Introducing kettlebells and resistance bands to the towns and villages of my sierra

Having stopped all barbell work some time back I find myself basically using calisthenics, kettlebells, hiking and sprinting for my various S & C protocols. I’ve never felt better, less beaten up and generally youthful and explosive. I know, I know, the barbell back squat is undoubtedly the bestest exercise ever for everything in the history of the fitness world, closely followed by the second mostest importantest, the deadlift.

Well, not for me. I struggled on and on with these two lifts for over a decade and all I got for my troubles were fatigue and repeated injuries. Now, I’m aware that squats don’t injure you, “what you’re doing there” injures you (and all the other pro-big lifts rhetoric) but I have to say that removing these two lifts from my training means I can do so much more hard running (what I love as it enables me to get out in the mountains with my dogs on a daily basis) and other types of stuff that would not be possible if I were constantly recovering from squats and dead-lifts (I do jump squats and bodyweight squats it’s just the weighted variety that I have dispensed with).

I find that kettlebell swings and cleans as well as resistance band Good Mornings tick all my posterior chain boxes and the abovementioned activities out in the mountains keep my legs feeling fine and explosive (alongside double kettlebell jerks that definitely use the legs sufficiently for a gen pop person like myself… and 100 % of my clients, incidentally) so I have no compunction in educating a certain sub-set of the population (i.e. anybody who simply doesn’t want to lift barbells) towards kettlebells, calisthenics and resistance bands. After all, we’re not trying to become the strongest people in Spain and there’s none of us wanting to try out for the football combine in the US or its Spanish equivalent if there is one, so we’re all in the enviable position of just wanting to be reasonably strong, mobile and healthy while changing our body composition favourably in the meantime; the aforementioned tools can undoubtedly play a central part in these objectives.

1170825_1395485170679219_232741276_nWe’ve just opened a new training suite in a neighbouring village with the intention of showing interested people that there’s zero need to keep dragging yourself back to the gym unless you really want to. I concentrate on showing my clients the importance of controlled, safe movements to make the body resilient with a particular emphasis on swings, cleans, push-presses and Get-ups to begin with the kettlebells and a mixture of yoga and pilates as far as calisthenics go. I find these movements can be taught fairly quickly so that the client can purchase the minimum of equipment and train themselves after a handful of intense classes or they can come along and train with me to ensure safe and intelligent programme design is adhered to.

I’m particularly interested in training police, military and fire-fighters as, being friends with many of them, I witness first-hand the barbaric stupidities of their training methods and feel that they need education in what we might consider the correct direction, away from a senseless “train ‘til you drop” mentality and towards an understanding of the importance of controlled and efficient training.

The main reason that I personally use kettlebells is because I can get a thorough work-out into my schedule in no time; swings, cleans and jerks and then some Get-ups followed by some horizontal pulling and pushing and resistance band work can all be done in around 30 minutes, leaving a good half hour for yoga and pilates postures that round off a perfectly balanced session for those people uninterested in sitting on machines in the gym.

IMG_1003Also, of course, the beauty of kettlebelling, once perfect technique is learned, is that they are incredibly portable and workouts can be carried out anywhere you fancy. One of my favourites is up in the mountains overlooking my beautiful little village down here or simply in the front garden with the Malamute keeping an eager eye on proceedings!

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Hmmmnnn, bounced back from illness…

…and no strength training (i.e. 5 reps or less stuff) for a couple of months to find myself with better strength endurance (21 double jerks with 2 x 28 kg ‘bells), up from about 15 prior to my illness and also 3 reps x 5 sets of chins with a 28 kg ‘bell attached, up from a couple of reps for each set prior.

Maybe it’s upping my resting, not tearing myself down with crazy circuits etc? Nice, controlled movements is all I’ve been doing with the Easy Speed type of running on top.

Will take this forward to see if I can reach 30 reps of jerks and 5 reps x 5 sets of chins.

Easy Speed. No puking required.

Having upped my chin-ups considerably a couple of years ago with Pavel’s Grease the Groove method (I think I went up from about 20 to almost 30 in a fairly short period of time), and seeing that I’m not getting any younger and am seriously doubting whether intense “beastly” training is for me these days, I’ve decided to do the bulk of my training in an area of intensity I don’t see written about too much either online or in much of “the literature”; never on the nerve, never LSD, just nice and controlled movement that never really exceeds 7 on the intensity scale and that I can fit into whatever I happen to be doing at the time, whether I’m sat at the table writing or taking a break from a long car drive. Hard enough to call it work but nowhere near nausea-inducing; in my case, for example, with what I consider a decent level of both strength and conditioning, a few solid 1 arm/1 leg press-ups while walking the dogs could qualify as a suitable strength exercise as could a handful of explosive squat jumps but never to exhaustion a la Crossfit nor as part of a crazy “til you drop” type of circuit that everybody seems enamoured of recently (I’d much rather do 5 good, maximal squat jumps and then get walking again for 10 minutes before doing something else such as press-ups or a good, hard burst of running but nobody seems too interested in this sustainable and unsexy stuff). Sensible, controlled movement maximising quality is the defining principle of what I’m doing myself and attempting to get my wife to practise a few times a week, whether it be L-sit chins or just the time-honoured classic press-up (both exercises for me, not for her lol). Even with my double kettlebell jerks (the only lift that I’m even monitoring the reps for), as soon as my technique falls away I’ll stop my set so that I’m always able to practise and move well the next day again. No fatigue or DOMS or any of that stuff. My intention is always to feel like I enjoyed a stroll in the park the previous day (case in point, after my walk this morning I did some press-ups and then banged out a record of 21 jerks with 2 x 28 kg ‘bells and now I feel so fresh that i find it hard to believe i broke a personal best, as medipcre as this particular one happens to be!).

Fitting nicely into this template of movement practise is what I call Easy Speed, taken and adapted from Dan John’s Easy Strength book. Being a huge fan of being able to run fast and hard I’ve found myself in the unenviable position of being unable to go out and enjoy any type of long, steady distance running as a consequence, perhaps, of too many years doing exactly that as a younger man. I find that within a quarter of an hour of a so-called “tonic” run I start feeling battered; my ankles, achilles and hips especially feel hammered by the run, regardless of how slow and relaxed the pace might happen to be. Having a houseful of dogs who need to be out walking and running on a daily basis I am, unfortunately, unable not only to jog for distance but also unable to do any of these brutal sprint sessions I often see posted online (you know, the type that leave you needing a full week of recovery in their aftermath), so trying to fit my training into a middle ground has become appealing to me, where I get the benefits of practising fast running without the deleterious effects of running myself into the ground a couple of times a week the way we used to as hard- and daft-training youngsters; that’s where this Easy Speed comes in…

While out walking my dogs in the morning I use the inclines as a warm-up during the walking sections, alongside some bodyweight squats and lunges and a couple of little jogs (maybe 100 metres a piece) before running quite hard (7 out of 10 intensity-wise) for maybe 20 seconds. I’ll recover fully and do this a few times throughout my walk of an hour or 90 minutes. The actual hard running is kept to a real minimum on any specific day (often as low as 300 metres but sometimes as high as 800 depending on the number of bursts) but the beauty of this protocol is that the body adapts through daily hard running and the volume builds over weeks and months. I’ve been surprised by how well it translates to good, solid sprinting (upping the 7 to a 9 or 10 happens quite easily, much more so than an habitual jogger trying the same thing) that can be maintained for around a minute. This is without punishing track intervals or nasty hill-sprints with minimal rest and other such demanding programmes and it is exactly this fairly relaxed manner of practising speed that makes me think it’ll be a perfect fit for many people out there, such as my good lady wife, who ordinarily wouldn’t dream of any consistent running but when confronted with the ease of this sort of playful and manageable stuff, could get immediate satisfaction from being able to run quite hard intermittently without any accumulated fatigue or the sort of nausea or injury associated with some of the online beastliness posted daily by masochists who will probably be burned out in a couple of years (maybe I’m being unduly harsh but there are precious few of my real life acquaintances who embarked on these HIT protocols who are still here today training in any form whatsoever).

I feel bulletproof nowadays, no longer needing a couple of steps after getting up from the table to gingerly feel my way into painless movement (like I usually have to if I’m jogging often) and I can break into a hard run without even thinking of anything as time-consuming as a warm-up, if need be; generally feeling as robust as I’ve felt since my twenties 😉

I will write about other stuff…

…but for now I’ll just log the wife’s training. I got back from an hour’s walk with my girl, Mrs White, to find my human lady just finishing up her training. This was without me having to demand that she do it! What a breakthrough! And this was also despite the DOMS she was suffering from yesterday’s running so I’m confident she’ll keep this going.

The actual training was a repeat of yesterday’s session:

10 deadlifts with the 28 kg kettlebell

10 bodyweight squats

10 bodyweight lunges

10 wifey press-ups on the wooden box

x 4 circuits

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After my walk in the freezing cold (look, there’s frost on my windscreen!) I got the 2 x 28s overhead (jerks, push-press, whatever you wanna call ‘em!) 21 times. A few days back I did 20 reps so I was just after an additional one rep, and I’ll keep trying to do this until I hit 30…and then it’s time to aim for 20 reps with the big boys, the 32s 😉

She’s still training lol

Day 2 and she shows no signs of wilting in her attack on an 8 minute mile. While walking the dogs today she decided to take Runty, the pacey Podenco cross, off for a 500 metre uphill blast.

IMG_4310The little fella didn’t look fazed by the blistering pace she set lol

The mountain we usually go to has markers every 500 metres so we are able to measure exactly how far our intervals are and today, the first day of her running practise, saw her step up to the plate and crush it! No stop-watch or anything like that until we measure out a flat mile course so, for now, it’s just a case of trying to get into the habit of some running followed by some calisthenics and kettlebell work.

Talking of which…

10 deadlifts with a 28 kg ‘bell

10 bodyweight squats

10 bodyweight lunges

10 wifey press-ups on the wooden box

x 4 circuits.

So, she’s added an additional circuit to what she did yesterday. Good sign I reckon. We’ve spoken of running the mile on my birthday, the 23rd May, so that we have a concrete date to aim for.

I know, I know…never train the missus!

IMG_1281I know it’s widely regarded as being a truism in the strength & conditioning world that you should never train your partner but living in rural Andalucía I think it’s pretty unlikely that my good lady wife might find a trainer able to put her through her paces…and more importantly get her to sustain it. Over the years we’ve tried kettlebells, calisthenics circuits, running with the dogs up in the mountains (you’d be hard pressed to find such beauty to immerse yourself in whilst exercising but even that’s not enough to convince her to keep the movement up lol)), barbell workouts, yoga, pilates, Foundation training, jiu jitsu, and on and on the list goes; and she has yet to find anything she’ll stick with beyond walking the mutts. Not even the super-pricey rower does anything but gather dust these days so I’ve had to man up and insist that she start training for a very simple challenge; a mile run. Nothing flash here. No military assault courses or esoteric equipment needed. Just a measured out, relatively flat course that she can run weekly to gauge her progress. Throughout the week we’ll take the gang out as usual to get minimal mileage under the belt (probably measured in minutes will be better, uphill runs of 5 mins duration being where we can start as we live in a mountain range and don’t have too many flat areas easily available) before we get some shorter, speedier work in.

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This little guy is the perfect running partner; sprints, tempo runs, ultra-marathons, you name it, he’s up for it!

The weather’s turned nasty just now so her first day of running training has been cancelled and I’ve scheduled her first day of training on the back patio (with a roof to keep those nasty raindrops off her delicate little Punjabi napper) to comprise the following:

10 deadlifts with a 28 kg kettlebell

10 bodyweight squats

10 bodyweight lunges

10 wifey press-ups (with hands on a wooden box that’s on the patio)

x 3 circuits.

That’s day 1 of her training over with in around 5 minutes. Now to make it a daily occurrence with some little bits of running on top.

Here’s a few pix of our Spartan gym with a 70 year old pal of ours managing pull-ups, dips and work with the 28 kg ‘bell, no sweat! Soon we’ll have evidence of the missus getting some good work done, too, hopefully 😉

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Dog Rescue Holidays

T-zoneIt was more or less our first day in Spain, up in Asturias back in 2006 to be precise, when we rented a flat just a few kilometres outside of Ribadesella, that we started to see the all-too-familiar neglect of dogs in this country. Thor, a wonderfully friendly Boxer, belonging to the guy who owned the downstairs flat(and who visited maybe once every fortnight), was just left to live outside on his own. Some folks across the way would throw some dry food for him but that was it in terms of his life. A visit every couple of weeks and some cheap kibble left for him by some neighbours. For us Brits, accustomed to treating dogs as part of the family, this was awful to see and it didn’t take long for Thor to pal up with our Bullterrier and become a real part of our family. Daily runs on the beach, hill sprints out back in the countryside, walks with us whenever we went out…and before you knew it he was ours. The defining moment was when his owner deigned to visit and Thor stayed put in the back of our camper-van (where he resided from the get-go lol), deciding that his owner wasn’t even worth the time or effort of getting out of the van; I can’t say I disagreed! We decided that when we moved south into sunnier climes (it was October and the colder weather was setting in) we’d take Thor with us and that’s exactly what happened.

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At the beginning of the following summer we found our next dog, Kuta, a scavenging, tick-filled Malamute pup, sat waiting at our gate for us, as if it were his home (which it immediately became!). This appearance coincided with the week of the fair which meant he belonged to the gypsies so we hid him in our back garden until they left the area…and Kuta has grown into a big bundle of furry fun who has enjoyed his life with us ever since. He’s our current king of the crop, welcoming all newcomers with open arms into the fold 😉

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Within a year we had picked up a couple more lads, Runty, the Podenco/Bodeguero cross and a complete headcase of a Bullterrier, François, both of them settling in without a hitch…and then a couple of years later we added our first little lady, Mrs White, a Pit/Dogo angel of a girl.

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Not content with our own houseful of rescues we decided to start volunteering up the road at our local dog pound where hundreds, if not thousands, of local dogs get rehomed in northern European countries through foundations dedicated to ensuring that the dogs find suitable owners, something absolutely impossible unfortunately down in this part of Spain. Seeing the superb work being done, we decided to offer what little free time we had available to helping the dogs live in cleaner, more dignified conditions and to offer them some kind of human companionship a few times a week. Unsurprisingly, we very quickly ended up adding a couple more wee vagabonds to our pack, another Bodeguero cross, Fabiola, and a little Maneta type girl who was already called Lucy by the time we picked her up from a squalid life.

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In addition to gaining more members of our canine squad, I also had an idea of how we could help the abandoned dogs even more and that is how Dog Rescue Holidays was born. Looking around me one day when I was playing with Dave, an awesome Malinois boy who is now saving lives in Germany working in search and rescue, I simply realised that we could offer our sunny paradise to sun-seeking, dog-loving Brits who could pitch in a bit a few times a week at the centre in return for a very affordable holiday in a hidden corner of Andalucía. That was the plan in a nutshell and the project has been received phenomenally well, with us having bookings into 2016 already (and I’m writing this in February, 2015!). We’re also hoping that other animal lovers involved in the rescue world can follow suit and, ideally, we could have this sort of project taking off throughout the world; an affordable rental house or flat and a car are about all that’s needed.

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In our own case, we take care of all transfers throughout the week of the visit (airport pick-up and drop-off and obviously all lifts to and from the dog-centre, as we’re going there ourselves anyway) and we also try to show the visitors something of the sierra, usually with a trip out to beautiful Grazalema itself so that they can discover the breath-taking beauty of the surrounding area. We find that the mix of small town, authentic Andalucían life and the help up at the centre leave visitors feeling refreshed and de-stressed and we look forward to expanding the project over the coming years and decades as the positive difference that’s made to these dogs’ lives is phenomenal and it’s awesome to be able to contribute to something so worthwhile by bringing empathetic folks out here to enhance the lives of dogs with stuff as simple as walks and cuddles. Quite a few of our visitors have been athletic individuals who even take some of the dogs out for runs and that’s priceless for these canine vagabonds who would otherwise be locked up in the centre round the clock, so the project is helping keep both dogs and human visitors lean and fit!