Why Do We Do So Many Standing Poses in Our Yoga Classes?

“We stand on our legs throughout our waking state; thus, the foundation for movement and action are the legs. The legs have to be trained to make them firm and steady. Without a firm foundation, a building cannot stand. Similarly, without the firm foundation of strong legs and feet, the brain, which is the seat of intelligence, cannot be held in correct alignment with the spine. Hence the standing poses are introduced first.” – Yoga a Gem for Women. Geeta Iyengar

 

Legs, legs, and more legs!!

Most of us would love to have a great set of legs, you know the ones I am talking about… muscular, lean and look awesome in whatever we choose to wear.

Genetics has a bit to do with what you end up with however working your legs, both upper and lower will get you the best legs you can possibly hope for. That is to say, use them and you will improve them!

Looks aside, and on a more serious note, are you aware that working out your legs can boost your overall health?

Weak legs lead to the overuse and often injury of the upper body and spine and many people with lower back pain present in class with an obvious weakness in the legs.

Yes, when the legs are weak we can still walk and get around however movement is often accompanied by pain and discomfort.

 

Little stats about legs…

Based on the health information collected from my students over the past 2 years, as many as 85% come to yoga complaining of regular pain in the legs, hips, back and shoulders…

Our legs and core muscles provide both strength and support for our body. They are large muscles and respond better to fewer repetitions and higher weights. So if you are looking to strengthen your legs use weight. Learning to bear your own bodies weight in various standing position is a great place to start.

 

Get to know your feet and legs.

All students are asked when they enrol if they have been doing any form of exercise or training prior to joining the yoga classes.

The vast majority of people respond by saying they use walking as their one and only form of exercise.

At least they are moving, right?

Walking is a good way to work the muscles in the legs, possibly reduce body fat and improve circulation however you started walking when we were still in nappies, and from my own physical explorations and observations as a teacher, most people do not stand or walk very well at all.

People tend to stand and walk the same way they sit.

If you are a person who tends to collapse over your paperwork or get swallowed by your couch at night, the chances are you will take the same postural patterns along with you for your walks.

Stand tall.
Walk tall, smoothly and quietly.  
Keep your head up and look outwards.
The head should lead the spine upward while the knees, not the feet need to lead the legs forward.
Try to transfer your weight smoothly from one leg to the next.

Have a look at the soles and heels of your shoes.
What is the pattern of wear that you can see?
Where is the weight?

“My feet is my only carriage”- Bob Marley

Get to know your legs and feet in Yoga classes with Jo.  Check out the timetable here.


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.

 


How do I maintain my strength over a break?

The question: how can I maintain my strength over a break?

The workout below focuses on two moves and two moves only.

  • The Turkish Get Up
  • Swing

Hang on a second, where are the squats, deadlifts, push-ups amongst others? Do these two exercises really cross those barriers and help me maintain my gains?

First of all Yes! Secondly… they’ll give you a whole lot more for free 🙂

As some of you may now, Pavel Tsatsouline was the man responsible for popularising the kettlebell in America.

He had a long time relationship with the DragonDoor but a few years ago broke away and started, StrongFirst. His most recent book is titled “Simple and Sinister”.  It details his new version of Program Minimum, the updated version of the programming he described in the earlier “Enter the Kettlebell” book.

Throughout the StrongFirst community, there are thousands of people globally who repeat this workout daily to keep fit and strong.  From Navy Seals Special Forces to mere mortals like you and I.

Personally speaking, if I have to choose one work out to complete most days to get me bang for my buck, it would be Program Minimum.

Equipment Required – Two Kettlebells.  You can grab these second hand for around $100.

Don’t worry about getting anything fancy, just get something that does the job. An old dumbbell works, although not as ideal as the main weight isn’t positioned over the wrist but we work with what we have. If you do choose to buy a couple of kettlebells then remember, these are legacy items, they will outlive you so as far as I see, your purchase will be a worthy investment.

The workout.

  • Starting weights – the creator recommended 16kg for an “average strength” man and 8kg for a woman. 
  • Workout frequency – from 1-4x per week
  • Warmup 
    • 10 minutes of bodyweight squats facing a wall
    • “pump” stretches – a combo downward dog/hip flexor stretch)
    • “halos” – kettlebell passes around the head to warm up the shoulder
    • Nothing fancy, the actual program is minimal impact
  • Swing workout 
    • 12 minutes, sets of swings
    • “active rest” between sets.  Try jogging, pushups, pull ups, planks, etc)
    • The number of reps and sets is not specified and is left to the individual.
  • Get Up workout – 5 minutes of continuous getups, alternating sides, no rest. Don’t count reps.

Eventually, you will graduate to the RKC “Rite of Passage” which incorporates snatches, clean & press, and complex rep schemes like ladders and randomisation.  I have been coaching these in the HIT sessions but for now, just increase the intensity through time spent on the exercises.

What the above represents is a HARD continuous 30-minute workout. Our warm-up strives for a perfect squat pattern.  The kettlebell swing section works our deadlift movement.  Our Get Up practice will build raw strength and keep mobility high.

For those that are looking at the workout thinking it looks easy.  If you can increase the intensity of the workout while maintaining quality reps, the above can be devastatingly effective.

Need some more tips on Strength training?  Check out this blog.


Get ready to measure your end-of-term benchmark!

It’s time for end-of-term benchmarking!

For those of you that have been to the HIT sessions from the beginning, you’ll know that I favour kettlebells. There are a few reasons why I use them as my main training tool:

  • Full-body conditioning – the body learns to work as one unit linked strongly together
  • Big results in less time – kettlebell training involves multiple muscle groups and energy systems at once
  • Increased resistance to injury – strengthening the posterior chain of muscle, stabilises shoulders, spine and hips
  • The ability to work aerobically and anaerobically simultaneously – more bang for your buck
  • Improved mobility and range of motion
  • Enhanced performance in athletics and everyday functioning
  • Major calorie burning and exercise post oxygen consumption – contributes to increased metabolic rate, assisting fat loss/maintenance

My teaching, research, and training over the last 5 years has produced a training program, focusing on the “vital few” movements.

I have a similar approach to Strength Training and have written about this in previous blogs

At the end of this term, and every term we’re going to offer you the ability to benchmark yourself against the first of 5 Levels of Kettlebell proficiency that I’ve developed in that time. 

Here’s what Level 1 looks like…..

  • 500 kettlebell swings.
    • Time limit: 45mins
    • 16kg KB for females,  24kg KB for males
    • Your 500 swings is made up of the following, repeated 5 times:
      • 50 swings + 3 pull ups, 6 push ups,  9 air squats
      • 25 swings + 3 pull ups, 6 push ups,  9 air squats
      • 15 swings + 3 pull ups, 6 push ups,  9 air squats
      • 10 swings + 3 pull ups, 6 push ups,  9 air squats
  • Modified “Enter the Kettlebell”
    • Time limit: 45 mins
    • 16kg KB for females,  24kg KB for males
    • Your time is made up of the following, repeated 5 times:
      • 5 x Clean, squat and press L+R  plus 5 pull-ups
      • 4 x Clean, squat and press L+R  plus 4 pull-ups
      • 3 x Clean, squat and press L+R  plus 3 pull-ups
      • 2 x Clean, squat and press L+R  plus 2 pull-ups
      • 1 x Clean, squat and press L+R  plus 1 pull-up

For some,  the completion of the above will represent three months hard practice, for others, it may take a year.

As long as you train consistently, manage your rest breaks as required and keep mentally sharp, the length of the journey becomes irrelevant. The results come from turning up and training hard.

We can extract certain components such as technique, endurance, certain movements, mobility, mental focus etc but in all honestly, just do it.

Everything you need for a strong body and good fitness is in the above: Vertical pull, vertical push, ballistic hinge, squat, bodyweight work, endurance, strength. You name it, it’s there.

So for the remainder of term one, we will continue to practice the basics as that’s where 90% of our gains are going to be made.  We’ll benchmark you at regular intervals to measure your personal progress.

 

 


Comparison is the thief of joy in lifting

A comparison is the thief of joy in lifting so remember you are tracking your own individual numbers and targets so don’t be concerned if others are lifting heavier than you. We’re all different and have different strengths and weaknesses! Focus on you own lifting: we’re working on individual goals, this isn’t a team sport. 

 

 

As we will all be on-ramping and focusing on technique, our benchmarking won’t be done until the last week of term where everyone will walk away with a ‘score’ covering multiple exercises and will be used as a target for the end of the second term. This score will also give you clear areas to focus on. We won’t be setting targets at the start of term as you generally see your greatest and fastest improvements in that period. It’s only when we reach our plateau that we set short and long-term goals. 

Please remember to come fuelled for the sessions. A light meal 90 mins before and please drink water throughout. Be aware that muscles get stronger while in a recovery period, so your recovery should include adequate sleep, low-stress levels where possible :-), and suitable intake of nutrients such as fats, protein and carbohydrates. 

For even more tips, check out our blog How to Make progress in Strength Training


What is relative strength?

By definition, relative strength is the strength of an individual relative to their bodyweight – for instance being able to squat double your bodyweight.

Being big AND strong is a common relationship, but it’s not always true that big equals strong. 

Having overly big muscles is what I refer to as redundant muscle mass: “What do you need that for anyway?”. If you weigh a lot and are able to lift a lot it does not mean you are functionally fit. Functionally fit means you are able to lift a lot for your size and also more efficiently. So having a higher strength to weight ratio is highly effective and functional in the real world.

For most beginners, your focus should be on improving your relative strength and this is best done by lifting heavier loads.

Focus on the big compound movements which use the most muscle  – squats, deadlifts, bench press – and allow you to use the most load. 

As a general rule, things to bear in mind:

  • Eat like a track and field athlete or gymnast, not a body builder. This means eating the calories your body needs, not excess.
  • Train with low repetitions, like a range of about 1-5 reps per set. Training with low reps produces a response more conducive to neurological strength gain as opposed to muscle size gain.
  • Rest a lot between sets. Give the body time to recover and replenish creatine stores before attempting subsequent maximal efforts. This takes about 5 minutes.
  • Perform compound, free weight movements in order to recruit the maximum possible number of motor units. This produces neuro-endocrine responses that contribute to higher maximum strength.
  • Perform maximal strength training infrequently. This means giving the body a lot of rest between strength workouts.
  • Ensure the strength training is relevant. The movements chosen will be most effective if they are specific to the movements you want to actually get stronger at. This transfers over into the real task much more readily.

That’s a basic rundown of relative strength training. Transferred into a wider range of tasks than absolute strength, it’s not only an efficient way to train but produces tangible, efficient results. 


Kettlebell training FAQs

Ever wanted to know more about Kettlebell Training?  We’ve pulled together some Frequently Asked Questions to help you out!

Q: Is kettlebell training the ultimate way to train?

A: No one system is the ultimate way to train. Is kettlebell training effective for fat loss, strength training, and building muscle? Yes – and it is a super fun way to train. In order to keep training interesting, you have to keep it fun and kettlebells are a great fit. You can benefit from kettlebell focused programs or you can incorporate kettlebell training into your current regimen. There is something for everyone.

Q: Are kettlebell exercises dangerous?

A: Only when done with poor form. However, any exercise is dangerous even pushups and lame machine exercises when poor form is used. Bottom line is most people will require in-person instruction to maximize the benefits of training safely. Kettlebell DVD’s while useful are not a replacement for in person instruction.

Q: Is kettlebell training effective for fat loss?

A: Yes, however pushing yourself away from the table more often and cutting krispy creme out of your diet is even more effective. Fat loss is 70% diet and 30% training. Unless you are a professional athlete where training is your job. Kettlebell training can be a very effective way to ramp up your metabolism. However, anyone that tells you that you can lose fat with this sorted of training and a crappy diet is doing you a disservice

Q: Is Kettlebell training effective for building muscle?

A: What do barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells all have in common? All three are forms of weight training. Thus, just as barbells and dumbbells are effective for building muscle, kettlebells are effective as well. That said, nothing takes the place of progressive weight training – if what you want is bigger muscle try out our Strength Training classes instead. 

Q: I want to get stronger without getting bigger. Is kettlebell training for me?

A: Yes, this is one of the most popular benefits of kettlebell training. Women, for example, love it as it helps them tone up and lose fat without overdeveloping muscles. Truth be told, building muscle is not easy for men and especially women so this is not something you should be worrying about. 

Q: Do women use kettlebells?

A: Only the smart ones 😉 Yes I work with women all of the time at my workshops and they love kettlebell training. Women tend to believe the illusion that they will turn into “Arnold” just be looking at weights. I’ve been training women for years and I can tell you categorically that this just isn’t true. Bulking up is really really hard for women to do. 

Q: If kettlebell training is so great how come they are not in every gym in the country?

A: Having worked for a major fitness club chain in the past, I can tell you first hand that the main goal of a fitness club is to make money and keep liability costs low. Thus the trend in most clubs is to have more machines and less free weights. While machines are not as effective as free weights, they are much easier to use and require minimal instruction. Thus, less of a need for highly skilled trainers.


What is Strength Training?

 

The buzz in the studio is all about Strength Training.  So what IS it?

Over the last year and with much learning from my amazing wife, I have finally started embracing my minimalist nature.

The same minimalist concept can be applied to training.

If you want to get strong, then the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press and Pull Up will do 90% of what you’re after in as little as 45 minutes per session. My work is done, thank you very much.

Seriously, apart from some basic supporting exercises, it’s all there if the intensity is high. Follow the protocol and it means you’re always fresh and never frustrated trying to figure out overly complicated routines. Just train efficiently and effectively.

Don’t get me wrong, more complex plans are good for coaches to create the structure needed to improve performance for particular sports, or for rehab, but my years of experience tell me that the most effective way for busy people to get results is to get in, do only what NEEDS to be done and get to hell outta dodge. In summary, just get good at the basics.

That’s what we’ll be teaching at White Dog Studio – the basics, done safely, and with an intensity that’s right for your fitness level.

What Strength Training at White Dog isn’t: it’s not Crossfit and it’s not Olympic Lifting (the stuff you see on TV at the Olympics), it’s simply some basic functional exercises (that means stuff you use in your everyday life) that will improve your overall strength. 

Great article on the big 3 here:

https://www.oxygenmag.com/training/big-11355

Look forward to seeing you in the studio. 

All the details are here:

https://www.whitedogstudio.com.au/personal-training/


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.