Kettlebells: The Best Weight in the Gym?

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.46.49 AMAh, kettlebells: Those giant industrial-looking blobs of metal. What’s the point of them when we have more “refined” weights like dumbbells and barbells? As it turns out, they may very well be the best weight in the gym. The simple but thoughtful design of the kettlebell gives it unique benefits that continue to make it a staple in any fitness routine.

If kettlebells look like something born out of bygone era, it’s because they are. They were first developed by Russian farmers in the 18th Century as tools to weigh crops. Because of their compact design and versatility, the Soviet army began using them in their physical training. They later caught on across the world.

Here’s what makes kettlebells so valuable, and why we still use them today:

Versatility

One kettlebell can offer enough exercises to work out your entire body. Snatches, cleans, squats, presses, deadlifts, Turkish getups — the list goes on and on. There is hardly a body part that the kettlebell can’t target.

Compact Design

Kettlebells are compact and nearly indestructible. Unlike a barbell or rack of dumbbells, they’re small enough to keep and use at home. Two or three kettlebells is all you may need for a makeshift home gym.

Unstable Force

The kettlebell’s center of mass extends outside the hand, unlike traditional dumbbells. This makes them ideal for swinging or ballistic movements – ones that accelerate a weight. Unstable force requires you to use more of your body to control the movement, which uses more muscles and makes it a better workout.

Increased Power

Power = Speed x Strength. Common kettlebell movements require fast muscular contractions, which help to build up your power endurance. This will help improve your body’s capacity for completing multiple reps of quick movements like the clean and the snatch.

Fat Loss & Conditioning

Power endurance training is essentially a form of metabolic conditioning, or what we call a “metcon.” These intense exercises, which we do daily in the gym, help to increase the body’s capacity for the storage and delivery of energy. Furthermore, metabolic conditioning has been found to be one of the most effective forms of exercise for fat and calorie loss.

Want to learn more about kettlebells and how to use them? CrossFit City of Angels is hosting a special Kettlebell Seminar on Saturday, April 11, from 10 a.m. to noon. Certified kettlebell expert Anton Summers will help you improve your technique and teach you new exercises you never knew you could do with a kettlebell! Anyone is welcome to attend, but CFCOA athletes get a special price of $35. Sign up at the gym or e-mail Jino if you have questions.

 

Dominate Your WOD

So that 10-second countdown is on the timer again, and panic strikes. Are my shoes tied? Where’s the 400-meter run again? Did I take my nervous pee?

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Instead of freaking out about your WOD, here are some tips that’ll help you dominate it:

 1. Prepare

Always practice a few reps of every movement you’ll be doing in a workout; that’s doubly important when it involves weight. Set up your area so you know where everything is and it’s laid out in an efficient manner (avoid crossing back and forth across the room). Pay attention during warmup and ask your coaches about movements you’re unclear about.

 2. Strategize the Workout

Take a best guess at how you’re going to attack the WOD. If for example you’re doing Elizabeth (21-15-9 squat cleans and ring dips) make a guesstimate of how you plan to break up the first set of squat cleans. Two sets of 11 and 10? Three sets of seven? Seven sets of three? There’s no right or wrong way, but it’s helpful to come up with a plan based on your level of ability. The more often you work out, the better you’ll know how to approach your workout.

 3. Focus on Technique

Never rush so quickly through a WOD that your technique gets messy. Not only is this potentially dangerous, but it becomes inefficient. If, for example, you’re doing push presses and you focus on keeping a strong core with an aggressive dip and drive, you’ll get that bar up overhead with less upper body work. That will save your shoulders from fatigue if there are a lot of reps.

 4. Manage Your Rest

Unless you’re doing a short WOD like Baseline, you’ll invariably need to rest. Just as you make a plan for when to work, make a plan for when you’re going to rest and for how long. If you’re doing Karen (150 wall balls), maybe you’ll do 10 wall balls at a time and then rest for 10 seconds. Don’t rest for too long or you’ll lose momentum and start to cool down. Another technique is to count your breaths. Instead of allotting a certain amount of rest time, you might allot yourself three to five good, deep breaths.

 5. Don’t go to Failure

Once you completely burn out on a movement (like, say, pushups or toes to bar) it becomes significantly more difficult for your body to recover. Instead, work to 80-90% of failure and then rest. If you fail at 10 pushups, then only do 8 or 9 before taking a break. Always keep just a little bit left in the tank until you’re at the home stretch of the workout. Then you can burn rubber and gas out.

EFL! Finale Bowling Party and Awards Ceremony!

bowling

Open to all EFLers: we are celebrating the end of the Challenge by having a bowling party at X Lanes in Little Tokyo at 7pm next Saturday, March 7th. The cost is $8, and you can pay by paying cash the next time you come to the gym. We will announce winners around 8pm, so don’t miss it!

We Now Offer Protein Powder and Fish Oil Subscriptions!

fishoil

Get quality products at an even better price when you sign up for a subscription at CFCOA. When you get a monthly subscription of protein powder, it’s only $38.99 per month (a savings of $6 per bag!), and a monthly subscription of fish oil costs only $30.99 (a savings of $6 per month!). Ask a coach to sign you up today

ATOMIC Athlete of the Month: Camilo

Camilo-ATOMIC

Camilo – We can sum him up in one word – “keep up”. OK, so that’s two (but they’re short).

Seriously though, if you need to be pushed by another guy WODing next to you then you’ve found him. Plus he’s a hell of a guy and a great dad. We are holding back on ragging on him because he’s fun to pick on, but look out because he probably will win any war you start that involves pranks.

Camilo congrats! You earned being ATOMIC for March 2015.

Dynamic Stability: Beyond Hollow Rocks

Why do we practice hollow rocks and how are they any different from, say, planking? While planking is a static position, the hollow rock excels at creating dynamic stability. It’s one of the most important skills for developing strength and for exercising safely with intensity.

Dynamic stability is the body’s ability to maintain form while moving. Usually that looks like keeping a rigid core while the body’s extremities are moving. It’s a technique that’s applicable to a wide array of movements—lifts such as deadlifts, cleans and snatches, of course—but also push-ups, running, rowing, and more. In fact, there are few movements that don’t require at least some dynamic stability.

Hollow rocks help us practice moving our bodies while maintaining a rigid shape. Carl Paoli of GymnasticsWOD.com offers a great example of the ideal hollow rock:

Carl Paoli performs a hollow rock.

Carl Paoli performs a hollow rock.

But there are other dynamic stability exercises beyond the hollow rock. Try these out to build dynamic stability along your core and your extremities:

Single-Leg Deadlift

Place a light kettlebell on a platform about six to eight inches off the ground (at mid-shin height). Then, hinge forward at the hip and allow one leg to come off the ground. Using the hand from the same side, pick up the kettlebell, keeping your back straight and your grounded leg steady. This movement is closest to a Romanian-style deadlift. It trains dynamic stability both in your back and in the leg that is on the ground.

Here’s a good video example:

Single-Leg, Romanian Style Deadlift

Single-Leg, Romanian Style Deadlift

Banded Knee and Ankle Stabilization

If you have shaky knees or ankles, this is a great exercise for building strength and balance. Using a thin band looped around a pole, step one leg inside the band so that it is wrapped at the top of the knee. Create slight tension by stepping away from the pole, then lift the non-banded leg off the ground and bend the banded knee slightly. Balance for 20-30 seconds in this position. Repeat two more times, then switch legs.

Here’s a video example, with ways to make it even more challenging:

Knee and ankle stabilization using a band.

Knee and ankle stabilization using a band.

Shoulder Stability with Offset Weight

If normal shoulder rehab exercises aren’t doing the trick, this is an advanced movement to develop better scapular stability. You’ll need a hammer or some kind of implement where there is a handle and a weight on one end (we have one of these in the gym). Lying on your stomach on a table or a box, hold the implement in your hand and do a reverse fly motion. The offset weight forces you to maintain rigidity in the rotating muscles in your shoulder and back.

Here’s a visual example of this from physical therapist Mike Reinold:Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 2.04.01 PM

The more you practice dynamic stability exercises, the better you’ll be able to train with intensity because your body will be equipped to keep good form even when you’re exercising at high intervals or heavier weights. Most of all, just keep doing those hollow rocks!

Good Form Starts with Good Posture

For some, one of the most difficult abilities to develop in barbell lifting is kinesthesia—an awareness of the position and movement of your body. Athletes are often surprised to see their set-up and execution when a coach takes a photo or video of them. They’re often far off from what they picture in their minds because they haven’t developed a sense of what proper form feels like. Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.11.13 AM

So how do you develop a better kinesthetic sense? It starts with daily awareness of your body outside of the gym and, most practically, by practicing good posture.

Everyone is born with a natural sense of proper posture, but our bodies begin to fall out of alignment from physical, emotional and incidental stresses throughout life. The problem is, if your everyday posture is already faulty, how can you hope to have good lifting form? By practicing good habits daily, you’ll work toward developing better kinesthesia.

Here are some common posture problems and how to fix them:

Rounded Shoulders

This often occurs when the thoracic spine is weak and sternoclavicular joints are unstable. The shoulder blades pull apart and the traps and pectoris minor muscles become engaged to create stability. Rounded shoulders reduce strength in the thoracic (torso) area and in time can lead to severe hunching.

How you know: In a side photo, your upper back will look rounded. From a back photo, your shoulder blades will point out and away instead of together and back.

Rehab: Holding a thin band in front of you at chest level with both hands, pull the band apart in a reverse fly motion, bringing your shoulder blades together. This will help build strength and put you in a proper position.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt

The spine takes on an exaggerated “S” shape because the pelvis is tilting downward. Picture of bowl of water spilling as it tilts over. This often happens when the lower side abdominals are weak or the hip joint is unstable.

How you know: Your lumbar (lower spine) arches far more than most people’s, or if you have a small pooch in your stomach even though you have low body fat.

Rehab: In a deep lunge, push your hips forward and squeeze the butt muscles on the side of your body where the knee is touching the ground. Extend your arm upward from that same side and then stretch to the opposite side and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat three times on each side.

Forward Head and Neck

The head and neck are far forward from proper alignment. This is commonly due to stiff muscles in the back of the next or a developed habit over the years. If you’re craning your neck toward your computer monitor all day, you probably suffer from this!

How you know: Looking at a photo of yourself in profile, your ear is in front of the midpoint of your shoulder.

Rehab: Drop your chin down toward your sternum and, using your hand, put very light pressure on the back of your head to get a good stretch. Repeat the same exercise at an angle, pointing your chin toward your right and left hips to get a stretch on the back side of your neck. Practice keeping your head back.

Uneven Shoulders

This may be caused by weakness in muscles that run under your chest, or it may be a more global problem in how you are standing.

How you know: Looking in the mirror, one shoulder is higher than the other.

Rehab: First stand tall in a mirror and balance your weight evenly on your feet. If you see your shoulders even out, then your problem is how you stand. Practice keeping your weight centered when you stand instead of shifting toward one side. If that doesn’t solve it, do strict dumbbell shoulder presses with light weights in front of a mirror. Focus on keeping your hands at the same level as you raise and lower the dumbbells.

Good posture, like so many things in life, takes ongoing attention. As you practice daily posture, you’ll begin to build better awareness of your body, which will translate into better positioning for your lifts. You’ll begin to “feel” what proper lifting form is like rather than just following a set of directions. As you internalize your form, it will come naturally to you and you’ll have to think less about it.

 

Putting “You” in Team

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 5.18.41 PMOne of CrossFit’s greatest strengths is the way in which it is structured. We offer classes not just to provide good coaching, but also to take advantage of the team dynamic. The team is a powerful tool you should be using to improve your performance and meet your wellness goals.

How can you take advantage of the other athletes in your class to improve your experience? Consider this:

Accountability

When you attend a class regularly, other athletes come to expect you. Make an effort to attend at regular times and make connections with others who are also consistent. Knowing you’ll be missed is a strong motivator to get to the gym. If you haven’t seen someone for a while, let them know they’ve been missed.

Learning Opportunities

It’s the coach’s job to oversee the instruction of a class, but she can’t watch every athlete at all times. When possible, pair up with someone of a similar ability and critique each other’s performance. Your partner might notice something you’re doing that hasn’t been pointed out before. As you develop a critical eye for others, you’ll become better aware of your own performance.

Shared Experience

Doing Murph on Memorial Day is rough enough. Now try doing Murph all alone. The act of completing a goal in a group is far more energizing than completing it alone. Use others to push yourself and gauge your own performance. Although you’re ultimately competing against yourself, it’s this friendly competition that can push you further than you would alone.

Next Steps

So how do you take the team dynamic to the next level? Glad you asked. First, consider joining the CFCOA Team Class. It’s on Saturdays at 8 a.m. for intermediate athletes (Core grads) and above. We’ll be working toward some actual team competitions this year. If you’ve been curious about doing a competition, a team challenge is one of the best ways to get your feet wet. You’ll have the camaraderie of teammates, and you’ll have a built-in structure of support to help you through the triumphs and challenges of a competition.

Second, if you’re still on binge mode from the holidays, join the team that will be participating in the Eat For Life Challenge. It’s a six-week program built to instill permanent healthy eating and exercising habits in order to help you reach your desired body composition goals. Having a support group is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy diet. The introductory meeting is this Saturday, Jan. 24. There will be a 30-minute informational Q&A, and you can get measured, weighed, and photographed to get yourself started. Contact Coach Rose for more information.

Most important, a team is inspiration that can help you achieve more than you ever could on your own. As author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry put it: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

 

Get a Grip!

The muscles in our hands are often ignored even though they play an integral role in a wide variety of CrossFit workouts. Any movement involving a bar or ring—deadlifts, cleans, snatches, pulls, dips, muscle-ups—will require good grip strength to properly execute.

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The rock-climbing wall is fun and one of the best ways to develop grip strength.

How many times have you dropped a deadlift because your grip was slipping, or had to drop off the pull-up bar even though your arms weren’t tired yet? Better grip means bigger lifts and more reps.

Many of us don’t target grip strength because we naturally develop it as we work on these movements. Also, it’s not a sexy group of muscles to work out. No one stops to admire your totally jacked fingers. But focusing on grip strength is a great accessory exercise to improve your performance.

Your hand has different functions: It can crush and pinch, flex and extend. It’s important to develop all of these capabilities. Here are some exercises you can do on your own in the gym that will help develop a well-rounded grip:

Rock Climb Wall/Ladder

CrossFit City of Angels is one of the only boxes to offer a rock-climbing wall—take advantage of it! Follow the colored pieces of tape for varying levels of difficulty, or create your own path. Try to climb the wooden slats of the ladder, starting with the ones on the right, which are thickest/easiest. If you can’t climb the ladder, just hang on it.

Bar Hang

This is a straightforward hang from the rig with the bar positioned just above your palms at the base of your fingers. Hold it for as long as you can or do three sets of 30 seconds or a minute. Alternately, you can get a similar workout holding a pair of heavy dumbbells for a set period of time. If you can hold for more than a minute, try heavier dumbbells.

Barbell Roll

With a barbell cradled in the fingers of both hands, close and open your fingers, letting the barbell roll toward your fingertips but without letting it fall off. Do three sets of ten reps. Keep the bar close to the ground in case it slips off.

Fingertip Pushups

Do push-ups on your fingertips. The weight pushes your fingers outward, forcing you to stabilize them. Try three set of eight or 10 reps. This may be challenging for some, so try the push-up on your knees if you need to. You can also do a plank hold in the same position.

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Don’t stick your tongue out at the bar hang. It’s a simple and effective way to develop your grip.

Plate Pinch

Grab a 25-pound bumper plate or two 10-pound plates and pinch them together using only your fingers (don’t use any part of your palm). Hold for a minute, or do three sets for anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute.

Rope Climb/Hang

Rope climbs are great at building grip strength. Spend more time climbing ropes, or do a rope hang just like you would a bar hang. For a rope hang, climb just high enough so that your body is off the ground, not to the top of the rope.

Clip Squeeze & Lacrosse Ball

Sure, you could buy a nice set of grips, but in a pinch why not just grab a pair of metal barbell clips instead and squeeze on them? Get in a little workout before a WOD while everyone else is setting up their barbells. You can also grab a lacrosse ball or tennis ball from the bin and squeeze tightly on it for 30 seconds at a time.

December Core Graduate!

nikki core grad

 

Congrats to Nicole for graduating Core. Welcome to the CFCOA family!