What is exercise anyway?

Global health organizations, governments, and scientists give remarkably consistent recommendations for health, the prevention of disease and general wellness.

Depending on what Facebook puts in your ad feed, you might be forgiven for thinking that working out for 4 minutes a day so hard you barf your brekkie back up is what you need for a long life. Or alternatively, that some quality time with yourself and thoughts of your pelvic floor will get you as fit and flexible as an Instagram yogini. So what is exercise?

There are ever more (seemingly) varied ways of exercising, in ever more time effective ways.

200+ minutes per week of moderate cardiovascular exercise and 2 strength training sessions.

 

So what exactly does that mean?  Let’s break it down….

Cardio exercise definition

200+ Minutes per week of cardio…

The differences between moderate and intense cardio are clearly explained here.

In short, moderate cardio is when you are slightly out of breath until you have trouble finishing a normal sentence. This is called ventilators threshold 1 (VT1).

Intense or ‘High-intensity cardio’ begins when you are having marked trouble completing a sentence, and continues until you can’t speak at all.  This is called ventilators threshold 2 (VT2).

The great news about this is that the more ‘intense’ our cardio the more ‘heart health value’ it has. So if you run at a higher level of VT 1, i.e. you have more trouble completing a normal sentence, then that is worth ‘more’ minute for cardio than more moderate intensity.

So a game of indoor soccer, a game of Aussie rule or Hockey or Netball. Boom goes the timer. Join a judo club with your kids. Boom, again. Swing a kettlebell for some short sharp sessions per week and the ‘heart numbers’ start going through the roof

Activities that are at once demanding on our cardiovascular system and our strength system are the most effective training modes for heart health.

 

Strenth training exercise definition

Two Strength Training sessions…

The 2x per week allows for the approximately 72 hours our bodies need to recover from a session working to fatigue, and to come back stronger aka the ‘training effect’. The 72 hours depends on age, gender, diet, sleep, alcohol consumption and other variables.

There are other approaches to strength building – notably gymnastic training protocols – but science tends to focus on approaches that are applicable to a broader, busier population and which have more measurable, concise time blocks.

Strength is defined as the amount of weight one can move from point A – B.  Lifting things that you find heavy makes the skeletal muscles stronger – you can lift heavier things next time. It also makes our non- skeletal muscles aka our heart stronger. A stronger heart = less heart disease.  It increases bone density.  Denser bones = less osteoporosis.

 

 


If this exercise prescription brings to mind dull and mind-numbing images of hours on a treadmill or hanging around in gyms surrounded by beefy blokes and/scantily clad nubiles, despair not...

No consideration is given to power training(strength x speed is defined as power) in the recommendations for exercise. For the newbie, this is a good thing. Lifting heavy things quickly requires some practise and time for muscles and connective tissues to become ready. However, once you have got a bit of practise under your belt combining strength and endurance is a whiz-bang way to kill two birds with one stone.

There are other ways to get your cardio and strength dose!

Firstly, the more intense your cardio the more minutes it is worth. Cool, huh? So if you swing a kettlebell and get yourself gassed, you can get big chunks of your cardio minutes ticked off in a few short sharp sessions.

Cardio can be running and riding. It can also be crawling, cartwheels, dancing, skipping, wheelbarrow races and leapfrog.

Similarly, the mention of strength work usually solicits images of smelly gyms, big guys, big gals, big mirrors and a very ‘us/them’ feel for newcomers. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Worse still, a lot of people have had bad experiences lifting weights with inexperienced instructors, programming too much weight too soon.

A really important thing to know about strength is that it is not the same as size. Training for strength is really quick. Our classes have it done and out of the way in less than half an hour. Remember if size equalled strength, bodybuilders would win weightlifting events at the Olympics. As it is, they don’t even make the team.

At White Dog Studio, we have designed a strength and fitness class for people that hate cardio and gyms. We call it Bar+Bell.

We have a great group of people, from all walks of life, shapes and sizes. Each session incorporates:

  • Bodyweight exercises for cardio, flexibility and coordination
  • Carefully scaled and varied warm-ups that prepare you for the workout you’ll do
  • Safe, simple and scientifically proven approaches to strength training that don’t produce bulky muscles. Just strong lean ones
  • Constantly varied cardio blasts that keep you on your toes, fit and curious
  • We finish with a stretch that makes sure you recover quickly and leave feeling great

If you're interested in getting healthy, preventing disease and increasing your general wellness, try a few White Dog Bar+Bell classes.

 

 


The different styles of kettlebell training

The following is my attempt to give the reader an overview of the different styles of kettlebell training and pointing out the differences and also where they cross over.

As a coach I like to beg, steal and borrow what I see as the best techniques in each school of thought and apply to the individuals to get optimum results. At White Dog Studio we don’t like to fit square pegs into round holes. Everyone is different, moves different, has individual likes/dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. With this in mind,  I can see all benefits of many different styles of kettlebell use and we try to employ a varied program with lots of options.

Origins of Kettlebells

Kettlebells have been getting people strong for a long time throughout Russia and the former Soviet Union. Introduced to the West in the late 1990s by Valery Federenko (Girevoy Sport) and Pavel Tsatsouline (Hardstyle). Although there is much contention who was the “first” to the post, it’s irrelevant to me as a coach. 

Girevoy Sport Style

Valery Fedorenko is the grand-daddy head honcho of the World Kettlebell Club. He’s a beast no doubt and coaches some amazing athletes. However, there are other kettlebell sports associations, such as Steve Cotter’s International Kettlebell & Fitness Federation and many others outside of the U.S. Great video on technique from him here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt3Vq3g0Usc

Sports style kettlebell training is all about endurance. Power efficiency over a long period of time. We’re talking long cycles over ten minutes long. And the participant is given the bullet if they put the kettlebell down. Conserving energy is paramount in the movements so the lifter can be more efficient over time. CrossFit competitors take note, there is plenty to learn from these guys.

Everything is one-handed and generally, the thumb locks the index finger onto the kettlebell.  Like an O-Lift hook grip), hence grip strength does not consume energy.

Another big difference is breathing. Breaths are taken efficiently and they flow with the movement. There is no pressurized breathing that is a critical concept to hardstyle.

Hardstyle Kettlebell Practice

Enter the Kettlebell…

Pavel Tsatsouline used this style to train Soviet and American special forces.  And, like pictures of Putin, riding bareback on a stallion with an AK47, he conjures up images of badassery. Pavel’s style can be summarized by high intensity and few repetitions.  He’s got some amazing people in his camp – Dan John, Geoff Newport, Andy Bolton and the original Beast Tamer Shaun Cairns. Power optimization is the key rather than power conservation and here is the major difference to Giveroy sport. Each rep should look just as powerful no matter if it is 12kg or 48kg.

With many martial arts connotations and references, hardstyle focuses on a balance between high tension and relaxation. In a kettlebell swing there is an explosive hip snap and then relaxation as the kettlebell floats. It is a ballistic exercise as the kettlebell is launched with an explosive movement.  It is then guided into position as opposed to a grind where tension is applied throughout the movement like the Deadlift or the flow of long cycle endurance of Kettlebell Sport.

Video from Pavel here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KqxcDijOyA

This style has historically taken components from the martial arts.  It relies on being able to switch quickly from being tight to being loose. I can certainly relate with a strong Wing Chun background and both hard and soft energies have their uses and their weaknesses when used wrong. Hardstyle is what Bruce Lee would have used.

Differences between the styles

Breathing is one big difference between Hardstyle and Girevoy.

In hardstyle, the breath is used to bring more power to the movement, drive power and efficiency. The abs are braced with air released in small amounts as the movement is conducted. This style of breathing is different than what is done in endurance or power efficiency movements.  There, the athlete is trying to use diaphragmatic breathing to keep the heart rate low. Someone doing an endurance event would use long, deep breaths to slow the heart rate.   

Pavel’s style tends to be about being very strong for short durations of time.  This type of training fits with what he has done for military and police units as they need explosive strength rather than longer-term efficiency.

CrossFit Modifications

Much of CrossFit’s kettlebell training style comes from Hardstyle.  Jeff Martone who leads CrossFit’s specialty training on kettlebells was one of Pavel’s first students.

However, there have been some major modifications to the lifts that have been quite controversial. One controversy is that the two-handed swing goes overhead rather than to shoulder height. As Andrew Read elegantly pointed out, there are many problems with mobility and the safety of this “American swing” movement. We can certainly add more movement to the lift, but why? 

Another modification by CrossFit is the snatch.

In Hardstyle and Girevoy Sports style, the kettlebell is not placed on the ground during the snatch until the competitor is done. Many CrossFit style competitions require the CrossFitter to set the kettlebell down on the ground between each rep. The kettlebell snatch should have more of a hip hinge, but setting it on the ground can lead to a more vertical motion.

I have seen it described as a starting-a-lawn-mower in a straight up and down motion. This vertical movement might be more dangerous on the shoulder. I have not seen as much discussion of this issue. However, watching competitors do this movement leads me to believe that much more discussion of kettlebell snatch technique could be used by the CrossFit community.

Safety

Both the Girevoy and Hardstyle movements are probably relatively safe to perform.  And both have intensive certifications and courses for learning the movements. Some have questioned the safety of the CrossFitswing based on the mobility requirement of getting the arms overhead.  At the top position, the hands are close together, which causes internal rotation of the shoulder joints.  This might lead to shoulder impingement in those lacking the required mobility. So, from an anatomical discussion there might be safety issues with the CrossFit swing. However, there has not been a definitive research study showing this safety issue (and there might never be one).

What gets your fitter?

The Hardstyle and Girevoy Sports styles both promote fitness in different ways. To simplify the difference, Hardstyle promotes explosive, intense, and short duration exercises.  While Girevoy Sport promotes power endurance movements that are efficient. An analogy might be a 100-meter sprinter and an 800-meter runner. Each runner will utilize strength, explosiveness, and muscle efficiency, but in different ways. 

Expect to see a range of different styles in our Bar+Bell classes.  With an emphasis on the right balance between fitness and good technique.

 


Analysis of a Kettlebell Session

 

A White Dog kettlebell session can be summed up as follows. 

“I want results, I want to work fast and want my body to experience physical stress in a controlled and manner”.

I use kettlebells a lot!

They are easy to coach.  They can be punishing IF you choose the right weight.  And they are versatile as you can swing, push, press and squat them!

I use 3 main concepts when writing kettlebell sessions for the term.  The following will give you an insight into how I lay the foundations:

Complexes – Chains – Ladders

COMPLEX Kettlebell Session is a series of exercises performed in a sequence with the same weight and without rest.

All reps of an exercise are performed BEFORE moving on to the next exercise.

Ten each of the following with a Double kettlebell is a great example.

  • Swing
  • Snatch
  • Squat
  • Push press 

Rinse, repeat until thoroughly exhausted. Complete the above workout multiple times with adequate rest periods after each set.

CHAIN Kettlebell Session is a series of exercises performed sequentially.  The difference is that you perform only one rep of each exercise before starting the sequence over again.

One rep is counted each time the sequence of exercises is performed.

Example:

  • Clean
  • Offset squat
  • Drop lunge+press
  • Offset squat
  • Change arm, cycle and repeat for 10 reps total (5 each arm)

Typically, we’d be pushing the above cycle for a set period of time, say 8 minutes trying to achieve as many reps as possible with impeccable form.

This is what I call an AMTAP. As Much Technique As Possible and is the antithesis to the infamous AMRAP workouts that are so pervasive in the HIT community at present. R=reps.

LADDER Kettlebell Session is used with an exercise and you add a rep for each rung of the ladder.

Clean and press example: You do 1 rep with the left and then switch hands and do one with the right. That would be the first rung of the ladder. Then do 2 with the left and then 2 with the right = rung 2. You can do 5+ rung ladders and multiple ladders

The best example of a ladder is Rite of Passage workout that I am a big fan of. Just google.  

Tone down or jack up a simple push/pull workout three times a week.  This allows you to workout depending on skill and energy levels that day.

It’s a combination of two moves, a Clean & Press and chin ups. Two moves performed in ladders with compressed rest intervals. Simple, brutal and effective. ROP is the definitive staple of my sessions delivery in HIT as it’s been around a long time and has a whole community devoted to it and offering modifications and progressions where needed.

For those of you already doing a kettlebell session at White Dog, I hope that helps you to understand what you’re doing in class.

For anyone not signed up, it might help you make the decision to give them a go. My sessions aren’t the usual bootcamp-esque workouts completed to the voice of the drill sergeant.

If I had to sum up a White Dog kettlebell session in 10 words… “Body conditioning through intense strength based movements, requiring mental fortitude”.


A simple squat

A simple squat and a more detailed squat emphasising your Glutes

There are two videos in this post.

This video suits folks who are new to the studio and still getting their head around the fundamentals of safe squatting. Squatting is SUCH an important life skill, forget the times tables, if you can’t squat right, you won’t be able to sit into or get out of a chair, car, couch or onto a toilet. A lot of people have pain in their hips, back or knees when they squat and it is always a great relief for me as an instructor and for clients when thee simple principles help to reduce or remove that pain. NB: my clever use of white socks on a gray mat to highlight the alignment of my feet.

This next video is a little more detailed. The same fundamental principles apply, but here we introduce more details that will help to make the all important and often ‘unfelt’ gluten start to play a greater role in the squat action.