Tuesday, 17 July 2012

My journey to strength

Pavel once said that Strength is a skill that must be practiced.

Looking back on my very first rep all those years ago, and recognizing that it was that first step towards strength that had changed my life in so many ways.

I turned to the iron when all else had failed, not realizing at the time that in all its simplicity and purity that it would construct fortitude, backbone, courage and heart whilst humbling me.

Having struggled a fight against addiction, my body did not immediately form a great bond with exercise.  My heart, liver, bones and muscle had taken a serious beating which meant I needed to learn to crawl before I could walk.

Having to fight the addiction whilst putting all my blood and sweat into building my body again came with its own set of drawbacks.  Dealing with mental demands whilst working out is bad enough without having to throw in a body that refuses to respond and has spent so long thriving on detriment.

With each day came new challenges, with each challenge came set backs and with each set back came failure.  I can honestly say, looking back, overcoming the failure was my greatest defiance.  If someone where to ask me what my greatest achievement was, it would be that I rose again.

Despite my personal struggles I went from strength to strength, having started out in a local gym, the exercise high was incomparable. My body was yet to change after months of training, but my mental fortitude had increased in leaps and bounds.

My new found lease on life had ignited a passion in me, seeing notable differences in my physique and feeling the fire of my entire body working in synergy without battle is indescribable. Experiencing that rush of blood to every muscle in your body that awakens every sense and instills an amazing sense of achievement in you set me on my path to absolute strength.

Knowing that I was in the process of overcoming great downfall drove me more and more each day, the increase in strength grew my dedication to the body, and in turn my passion to the world of health and the science of human movement.  I knew that my future lay in development in one way or another.

Four years down the line and I have physically achieved things I once couldn't comprehend, I am achieving personal feats of strength that were once unimaginable to me.  Everyday I am learning more about the human anatomy and what its capabilities are and how one small change can cause a reaction of life changing effect.

My strength is not measurable against a pound, my strength comes from within and is portrayed through every rep I perform, my strength is not comparable to a woman through height and size my strength is my personal fight and my personal gold.

Your journey is driven by your weaknesses and your struggles, the decision to turn that fragility into energy is a revolution.

Friday, 13 July 2012

An Interview with Mike Mahler

There is a lot of buzz in the South African air at the moment with the news of Mike Mahler gracing our shores in August.  Whether you are a part of the fitness industry or just a grey man in the street who enjoys a fit and healthy lifestyle, Mike's teachings are something that cannot be missed.

Mike Mahler is a visionary and leader in the world of strength and conditioning and the development of modern kettlebell lifting.  Not only a coach in the world of lifting but also an active strength athlete.  Mike's focus when it comes to training is in the development of strong, fast and conditioned athletes that can transpire into everyday life activities as well as instilling mental fortitude into his students.

An exceptional strength coach but also an expert in hormone optimization, these two factors go hand in hand in the evolvement and reinforcing of ones lifestyle.  As an aspiring strength coach, this opportunity cannot be missed to learn from one of our industries greats.  I had the chance to pick Mike's brain for five minutes and this is what he had to say:

How did you get into kettlebell training?

Back in 2001 a really good friend of mine that does BJJ and Muay Thai told me about it.  It looked really interesting so I looked into it further.  I was doing some Olympic lifting and sandbag training at the time so kettlebell training seemed like a great addition to my regimen.  I like the focus on ballistic moves such as cleans, swings and snatches.  Once I started playing around with kettlebells I was hooked.  A few months later I took Pavel Tsatsouline's RKC certification.  It was only his second certification course so kettlebell training was still in its infancy in the US.  It was a fun weekend and I had a blast learning from him and the other students at the course.  I knew kettlebells would blow up in the US in a few years and I saw an opportunity to get in on the ground floor and also to enter the fitness industry with a unique selling point.  The rest as they say is history!  Ten years later it has been a great ride and I still love training with kettlebells and learn something new every year.

What makes a great kettlebell instructor?

Great question! First a great kettlebell instructor has to actually train with kettlebells. This may seem like an obvious point but you would be surprised how many trainers try to teach kettlebells to others when it is obvious that they have never taken any time to learn how to use kettlebells properly themselves!

Second, a great kettlebell instructor has to have an unquenchable desire to constantly keep improving. This is what exceptional kettlebell instructors such as: Steve Cotter, Ken Blackburn, and Jason Dolby all have in common. They all love kettlebell training and they’re always looking to learn more and keep improving. I love learning from these guys as their enthusiasm is contagious and they break down complicated concepts extremely well and make it accessible to everyone.

Third, a great kettlebell instructor has to keep the focus on the students. Sometimes as instructors we get distracted and want to show everyone what we can do instead of helping our students with their goals. I made this mistake early in my career when I felt I needed to teach every exercise with the heaviest kettlebells possible at my courses and show all kinds of complicated moves. I improved drastically as an instructor when I focused less on what I can do and more on helping the students. Sure, people like to see what you can do and it is important to lead form the front but if you overdo it, it becomes counterproductive.

You have great strength and great power, how do you personally apply kettlebell lifting to your program?

Thanks a lot! I use kettlebells for all kinds of applications. Sometimes, I use really heavy kettlebells and focus on lower reps (5-7) for strength and explosive power. At other times, I use kettlebells for strength endurance and work capacity and focus on moderate kettlebells for higher reps (15+). I like to use kettlebells as part of a metabolic circuit with box jumps, trapbar farmers walks, battling ropes, bodyweight exercises, etc. In addition, I use heavy kettlebell ballistic moves to prime the nervous system for heavy powerlifting work. For example, before doing heavy deadlifts, I will do fives sets of five on heavy double kettlebell swings outside the feet with 2 40kg to 44kg bells. I swing outside outside the feet as I can generate more power and the stance is similar to what I do for deadlifts. Check out the following clip to see what I mean at: 

Outside the knee swings and snatches are a blast and I will be teaching both moves at the August intermediate courses in South Africa. 

Finally, I like to use kettlebells as part of my joint mobility routine by doing complexes. I pick four to five moves and go from one move to the next with a light kettlebell without putting it down until I have done several rounds. Great way to wake up and get the day going. Also fun on training days where you don’t feel like putting in a maximum effort but still want to do something to speed up recovery and
 stay active. You can see a clip of this at: 

A lot of martial artists, athletes and serious lifters have turned to kettlebells, what would you say makes them different to other resistance training methods?

Kettlebell ballistic moves such as clean and jerks, swings, snatches, clean and push presses etc all have a very strong athletic component so combat athletes see the application right away. When done for high reps or for high volume you develop serious conditioning as well as mental toughness.
While you can do just about every kettlebell exercises with a dumbbell, anyone that has done both will tell you it is just not the same. Kettlebells are really fluid for ballistic moves and by far the best weight training tool for building strength endurance and work capacity. You can rack kettlebells comfortably and the way they sit in the hand is very comfortable for long duration sets. Kettlebells are far more comfortable for swings and snatches than a dumbbell and have a shock absorption component which is very useful for any combat athlete. 

A lot of powerlifters like kettlebell training for warming up, active recovery, and endurance training. You don’t see too many bodybuilders doing kettlebell training, but I think more should as high rep kettlebell training is a perfect fit for cardio instead of doing boring activities like running on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine.
As great as kettlebells are, I think kettlebell only programs are not optimal either. Yes, the average person can get in great shape with just one kettlebell, but for trainees that want to be strong and powerful there is no need to be limited to one training tool. barbell work, bodyweight training, sprinting, sledgehammer tire strikes, box jumps etc all have a place and the variety keeps training fun and exciting. 

As a strength coach and in my opinion, expert in hormone optimization, what advice could you give to assist in achieving optimal hormone levels for both men and woman?

It will be different for everyone and I believe in a personalized approach for each person, but some general recommendations are: Focus on organic food, eliminate food sensitivities, address vitamin and mineral deficiencies, get a balance of protein, healthy fats, and low glycemic carbs at every meal, drink lots of water, get eight hours of deep quality sleep every night, avoid over training and balance adrenaline training with restoration training, take vacations, get a massage every two weeks, and most important find a career that gets you excited everyday to put in work and surround yourself with people that make you better not worse. if you hate your job and you’re in toxic relationships you will never be hormonally optimized no matter how hard you train, what supplements you take, or how perfect your diet is. 

I will get in to more detail at the SA courses in August.

As a vegan, your choices are different, and you combine certain foods to make complete proteins, could you give us a better understanding of this and what this means?

Sure, I follow a vegan diet for ethical reasons meaning I want to avoid contributing to animal suffering as much as possible. This is part of my spiritual belief system. With a vegan diet it is important to get variety and combine foods such as nuts and seeds with legumes for a complete protein (all of the essential amino acids for health and optimal training). Some examples include: black beans and pumpkin seeds, pistachios and navy beans, garbanzo beans and hempseeds. Each of these combinations has a nice balance of protein, fat, and low glycemic carbohydrates. 

Your beliefs in eating patterns are quite unlike the average bits of advice people receive on a daily basis where you believe in longer stretches between meals, could you tell us why and what the benefits are?

Eating frequently trains the body to be inefficient and you will rely on constant feedings to perform at a high level. Miss one of those feedings and your blood sugar levels will crash big time. 

When you eat less frequently, some great things happen. One, three hours after a meal, the hormone insulin starts going down and another hormone called glucagon is released from the pancreas. Glucagon pulls energy from the liver and then goes to stored bodyfat for energy. Thus, you get a snack on stored bodyfat in between each meal. 

If you take six hours in between each meal, you get three hours of fat burning. Also mild hunger in between each meal releases a hormone called grehlin from the GI tract which is a growth hormone secretagogue. Growth hormone is a powerful fat burning hormone and also is important for workout recovery, skin health, lowering inflammation and many other healthy things.
Longer stretches in between meals also gives insulin and leptin receptors a much needed break so you avoid leptin and insulin resistance. Leptin and insulin sensitivity are critical for health and optimal hormone production. Byron Richards goes into great detail about the importance of leptin in his excellent book “Mastering Leptin.” 

Once you get used to the longer stretches you will find that your productivity goes way up as you don’t have to worry about eating every few hours and will also have more energy for other activities. Digestion is a huge expenditure of energy. You will eat more at each meal but will be more primed and ready to digest each meal optimally and pull as much energy as possible. 

I think a sign of a great meal, optimal digestion, and health is your ability to perform at a high level for many hours afterwards. When i teach a seminar, I often have a light breakfast and then teach for 6-8 hours without eating. This is not a problem for me at all and I can perform at a a high level all day long. Afterwards of course I feast which is also fun and rewarding after a hard days work. 
I will get into great detail on all of this at the SA courses. Just this info alone is worth 5x the price of admission. I wish someone taught hormones the way I teach it when I first started researching this stuff seven years ago.

Thank you so much for your insight into training, strength and nutrition, we look forward to hosting you and welcoming you to our country.

Mike will be hosting workshops on the following dates in Johannesburg and Durban

August 11th: Beginner kettlebell/hormone optimization workshop at Flux Fluid Motion Umhlanga.
August 12th: Intermediate kettlebell/hormone optimization workshop at Flux Fluid Motion Umhlanga

August 18th: Beginner kettlebell/hormone optimization workshop at Kettlebells SA Johannesburg
August 19th: Intermediate kettlebell/hormone optimization workshop at Kettlebells SA Johannesburg

Bookings are essential and more informaiton can be found on Mikes website www.mikemahler.com