Friday, September 22, 2017

The Hardstyle Kettlebell Challenge - Dan John (2017)

The Hardstyle Kettlebell Challenge: 
A Fundamental Guide to Training for Strength and Power
by Dan John (2017) 

 - As always, Dan John's insights and approaches can be applied to all forms of strength training, strength sports, and life as a whole. Highly recommended. Check it out, the you of the future will be thankful for it! 

A small excerpt from very early in the book:

What is the HKC?

The longer I am involved in the Dragon Door kettlebell community, the more I take away from the simple concept of "Hardstyle." Understanding Hardstyle was a bit of a journey for me. 

From my education background, I know that "both/and" answers tend to be a bit more elegant and encompassing. But, in coaching we face "either/or" answers all the time - either we win or we are out of the playoffs. So, when it came to something like Hardstyle, I really wanted someone to just tell me,m "This is it!"

At first, complex things are rarely that simple. But later, complex things are that simple! 

Yes, Hardstyle is from the Martial Arts tradition of "Force meets Force." 

And it blends the softer movements of the restorative movements of Tai Chi.

And it teaches us to understand tension and relaxation.

And, yes, Hardstyle includes the Yin-Yang relationship between the ballistic movements and the grinding movements. (Ballistics are the snatch and swing: Examples of grinds are squats and presses.)

Learning to turn on extreme tension has value for planks and perhaps the powerlifts (squat, bench press, and deadlifts). Becoming as loose as possible has great application in restorative work, flexibility, and mobility training.

But, the ability to snap into high tension from relaxation is the master quality of sports.

It's called many things: from stretch-reflex to "bow and arrow," but the ability to apply the right amount of tension and relaxation at the appropriate moments is the secret to elite performance.

I can explain this by simply snapping my fingers. With the right tension in my thumb and middle finger along with the appropriate release, I will make a nice little popping sound. If I totally relax, no noise comes from my palm. If I totally tense, nothing happens! 

The Hardstyle Kettlebell Three - the swing, goblet squat, and get-up - are the gateway to understanding this crucial concept in fitness and performance. Athletes who snap, win. Those of us who can still pop up, leap into the fray, and bound into the office do better in life, living and everything else. 

If you are interested in living longer, knowing how to roll on the ground will save your life in some situations, while leaping away will be the survival key to other life or death moments. Sometimes, you might just need to duck down - in that moment you will be glad to have been doing squats in your training.

The HKC Three introduce us to the concepts of elite performance. Frankly, I think anybody who trains on  regular basis is pretty elite since most people don't do any exercise at all. So, if you are training, then you are elite! Sometimes juggling life and training is a feat worthy of a superhero.

While we have named this method Hardstyle, it also goes by other names. When I was first introduced to throwing, the concept of "Bow and Arrow" was the standard method of teaching the finish of the throw. For the discus, shot and javelin we were told to drive our hips and chest into the direction of the throw and then let the "bowstring" - the energy in the body - snap the arrow/implement off into the sector. If one had the patience to let the implement stay back until releasing the bowstring, then amazing things happened. 

Forty plus years later, I still can't think of a better way to teach the throws. We have tried to "science it up" with phrases like "pre-stretch" and "lateral chains" among many others, but the image of the bow and arrow is practically perfect "in every way" (with a nod to Mary Poppins). The body releases the elastic energy built up during the momentum-gathering phase (turn, glide or run up) and transfers it to the throw.

When done correctly, throwing, kicking and punching almost seem effortless when compared to the results. It's like simply pulling then releasing a rubber band that snaps over several rows of school desks to hit your best friend's earlobe.

Teaching the feeling of melding tension and relaxation is the cornerstone of the Hardstyle kettlebell method. And, we have a secret to teaching it. And like most secrets in life such as "buy low, sell high," it is sadly obvious. It is a painful truth much like Chris Jami quoted, "Never hide things from hjardcore thinkers. They get more aggravated, more provoked by confusion than the most painful truths." 

The secret is no secret. It is a painful truth.

With the kettlebell swing, the hinge is the "bow" and the finish is the "arrow." When I first started doing swings correctly - please make sure you understand that, I said "correctly" - I immediately noticed an improvement in my throws. My first article about kettlebells noted this "What the Heck Effect" as I added nearly seventy feet to my javelin throw. 

In all honesty, I wasn't much of a javelin thrower, but the difference astounded me! Suddenly, instead of trying to "huck and chuck" the javelin, my inner Spartan was snapping it off.

That's the power of the kettlebell swing. Performed correctly, the swing mimics the key to athletic success. However, there is another layer to sports performance. It took me three years to understand it, but the journey was worthwhile.

Doctor Stu McGill is a legendary back researcher and all around good guy. He understands athletics and athletes because he studies them - he is also unique because he listens to them. He never rushes to judgement on corrections, regressions and progressions. Instead, he takes his time to make sure the answer actually fits the question.

I have sat in his lectures on many occasions, but only recently grasped his insight of the "hammer and stone." When he studies athletes, especially after they begin to struggle, he has observed that they often maintain high levels of power, hypertrophy and strength. Yet, their performance still begins to lag. 

It took me a while to appreciate his insights about performance. The "hammer" is the explosive drive off of the ground, the hit, or the punch. The "stone" is the athlete's body. As we age, we might not lose our hammer, but we lose our stone!

Now, some caveats - keeping the stone is not necessarily maintaining six-pack abs, lean body mass and toned, tight and tanned buttocks. Instead it is the ability to hold together "in one piece," as I say in one of my three key principles of training:

1. The body is one piece.

2. There are three kinds of strength training: putting weights overhead, picking them up off the ground, and/or carrying them for time or distance.

3. All training is complementary.

Stone training is the connecting point of three concepts crucial to performance. Performance is the moment they call your name, turn on the spotlight, and the maestro taps the baton. You might be the best in your gym or garage, but performance happens on the stage. A good set of stones are crucial in more ways than one when it comes to performance!

I've identified three types of stone training . . .

 - Okay . . . you're now at the middle of page four of the book.
There's a hundred and forty and more pages, each equally illuminating, and hey,

Get One, get some light on the path, and as always . . . 

Enjoy your lifting! 




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