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Scenes from a Weight room

March 31, 2009 08:12 AM

On a day unlike any other, I got out of the rack at 0300. Yes, 0300 Pacific time, 0600 East Coast time. The hard work I began to crank out this day would carry over into the revelation detailed in this piece. Since getting sliced open for hernia surgery six days prior, I had grown bored passing the time watching reruns of my beloved X-Files, doing tedious but all-important housework, and copious web posting. Awake at 0300, by 0600 I had nothing to do. So I tripped to Starbucks, for my one AM coffee, and when I got back, in mid-keystroke, the phone rang. Tom Corrigan RKC TL on the line. Post pleasantries, we proceeded to have quite an interesting conversation. Two Team Leaders spoke of few things, namely the work Tom has been cranking out with firefighters in the Everett, WA area, as well as what he has learned from his readings in the Purposeful Primitive. We spoke of the sense of origin lurking within the pages of the book, detailing for us the moments in time where the 5 and 3 rep power training template was honed. We trampled onto the parameters for safely applying behind the neck pressing, and on into said drills' address in Strength Stretching. We chatted up male dominant behavior, the ability to unlearn a bad practice to relearn a drill, bad-boy habits, tweaked shoulders, and the future of the handled bell. Soon the conversation tread into a familiar realm, asking what may be the hallmark of our clients' behavior when we are indisposed. Namely, do they Hard Style, or do they become, as RKC and forum regular Brian Copeland puts it, a "Hamster'? Though I may be paraphrasing both of us, the following template and vision that accompanies it are my latest ideas on the subject of the Conversion, or, the Salvation, of young men. They are the same, you see. For when the Hard Style is the message, converting them is a save. . .

With respect to the careers of many RKCs who are also certified, experienced, and working personal trainers, a silver standard of employment may be defined by a nice training gig where we teach people to lift the way we were taught, the way we feel is right, with the kettlebell as the premier tool. If you itch to teach group exercise to a specified group, and you have the bells, a connection, and unmatched initiative in your ZIP code, you can teach a class to your chosen group of men and women. Tom trains firefighters, as he is one, and in my ownership of a mobile training unit outside Philly, I trained Tom's brothers in engine companies, rescue companies, police, tac-units, and Marines. I sold them bells, taught them skills, encouraged them to get certified, and prayed that on their own they would train properly. But I never considered the "hamster reversion' factor with direct respect to unsupervised cosmetic free weight lifting until recently, and the realization that July day whilst speaking with Tom alerted me as to how widespread this may be. Speaking largely to the culturally influenced self improvement patterns of pubescent boys and men up to the age of 40, they will in many cases revert to horrible exercise behavior when your watchful eye has retired, even with a background [3-6] months in Hard Style. When the boys learn hard-style with a bell, and you are there to drill them, they will certainly perform. On their own they may even train the bells with proper hard-style, but when the bells are down, and you are not looking, these junkies go back to the weights. Do we think they are hard-styling it? Or are they instantly snapping back into the same lame groove yielding nothing but time wasted and grinding away at the joints, stripping the glycogen, and treading water? Let's back up.

'What is Hard-Style?' Hard Style is about breathing and staying tight [Rif]. Hard Style is the respect for the authority of iron and the integration of all relevant physical and psychological components to complete the movement with maximum proficiency [me]. Hard-Style is, well, "Haard Style" [Dave Whitley].

So the crowds we teach in classes, e.g. squads, spots teams, the Engine No. 9er's, and the fit moms will almost surely train solo. They often lift, run, swing, stretch, and eat without you there. But are they doing it up to standard? I say not likely. In my eyes up to 60% would fail your muster if you watched them train away from the teacher, and away from the bells. I say that when we are not around, and the free weights are calling, and the kids want to pump up, they grab the dumb bell and get moving in the bad groove. Again, I am talking about all the young dudes here, as young men are often armed with bravado, and can be either ignorant or apathetic to your contention that constant application of great technique, and the discipline required to do so, is elemental to their transformation. Women will often display more detail oriented behavior and apply the rules instituted by said professional away from the watchful eye, though they are not immune to miscues, i.e. aerobic overtraining and high rep schemes for lesser muscle groups. But boys will always be boys.

So how do we fix this? Who to cry to? How can this curriculum built on tension, breathing, weight distribution, integration, and refinement make its way into the hands of healthy punters everywhere? By starting with a free weight. The drills they will gravitate to when around their cohorts, their team, their weight room pals. Are we not Hard Style? Do we not learn the Hard Style of strength under Russian Kettlebell Certification protocol for three days in the face of the sun? As RKC we are also the HS congress. To delegate that knowledge to kids and clientele is to ensure that at least one of the people they train with will ingest some nuggets of your knowledge. Let us infect the populous. We don't wait to fix it after it's broke, we launch a preemptive strike against ignorance and bravado by taking our style and use their favorite tools while teaching it. And when you read this, before the words "Cross Fit' escape your mouth I want you to read the post to the end. When the vessel is young and you know they will stray into injury-infested waters, don't yank them from the ocean, give them "the bell' as an enabling tool that will serve as shark defense.

'15 years from now, Will has gotten his gym ownership on in his native PA, and it is the banginest iron club in the ZIP. The place has everything you need and nothing you don't. Your bodyweight, bags, bricks, balls, wheel barrows, ropes, rocks, tables, rafters, walls, crawls, and runs. Adding to the design of the joint are motivational paintings and huge lithographs all over the interior. Brick walls dotted with oil paintings crying Viva! and Victory! A giant USMC flag with an embroidered golden Eagle Globe and Anchor. The club is called 1775, and the decor would be a motivational but not necessarily jingoistic one. Will is there, drinking rocket fuel coffee, listening to Dave Matthews Band on a perfect June morning, while the fresh faces of 2 dozen 8th grade graduates, see: Freshmen, clock in for day one of Strong Strength Camp'.

Like their teachers in the school system, I have a lesson plan drawn with one hand while the other clocks the pulse of this generation. This scene leads to a purposefully planned and expertly executed group 'barbell and dumbbell' class. No, not a circuit course, or a smoker class with barbells, not CF. I'm talking about a Hard Style lifting class. Can it be done? Yes. What do you need? A solid protocol and the attention of the kids. Dazzling them with tricks that will improve them on the movements they feel are relevant to success, and then get your hairy beast on with the Power Trinity, plus overhead pressing and chinning. This will make the kids salivate and show up early for sessions. There are pros out there who run this game all day. It happens all the time in Cross Fit gyms and real iron clubs across the globe. I have personally led much more than one class where the bell is only a tool to improve barbell lifts. What I noticed is that my squad was trained hard style on bells, and with me watching, they were bound to do well with a barbell. I did not gather much data there. But when I trained young dudes with bells, even for an entire summer, I would see them lift mega nasty-like with the free weights. As if the breathing and the tension and all these things applied only to the bell. It was as if I had not been clear enough when I said that lifting weights can only be done two ways, correctly, and that which rates remediation. As if the loudmouthed Delaware County native who has taken money out of his own pockets by terrifying students into not returning to class until they had their act together, had not been clear that good form takes precedence. Always.

How do we remedy this in the immediate sense? What happens is this: I take a page from the Jeff Martone's play book. At the CAS in 05, when asked how he began to train the men in uniform. He spoke on two topics that I have reworked and revisited to this day.

1. Do not [do not] tell them that they are all messed up, bound to hurt themselves, and that you and you alone know the road to glory.

Instead, tactfully address why you feel working weaknesses into strengths is relevant. Tell them you fixed yourself with Hard Style, and one barbell is all you require to get lifting.

2. Start them with the dead lift.

Take the barbell that they all likely visit once a month, and show them the precursor to everything. Show them the money with bar-bending tension and a clean hinge of the hips to hoist the weight right up off the deck. Breathing, tension, weight distribution, moving slow, grinding, sweating, gripping, working, and pulling, pulling until lock out. OOH RAH.

Heavy weight sits on their horizon. The cleansing begins with variations of the good morning, the face the wall squat if necessary, and whatever else the ministry has declared safe. The kids, the men, the BOYS, when they set foot in the gym, could make radical progress under templates drawn up to compliment this ideal. Schooled in a group with free weights, young athletes, of both sex, should make gains uncommon to their peers but at once benchmarks for a disciplined individual on a strategized road to growth. I know of Cross Fit workouts of the day that are based upon volume and grinds with bars and O-lifts and such. But I am talking about something else entirely. I feel locking the kids into a learning pattern that starts with what is essentially dessert for them, and then gong back One Million Years B.C before their sneakers and iPhones were conceived using barbells and old hex dumbbells. When it is prudent, we progress the bodies into a diet of the three power lifts plus overhead pressing and chinning. Taught to a group, not to smoke, but to spawn growth. A class that teaches them the lifts we know they will do on their own. Once they have tuned it, they can play that instrument all day. So let them train I say, and train on!

Will Williams is a Senior RKC living in the Philadelphia area. Ping him at

I would like to thank my professors The Russian and The Oak for helping me understand the body as the vessel. As well as my colleagues in iron for helping me grip the weight.