Matt the new guy at Juno here, still recovering from that crazy kettlebell weekend, and I had some thoughts I thought I’d like to share. Here goes.
I like to think I’ve never turned down the opportunity to learn from a master. Whatever their field of expertise is, I’m pretty game to sit down and hear some tips. Call it beginner’s mind maybe, but there’s some people out there who make us all look like beginners. I find they’re usually worth listening to. Then again, one time I took life-changing advice from a homeless person who told me he was god, so I guess I’ll listen to just about anybody. (Yes I followed his advice, and it worked out pretty well).
Anyway, Denis Vasilev. Being new to kettlebells gave me a little pause about taking the OKC Certification, but a gentle nudge from Juliet and I hopped on board. I know -- Juliet, gentle? Just a figure of speech.
So here’s some takeaways I took away (ha!) from spending a weekend learning from Denis Vasilev and immersing myself in kettlebells, OKC style. These are things that stood out to me as a trainer, and things that I will carry with me into my own training.
The first thing I noticed about Denis is that he seemed to be in a constant state of “limbering up.” Pretty much every time I saw him he was working something, even if it was just a small stretch. Between judging events he would be up finding some kink to iron out, and when I walked in early to the certification he was on the floor stretching out already. This guy stretches more than many dancers I know. And I know a lot of dancers. And no, that’s not some sort of stripper joke.
When we got to the programming section he taught, he laid out the parts of a typical training session: warmup, main exercise, and cooldown. Guess what? Stretching in all three parts. Then he emphasized the role of stretching in recovering from hard sessions. Your recovery begins with your cooldown stretch.
He walks the walk, he talks the talk. He stretches the stretch. Or whatever.
Supplement When Necessary, Simplify When Possible
Another point about training was to pay attention to “alarms.” This word might be a strange translation for something in Russian, but it was his word and I like it. An alarm is a wake-up call that you need to supplement your training in order to continue to improve. The assistance exercises he mentioned were squats, deadlifts, and push-ups. I could not be more on board with this program (unless there was ice cream involved somehow).
On the other hand, he also mentioned that he has now dropped almost all extra work and just does kettlebells. So I guess once you arrive, you’ve arrived. He’s an amazing girevik and his physique speaks for itself.
Keep Going Back to Basics
This one’s simple: after every competition, he goes back to 16kg bells. He spends at least one session at each weight, going up in 2kg increments until he reaches his working weight for the next competition. He doesn’t get back up to 32kg until a couple of weeks out from the next competition. I’ll just let you chew on that one for a bit, but trust me, it’s pretty fucking brilliant. Better yet, trust him.
Lifting Should Feel Good
If I had a dollar for every time Denis mentioned feeling good or pleasant... Maybe we could throw in some cash for the phrase, “rational method.” The bottom line is this: feel the kettlebell. If it feels bad, if it beats you, if your body hurts… be rational. Find a way to fix it. This applies on a macro- level as well as it does to the microsystem of a single set, each individual lift, each moment even. Lifting, or any physical activity for that matter, sets up a feedback loop. Best be in the loop.
We all got to watch Denis lift -- and what spoke undeniably to me was the fact that he was feeling every single repetition. I mean really feeling, in a Berkeley-hippie sort of way. Rep one all the way through rep 250 had his full and undivided attention. He was listening to the kettlebell.
One final note here: I make my own yoghurt, I’ve totally gone to an Ecstatic dance jam, and I even know someone who knows Alice Waters. I can be as Berkeley-hippie as I want. Feel the kettlebell.
Finishing your set is part of the practice. You either practice finishing, or you practice quitting. Part of the trick here is to have smart enough programming that you’re not over-reaching impossibly, and it was pretty amazing to hear Denis speak about how much he trusted his coach. But it still comes down to a game of psychology -- you simply cannot allow yourself to think, even for a moment, that putting down the kettlebell is an option that is available to you. Even if you have to kill somebody with your samurai sword… uhh maybe that part was from Jason… moving on…
I don’t think I have to even explain this one. We all felt it, from Denis and from all the OKC crew. I never in my life thought I would shake hands with a world champion of anything and hear the words “Good luck with your training.” That’s so crazy.
I feel lucky to have learned from quite a few masters and quite a few crazy bums in my life. Last weekend was a bit of each, and the best of both.
BOOM. Am I doing it right?