Archive for the ‘kettlebell’ Category

The Octogen Philosophy

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

The Octogen Philosophy

With the relaunch of my blog and websites I want to take a minute to define a simple training philosophy so that everyone here is on the same page.

Training philosophy is one of the most contentious issues among exercise professionals and enthusiasts today.  True professionals and knowledgeable athletes understand that there is no one “Way” to achieve fitness and they constantly seek new knowledge to refine their methods.

Unfortunately for many people a lack of deeper understanding leads to adoption of dogmatic principles and a rejection of other methods and philosophies because they have been told by a guru that such and such a system is bad for one reason or another.

I’ll get to some of these dogmatic groups in future posts but for now let me lay out my current (and I say current because it is always open to change based on new evidence) training philosophy.

  1. You can be whatever you want but you must be Strong First! – Ok I have shamelessly stolen this line from Pavel Tsatsouline and his new organization StrongFirst but for me this statement captures what I’ve been trying to tell people for years.  Strong is a relative term and the level of strength that person requires is different depending on their goal but a foundation of basic strength prevents injuries and allows for more sophisticated and complicated fitness qualities to be developed.
  2. Training must have goals – If you don’t know where you want to go then how do you know what methods might be helpful to get there.  The best training plans I’ve ever seen have a specific goal at the end that motivates people to apply the correct methods and deal with the discomfort to achieve that goal.  In the last few years my best clients have been without exception military members who are attempting Special Forces selection.  These guys will do 12 workouts a week and don’t blink when I tell them to do a 7 hour long workout (yes you heard right, your 40 minute workout is nothing)
  3. Unless you have a very good reason to do it don’t bother doing shit you hate.  It took me 15 years to figure this one out but basically if you hate doing something and don’t have a great reason for doing it then you are going to do a half arsed job of it and miss half your sessions, you’ll get demotivated and then your plan will fall apart.  I had this for over 10 years with running.  I always did some running because its part of fitness but honestly I fucking hate running.  It’s boring, it hurts my knee and it interferes with my strength gains.  This year I resolved that I’ll never run again as part of a fitness program unless I absolutely have to.
  4. Only do as much as is necessary to continue to progress.  If you only need to do basic barbell exercises, a few bodyweight drills and some cardio to continue to improve your fitness and move toward your goals then don’t complicate your life with every latest and greatest gadget and exercise.  It ends up being distracting and leads to what I call exercise ADD where you do a little bit of everything and suck at them all.  As you get deeper into training complexity will inevitably increase but don’t jump the gun.

That pretty much covers it for my overall philosophy but of course this says nothing of methods.

Here is a list of the general methods that I utilize on a regular basis to help my clients achieve their goals.

Powerlifting – In keeping with the theory of being strong first I believe that everyone needs a good basic barbell program.  Squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, rows and their variations cover this.

Kettlebells – Good for strength (up to a point) and great for making a body bullet proof against injuries and also the single best tool for fat loss and conditioning I know of.

Olympic weightlifting – for athletes Olympic weightlifting teaches the transfer from strength to power like no other modality.  When I say Olympic lifting I am NOT talking about throwing 40kg for 20+ reps.  I’m talking reps under 5 and weights close to 1RM, anything else is stupid.

Crossfit – having just taken a swipe at Crossfit above I have to admit that some of the basic principles of crossfit such as functional movements at high intensity have some merit.  I just don’t subscribe to the theory of flogging yourself senseless every day and honestly some of their exercises are just dangerous and look stupid. (kipping handstand pushups WTF)

Strongman – If you want to get strong in a practical sense then do some strongman.

Running and all that crap – single mode cardio is my least favourite form of exercise, both to participate in and to program.  Long periods of that stuff inevitably lead to overuse injuries through postural imbalance which then takes ages to fix.  My opinion is that if you need to run then you can get most of your conditioning through doing kettlebells and other stuff and you can then practice the skill of running in a limited number of sessions a week.  In particular I hate military programs that have people out pounding the pavement 5 days a week, it’s just asking for shin splints and knee issues.  If you look like a concentration camp victim (ie like most great runners) then you can get away with that.  Normally muscled people are going to break.

Ok so now that we are all on the same page we can get down to looking at different training methods and programs for various goals!

Training to Failure

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

One of the questions that I get asked a fair bit is about the concept of training to failure in bodybuilding, kettlebell training and strngth and conditioning.

The other day on one of the forums I post on the following question came up.

It’s always said not to train to failure. What I’m wondering is why?

I’ve done it a little lately to vary it up, and while it really smashes me I at least feel some progress. Learnt the hard way though to do it close to bed time, cause if I go to failure (or beyond with lowered weight) a few times with small break in between I’m absolutely wrecked till I sleep a while.

After answering the question I thought i might as well pu tthe answer up here because i’m sure other people would have the same question!

So here is what I wrote…

This is a fairly complicated subject and depending on who you talk to you’ll get lots of different opinions.

I’ll try to simplify things to the three most common scenarios.

1. Muscle mass – Training to failure is an easy way to ensure progress when trying to build muscle.

Basically a fairly high volume of work with moderately heavy weights leads to a break down in muscle fibres and the bodies response is to build more muscle to compensate.

Due to some quirks of physiology though not all the muscle is contractile fibre (the bit that lifts stuff) so you can get bigger muscles but you aren’t necessarily as strong as you look. You still get stronger but just not the same way that pure strength athletes do.

Bodybuilders who train to failure in the 8 – 12rep range are in the muscle building zone and will often experience delayed onset muscle soreness.

2. Strength and power – strength is more neurological than most people think. When aiming to develop maximal strength and power you need to lift as heavy as possible but not necessarily to the point of failure.

By avoiding failure you recover more quickly and therefore can train more often. Like all skills the more often you practice the better you get.

This is why olympic lifters favour low reps (1-5 and mostly 1-3) and often twice daily training. They never train to failure in multi rep sets and only really “fail” during one rep max attempts when the weight is too high to lift.

Olympic lifters still get DOMS sometimes and initially they often build a lot of muscle mass but then tend to plateau when they get to the body weight they want to compete at.

3. Muscular endurance –
When the goal is high rep local muscular endurance (20+reps) for things like pushups you can train effectively either with multiple sets of sub maximal numbers or you can hammer away at training to failure. Either will work for a while and then it’s probably best to switch.

During long sets or circuits you end up with different types of failure if you push to the limit. You can experience metabolic failure where the muscles don;t have enough energy to contract or a build up in acid levels is inhibiting contraction. When this happens you’ll stop because you are out of breath basically. You can also get the same type of failure as doing bodybuilding type training whereby you might have the energy to do the reps but you’ve run out of nueromuscular juice.

At the end of the day you need to overload the muscles and your energy systems and try to progress every few sessions, once something stops working switch to a slightly different plan and start again!

Advanced Kettlebell Training

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Once you’ve mastered the basics of kettlebell training there are a lot of different ways to increase the difficulty of your workouts.

Here is a link to an article I wrote on a couple of simple ways to change your kettlebell training to make it more effective for martial arts, military and sports conditioning.

Advanced Kettlebell Training #1

I’m a big fan of these types of training and I’m also a big fan of the gymboss timer which allows precise timing of these sorts of workouts.

We’ve just started stocking Gymboss timers so if you need one for your workouts jump across to our Training gear page and pick one up.

Contact Magazine Part 5

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Another two articles from the archives this time dealing with workouts using minimal equipment and another on preventing common overuse injuries.

Article 7 – March 2007 – Deployed workouts

Article 8 – June 2007 – Avoiding Common injuries

Kettlebell Heart Starters

Monday, October 20th, 2008

I’ve got a confession to make. Despite being a fitness trainer I’m really not a morning person. I often find it hard to get going in the morning and generally before I can get anything productive done I need to get my blood flowing.

The problem I have had in the past is that I like to do my major workouts in the afternoon and doing a second 40-60 minute session in the morning is too time consuming.

Therefore recently I’ve been experimenting with some 5 minute mini workouts that I can do with little or no warm up and with just a couple of bits of equipment that I can keep in my living room. The aim here is a quick convenient workout to kick my body and brain into gear not to flog myself (that comes in the afternoon workouts)

One quick note – if you are going to do these workouts pick a kettlebell that is one size (4kg for women and 8kg for men) lighter than what you would use for a full workout. So if you regularly swing a 32kg drop back to a 24kg.


#1 – A quick Crossfit “Fran” Variation
Kettlebell snatch 10 reps each arms, 7 reps, 5 reps
Pullups – 20, 14, 10

#2 – 5 rounds of
10 Kettlebell swings
10 pushups
10 situps

#3 – 3 rounds
3-5 Turkish Get up each side
3-5 windmills each side
1 minute of round the body kettlebell passing and figure 8’s between the legs

#4 – High Octane Cardio
5 rounds of
30 seconds of Kettlebell swings
30 seconds of skipping

Try some of these workouts when you need a break from office work or whenever you need a bit of a wake up!