Sunday, 19 May 2013

Pentathlon Update

"In fighting, in evolution, in life, efficiency is the key. It's not the most powerful animal that survives. It's the most efficient."
- Georges St. Pierre, UFC champion

It occurred to me somewhat belatedly that I never wrote anything about the Pentathlon competition that I participated in on May 4, so here goes.

The Pentathlon consists of 5 lifts (I've added links to videos that demo the lifts): 
  • Clean (you swing the bell between your legs, then up to your chest into a position called the "rack") -- max 120 reps
  • Long Cycle press (you clean the bell, then lift it above your head--no knee bend, feet stay on the ground) -- max 60 reps
  • Jerk (with the bell in the rack position, you use a knee bend to"pop" the bell overhead and another knee bend to get under it, then you straighten your arm and legs--not a great explanation--it's a complicated move) -- max 120 reps
  • Half Snatch (you swing the bell between your legs and up overhead, then lower it to rack position) -- max 108 reps
  • Push Press (with the bell in rack position, you bend your knees to give yourself a little extra power to push the bell overhead) -- max 120 reps
You get 6 minutes for each lift, with a 5-minute break between each lift, so it takes nearly and hour to finish a set--that's a long time. Points are given for the weight of the bell (8 kg = 1 point, 10 kg = 1.25 points, 12 kg = 1.5 points, etc.) and multiplied by the number of reps to give you a score. The highest score wins. Easy, right?
There's strategy involved. You can use a heavier weight (more points per lift) and risk not being able to do the maximum number of reps or you can use a slightly lighter weight to try to reach the maximum number of reps per lift (my strategy). Also, because of the length of the event, you have to pace yourself--if you lift too heavy in the earlier sets, you may not be able to finish as strongly as you'd like. You can change hands as many times as you like, but changing hands takes time, so you have to think about that, too.
I'd only done one complete Pentathlon at home before this, but doing so allowed me to get a feel for the weights I wanted to use, though I made a few last-minute changes. Uncharacteristically, I decided that it would be better to be a bit conservative in my weight choices (usually I go for broke in my workouts and end up in a puddle on the floor). As it was, I thought I was going to puke about two-thirds of the way through the half snatches, but I managed to keep it together.
Not having grown up doing athletic things (I did a lot of ballet and played some softball for a community-league team), getting up in front of an audience for a competitive athletic event is waaaay out of my comfort zone. I'd really rather play a flute recital. Although I considered bailing more than once, I knew that I'd end up feeling really disappointed in myself if I didn't give it a shot, so I turned up bright and early on May 4 ready to give it a shot.
Misty, Mike and Renee and their volunteer brigade went all out to dress up The Foundry--our little gym looked amazing. There were 15 competitors total (9 men, 6 women)--some of them from out of town--divided into 3 flights of 5. I was in the second flight at 10:30 am--exactly where I wanted to be. Each competitor was assigned a judge who also kept count of reps (it's easy to miscount when you start to get tired) and there was a big clock on the wall to countdown the time for each set. We all lined up on our platforms, the clock started, and off we went.
In girevoy sport, whether in Long Cycle, Biathlon, or Pentathlon, rhythm and breathing are key. The idea is to establish a regular rhythm and try to do a certain number of reps per minute as opposed to going really fast and finishing early. It's paradoxical because it's really really tiring and hard, but you're supposed to be relaxed all the way through. Technique and efficiency are key--good, efficient technique conserves energy--and breathing helps set the rhythm. The sets are long and the changeover from aerobic to anaerobic happens fairly quickly, so you learn to endure discomfort. Also, the anaerobic component is interesting--I can now get up hills on my bike that used to defeat me before.
Okay--back to the competition. Despite setting a rhythm, I always seem to finish the first two sets of lifts early. I had planned to use a really heavy weight (for me), 18 kg, for the clean, but dialed it back to 16 kg--I could have used the 18 kg, but I would have been toast for the remainder of the sets. The rest of my sets went to plan and I hit a higher number of reps than I had previously (I never seem to be able to hit max reps in the jerk or half snatch). My personal goal was to score over 800 points (I got 750 in my home Pentathlon), which I achieved. My final score was 845.5--good enough to give me first place in my age division (women 35+) and the highest overall score for the women. Final results are here. If you click on the scores, you can see the breakdown of reps and weights.
The whole experience was amazing. The event was incredibly well organized and went off like clockwork. I've never won first place in anything athletic, so that was pretty special for me. I hope I get the chance to do this again! I've set a new goal of trying to get 1000 points, but I now want to work on my Long Cycle for a while--I still don't have an official ranking with the WKC.
As much as I love kettlebells, I have to remember that I'm doing this for fun. I also need to broaden my range of fitness activities a bit more, I think. I've been trying to run more often and it's finally bicycling season here n Edmonton. I'd also like to build a pullup bar and a balance beam in the backyard, as well as some kind of slackline setup. The trick is finding time for all this and still get in some flute/recorder playing, gardening, home reno, and a bit of reading. The other thing I'm working on is recovery--my age works against me in this, I think, because it took me most of a week to bounce back from the Pentathlon. I'm doing some research and self-experimentation, and I hope to write something about this soon.
If you want to see some pics of the event, check out the Alberta Kettlebell Games Facebook photo album.
Time for a little gardening and a get-together with my pianist. Sunday afternoons were made for music!

Monday, 6 May 2013

April Update

"Practice puts brains in your muscles."
-Sam Snead, pro golfer

April has come and gone and here's the latest update in my kettlebell quest. I've changed the game a bit and I'm now including cleans. The original plan was to count overhead lifts only, but I've decided that it's a shame to exclude cleans--the clean is a powerful lift that uses the whole body. I've kind of neglected doing them the last few months, but the more cleans I do, the more I understand how important they are.

Despite the fact that I'm still not quite where I should be in terms of the total amount lifted, things are going well. I missed a week of workouts because of a business trip (consistency comes in many forms--I seem to consistently miss a week of training every month) but I'm feeling pretty good about stuff. My form has improved to the point where I rarely tear up my hands. My stamina is better than ever and bound to improve now that the weather has warmed up and I can get my bike out again--I'm looking forward to using my new superstrength to crush the big hills on my favourite ride. Even the occasional week of rest isn't necessarily a bad thing.

So, here it is, the April pie chart--I'm only 22% of the way to my goal, but I have high hopes for May and June. It's catchup time!

Coming up--a recap of The Foundry's Pentathlon competition (aka the Alberta Kettlebell Games).

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

March Update: Falling Behind

 "Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts."
- Sir Winston Churchill

Okay--the quotation above is maybe a bit overblown. Churchill was fighting a war and I'm swinging kettlebells for fun. Nevertheless, as most of my friends and family know, I tend to take things too seriously. This challenge is serious business to me--it represents a wholehearted effort to make some significant behavioural changes, not just sling weights around.

One quarter of the year has now come and gone, and I should be at least a quarter of the way to my goal--but I'm not. I'm only 15% of the way there. I got off to a great start in January and thought I could keep up the pace, but things haven't quite gone to plan. Life tends to intervene (domestic catastrophes, illness), and a big part of the challenge is learning to let these things go and press on. Besides, the real reason I started doing this was to force myself to exercise more consistently, and I've done that. Half the battle is just showing up.

Kettlebell-wise, things are actually going really well. I still haven't had a chance to submit a ranking, and it's unlikely that I will be able to attend the competition in Victoria in May--two of my original goals. (I'm still recovering financially from the sewer backup flood disaster. Sewer repair is expensive!) However, I'm lifting heavier than ever, and I went through a whole Pentathlon on my own on Sunday (I'm entered in a Pentathlon competition here in Edmonton on May 4). The results were pretty good (the Pentathlon is kind of a marathon event--the whole thing takes about an hour), and with another month to prepare, I'm confident that I'll be able to do well. I've added another workout each week (Sunday), for a total of three girevoy sport sessions, in addition to the ever-popular Saturday Hellcamp Circuit and the occasional run. I'm probably in better shape now than I ever was when I was younger.

So, I'm still plugging away. My calloused hands are a source of pride, and I've even lost some weight since the beginning of the year. Having to make up ground is an incentive to keep going (I'll have to miss yet another week of training this month because I'm going on a business trip). And besides, I'm doing this for fun, right?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

February Update

Here are my February stats. This month was a bit of disappointment. To reach my goal, I'd calculated that I need to lift about 39,000 kg, or 86,000 lbs, per month. At the moment, my total stands at 40,742 kg, or 89,821 lbs--8.98% of my goal.

Nevertheless, I feel like I'm just hitting my stride lifting-wise. At least this part of my life is going well--February was a challenging month in other ways.
One of the best things to come out of all this is my teenage son's interest in kettlebell lifting. He's just getting started and our workouts together aren't as regular as they should be, but he's been bitten by the bug. If nothing else, at least I can provide a good example.

Monday, 25 February 2013

When Life Goes Sideways

"Don't dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer."
- Denis Waitley, American motivational speaker and author

We all like to plan stuff, make schedules, mark stuff in calendars, but life seldom goes according to plan, right? What do you do when life goes to h***?
This past week has been a tough one. I've been moving my office and trying to work at the same time--never a good idea. Last weekend, sewage was spewing out of my basement toilet--seriously not good. Most of the week was spent monitoring the disaster cleanup people, making phone calls to my insurance company, and generally wondering how I was going to pay for everything. And just to make the week extra special, I had to put one of my cats to sleep. Zeke was a very old kitty (18!) whose health had been failing for a long time, but I loved him dearly and will miss him a lot.

There were no workouts last week. I'm easily overwhelmed by stuff like this and my body decided to cope by just wanting to sleep, so I let it. I finally got my ass to the gym on Saturday morning, where a sweaty Hellcamp Circuit helped me work out some of the stress and sadness.

I'm now way behind in my goal to lift a million pounds by the end of the year, but I've decided not to stress (too much). I think that as I get stronger, I will lift heavier and make up some of the deficit. I also need to add another GS workout to ensure that I'm really ready for the two competitions I have scheduled in May (easier said than done because I'm no spring chicken and I need my rest days). Sigh.

It's Monday and I'm trying to see the coming week as a fresh slate. My office is shaping up and I have almost everything I need to do my job, the basement is clean and minty fresh (courtesy of aerosolized disinfecting enzymes that the disaster cleanup people put into the air), the sewer has been cleaned out and is working again (but still needs to be repaired--$$$), the insurance estimator is coming tomorrow to evaluate the situation, and Zeke is hopefully in a better place (do cats get angel wings?). This week has to be better, right?

"Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did."
- Newt Gingrich, American politician

**Disclaimer: I'm not a Newt Gingrich fan--he's much too conservative and right wing--I just like the quote. In his favour, he supposedly likes animals and is a dinosaur enthusiast. No one is all bad.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

How Much Is a Million Pounds?

"What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn't think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know."
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

A million pounds is...lots. But this much weight is tough to actually visualize, so here's a list of things that weigh a million pounds (or thereabouts):
  • 40 school buses (a typical school bus weighs 22,000 to 28,000 lbs, so I used 25,000 lbs for ease of calculation)
  • An Airbus A380, currently the world's largest passenger jet, has a maximum takeoff weight of about 1.1 million pounds
  • The Union Pacific Big Boy, one of the largest steam locomotives ever built, weighed 1.2 million pounds with a tender full of water and coal
Other things that weigh a million pounds:
  • About 3 blue whales (a blue whale, the largest mammal on the planet, weighs about 375,000 pounds)
  • About 5 right whales (right whales are smaller than blue whales, weighing on average about 200,000 pounds; also, because I can't resist gratuitous trivia, right whales have the largest testes of any animal--each testicle weighs about 1100 pounds)
Blue Whale: Source
If you want to think of a million pounds from a monetary standpoint, here are the stats:
  • In Canadian pennies (now an extinct species), you would need 193,026, 903 of the 2.35 g coins, or $1,930,269.03
  • In quarters, 103,093,784 of the 4.4 g coins, or $25,773,196
  • In loonies, 72,343,196 of the 6.27 g coins, or $72,343,196
  • In toonies, 65,547,981 of the 6.92 g coins, or $32,773,990
  • And, because my son asked, one million British pounds (pounds in pounds, get it?) would be 47,746,941 of the 9.5 g coins, or $74,485,228 Canadian dollars at the current exchange rate of 1.56
But what about the kettlebells? Kettlebells are typically weighed in kilograms, and one million pounds equals 453,592 kilos, so that's
  • 28,357 x 16 kg (my current competition weight)
  • 25,200 x 18 kg (my competition weight for this fall)
  • 22,686 x 20 kg (sometime in the future...I hope)
That's a lot of stuff to lift.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Getting Started

I've decided to update my progress every month and it's the beginning of February, so here's my January progress report (remember that I started on January 15, so this is really a 2-week update):
  • Total lifted: 22,452 kg = 49,498 kg
  • Percentage of total: 4.95%

Most of the training we've been doing in class is targeted toward the upcoming Foundry Pentathlon competition on May 4, so I will be adding an extra Longcycle workout on Sundays.