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How To Have It All

April 3, 2012 11:10 AM

FabioZonin ART
When I was a teenager I attended a gym and trained with weights just to get a beach body, good for impressing the girls. At the time, Italy had not yet seen the boom in fitness, gyms were few and poorly equipped, and almost no one had any idea why he did what he did. One day I visited a friend at an olympic lifting and powerlifting gym, and there I had the opportunity to challenge for the first time, an olympic barbell. I immediately fell in love with powerlifting, and from that day I started a brilliant as short career in the sport.
Brilliant because I was a promising young powerlifter, short because I managed to get injured very quickly, and I had to give it up. At the age of fifteen I competed in the North-Italy powerlifting championship and, despite the fact that I was competing with athletes with many years of experience more than myself, I got a respectful third place. I continued for some years training for powerlifting and bodybuilding simultaneously, so that, at sixteen, I participated in my first Italian championship of natural Bodybuilding. At the age of eighteen, I got my first back injury, a bad herniated disc that would bother me for years.
FabioZonin powerlifting
I was convinced to put aside powerlifting (apart from some sporadic competition for the bench press), and to dedicate myself only to bodybuilding, at the time considered less dangerous. Basically I've always liked to be, to use the typical bodybuilding jargon, big and dense, so the idea didn’t seem to bad to me. For a couple of decades, I devoted myself to bodybuilding (and collecting a myriad of injuries as well). Of course, just having a massive appearance, did not satisfy me, so at some point in my life, I realized that I needed new challenges. I always liked the idea of being strong, much stronger than my physical appearance could let imagine. And when I say strong, I am not referring to the ability to push 600 lbs on a leg press or lift 300 lbs lying on the bench of a Smith Machine. What I mean by strong is to be able to lift heavy objects of different shapes from the ground and bring them overhead with my arms fully extended, and have the ability to overcome the force of gravity, lifting and controlling the weight of my body in space, in various types of pulling and pushing.
In addition to being strong, I wanted to be fast, coordinated, flexible and durable. In short, I want to be able to do things that many strong people fail to. Oh, and I also want to eat food in quantity (the right one, of course), and still keep lean and sculpted. Too ambitious? Maybe... but maybe not! It is precisely to achieve these ambitious goals that in the last few years I have rediscovered my old passion, the olympic barbell, and I opened my horizons to kettlebells and calisthenics.
But what was the driving force that led me to undertake, at my no loger young age, this road? Or, as we say in Italy, who the hell made me do it?
One day (good stories always begin this way), after fighting my usual painful morning battle with my socks - I had to lie supine on the bed and, taking a sock to the mouth with both hands, I had to throw it forward, while picking up the thigh towards the chest in a desperate attempt to put my toe in the sock on the fly - I wondered what was the purpose of having huge chest and thighs, if I was not able to perform easy motor gestures that any child could do without any difficulty. In short, having a lot of meat around the bones should have made me able to make gestures out of the ordinary, and not limit myself in the performance of the simplest daily activities. Of course, after so many years of weight training, and despite the four disc hernias (one of them is cervical), the fracture in the D12, the bad shoulder and the semi-destroyed ankle, my muscle strength was still considerable, but my whole body was stiff as a solid block of concrete.
If I heard someone call me from behind I had to rotate the whole body of 180°, due to my inability to twist my neck more than 15°, I could back squat rock bottom only with loads greater than 200 lbs (bodyweight I could barely bring my thighs parallel to the ground), if my shoe was untied it was a challenge for me (I got into the habit of putting on and off my shoes with tied laces), and I had serious problems extending my arms overhead. One day, flipping through a number of Olympian's News (an Italian fitness magazine), I came across an article about kettlebells by a guy named Mario Civalleri and I thought, "mmm... those cannonballs with a handle seem interesting, I could have some fun with them... " and:"... Mario Civalleri, the first Italian RKC... what the hell does RKC mean?"
I think I’ll thank Mario Civalleri for the rest of my life ... thank you Mario! A few days later arrived at my home a parcel containing a kind present from my friend Alex Pellacani, the book The Russian Kettlebell Challenge by a guy named Pavel Tsatsouline, in English (it had not yet been translated into Italian). Coincidence, luck, destiny, call it what you want ... but from that day on, I delighted myself in reading all the articles related to kettlebells I could find. About a year later I heard about a workshop that Pavel was holding in Florence, Italy.
Together with my friends Emilio Troiano and Dario Paratore, I went to hear what this mysterious Russian trainer had to say. I was expecting the usual workshop where the speaker talks in front of his powerpoint slides and shows some exercise pictures... but in those two short days Pavel made us understand how to enjoy the pain! A few months later I was with Emilio and Dario in Budapest, where we attended the RKC level 1 certification course.
From then on, my way of veiwing training principles, and my concept of "being in shape," completely revolutionized. Since then I have attended the RKC level 2, I received my CK-FMS certification, and I attended the first Bodyweight Workshop. Today my weight fluctuates between 195 and 200 lbs (I'm 5.7 feet tall), my fat percentage is always below 8%, I deadlift 500 pounds for reps without the help hooks, wraps and belt, I can comfortably press the Beast (106lbs kettlebell) overhead, I can effortlessly do handstand pushups for reps and, above all, every morning I can put on my socks and shoes without pain. A reasonable result, right?
I have obtained all these by inserting into my workouts, in addition to a good dose of joint mobility, olympic barbells, kettlebells and bodyweight exercises. I use barbells, kettlebells grinds and calisthenics for strength and hypertrophy, and kettlebells ballistics for explosive strength and cardiovascular work. Keep in mind that now I'm not a competitive athlete, and my goal is not to prepare for a competition of something, but to be always in shape.
It is possible to train to improve all qualities, but what is not possible is to improve them all at the same time.
There are many qualities I’m interested in improving, and many exercises and techniques I am passionate about, so, if it was possible, I would do them all. But I know that’s not possible! We all must focus on few things at a time, and do them well! The risk of falling into the trap of wanting to do everything at the same time, is to become mostly able at do anything, but good at doing nothing. So that’s why I vary my workout approximately every six weeks, each time giving priority to a different quality, while always finding a way to retrieve the others, in order to prevent them to regress.
Some of my programs favor the use of barbells, others kettlebells, and others bodyweight exercises, but all my programs, in some way, include all three. Some of my programs are focused mainly on maximal strength, others on hypertrophy, others on explosive strength, but there is always some elements of recall for the other qualities. The program I'm following right now, for example, plans to switch three different microcycles, each of which coincides with a week.
The first week I workout exclusively with barbells and bodyweight exercises, and is entirely devoted to maximal strength. The second week I introduce some auxiliary exercises, including some grinds and ballistic movements with kettlebells. The third week is structured more in bodybuilding style, with the prevalence of slow grinds. The the fourth week I start again the cycle.
This is what I'm doing. I selected the following six major barbell and bodyweight movements: barbell deadlifts, barbell military press, weighted pullups, weighted parallel bar dips, barbell back squats, hanged leg raises. The first week I run all six movements in each workout, but I swap their position every training session.
The first week the set and reps scheme I follow is the rule of 10, so I make sure to limit to a total of 10 the number of lifts per exercise. In this case I use the sets and reps patterns 5x2, 3x3 and 2x5, and I make sure that, in each session, each movement is performed using one of these three schemes in rotation.
Example: If on Monday I deadlift using the 5x2 scheme, on Wednesday I will use the the 2x5 scheme, and so on.
The workloads are heavy, but I make sure that the last rep has the same good quality of the first, if not better. I never push myself to failure, I always keep a buffer of at least one or two repetitions. Since my time available for training is often limited, I execute the exercises in pairs, alternating a series of the first with a series of the second. This allows me to reduce rest time between sets, while allowing adequate recovery to the individual movement. I call this strategy "Jump-Sets".
The second week I break down my six major movements of into three sessions:
• The first session I do deadlifts and military presses
• the second squats and hanged leg raises
• the third dips and pullups
• In each session, I add two auxiliary exercises, correlated with the two major movements from the point of view of "same but different".
• Finally I place a ballistic with kettlebells at the end of the first and the third session, and a couple sets of get ups at the end of the second.
In my six major movements I always stick to the rule of 10, this time using the pattern 4,3,2, that gives me the opportunity (if, and only if, that day I feel particularly strong) to challenge myself with a PR.
In the auxiliary exercises, excluding ballistic and get ups, I use the good old Russian ladder with the 3x(1,2,3) scheme. I use heavy kettlebells for ballistics, so I prefer to run multiple sets of 10-7 reps, rather than a single high-reps set.
The rule that the last rep should have the same or better quality of the first is always valid, so I prefer to reduce the number of repetitions in a set, rather than sacrificing quality. This is the reason why I wrote 10-7 instead of just 10.
The third week the six major movements are divided into three sessions, as in the previous week. This time I add two auxiliary exercises to every major movement:
• The first is always an exercise with a similar motor pattern, in the "same but different" point of view, while the second is a unilateral exercise.
• I take a little more time and I put aside my Jump Sets to perform one exercise at a time, putting the three exercises related to the same motor pattern in chronological order.
The rule of 10 still reigns for the six major movements, this time following the 5x2 scheme. Regarding the auxiliary exercises, the first will follow the 3x3 pattern, and the second the 2x5 pattern (for each side, of course).
The fourth week, I repeat the cycle a second time. Some of the exercises I have chosen, such as the one-arm pushups and the handstand pushups, of course meet well with the pattern of sets and reps that I have chosen to use for my person, my weight and my strength. If a person could, for example, easily perform 10 repetitions of handstands pushups, he should choose a different scheme of sets and reps from mine, or select a different exercise.
FabioZonin trainingprogram
What I expect to get from such a program? First, I expect an increase in maximal strength, and since the fourth week I could comfortably deadlift 5x2 with 500 lbs, keeping some repetitions in the bank, it appears to be working. I then expect a bit of hypertrophy enhacement, and I seem to see something. Since I am an athlete with years of training behind me, I certainly can not expect sensational improvements, but what I'm seeing so far, I like.
I invite those of you who’d like to try this program to let me know what results they get. May the force be with you!

Fabio Zonin, Senior RKC, FMS, is a Master instructor for FIF (Italian Federation of Fitness) on behalf of whom he teaches throughout Italy in instructor courses in Bodybuilding, Fitness and Personal Trainer. On behalf of FIF he also plays the role of National Technical Coordinator of all the Federal instructors in the field of Functional Training.
He was certified RKC Level 1 in 2009 and RKC Level 2 in 2010; in 2010 he also tamed The Beast. He was certified CKFMS, and was promoted RKC Team Leader in 2011; in 2011 he also participated in the first Bodyweight Workshop held in Minneapolis. He was promoted RKC Senior instructor in 2012.
Phone: +39 348 280 2944
Isola Vicentina,
Italy 36033
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