Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Tale of Two Cuties

This week's blog I dedicate to the fairer sex.

In my many years of training and coaching I've spent a full 65-75% of my time training women of all ages. From young, nubile teens to 82-year old grandmothers. I've trained at least 30 women through full-term pregnancies and trained some of their daughters as they came of age for training, not to mention my three wives, multiple girlfriends, and two daughters.

I can't say I got along with all of them but one thing I did (and even people who don't like the Ol' Coach will tell you this) was produce some amazing results.

One of the most dependable tool in my bag of tricks is the humble kettlebell. This simple ball of iron has helped me sculpt and tone the lard off a lot of fat asses!

I remember one of my high-powered female clients who was especially resistant to trying the kettlebell: she challenged with, "Give me three good reasons why I should do this!"

The Ol' Coach, not to be thwarted, thought fast on his feet and came up with these three reasons:

  1. The kettlebell gives you significant results in less training time
  2. The kettlebell strengthens every muscle in your body from head-to-toe while burning fat...
  3. and simultaneously improving the cardiovascular system
She said, "Well, then...ok!" Because high-powered, busy people want the biggest bang for the buck. They don't have time to be messing around. Let's examine each of the reasons in detail, why kettlebell training is the best value for women per minute of time.

1. Significant results in less training time
Most women gravitate towards long, slow, cardio-endurance training on treadmills and ellipticals. They operate from the mistaken notion that this is the best way to burn off excess body fat. Nothing could be further from the truth! Empirical evidence and the latest scientific findings show over and over again that short-duration, high-intensity exercise is best for stoking the metabolic furnace.

The idea that you can walk or jog off fat with long, slow exercise, simply doesn't work. The moment a woman stops jogging is the moment she stops burning calories, but with high-intensity training the caloric after-burn leaves the metabolic furnace revved-up long after the exercise session is over, ultimately expending far more calories.

Kettlebells are the ultimate high-intensity training protocol, and the best thing of all, they are so portable, training can take place right in your bedroom or living room, because very little space is required. Because of the intensive nature, the workout duration must be kept short. A woman can perform either a lot of easy, less-intense work, or a smaller volume of very hard work. But the body cannot perform a large volume of hard work. A large volume neither improves fitness parameters, nor is it efficient. The kettlebell, by its very nature, is extremely efficient.

Strengthen every muscle in your body from head-to-toe while burning fat
Most women weight train more as an after-thought than a primary element in their workout and if weight training is added at all, it consists of light dumbbells and isolation exercises, producing little in the way of worthwhile results. The major fear is getting big, ie, masculine-looking, muscles and no longer appearing pretty and feminine. We know that this is impossible without a hormonal profile conducive to building mass.

Kettlebell training consists of whole-body movement exercises requiring athleticism and coordination. It's well-known that compound movements are superior to isolation exercises for improving muscle tone, strength and body composition. (That's not to say isolation movements don't have their place, but compound movements are the winning ticket for our purposes here.)

The type of physique kettlebell exercises build is svelte, wiry and lean. Think Sarah Connor in The Terminator, or Madonna...but in a fraction of the time those women spent chiseling out their bodies!

Another advantage of the kettlebell over machines or light dumbbells is the importune muscle-loading and ballistic nature of the bell. This counteracts one of the leading problems with aging in women: decreasing bone-density.

Kettlebells further strengthen the connective tissue, eg, tendons and ligaments, making the joints tougher and less-susceptible to injury.

Lifting kettlebells improves the cardiovascular system
Most women who have kids and work (and husbands can be like having an extra kid) simply don't have the time for a strength program separate from their cardiovascular program. With the kettlebell, you get both in the same package! Not only that, but the heart-strengthening effect of performing high-repetition kettlebell exercises has proven to provide superior heart and lung conditioning than you'd ever get on a treadmill. I've already discussed the importance of high-intensity training for fat-burning, but here I'd like to stress that improved heart-lung conditioning doesn't come from long, slow, cardio workouts. With steady-state cardio, any improvements in fitness parameters happen within the fist couple of months...only to subside. With kettlebell training, because of its intense nature, you get continual fitness improvements, and it's much easier to gauge these same improvements because as soon as the current load becomes sub-maximal, you jump up to the next weight!

Another key point is the simultaneous loading of both the upper and lower extremities. Most cardio machines involve primarily the lower body (with the exception of rowing and certain elliptical machines.) Even when the machines DO add an upper-body endurance component, it's generally through a pitiful range of motion. The kettlebell puts the arms and shoulder girdle through a very wide range of movement possibilities, much of it being vertical, placing tremendous stress on the cardio system, thus offering considerable benefit. This saves the busy woman a huge amount of time in her day, because all of her health and aesthetic concerns are wrapped up into a single, kick-ass-and-take-names workout done 2-3 times per week. What more could a busy, modern woman ask for?

Two perfect examples of what kettlebell training can do for women are two of my favorite clients, Teresa and Jane. Both women are over forty but look like teen models when training time comes around! Check out the beautiful contours and curvaceous, feminine physiques, while sporting that enviable, lean, G.I. Jane look.

I've produced these same results in hundreds of women. The proof is in the pudding, my friends! I stand by my work. I don't know about you, but I prefer my women with balls of steel!

In Strength & Health,


P.S. The Portland MaxBells Kettlebell Instructor certification is sold out but there is still space in the Kettlebell Basics Workshop Saturday 8 November. The workshop is from 1-5PM. Contact Nathan Jeffers: or phone: 503-243-5644

Please join us! I'd love to meet you.

Q: ...
I have very good friend who was in a bad accident a few years ago. His hip was broken to pieces and had to get bolted together, and his arm was dislocated and the front muscle's torn. He can't even throw a stone without extreme pain. We wanted some advice on whether or not it would be a good idea to introduce him to kettlebells or is the hip movement to much for that kind of injury?

Several of the leading back pain specialists are now using the kettlebell swing as a rehabilitation tool. The swing is a very safe exercise because the back muscles themselves--and the spine--stay in perfect alignment throughout the exercise, through static contraction
of the spinal muscles. The KB is actually propelled by loading the hamstrings and the glutes. many former back patients claim the swing makes their backs feel great.
(One word of caution: the back must be flat, not rounded.)

Many people who've experienced back pain from injuries become frightened when they feel muscular fatigue in the low back and sacral region. They equate all back discomfort, including the discomfort of exercise, with injury. Like all muscles, the muscles of the low back will burn, ache and even get a "pump" with blood, just like the biceps and thighs.
People need to learn to recognize the difference between injury pain and exercise pain, especially those who've been injured in the past.

As far as your friend's hip goes, there's only minimal bending of the hip and leg and no arm involvement at all in the execution of a kettlebell swing. So the KB swing is ideal for knee and hip patients. The hamstring and hip muscles will get a nice overload without any damage or injury.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gitchy Gitchy Gada Ya-Ya!

When it comes to training, I like old stuff, oftentimes the older the better. The reason why? I can trust exercises, movements and systems which have stood the test of time. My training ideas have always been based upon performance. It's not about the look, but what you can do with it. When good health and functionality are combined, the aesthetics will be there. I don't trust modern training because you often find it's not the training technique, or the implements, which have produced the reported results but performance-enhancing drugs. I've said this many times before: The information prior to the 1960s is the best resource out there because it pre-dates the entire drug issue. Most of my performance-based training has always been geared towards the martial arts, grappling in particular. There were plenty mighty men of old capable of feats even modern, drug-using athletes are unable to perform--and all this in the early 20th century-- for example: Arthur Saxon and his 370+lb. Bent Press; Herman Gorner's One-Handed Deadlift of 734.5 lbs. and the Hindu Wrestler, the "Great" Gama, who walked through all the great European wrestling champions of his day unscored upon, remaining undefeated throughout his 50-year career.

The training methods used by these old-school, old-world, athletes worked then and they work today. One exercise device which has always caught my imagination was used by Middle-Asian wrestlers. It's called a mace and in northern India, where wrestlers go at the sport with a religious fervor, it's called a gada. The gada has its origins in weapons training for young warriors but because of the physical attributes it provides, the exercise was continued in times of peace to train athletes and has survived, in one form or another, to this day--because it works! Mace swinging was an integral part of the "Great" Gama's routine, as you can see here, he is pictured with his mace. The mace, or gada, is a long stick with a stone ball attached to one end. There are several exercises it can be used for but the main one is a big circular swinging motion behind the back and head. Although the gada isn't heavy, the leverage force created by the long handle tremendously increases the resistance so that a relatively light weight is producing high levels of force. The gada is pushed upwards, then, as it pendulums behind the body, you must suddenly pull it to the front starting (or order) position. The elbows must remain tight to the body and a significant amount of work is supplied to the fingers; hands; wrists; forearms; elbows; shoulders; lats, and core stabilizers. It very much simulates the stresses applied to those body parts during combat. But even if you're not a combat athlete, grappler, wrestler, or jiujitsu practitioner, very favorable results can be obtained from the ancient art of mace swinging. Hey, if mace swinging can provide the strength and stamina necessary for warriors of old, it can certainly provide all the fitness benefits needed by todays' office warrior!

You can buy a mace bell for approximately $170 + shipping or you can do what I did and make your own out of a peewee basketball, Quikrete, and a shovel handle. With a sharp knife, I cut a hole in the top of the basketball big enough to spoon in the Quikrete into the form of the ball. I mixed the Quikrete right in its own little bucket with a jug of water into a nice pudding-like consistency and ladled it right in there, taking care to shake it around so it filled all the parts of the ball. The shovel handle I'd bought had some holes pre-drilled into it for bolting on a shovel head, so I stuck a couple nails through the holes before inserting that end into the wet Quikrete, in order to give the Quikrete something to grab and hold. Next, I carefully set up the gada so the bottom of the ball would flatten out a bit, so I could set the gada upon the ground with the handle upright. Then I left it to sit overnight.

The next morning I had my delightful gada to include in my toybox! I put it through its paces and I'm satisfied with it as a highly functional training tool. All this for under $30 at Home Depot and Toys-R-Us. I actually found the basketball, partially deflated in a dumpster. Be careful in your selection of ball size! This is the third gada I've made, the first time, in San Francisco, I chose a full-size basketball and it was shockingly difficult to swing. I repeated my mistake in New Hampshire, in Joe Egan's backyard. The peewee/kid-sized ball I used this time is just about perfect. It comes in a little under 15#, which is a nice starting weight for most people. I never weighed the full-size basketball version, but I assure you, it was a handful. For strength-endurance, the lighter implement swung many times is the superior methodology.

A secondary benefit to mace swinging is the profound cardio effect. The cardio system and breathing are pronounced as you pick up the speed and hit higher reps. It's interesting how these whole-body movements used by the ancients thoroughly work a body from head to toe, including the cardio-respiratory system. Unlike the modern isolation techniques used by so many of today's athletes, these types of training modalities preclude a separate cardio program since you're getting it all.

My interest was to perform a high-intensity, strength-endurance, interval cardio workout using whole-body movements with an emphasis on upper body strength-endurance. I chose four exercises:

1) Lifeline USA Heavy Speed Rope
2) Hindu Push-Ups on the Push-Up Board
3) Mace Swinging
4) Side-to-Side Cossack Lunge

The Lifeline Heavy Speed Rope is an amazing device that totally engages the upper body while performing the rope skipping. the rope weighs about 1kg (2.2 lbs) which is light enough to turn quickly but heavy enough to work the heck out of the wrists, forearms and shoulders. It's a major butt-kicking rope.

The Hindu Push-Up Board is a 2000 year old exercise device allowing a much deeper spinal stretch and shoulder opening than traditional push-ups done on the floor. The connecting of the two hands together via the wood implement permit better shoulder/elbow alignment and while providing more work, is less stresfull on the joints.

The workout went like this:

A1) 100 jumps on the Heavy Speed Rope
as fast as possible
A2) Hindu Push-Ups x 10
A3) Mace Swings
10 R/10 L
A4) Side-to-Side Cossack Lunge
5 L/5 R

A1-A3 are a circuit. Repeat 10 rounds. No rest--the Cossack Lunges are your rest!

This is a phenomenal workout and my hands, grip and upper body were feeling it. I felt like I'd just gotten off the mat with a live opponent.

Your old Coach is currently outside of Cleveland OH in a most picturesque little town near Chagrin Falls. I taught a wonderful group of people for a four hour kettlebell seminar last weekend, assisted by my crazy strong friend, Jane Easly. (Enjoy the slide show to the right.) I also presented two Gracie jiujitsu workshops at the local Fight Gym where I gave four blue belt promotions to the well-deserving students. If you're in the area, come train with Jason, Scott and Jane, it's a fantastic facility.

The next formal seminar is Portland OR Sunday 9 November. This is a MaxBells Kettlebell Teacher Training Certification. The event is near capacity, there are only twelve spaces total, so if you'd like to be there, definitely contact Nathan Jeffers
by email:
or phone: 503-243-5644

The MaxBell Teacher Training is quickly being recognized as the very best of its type. Many of the participants come in with an RKC and/or AKC certification and assure us our training is worth every penny. We cover topics not covered by the other certifying bodies. These topics are unique to those wishing to teach kettlebells in group classes or personal training.

I'm proud to announce a new DVD from the Gladiator Seminar last summer with Zach Even-Esh. This was a fantastic seminar in which Zach and I pulled out all the stops--as you can see from the highlight video below--while sharing our conditioning secrets with the participants. It was all documented by Shawn Rubin, a film student, and will soon be available for sale to everyone who wishes they could have been there. This DVD is like having Coaches Steve and Zach in your own living room! Lots of cool ideas to intensify your workouts, unusual exercises and their variations, and some great workouts. I know you'll find this DVD well worth the time and money and I can't wait to release it for sale. It's at the duplicating house now.

So that's the latest news! Let me know how your DIY gadas come out.

In Strength & Health,


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Maxercise Metabolic 300

In keeping with the last blog on Metabolic Conditioning, I'd like to present another variation on metabolic conditioning in the form of a 300-style workout challenge. As you may remember, metabolic conditioning occurs when you simultaneously engage the muscular system (using full-range, whole-body movements) and the cardio system. In order to do this, you perform these exercises back-to-back, with little-to-no rest. Metabolic conditioning has an amazing effect on the body and it's the finest way to alter body composition while giving yourself a killer cardio workout. Unlike regular cardio, where you get no muscle-building benefits and, in some cases, can even lose hard-earned muscle, the Maxercise Metabolic 300 will actually contribute to building muscle while stripping away unwanted body fat. The workout is set up with five double-kettlebell movements, all performed back-to-back, without setting the kettlebell down. You have the choice of performing either 20, 15 or 10 reps (depending upon your strength & conditioning levels) using about 1/3 to 1/2 your body weight. If you perform 20 repetitions, go through the circuit three times. If you perform 15 reps, four times, and 10 reps go five times through. Each option gives you a grand total of 300 repetitions. This workout is versatile in that you can change each circuit, as long as each movement is a whole body, ie, compound movement. For my first circuit, I opted for double 16kg kettlebells, which at 72# is a bit more than 1/3 my body weight, about 40%.

For my first round, I performed:

15 Double Swings
15 Double Snatches
15 Double Front Squats
15 Double Clean & Press
15 Renegade Rows w/ push-ups

*I did a push-up, then Row L/R for 15 reps

It took me approx 6:41 to complete

I rested for 3 min.

I went into my next circuit, which I changed slightly:

15 Overhead Jerks
15 Bent-Over Rows
*w/ KB between the legs
15 Double Front Squats
15 High-Pull Swings
15 Bottoms-up KB push-Ups aka Crush push-ups
*I like this exercise because it has a very strong abdominal component to it, in order to maintain balance on the handle

3-1/2 min rest

Next circuit:

15 Double KB Thrusters aka Squat-to-Overhead Press
15 Double Alternating Rows
15 Double Swing-to-High Pull
15 Jump Shrugs
*w/ the KBs OUTSIDE the legs
1/4 squat, attempting to jump while vigorously shrugging the shoulders
15 Push-Ups on the KB handles

Last circuit, I was pretty blown out! In my mind, I thought I'd already completed the 300 Challenge and forgot I still needed a 4th circuit of 75 reps!
Funny how the mind resorts to trickery when doing intense workouts like these!
Here's what I came up with next:

Alternating See-Saw Press
*my arms were so tired I was only able to get 10 reps per arm
10 Bent-over Alternating Rows
I needed 35 more reps to finish my circuit and I was failing bad!


a Kettlebell Maxwell Manmaker, basically a Burpee, with a push-up and then a clean
a) It's a double clean
b) You put the KBs down
c) Squat and jump back into a push-up position
d) Perform a push-up
e) Recover back to a semi-squat and
f) re-clean the bells and repeat the sequence.

I did 10 of these.

Man, was I getting tired...and I still had 25 reps to go!

Because my hands were getting so tired and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to grip the bells anymore, I decided to go with an old standby--a great finisher--the Bear Crawl.
Did I mention that I performed this workout outdoors, on a worn tennis court, in the midst of a rain storm? (I'm talking to YOU, Dr. Fink) Well, damn the puddles and full speed ahead.

I Bear Walked across the tennis court for at least 25 reps per arm, then for good measure, knocked out 15 Double Swings, giving myself a bonus 40 reps, depending how you count your bear crawls....I kicked my own ass and it felt great. My teen assistant was there with the BCAAs at the ready, water and a pwo shake at the finish line. She also documented the workout on the youtube page if you'd like to see it.

In other news, My good friend, strength coach Josh Henkin, interviewed me last week and it was a real pleasure. Listen in here.


Q: Can you over train with Kettlebells and Jungle Gym??? And what would be the definition?

I'm a Martial Art instructor in the evenings/weekends teaching 2hours Sunday, 2 hours Tuesday and 3 hours Wednesday. I work by day as a Computer Analyst (...sitting on my butt pressing buttons) but to compensate I get in a 2.5 - 4mile jog 1 to 3 times per week. I also use the kettlebells (first 12 exercises of your 300 KB challenge) 1 or 2 times a week and the Jungle Gym (2 sets of 3 exercises for 10-12 reps) 2 or 3 times a week. Am I over doing it or can I safely do more? I often feel I could do more but I don’t want to start catabolizing due to overwork.


I have read if I am still sore from the previous days training I can still train today? Is this valid for KBs and JG’s???

A: You can over train on anything and everything. You certainly can overdo it. Over training is not a condition per se but a state that comes about from prolonged lack of recovery.
Over reaching is the more acute state, over training is something that takes time and effort to get to and thus a longer recovery time.

The parameters are:

  • are you feeling strong?
  • are you making progress?
  • are you getting morning erections?
  • are you sleeping well?
  • are you feeling recovering from your workouts?
  • are you feeling run down, flu-ish?
  • are you getting injured?
  • are you gaining fat?
  • is your appetite all over the place?
Re: the jogging, for martial arts, it's probably a waste of time, unless you have weight control issues, there's simply no reason for you to jog like that and it's the activity that should be cut out first.

Re: Training while sore from the previous day. I say, get your workout started, maybe with some joint mobility, and if you don't begin to feel better, and more motivated, lighten up or do something else.

Testimonial Corner

About three years ago you published an article in Hard Style about a muscular-endurance circuit using KBs. I didn't know who you were at that time, but it looked interesting, so I tried it. Even though I was not prepared for this type of work, I scaled it back and managed to get through three rounds. I did this twice a week for about four weeks, and was making tremendous progress. I then decided that KBs were indeed the one true way, and ordered a full set. The next week I fractured my collarbone and two ribs in a mountain biking crash. After a long recovery, and then doing too much, too soon, I turned to an online KB coach. It was an O.K. experience that lasted six months. I then began Pavel's ETK program and made good progress -- on those specific lifts. But nothing else really changed and I soon realized that ETK and kettlebells-only work might not be the best all-around program for me.
I then remembered your Hard Style workout (I saved the issue) and despite my misgivings about online coaching, I decided to turn to you. It was a great decision! So, back to the new workout that you sent, which contains at least two of the five exercises in that Hard Style article: double snatches and double thrusters. The difference now, though, is that you've had me build a foundation that will allow me to support that work. This is really getting good...
John B.

Thanks John, and thanks to everybody for reading!
Let me know how you do with the Maxercise Double KB 300 Challenge!

In Strength & Health!