Unlike me in high school, the website is getting pretty dated. So, construction is underway to reflect more of the functional neurology that has really shown an uptick in demand over the last year (and because metrics says web visitors only are looking at specific pages). In the meantime, here’s a brief rundown of the education and certifications through Z-Health Performance Solutions that have truly changed my approach to pain mitigation and performance enhancement for myself and my people in the time since this site first launched:
Z-Health Movement Reeducation Specialist – This certification provides the foundation for brain-centered assisted exercise. It includes assessments for gait, posture, cerebellar and brainstem function, Additionally, it altered the way I viewed all forms of exercise and the expression of brain health through movement. Many of the drills and assessments I picked up in this “ground floor” specialization remain vital components of my ever-expanding tool chest.
Z-Health Movement Integration Specialist – This secondary level specialization is foundational in its own right as it builds on the previous certification and begins the process of exploring the inner ear and eye relationship to increased performance and decreased pain signals. What’s more, this certification looks at movement templates and advanced concepts in the stability-mobility continuum to enhance athleticism for every client.
Z-Health Movement Performance Specialist – The third certification in the Z-Health core curriculum is often mistakenly thought of as the “sport specific” certification, with its focus on high level body awareness and practice protocols. Instead, every individual benefits from this kind of work, particularly those in pain. On top of that, this certification addresses rhythm, pacing, anticipation, and peripheral field training to create more functional people in every walk of life.
Z-Health Therapeutic Exercise Specialist – The top tier of the Z-Health base courses is all about nociception and its modulation for lowering pain responses and enhancing performance. While each level builds on the previous, at this level, it is vital that practitioners understand neuroanatomy, the science of pain, and the power of reducing threat, because this level will magnify all of that knowledge and bolster it with even more tools that benefit everyone in a practitioner’s roster.
For all the possible reasons I chose Z-Health, it was their Vision Statement that sealed it for me:
“The goal of Z-Health Performance Solutions is to help create professionals that are in the top 1% of their respective fields.”
When I first entered a weight room, I was a scrawny 14 year old kid with broad shoulders and little to no idea what in the world I was doing there. The big guys in their 40s who looked like they could lift a house off the ground intimidated me, the women who looked like they could lift the big guys in their 40s intimidated me, and the rest of the people in the weight room obviously felt the same way I did. There was the noxious odor of sweat-soaked leather that is singularly unique to a hardcore weight room that I found both pungent and strangely cloying. There was the rock music that the old guys insisted be played as loudly as possible, and no one was going to argue the point. And there were mirrors. Everywhere there could be a mirror, there was a mirror.
Initially, the desire to turn around and never come back was almost overwhelming. And for the first few weeks, that sensation didn’t subside. In fact, the day one of the bigger old guys yelled at me to rack my weights, it took everything in me to stand and take the admonishment and fix my error.
But, I stuck it out.
I kept coming back.
Over time, I realized the old guys appreciated how hard I was working, even though I only had a handful of “workouts” from one of the prominent bodybuilding rags of the day to guide me. They never approached me or talked to me, but they left me the hell alone. Which, I realize now, is what I was seeking. There is a peace that comes over the trainee who just buries all the focus and mental fortitude within to the task of lifting iron. Henry Rollins’ seminal article, “Iron and The Soul” is revelatory for anyone who wants to understand the mindset of a lifter. When I set out to begin training people, I was looking for people who had that same drive and intensity.
What I found, however, was really contrary.
People, it was discovered by yours truly, don’t like to exercise. When I started to work with increasingly broad samples of the population, it became obvious that most of them actually detested exercise, and did it as a form of pennance for their dietary sins. So, being a student of people and their motivations, it became clear that finding ways to make the process not just palatable, but actually enjoyable was crucial to my success. What’s more, it was clear that many of them didn’t like exercise because they had so many negative connotations that came about from bad experiences as kids, and/or because they were in some form of physical discomfort.
And THAT realization led me (as it does for so many trainers and strength coaches) down the road of “Corrective Exercise.” Addressing posture, analyzing form in obscure exercises, and watching the way people walked became part of my gig, sometimes to the point of becoming the gig. It wasn’t unusual in my time at the corporate gym setting for someone with some kind of dysfunction or discomfort in the midst of a conversation with a member of the sales team to start talking about their issues, and for the salesperson to say, “Hold on, let me get Robert. He’s an expert on injuries.” I wasn’t and I’m not, but that didn’t stop the referrals.
When I started to really get serious about pursuing strength, I learned that much of it is neurological in nature. I won’t put it into a hard number, but I would estimate that strength is well over 80% determined by what happens between someone’s ears. And as I taught the principles of strength to people who had never considered its use before, I noticed certain tendencies. It came to my attention that when teaching someone particularly complex in terms of movement or a new approach to a familiar movement, the trainee’s plantar fascia would cramp up on them, even in positions where the feet were completely uninvolved. With some study, I came to call this cramping a “guarding response,” wherein the trainee’s brain is interpreting a movement pattern as unsafe, and so it was introducing a harmless cramp in the foot to stop the attempt.
Little did I know where that would take me. . .
I had heard of Z-Health Performance in my autodidactical meanderings, but felt the curriculum was too esoteric in nature, too cerebral for a guy whose thing was “Strength & Movement.” And then I took the Neurofundamentals course.
It completely changed my outlook on my work.
I realized that yes, all training is neurological, whether we realize it or not.
The frustrations I had endured trying to employ corrective exercise solutions repeatedly with certain clients and students over months, and sometimes years, suddenly made sense.
I understood why certain trainees adapted easily to training while others felt like dragging a mule up a muddy hill.
So many things struck me with such lucidity that I knew I would forever view my work differently as a result.
Now when I look back at that 14 year old kid in the weight room, I understand those moments in that weight room were building blocks. It is clear now that the years of learning so many languages and iterations of movement weren’t a waste. Instead, they were clarifications of lens through which I view my work.
Most importantly, they aren’t supplanted by what I have learned through the process of becoming a Z-Health Practitioner. They give me an enormous library of skills to use to enhance the lives of my clients/students/pupils. And that library is supercharged by what I am continuing to absorb through the Z-Health curriculum.
In some ways, I feel like I’m starting all over.
But only in the best ways.
Hypertrophy is the science of encouraging the body to grow muscle. Its apotheosis can be found on-stage at Mr. Olympia, and its opposite can be found in the average Boomer’s or Generation X’s basement, joyfully munching away on some food “product” created by Frito Lay, slurping a diet soda, and screaming into a headset as their avatar gets “killed” by a fellow player in a first-person shooter online videogame. (Okay, that’s a little harsh. I’ve known some pretty stacked gamers.) At least, such are the stereotypes that come to mind when discussing muscle-building, and its antithesis, muscular atrophy. The human body is the singular most adaptive machine in recorded history, and while it seeks efficiency in everything, with the right doses of stress and concomitant recovery, it can be triggered like a 2nd year liberal arts major to grow impressive amounts of muscle.
Circling back to the original visuals, the truth is both more complex and simpler. Yes, the individuals of the Olympia-level of bodybuilding seek to eek out as much mass as possible, but they are also looking to lose as much fat as possible, to enhance their definition via vascularity, and to be only slightly less brown than a ginger snap. And for the Mom’s basement-dweller? Certainly, there is some muscle there; it’s just primarily found in the forearms.
The principles of building muscle are straightforward:
– lift a lot of weight often
– eat a lot of food often
Simple, right? Well, like most everything in life, the nuances make the difference. When training to build muscle, we want to train for the burn, and don’t be afraid to go to failure. In fact, going to failure in this pursuit is a good thing. (Which is the polar opposite of what we recommend for athletes lifting for strength, although the two modalities can be seen as sides of a coin.) So, yes, those months or cycles of training for hypertrophy can really suck. But, gaining muscle is a really good thing, particularly so for the older athlete.
And that’s it.
Oh, and make sure to get adequate levels of sleep. For really low body fat, plan on 7-9 hours of sleep a night. After all, that’s the time of day when the body is burning fat and building muscle.
Oh yeah, and make sure to get enough hydration. In addition to accelerating muscular recovery, charging up sports performance, and maintaining blood pressure, dehydration is a state of crisis for the body. Studies show that even MILD dehydration can offset fat loss. How much, then? Well, ladies, plan on 90 fluid ounces per day, and gentlemen, plan on 125 fluid ounces per day. That’s right. Reread those numbers. Consider where you are on your fat loss/muscle building journey and redouble your efforts to get your hydro squared away. And days you train for 40-50 minutes, add 3 cups of water to those numbers.
And lastly, a final word about the protein I mentioned earlier:. MORE.
Kidding, Here’s your easy formula for protein. 1 gram of protein:1 goal pound of body weight for men. .5 – .75 gram of protein:1 goal pound of body weight for women. Studies show that we can efficiently use 30-50 grams of protein per meal. (The numbers skew for age, activity level, body composition, gender, hormonal profile, feeding patterns, and other factors, so that’s as close to a scrip for protein intake as I can get here.)
Oh yes, and the timing of protein and carbohydrate intake matter, too. Generally speaking, getting some recovery beverage with protein and carbs immediately after a training session is a great idea.
And let’s not forget the benefits of soft tissue work and other recovery methods. Massages, foam rollers, stim units, contrast therapies, epsom salt, and all sorts of other tools that are being discovered have their place in the discussion and will add to the results.
Once these elements are dialed in, you can achieve some pretty impressive results. Piece of cake, right?
Okay, yeah, so, I’m a kettlebell guy. Or at least, that’s how I’m often described. Towards the end of my sojourn within the BIG CORPORATE BOX, I was known for two things: my garish over-the-calf socks, and my kettlebells (and let that be a free marketing lesson to all of you. Have a signature in your professional appearance. It works.) It would have surprised my coworkers to learn that while I hated wearing pants on cold and rainy days because I didn’t get to show off my socks, I didn’t hate using tools aside from kettlebells.
Truth is, before I met the kettlebell, and before I fell in love with the TRX, I was a bodyweight guy. I love work done where it’s just me and gravity. There’s a savage grace to it.
There are folks out there who trained with me in the late 90’s and early 00’s who found themselves crawling, skipping, running, and doing all kinds of crazy movements in deep sand. And they were absolute terrors in their chosen sports as a result of the work we did together. And when I chose to go full time and be a shiny-mirror/loud-music gym monkey? I had clients crawling all over the place in all kinds of variations. And members likely thought I was nuts.
Until they started noticing my clients were getting seriously shredded.
Then some early adopters started crawling as well.
And they started seriously shredded.
Calisthenics, or bodyweight exercise, is just about the purest method of hardening and fortifying the body as I have encountered.
Normally, I get into the topic of calisthenics, and I get to talking about the Greek root words kalos (beautiful) and sthenos (movement) and how the concept is both a truth and a promise. Do enough of it, and focus on moving beautifully when you do it, and you’ll be rewarded with a more beautiful countenance.
Normally, I do that. But, not this time.
Sometimes, I get to talking about calisthenics, and I talk about yoga, or what we Westerners think is yoga. I mention that the ancient Sanskrit yoga manuscripts describe just three basic positions , and that the yoga that most people think of when they hear the word (the sucky-flowy kind, not the cool-balancy kind) , Vinyasa yoga, wasn’t introduced until the 1940’s.
And, that yoga strangely mirrored the bodyweight exercises that were incredibly popular among the ‘physical culturists’ of Eastern Europe.
And whatever you do, please don’t tell your yoga friends, because, as the saying goes, “You can tell me I’m wrong, but don’t you dare tell me my Pappy is wrong.” A yogi’s word is damn near scripture for a yogini. (In the annals of apologia, no one quite reaches the apex, or the nadir, of zealotry that yoga people do.) And sure as hell, don’t tell that middle aged lady you know who just dropped multiple thousands of dollars to travel to India for a ‘yoga certification.’
But, truth is, the Yogi who introduced vinyasa yoga claimed only he had read the 5,000 year old manuscript that contained all the movements he brought forth into the yoga world BEFORE ANTS ATE THE MANUSCRIPT.
I hate when that happens. I HATE WHEN INSECTS SUDDENLY GET INTERESTED IN EATING MANUSCRIPTS THAT ONLY I HAVE SEEN.
Sometimes, I get to discussing bodyweight exercise, and I’ll do that. But, not this time.
Instead, I’m just gonna tell you: bodyweight exercise works. The important elements are tension, time, and intent. If we, as coaches, do our due diligence and craft a program that honors those three parts, and you, as athletes, act on what we bring to the table, you will see impressive results. Seriously, all you need is a 6’x6′ space and gravity and you can change your body for the better.
Just remember, your training time at home, just like your work time at home, is yours. Defend it jealously. Don’t let the outside distractions get in your way, and just as crucially, when it’s over, let it be over.
Then, go back to your real life.
I’m an athlete.
Always have been. Always will be.
I love to explore movement and find new means of physical expression. Human movement is, to me, a language. And I’ve had that feeling for as long as I can remember. I loved Saturday afternoon kung fu movies not because of the violence, but because of all the cool ways people moved.
Soccer, basketball, tennis, football, beach volleyball, they all had their seasons in my life. I enjoyed them during their chapters in my book, training for them, competing in them, and enjoying the lifestyle they each created. I even coached friends on certain skills and started physically training people for their sports, just for the joy of helping them get better.
Even though I’d first lifted weights when I was 14, I didn’t understand the deepest principles of program design, or the process of selectively creating a series of exercises over time to elicit a desired physiological response. By the time I reached my mid-30’s, I was an intermittent gym-goer, had developed some pretty bad habits, and wasn’t really thinking much about my physical condition. As 40 approached, I wasn’t just heavier than I’d ever been; I was slower and weaker than I’d ever been. BAD COMBO.
I was basically a common middle-aged man. No longer challenging myself in competition, no longer training for a sport, and no longer testing my physical capabilities. Many men of a certain age know how this story goes. They know that it starts at “I’m too busy to take care of myself,” and ends with a doctor saying, “You have low testosterone levels.”
It all changed when I was invited to make a career change and become a personal trainer. As I dove into the education necessary to be a top-notch coach, I discovered the methodology of hardstyle kettlebell training. (In another blog post, I dig in on what hardstyle is, rather than what it did.)
And it was love at first sight.
Hardstyle is a martial skill. It honors the way the body is designed to move. It strips away the unnecessary and leaves only the most effective. Born of a martial art (the karate style of goju ryu, to be precise), it prepares the body for the combative rigors of daily living unlike any other training approach. The principles underpinning it transfer to other implements, so that while the kettlebell is the ideal point of entry, the kettlebell itself isn’t the sum of what I call hardstyle.
The strength and mobility I have gained from hardstyle kettlebell training gave me the confidence to tackle something I’d always wanted to attempt. And now as a student of jiujitsu, I’m a martial artist and once again an athlete.
Always have been. Always will be.
When it comes to the concept of progression, playing with time under tension yields impressive physical results, and messing around with loading parameters can make even the meek strong like bull, but for my money, my favorite type of progression is increased movement complexity. Few things turn my crank like taking a movement pattern and tinkering with it.
In an industry where it is appropriate to ask, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” movement complexity is the strainer seeking out the pulp.
Every time I see someone doing lunges, my mind cooks up a handful of ways to make those lunges more challenging and intricate. Hell, just about everyone can do lunges! Let’s find ways to make them really interesting! (I’m a real treat at dinner parties.)
Seriously, though, when it comes to progressing a movement, other methods have incredibly detailed and measurable results that can come with their introduction. Grafting complexity on to a movement takes us into the realm of nuance.
Progression that involves complexity starts getting into fuzzy math, and questions that involve the esoteric standards of movement quality. My preferred method of progression demands adaptations that are global; they start from the CPU and travel the entirety of the neural network. Train with me long enough and you will start to move like an athlete.
You will FEEL the difference.
And therein lies the subtle beauty of learning increased complexity of movement, and of learning to own those movements.
People who move well walk differently. They hold themselves differently.
Think back to biology in school and you will recall that there are three planes of human movement:
– The sagittal plane, which dictates movement forward and back, is ubiquitous in training. Everything from bicep curls to squats are done in the sagittal plane. It bores me.
– The frontal plane relates to movement from side to side. Like someone with a job who’s got a mortgage to pay at a riot, movements in the frontal plane are a rarity in the gym. Aside from medial deltoid raises and lateral lunges, the frontal plane is a distant second. I cry for the frontal plane.
– Then there is the transverse plane, which dissects the upper and lower halves of the body. This is where power, athleticism, and grace live. Rotation, anti-rotation, twisting, and all the permutations of gait patterns find their home in the transverse plane. Any movement that begins in one big toe and ends in the opposite hand is transverse plane dominant. And I love it.
A simple example? For kettlebell practitioners, the single leg bridge is a fairly remedial exercise in the sagittal plane. But the moment a twist and reach with the opposite hand is introduced, it becomes a true challenge. That, my friends, is progression via complexity.
While manipulating loads or tweaking the time spent under tension are far more popular (and easier. And BORING!) ways to introduce progression into one’s training program, I encourage my people to look for the hidden gems that can be found in increasing complexity. The brain is the biggest calorie burner in the body.
Why not supercharge it by challenging it?
Just last week, my social media feeds started pinging with friends and former colleagues announcing their ‘separation’ from their former employer. It appears that in each case, the notification was handled via ‘robocall’ rather than the personal touch. Shortly thereafter, the company in question filed BK. For some, it was a happy occasion. For others, it was so jarring that they couldn’t quite grasp the news. And for yet others, it was more even more disconcerting to be on the outside. “There just isn’t a Big Blue Gym without Larry managing there. He’s been there as long as I’ve been going there.”
The only unifying element to all these announcements? None of them were trainers. In fact, every trainer with whom I spoke had their position waiting for them when the club opened its doors.
And small wonder. The business of the corporate gym sees its trainers as profit centers. Most gyms pay their trainers minimum wage for a minimum/maximum number of floor (non-training) hours per month, and those hours are expected to be accounted for, in either new leads, new clients, or in classes taught. The corporate trainer learns very quickly to generate numbers, or to game the system by being in the gym without being on the clock. It’s easy to see how quickly that can go sideways for both employer and employee.
The most difficult thing for new trainers to understand, particularly when they are chronologically young, is that the fitness industry is one driven by sales. Of course, EVERY business is driven by sales, but the young are, well, young. And unable to grasp much of how the world works. No business lasts long without clients. And clients are acquired through the laborious process of sales. Nowhere is this more true than the big box gym setting.
Once the young have moved past the “it’s not fair, I’m a trainer, not a salesman” phase (granting that they actually do make it through that phase), they are then hit with an even more difficult truth. Which is that in the fitness industry, particularly the corporate box gym area of the fitness industry, trainers are responsible for the entire business process. From marketing and sourcing leads to generating work product to customer service to collections, accounts receivable, and often, accounts payable, to client retention, the trainer in the big box gym handles more roles than the lead in a one-man production of A Christmas Carol. It would be akin to asking the manufacturing line at the car company to take over advertising, floor sales, service, and financing.
For the new trainer, it can be overwhelming, and small wonder that so many burn out. Compound those factors with a pay structure that gives little incentive for a seasoned trainer to stay within the confines of the corporate gym, and there is an environment that breeds employee attrition.
When the recent outbreak created the conditions ripe for overreaction, places of public gathering were hardest hit. Restaurants, theaters, and gyms were all wrecked, and those that were teetering (which is: many) simply couldn’t maintain their existence.
Now, Gold’s Gym has filed for Chapter 11 protection, and 24 Hour Fitness has done the same, and others will be close behind.
Look for the boutique studios to seize the momentum and marketspace. Some will make the same mistakes of their forebears, aiming for growth resulting in larger physical footprints, rather than growth via increased offerings and closer client relationships, but many others will see where the big brands failed.
They will see that by approaching fitness through the eyes of their trainers (their boots on the ground), and by actually listening to the experiences of their clients, rather than relying on KPIs and analytics, they can build sustainable brands. And in the process, create better, more effective fitness professionals along the way.
For now, though, my hat’s off to those I know who have lost their incomes. Here’s to hoping that when they bounce back, it they will bounce back big.
Recently, a gym buddy of mine experienced a horrific injury during a “workout” (a nonsense term I avoid using at the greatest possible costs) and it brought to mind a conversation he and I had a few years ago about my methods of coaching for improvement.
He had finished his workout and on his way out the door, was watching me go through a few sets of the Turkish Get-Up with my 32kg bell (the heaviest I had at the time). I finished my final set, and he asked me, “What’s that do? I mean, what is it working?” Anyone who has performed TGUs in a corporate gym environment over any length of time has heard either or both of these questions. Sometimes they come from members, and sometimes (frighteningly) they come from staff.
I contemplated my answer for a moment. And not because I didn’t know.
I paused because I didn’t know how much he was ready to hear.
Keep in mind, to this very day, he is an incredibly strong individual, and has an impressive physique to boot. I know he has been in and around the ‘iron game’ for his entire adult life, and likely, much of his younger years, as well.
I had watched his training regimen in the past, and knew his approach was pretty classic 80’s/90’s hypertrophy stuff. Drop sets, pyramid sets, giant sets, supersets, all the sets.
When we talked, we rarely discussed the kind of training we did, but he was open in his respect for me and my commitment to my approach. He was outspoken in his opinion that I was “wasting my time in a place like” 24 Hour Fitness, and that I could be earning 5 or 6 times what I was making with them. He thought I deserved to be working in a Los Angeles or Beverly Hills kind of market, and that I ought to move to Santa Monica to make real money. He never asked me outright to explain my philosophy. Yet, what he saw in 5 years’ time, he deeply respected.
(Oh, this might be a good time to point out that he also is a trainer. Not employed by the company, but instead wisely uses it as a way to guerilla market his brand, and to build his outside business. I knew a few people who had worked with him. They liked him as a person, and felt he was ‘pretty good’ for what he did as a trainer. He understands much of the science, and employs a great many sound techniques in his work.)
Despite all that, I never saw him spend a moment on a foam roller. I never saw him stretch. I saw him occasionally on the stair climber, and sometimes he would perform strange sprints on the elliptical machine, yet I didn’t see anything resembling recovery protocols.
Instead, it was loading, loading, loading. Heavier, heavier, heavier.
Then came the adaptive techniques. Barbell back squats with chains. Barbell back squats with a box. Barbell back box squats with chains. Barbell box jump squats with chains. (I just made that last one up. NONE OF YOU TEENAGE MEATHEADS DO THAT.)
My point is, it was all + and then + and then + and then + and then +, ad infinitum.
The body ain’t designed for that, kids. Ya gotta take yer breaks. Every loading week needs a day off, every loading quarter needs a week off, and every loading year needs a month off.
Seriously, you have to take time off. And I don’t mean a rest day every week. The whole point of resistance training is to give the body some stimulus to change. Adaptation is the name of the game. And the older we get, the longer it takes for our adaptations to occur.
It just is what it is.
Where we often go wrong in the whole process is in thinking the body and the person are somehow disparate and distinct entities. As if the stressors of life that affect the emotions and mind don’t in some way affect the body.
We are entire and complete organisms.
Enter seasonal training, or training that rotates in its points of emphasis throughout the year.
Looking at it from an athlete’s point of view, we could call them In-Season, Post-Season, Off-Season, and Pre-Season:
- In-Season, we’re looking to maintain performance, work on elements of flexibility and mobility, and to keep the athlete as injury-free and bulletproof as possible.
- Post-Season, we will look at any imbalances the sport might encourage, address nagging pains and dysfunctions, and encourage recovery from the Season’s demands.
- Off-Season, we will look at building some armor for the frame, adding some muscle and using the time to focus on accumulating and accentuating the physical skills necessary to perform in the coming Season at a higher level.
- And finally, in Pre-Season, we will start prepping the system for the demands of the sport, pursuing strength and bolstering the transmission joins of the body, while at the same time peaking the skillset preparations launched during the Off-Season.
This is waving the loads, only on a macro scale.
Treat yourself like a champion athlete and train in seasons.
Is this a blueprint for YOU to follow? Heavens, no. You might need just the opposite in your training demands. You might not think in terms of seasons. You might be thinking, “I just need to lose weight,” or “I just want to get toned,” or “I just want to lose fat, get toned, and look good naked,” or none of the above. No matter your goals, you will see greater long term and permanent changes by seeing your training life as a seasonal thing. If you have questions, ask me.
As for my buddy, I hope that the physical therapy protocols instill a respect for the awesome powers of recovery our bodies have, and that they become a regular part of his training life.
Since the early part of this millennium, it seems reams of paper, hundreds of thousands of words, and millions of kilobytes have been dedicated to the kettlebell in the exercise industry literature. And while the tool’s elegant simplicity belies its brutal effectiveness, the true ‘secret sauce’ of the kettlebell’s efficacy is not its appearance, but the principles engaged when this cannonball-with-a-handle is used.
Basically, there are three methods to using kettlebells. The American or CrossFit (CF) style, the Girevoy Sport (GS) style, and then there is Hardstyle (HS). For me and my students, hardstyle is the only system used.
A word about each, in reverse order. . .
Hardstyle was originally the name used to denote the system of hand-to-hand combat taught and used by Russian military special operators (the ‘Spetsnaz’), and, as the lore goes, the Soviet military tasked the Soviet sport scientists with finding a way to use the cheaply-produced kettlebell to turn their average soldiers into superbly-strong fighting machines.
The Russian sport scientists searched various martial arts ideologies the world over to enhance the practice of kettlebell use and settled on Okinawan Goju Ryu, a system of karate that emphasizes proper breathing techniques and the duality of hard (“go”) and soft (“ju”) styles.
Hardstyle kettlebell training incorporates two distinct ideals within. The first is the principle of full-body tension. The second is the principle of maximum acceleration. Both embrace and insist on proper breathing methods and cadences.
I liken hardstyle training to sprint training. This is a form designed for short bursts of incredible intensity. Our focus here is power production.
Girevoy Sport is the older method of using kettlebells, and today is officially recognized as a sport in Russia and Eastern Europe. Today, the main competitive lifts in GS are the Snatch, Jerk, and Long Cycle. GS is performed over a specific period of time, most often ten minutes per set.
Because of the length of time spent in each set, it is both impractical and physiologically idiotic to demand maximum tension or explosiveness in the GS lifts and competitions. Instead, competitors employ a much more gentle and “flowing” style of lift than a HS practitioner. (Frankly, GS lifts are pretty to the eye.) The popularity of GS is increasing globally, and annually, meets are reporting greater numbers of entrants from outside the traditional markets of Europe and Russia.
Where hardstyle training can be generally framed as more of a martial skill, girevoy sport can rightfully be considered so much more of an apex athletic endeavor. Neither is ‘better,’ per se. Just different.
In sporting parlance, if HS is sprint training, GS is competitive long distance running. This is a form designed for long bouts of significant effort with an eye toward safety. Rather than power production, girevoy sport is focused on power conservation.
Making no bones about it, CrossFit style is an abomination. Where Hardstyle is about generating maximum force and stabilizing the midsection to generate that force, and where Girevoy sport is about finding the ideal niche to intelligently lift a heavy load repetitively for a long period of time, I can’t find a whole lot of positive to say about the CrossFit or American style of kettlebell lift.
Generally speaking, it ignores all the principles of bracing and honoring the frame of the human skeleton that HS does, and completely overlooks the safety elements of GS. When discussing the risks involved in the CF kettlebell swing, I often ask my students over the age of 40 to put the thumb of one hand into the palm of the other, make a fist around that thumb, and then to raise both with straight arms overhead. I have yet to perform this experiment without people reporting discomfort and/or pain in their shoulders. Yet, this is where the CF swing ends: overhead, hands close to one another, elbows locked out, only with one extra special ingredient added: increased load!
(While I could spend hours covering the many ways CrossFit has benefited the fitness industry, I could spend days discussing the terrible things CF has done to people, and by extension, the fitness industry. There’s a reason smart physical therapists open offices near CrossFit studios.)
When we get back to sporting analogies among the styles, this one is pretty easy. If hardstyle is sprinting, and girevoy sport is long distance running, CF kettlebell work is rollerskating across a busy freeway at midnight with a blindfold on.
While girevoy sport is taxing, hardstyle is incredibly difficult because of the demands placed on the entirety of the body. Learning to engage every muscle on every repetition is mentally draining. With hardstyle training, the concept that strength is a skill that requires constant and consistent practice is blaringly obvious. And of all the organs in the body, the biggest and best calorie burner is the one between our ears.
I train my students to treat their time in the gym as their preparation time, not their challenge time. Occasionally, we will push the limits and find where the boundaries are, however the overarching idea is that time in the studio is time spent preparing for real life. While GS is an incredibly challenging sport with benefits to spare, HS is a method designed for warriors. They want to spend as little time as possible preparing their bodies while still leaving enough in the tank to conquer the daily struggles of life. This is the same approach my students and I take together in their journey towards strength and improved health.
I’m a hardstyle kettlebell instructor. I honor the history and intent of the principles in which I’m trained. Come work with me and discover the same for yourself.
When I launched the new Legacy Strength & Movement site, I had more than a few marketing ‘experts’ explain to me the importance of showing results in my pics with my clients. That I had to show the physical changes people had made while working with me in order to make prospects feel the confidence that yes, working with me was going to be the ticket to a getting the body that they always wanted.
And look, I get it.
That desire is fully understandable. And, in marketing terms, it makes sense.
But, here’s my stance: fat loss is 80% diet. What’s more, looking good is, first and foremost, about losing fat.
Not weight loss, mind you. Fat loss.
Sure, getting more movement, especially quality movement, is a crucial part of the weight loss AND fat loss formula. And, the pursuit of strength is equally important to success in the process.
I just won’t mislead visitors to my site with the idea that ‘joining a gym,’ or ‘getting a personal trainer,’ or ‘just getting more exercise’ is the answer. Which Before & After photos tend to imply.
Instead, the photos on this site embrace and celebrate the relationships that I enjoy with my clients. Many become good friends of mine. We spend time together outside the four walls of our training space. We have dined together, gone to sporting events together, enjoyed backyard barbecues together; in short, we enjoy each others’ company.
I cherish my clients, not just as clients, but genuinely for the people they are. I’m a coach, not just a trainer.