I was led down a much more functional road where big bloated arms didn't mean too much. Work capacity and functional strength and endurance were what mattered most. I once had an old-school Lieutenant tell me that if I was going to work for him, I needed to be ready and able to carry a 150 pound, 35 foot extension ladder, up another 35 ladder - at a moments notice. I made it my mission in life to make sure I was ready, and able to do just that.
Years later, I wrote a book on my strength-endurance building methodology, and program progression for firefighters and civilians alike (The Firefighter's Workout Book - HarperCollins 2000). Functional strength and endurance was the order of the day. In 2007 life presented my with a unique opportunity, I met and trained with Valery Fedorenko, a retired Russian Kettlebell Lifting champion, who was the first person to expose Americans to kettlebells in their purest form.
In Eastern Europe kettlebell lifting is a highly regarded sport, where the major emphasis in on high repetitions versus a one rep max (as in Olympic or power lifting). Deep level technique (think martial art) was developed by champion athletes over decades and decades performing 10 and even 20 minute sets, but never really shared with the west. Kettlebell athletes learned to develop maximum force, repeatedly and efficiently, without injury. If you watch a truly proficient kettlebell lifter, you'll see poetry in motion, grace-power-strength-speed, as the body moves as one unit, with explosive fluidity, yet lands smoothly, no matter how much force is generated.
This type of training has taught me more about human movement and force generation than any other single approach I've come across in 40 years. Once introduced to this methodology, I wanted nothing more than to share it with the masses for fitness, weight loss, and of course what kettlebells excel at, off-the-chart performance. The catch, if you could call it that, is there is a level of proficiency that must be reached before true results are realized, and Americans are an impatient bunch. That surely doesn't imply that some results, with even minimal technique, aren't possible almost immediately.
After working with new lifters, locally and from around the world, at every level, I can literally watch a lifter move a bell for 30 seconds and identify what his or her strengths and weaknesses are. The efficiency of moving a kettlebell properly has made watching anything but efficiency and perfection painfully obvious. I can prove that statement to anyone who comes into my gym after a five minute conversation and quick demonstration. I've done it a thousand times. The challenge, for the new lifter, is to have enough patience to get past the learning curve and come out on the other side, a strong, lean, capable and healthy individual.
Some Technical Stuff You'll Need to Accept Before You Start
- The human body's strongest muscle are connected to the pelvis, the further you go away from the pelvis, the weaker the muscle (think pinky toe). Lift strong, lift safe with large muscles.
- Strength is just as much a factor of speed of the nervous system as mass of the muscle system. Speed plus strength equal force. Without speed, power (real strength) is limited.
- You can rest while holding very heavy weight, if you can "connect" - that is learn how to use your bone structure and connective tissue to do the lion's share of work.
- If you want to repeat an intense activity many, many times, it must be performed with high level proficiency and timing, with an elite level interaction with the tool at hand, or an overuse injury is highly likely (IE: bad timing in clean and snatch will lead to an elbow injury).
- Patience is a virtue, and the only way to survive and remain injury free, when training at intense levels.
- You must learn to use your entire body in perfect sync, to one end - up!
- Not just the large muscles, but smaller stabilizer muscles (IE: rotator cuff), as well as tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue come heavily into play with ultra high rep training (but only with proficiency), building long lasting strength and endurance, while maintaining healthy, injury free joints.
- You can work strength, cardio, and flexibility all at the same time, and sometimes in just one set. When intensity levels are high, volume can be low.
- There is never a good reason to vomit during a workout, unless you're ill.