How To Suck At Life

Wow, it sure has been a long time since I posted any content here.

No, I didn’t die. Obviously. Because here I am writing to you.

But, lots of other stuff happened.

My favorite aunt, who was like a second mother to me, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, struggled with it for three years, and passed away.

My mom was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. She had major surgery, chemo, and radiation, and, thank God, is cancer free today.

And there’s still the fallout from my Dad’s sudden death way back in 2005. That upended my life and I never really found a solid foothold with that until very recently.

I emotionally ate through all that crap, and gained back all the weight I had lost in the previous years. I’m now heavier than I have ever been in my whole life, and I’m pretty pissed off about it.

But, on the bright side, I lifted fairly consistently and heavily throughout all of that, so I also retained quite a bit of strength. I worked with a few great trainers, and a few bad ones. I learned a lot about what type of training is best for my body, and I’m hoping to apply that knowledge in my long road back to health.

Good.

Onward.

One of the things I learned is: I feel great working out and lifting every day IF it’s the right kind of lifting.

Kettlebells every day? No. Injuries galore.

CrossFit every day? No. See above.

Martial arts every day? No. See above, again.

Bodybuilding/Powerlifting every day? Yes. I feel like a million bucks.

I will admit, I bought fully into the CrossFit “bodybuilding sucks” propaganda. I snickered at the dummies doing curls and using the cable machine. Meanwhile, I couldn’t bend over because my back hurt from doing deadlifts for time, or do a simple push-up because my shoulders were jacked up from doing 100’s of burpees and overhead kettlebell swings.

With all that in mind, today I started a cycle of Dan John’s “Even Easier Strength.” I recently read Matt Perryman’s Squat Everyday book, and having had the epiphany that I can actually lift every day and feel great, I decided to run a cycle of one of the greatest lift every day programs there is: Easy Strength.

My first workout today was:

Stretch – 5-10 minutes

Deadlift 2×5

Overhead Press – 2×5

Seated Cable Row – 3×5

Barbell Hip Thrust – 2×5

Farmer’s Walk

Short, brisk walk outside with the dogs.

And that’s it for today. I started with really, really light weights and will work up to heavier as I go along. The idea with lifting every day (unless I’m doing a bodybuilding split) is to never, ever struggle with a weight. All lifts are easy, or relatively easy, anyway. No grinding out 99% 1RM deadlifts. Naughty, naughty.

I would also like to point out, before the kettlebell and CrossFit and Beach Body haters come around, that I’m not saying those types of workouts are wrong or stupid. They just don’t work for me without making me a creaky, grumpy, exhausted, binge eating excuse for a human being. I think every one has a different type of program that works for them. So if you think CrossFit is the bee’s knees, and you can honestly say you thrive on it, then good for you, go for it!

I’ll just be over here, doing my lateral raises and lat pulldowns, cheering you on.

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Updated Update to World Kettlebell Club Review

First off, let me say that I cannot WAIT for 2012 to be over. It was a miserable year for me: injury, illness, the death of a beloved family member, and drought. The year can’t end soon enough for me, and today’s post is something that’s been hanging over my head for a while and I need to take care of it. I just need to clean the books off of 2012 and pray to God that next year will be better.

OK, on that incredibly positive note, here’s what happened:

In 2011 I ordered a bunch of kettlebells. Some of them from Kettlebells USA, some from Perform Better, and one from the World Kettlebell Club. I was surprised about the poor quality of the WKC kettlebell, as they are touted as being THE BEST of the best. I was also quite shocked at the extremely poor customer service I received from the company. I wrote all about it here and here.

I probably never would have written any of that if the WKC had been even just a little bit polite in dealing with me. Honestly, it was some of the worst customer service I’ve ever received. So, I was ticked, I wrote my little review and thought no more of it. Like I said in the other posts, I’m a little nobody on the internet, who the heck cares what I think?

Then a while later Kettlebells USA linked to my review on their facebook page. I thought, “OK, whatever floats their boat.”

Then a while after that, I got a ping that someone had left a comment on this blog. It was from Valery Fedorenko. Uh, yeah. THE Valery Fedorenko. That’s like saying on your blog that you think Air Jordans suck and having Michael Jordan call you up and say “Oh, really?”

Ruh-roh.

According to Mr. Fedorenko, the WKC was having problems with the manufacturer at that time, and apparently having employee problems as well, because at first they couldn’t find a record that I had purchased a kettlebell from them. The person I wrangled with at the WKC back then didn’t even sign their name to any correspondence, so I have no idea who I even dealt with.

So, Mr. Fedorenko and a new customer service rep from the WKC were kind enough to send me two brand spanking new kettlebells to review.

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On the left is a VF Fitness kettlebell, in the middle is the original ProGrade kettlebell, and on the right is a standard size VF Performance kettlebell.

The first thing I thought when I took the new bells out of the box is “Wow!” This is what I thought I would get when I originally ordered a WKC kettlebell. The bells are top quality, very well made and no tape or bondo that I can see.

The Performance bells have a different finish than the ProGrade bells. It is more of a matte finish, as you can see from the photo. The Performance bells also have a flat area next to the handle (where the bell comes in contact with your forearm.) The different design makes holding the bells in the rack position feel much more comfortable, and it keeps the bell more stable when pressing or jerking.

The new design on the standard size bell is very nice, and I would be completely satisfied with that version, but the VF Fitness size bell is what I am really impressed with.

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VF Fitness model on the left, standard size VF Performance on the right.

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VF Fitness model on the left, standard size ProGrade on the right.

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Standard size ProGrade on the left, standard size VF Performance on the right.

I am short – 5’2″ to be exact. The VF Fitness size bell fits me to a T. It is incredibly comfortable to hold in the rack position and to press or jerk overhead. I have trouble doing a bottoms up press with the ProGrade 12kg bell, but I can do it with the Fitness size model. I’m also not crazy about doing high rep swing workouts with the ProGrade model as it gets uncomfortable to hold onto with two hands for that long, but I’ve done high rep swing workouts with the Fitness model and it felt completely different.

The Fitness model bell is actually one of my all-time favorite pieces of exercise equipment I’ve ever owned. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping it in my office and doing snatches or clean and jerks whenever I need a break from computer work. It is truly a fantastic kettlebell, from the design down to the finish and construction. If I could only have one kettlebell, this would be the one.

So, to sum up the whole saga of Tami vs. the WKC: the company seems to have upgraded everything, from their products to their customer service. The customer service rep I spoke to this time around was very professional and helpful. Mr. Fedorenko and the WKC certainly didn’t have to go out of their way to do anything for me, but I really do appreciate their efforts to make things right.

Well, that closes the books on 2012. Happy New Year, everyone, and let’s all hope that 2013 is even better than last year.

Non-Sitters of the World, Unite!

Well, where to begin?

Beginning with my hip flexor seems like a very fine place. Not much to say except, I hurt it. I hurt it bad. My initial injury seemed to heal itself within a week or so, but apparently that was just a tap on the shoulder from the universe, warning me to cool it.

I didn’t listen, of course, and I ended up hurting it even worse. Essentially, I could not sit with my legs bent. I either had to stand up, or lay down flat on my back or stomach. This was pretty much my existence for three weeks, give or take. Luckily, I didn’t have any pressing work so I just became best friends with my recliner and sofa and dug into the huge pile of books that I’ve been meaning to read for the last ten years or so.

The pain was so bad at one point that I couldn’t walk without crutches and I pretty much just cried and tried not to throw up. I even found myself thinking “If I could only walk normally I’ll never take it for granted again.”

One thing I’ve learned through this is that America is not built for non-sitters. Before my injury I never noticed how much we sit during the day. Eat breakfast – sit; drive to work – sit; work – sit; lunch – sit; more work – sit; drive home – sit; eat supper – sit; watch TV – sit. Since I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t work at my computer (I finally rigged up a standing desk), I couldn’t go out to eat with my family, forget ranch work – I couldn’t have even climbed in the tractor if I had wanted to, and then once I got in I certainly couldn’t have sat there for eight or more hours a day.

I was screwed, basically.

I’m pretty sure I brought this injury on myself because of my over-sitting – and if that wasn’t bad enough, I was over-sitting with extremely poor posture. I knew it, I thought about it while I was doing it, but I was too lazy to address it. So, don’t be like me and don’t, for the love of all that’s holy, neglect your posture and mobility.

Today I finally felt good enough to get a workout in. I read this article on T-Nation and decided to do some kettlebell swings.

Warmup:
5 minutes on AirDyne, easy pace

Workout:
Grab a handful of loose change. Put it in your pocket. Reach in and grab the first coin you touch, and do however many kettlebell swings the coin is worth. Then rest for however many breaths your coin was worth. (ie, one dime equals ten reps. After the last rep, put the bell down, breath in and out through your nose ten times.)

Fat Bar Shoulder Press
10 x 18# / 5 x 38# x 3 sets

Hanging Leg Raises
5 x 5

I totally forgot how wonderful it is to work up to a nice sweat. I missed it. Here’s hoping I go a long time without having to miss it again.

 

Training Update

Two weeks ago I was riding in a car with someone else, when we went down a street I use all the time and I happened to see a cool logo on a building we passed.

My head snapped around so fast I almost got self-induced whiplash. “That looks promising,” I thought to myself. “Wouldn’t it be great if it were a cool little gym?” Of course, I wouldn’t have noticed it if I had been driving. When I drive, I do not look around. Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel. I go where I’m going and then I look around. Maybe.

When I got home I googled, and it turned out it was a cool little gym, and it had been there since September. More googling revealed that one of the trainers was HKC certified (kettlebells!) and the gym was a Whole9 nutrition partner.

Hello, universe? Thank you. That is all.

I’ve been looking for someone RKC certified to work with on kettlebells. You can video tape yourself in your basement ’til the cows come home, but it’s not the same as having another knowledgeable person watch you move and give you feedback. The closest RKC instructor is over 300 miles away, and I really was contemplating trying to figure out a way to work with him. I never even thought of checking for an HKC instructor, which is what Peggy at The Underground is.

I signed up for three months of private training sessions with her and had two sessions last week. She has given me some great feedback already. I knew I was doing something wrong on my swings because my low back gets fatigued. I thought I wasn’t getting my hips back far enough, but it turns out I was over-extending my back at the top and not keeping my core tight enough. I could have video taped myself doing a million swings and never figured that one out on my own.

The first session was kind of a “let’s see what we’re dealing with here” kind of gig. I had told her through email that I’d been watching videos online and teaching myself. I’m sure she read that and thought “Dear Lord, don’t let it be Jillian Michaels videos.” She asked me when I came in and when I told her “Tracy Riefkind, Neghar Foononi and Steve Cotter” the relief on her face was palpable. Heh, heh.

So, I’ve been doing these kettle-ball swing thingies and I just can’t figure out why my back hurts.

The second session was a great butt-kicking circuit, and the finisher was drop-set farmer’s walks. I loooooove me some farmer’s walks. In fact, the way to my heart is probably through farmer’s walks, and maybe dark chocolate ice cream. If a man could find a way to combine farmer’s walks and dark chocolate ice cream, I’d probably marry him. Just sayin’.

Hello, universe? Thank you again.

Ow, My Psoas!

Last Saturday I was dinking around in the yard, came in and sat at the computer for about 15 minutes, and when I got up I couldn’t walk. Long story short, my hip has been hurting ever since, hence the lack of workout updates.

Of course, yesterday I decided it was time I was diagnosed. So I fired up google and searched “hip pain”, because what other way is there to diagnose except on the internet. Pshaw, fancy doctors. Who needs ’em?

As it goes with internet self-diagnosis, within a few clicks I learned that I either had spinal stenosis or cancer.

Ok, maybe that wasn’t the best idea. After I cried a little bit (no, not really – ok, maybe a tiny little bit), I decided to check mobilitywod.com, because K-Star would never tell me I have cancer.

Sure enough, within a few minutes I narrowed it down to my psoas. Or as K-Star puts it, my filet mingon.


I been stretching. I been M-Woding, and I must say I was feeling much better. In fact, I felt so much better that last night I did a quick workout:

10 rounds
10 power swings
5 jerks per arm
25# kettlebell, rest as needed between rounds

2 rounds
10 hanging leg raises
30 yard farmer’s walk, 25# per hand

Then today we branded about thirty calves. It was a very bad, horrible, no good branding day. I got kicked, my toes got smashed, I got hit in the head by a steel gate, I got slammed against the fence, and my fingers got squeezed in the calf table. By the end of the day, everything but my psoas hurt.

So to sum things up, my self-diagnosing cure for psoas pain is kettlebell power swings and being brutalized by large farm animals.*

*I’m joking. Don’t be stupid. Go to one of those fancy, modern doctors if you are in pain.

Mega Training Update

We’re still calving here at the el rancho, so I’m still not sleeping much. I did, however, have time to clean out the basement gym and build myself a squat rack (pictured above, obviously.) It’s made out of 4×4’s, 2×4’s, and 2×6’s. I used scrap sucker rod for the pins and I built myself some j-cups out of scrap metal (not pictured.) And the cherry on top is the X-43M Multi Grip Crossmember from Rogue Fitness. I probably could have built that myself too, but why bother when Rogue will build it for me?

The last week I’ve been doing quite a few kettlebell workouts:

Snatch, 8kg
15 seconds on/15 seconds rest
Alternating arms, for 12 mintues

Snatch Ladder
8kg x 7 reps per arm
10 kg x 5 reps per arm
12 kg x 3 reps per arm
14 kg x 1 rep per arm
5 rounds

Also, lots of swings, bottoms up presses, and strict presses. Yesterday I hit a 14kg press with my left arm, which is a PR for me. Yay!

Yesterday I didn’t have anything planned, so I did a Fitocracy Quest/Challenge workout. In other words, the only reason I did most of this stuff was so I could win some little badges (and a few points) on Fitocracy. Eh, I’m easy that way.

10kg KB swings – 5 x 10

8 kg KB snatch – 10 per arm

KB Press
8kg x 5/arm
10 kg x 5/arm
12 kg x 3/arm
14kg x 1/arm (PR on left side)

Dumbell Press
20# x 5/arm
25# x 3/arm
30# x 1/arm (won me the Hands Up High badge on Fitocracy)

Barbell Bench Press
5 x 33# / 5 x 53# / 3 x 73# / 3 x 83# / 3 x 88# / 1 x 93# / 1 x 98# (won me the Push It Bench Press badge, the Bench Press quest, also possibly a PR)

Pendlay Row
5 x 5 – 63# (achieved the Learn the Pendlay Row Fitocracy quest)

Pull-ups
Regular x 3
Chins x 3
Neutral Grip x 3
Wide Grip x 3
(all assisted with small jump for momentum)
(achieved the Pull Yourself Up Fitocracy quest)

Farmer’s Carry
5 x 300 feet, 25#/arm

Bottoms Up KB presses
8kg, 10kg, 12 kg

I would highly recommend checking out Fitocracy, it’s lots of fun. If you need an invite let me know, I have a few to hand out.

On a non-fitness related note, I recently read a great book called Killing Bono. I LOVE U2, so I’m a little biased, but I thought it was a really sweet and beautiful book. Five stars, baby. Check it out if you are looking for something to read.

I went through a teensy, weensy U2 phase when I was in college – having read Unforgettable Fire and become obsessed in the way an art major gets obsessed with these kinds of things. (We won’t talk about the concurrent George Michael phase, ahem.) Anyway, reading the Killing Bono book brought it all back and now I’ve been obsessively listening to my old U2 albums for the last week, especially in the gym.

For your listening pleasure here are three great U2 songs.

#1 “One” with Mary J. Blige (I also had her My Life album on repeat in college.) The divine Ms. Blige plus U2? Yes, please!

#2 “I Will Follow” live at the Brooklyn Bridge (one of their earliest and best songs)

#3 “Stuck In A Moment” live on Letterman. Fantastico.