notice the effort of the grip and adjust the technique if it is not up to scratch. 

At the same time these sets are not overly taxing, because the bell is light. If I did max duration with 24 kg bell every time I trained I would burn out long ago. 

What I am trying to say is that for me the transition seems to be happening as the result of long sets with light bell. 

At the same time I don't think I would progress without short sets with heavier bells. These sets prepare you for the competition load (or heavier: today I snatched 26 kg bell) and make you stronger overall. So do circuits; as shatching alone can create imbalance extra exercises - squats, pullups etc. - ensure overall athleticism. 

Recently I also discovered cycling and got hooked on it as well. The circle is complete: heavy snatches, light snatches, barbell and bodyweight exercises and aerobic training. This should help me stay fit in my fifties. 

Competition results

20 kg snatch, 117 reps in 10 minutes.

2nd best in snatch overall (by coefficient).

Quite happy with the result. Got IKSFA Rank 2 in snatch. Next competition is in August in Melbourne. Want to try to get ready to snatch 24 kg.

Unrelated musings on risk management

Just remembered something totally irrelevant to GS, but very useful otherwise. I already mentioned in the last post the guy I met at my friend's 50th birthday, the psychiatrist that sails solo from the UK to Australia. His name is Frank (I have no idea what his last name is though), and he was (still is) my friend's professional tutor.

At the age of seventy four Frank regularly commutes to work on a motorcycle. He is not a novice and has been riding a bike for a long time. I, on the other hand, got bitten by this bug only a few years ago and am an example of a midlife crisis. Well, midlife... I am fifty one now, am I hoping to live until one hundred and two? That's unlikely. They should stop calling it midlife crisis then. In any case, in men this midlife crisis starts when we turn eighteen and never ends, according to the professional opinion of my psychiatrist friend.

When I spoke to Frank my riding experience was only a few months, and I asked him a few questions about it. Most notably: how to avoid getting killed. When you ask these kind of guys - remarkable - questions you hope for an interesting answer. Frank did not disappoint and gave me the thought that I have been using with my trainees ever since. His answer was: "Ride as everybody around you is a moron and has no idea about traffic rules".

Motorcyclists are vulnerable. Every time I get on mine this feeling of being totally exposed dawns on me. Sometimes I feel the urge to reach for the seatbelt. Because of this vulnerability you have to pay total attention to the process of riding. There is no point of arguing who is at fault when a car doesn't give way: you're the one who's gonna be hurting. So you watch out for those small streets, spot parked cars that are about to stick out their noses in your path of riding, guess which car is going to jump into your lane and so on. And yeah, people make mistakes. Motorcycles are not very visible on the road, and people make mistakes. I make them on regular basis. There is a term for this, SMIDSY: Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You!

What you have to do eventually is to take responsibility for everybody else. You pretend they don't know the rules. You watch them, read their behavior and predict their moves. You also position yourself in such a way on the road that these guys are not close enough to you to do harm. For instance, you never ride on a highway next to a car: you're likely to be in its blind spot, and when the driver decides that there is a gap to jump into and does not notice you - you get hurt. So you either stay slightly behind this car or ahead, so that he can see you. You make yourself noticeable by moving from lane to lane, or weave inside your lane from time to time. When you brake you watch the mirrors to make sure the driver behind you is slowing down too. And so on.

I though it was a good advise. Then I though some more and realized that this advise can be extended to everything else in life. In short it means to take more responsibility. Don't take things at face value and don't expect everyone to know the rules. Before jumping at the pedestrian crossing, why not check if the driver of the approaching has actually noticed you and is slowing down. When you get investment advise, why not do a bit of homework and spend some time at research. Instead of complaining about your financial adviser when the investment goes belly up. Read the small print in the contract; it can take an hour to get through the legalese, but may save you a lot of stress later.

Another, probably less politically correct, but very important example: the slutwalks. In 2011 during the talk addressing campus rape at York University constable Sanguinetti of Toronto blurted something along the lines of "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized". As expected, this caused a storm. Before women start throwing rotten tomatoes at me let me say this. Of course, obviously, without a doubt I agree, that the way the woman dresses or behaves does not give anybody the right to rape her. There is no justification for sexual crime. I have two daughters and I sympathize with women who have been sexually assaulted. But... If I go walking to downtown Johannesburg wearing a thick golden chain, flashy golden watch and a few rings, what's going to happen within twenty minutes? I have every right to do that and nobody has the right of robbing me. But every reasonable person would say: what were you thinking! Get my drift?

You can stick to the rules and then play the victim for the rest of your life. Or you can think a little and decide where to go and how to dress. That's true, nobody has the right to assault a girl who turns up in the military barracks full of horny and physically strong young guys dressed in a very short dress with the deep cleavage... Hey, this is your right. But maybe if you think about the consequences, totally unjustified as they are, maybe comparing potential - albeit unfair - risk is not worth the benefit. It is simple risk management. Which, in turn, implies taking some responsibility for the actions of others.

Why, why, why...

It dawns on me from time to time: why am I doing this? There is certainly no pleasure in lifting these things for the whole ten minutes, so why?

Trying to answer this question may lead to the depth of the soul I might not be willing to face. When Rudnev was in Sydney couple of months ago he told me that the most formidable task of a GS coach is to find a sufficiently motivated heavyweight, while there is no shortage of small guys willing to train. This was a bit of a revelation, and this is what I sort of knew all along.

I am not capable of serious extreme feats, but I certainly sympathize with people who do. Climbing the Everest solo and without oxygen, diving to the depths over 200 m, even if eventually it leaves you disabled, extreme speed records on motorcycles, parachute jumping from 40 km, base jumping, climbing without a rope  - all this shit and more, it fascinates me. Someone said: "Life should be savored, not lengthened". I agree. Most of my contemporaries are concerned with longevity. Watch your cholesterol, don't smoke, don't do anything dangerous, sleep well, take vitamin D and calcium pill, see your doctor regularly and you may get to live to one hundred years. Let alone most of this shit doesn't matter one way or another, but one more year, one more month, another fucking day is all that matters.

A friend of mine since medical school, a psychiatrist, recently celebrated his 50th birthday. At the party I have met a colleague of his, another psychiatrist who at the time was 74. There were two remarkable things about that guy. First, he rode a motorbike to work. Two, once every couple of years he flew to the UK where he would buy a sailboat and sail it back to Australia. As he told me: "It is scary to face your own self, and at times during the trip I find myself full of tears and wondering, why am I doing this? But then you know the answer, even though it is impossible to explain it to anybody else".

And that is what drives us to do these externally meaningless things: facing yourself. Most of us, myself included, have no idea about what's going on inside our heads (or hearts for that matter). We have no idea where we are right now. The way we react to events around us are pretty much automatic. Gurdjieff once said that predicting the future is no big deal: your behavior is not likely to change, and five years from now your life is going to be exactly what it is now, with minor variations. It happens sometimes when you arrive home from work you don't remember the actual driving, it was automatic. This is the way we go through life.

And pain is pretty much the only thing that brings you back to yourself. Doesn't have to be extreme pain. Can be some discomfort. Boredom, for example. Boredom is nothing more than the fear of being with oneself. We can't do that, we have to play with the phone, browse through the tabloids (they are written for retards who have interest in other peoples' affairs, but I regularly find myself opening them in waiting rooms), watch some TV show that tries to look like it raises important issues, and so on. Anything, but away from me, my mind, my body.

Pain drives us to do this: it reminds us we're alive. More pain - more alive. "What do you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?" - as per Taylor Durden. Not necessarily a fight with someone else, fighting with yourself is similar. Fighting the desire to put the bells down on the eighth minute, fighting the urge to skip the murderous circuit, or make the rest between the sets longer. Making yourself to pick those bells and start the next long set, which makes you tired after the first ten reps. And then it becomes impossible to escape. Each moment you can think only about what you're doing: fixation overhead, lowering the bells, relaxed rack and the rest of it, whichever lift you're doing. It is your pain, your life, your reality. Re-quoting Pahlanyuk, you cannot deal with this the way dead people do: imagining rain forests and trying to escape into another reality. Face it: maybe God hates you, what are you gonna do about it!

And then again, small guys probably need more pain to remind them of being alive than the big ones...

Training method update

Well, I have been training for competing in snatch since the end of November last year. I am gradually getting better at it, but the progress is slow. The main obstacle to snatching glory for me is the technique. GS snatch, where you have to do lots of repetition, is very, very technical. Typically, limiting factor for GS snatch is the grip, and many trainees fall into the trap of grip training. However, it is other technical aspects that determine how long the grip is going to last. Counterintuitively, for me it now seems that it is how you lower the bell that will eventually determine the number of reps.

Every little detail in snatch technique adds. The position of the hand at the top (the thumb should point more forward than to the midline, as well as the depth to which the hand is inserted into the handle of the bell), of the body (should be deflected), during the initial lowering and the transition of the bell from above to below the wrist (during both the body should be leaned backwards), the position of the hand during the downswing, the timing of the upward pull, the engagement of the trapezius and so on. To get all of it right you have to get help from a coach. I always thought that my snatch was ok, until last April, when I asked Sergej Rudnev to have a look at it: he destroyed all of it without mercy, in about thirty seconds.

From time to time I recall the OTW debates on Irongarm. It was so wrong it is not even funny. Jogging was considered unnecessary, as were static holds, circuits and stretching. All you needed was competition lifts for time and jump squats. Well, who cares.

So, what does my training look like now? Most importantly, the training is planned in three session microcycles. The intensity and volume changes according to the session: in my case the first session is the most intense, the last - an easy one. Hard session starts with a short set with heavy bell, followed by a murderous circuit, followed by a light snatch in gloves, ending up in either high repetition bodyweight squats or jogging. It is believed that 100 squats roughly equal 1 km run. Some session include long sets of snatching with static holds at the top and the bottom with heavier bells.

Snatching in gloves deserves special mention. Gloves are not used to protect the hands, but for reducing the efficiency of the grip. This way you really have to pay attention to all the details of the technique I described above. Snatches with static holds are another way to make you think about the technique: even though you do fewer repetitions during these sets, it is the grip that eventually kills you.

The most important point is: it is impossible to underplay the importance of a qualified coach, such as Rudnev. There must be a good reason he brought up so many masters of sport in GS. Athletes respond differently to training, and that's why cookie cutter training templates work only for a while. Sure, OTW is useful for some aspects of training. However, if your technique is wrong OTW will only reinforce it.

On the 15th of March. I am probably going to compete with 20 kg bell, a girl's weight (unless we are talking about Russian girls who use 24 kg!) I am really hooked on it, and I really want to get better at this lift, all the way to good numbers with the bell of respectable size. Other effects of my training are very satisfying. For instance, people who haven't seen me for a few months comment on my physique. This is a nice side-effect of training. Another very useful fact: since I started training I haven't been injured, if you don't count getting a bloody callus once. I think I am going to stick around with GS for now.