We get some patients with an acute injury, but most tend to have chronic problems due to posture, repetitive movements, or improper lifting in the gym.
Using acupuncture alone helps tremendously but won’t cure their posture or stop the faulty movement patterns. This is where your material comes in. It helps to bridge the gap between rehabilitative treatment for pain into the corrective exercise realm that corrects faulty movement and dials in correct motor and postural control.
Keep up the good work. Most of the sports approach I take to acupuncture comes from you, Eric C. and the other authors on T-Nation.”
MR: Pavel, I’ve got to admit – I’m stoked to have you here!
If you don’t mind, please let everyone know a little bit about you.
PT: I live in Santa Monica, California with my wife Julie. I came to the US from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. It did not occur to me to put my education in sports science and military experience to use so I started an unsuccessful import-export business with friends and did odd jobs like every immigrant. Eventually a friend suggested that I start personal training and I hade the sense to listen. I had a gym in an old bank vault in the basement. Nice, no one could hear my “victims” scream. I started speaking and met my publisher John Du Cane of Dragon Door Publications in one of my seminars.
MR: It’s well known that you’ve worked with the Russian Special Forces in the past. What was their training like? What specific physical qualities did you really have to bring up to give them the best chance of success?
PT: The PT standards Russian spec ops units hold themselves to are very high. For instance, we had to do 18 neck to the bar dead hang pull-ups with body armour which weighed 10kg. And that was nothing to write home about. In addition to various forms of endurance an operator needs leg strength, relative and absolute. If he does not, the knees get destroyed from parachuting and rucking. Squats, barbell, or even partner, are not appropriate because they build the hip adductors. Chafing thighs is the last thing you need on a long march. Which is where “pistols”, or one-legged squats, came in handy. We did them in a variety of rep ranges, with and without added weight. An operator was expected to be able to do 25 per leg with his bodyweight only. In addition to building leg strength and strength endurance, pistols were great flexibility and joint mobility. Which promoted not only greater resilience but also the ability to get into much better low shooting positions, more stable, less tiring, and with a smaller profile. The weight of the kit demanded back and midsection strength and endurance. Nothing better than kettlebell swings and snatches to get that job done.
MR: I have several of your books, but I really enjoyed Relax into Stretch and Super Joints. What role do you feel stretching and mobility play into building a better body? And where are most people missing the boat in this regard?
PT: Being tight is like driving with the parking brakes on. Tight hip flexors are epidemic and they zap your performance, be it deadlifting, jumping, running, or hitting. People miss the boat when they refuse to understand that stretching is a skill. Regardless of the method chosen, one must internalize the flexibility practice rather than mindlessly pull and tug. Patience. If you have it, you can get exceptionally flexible. I am attaching a photo of Mark Bartley, RKC who holds the powerlifting world total record in the 275 pound class in a straddle stretch. He has achieved his flexibility following the Relax into Stretch protocol and if a guy this big and strong can do it, no reader of yours may claim the excuse of being “too big”.
MR: Another quality text is your “Bulletproof Abs” book – what are most trainees doing wrong with regards to their core training?
PT: This is very simple. Train your midsection heavy for strength. No more high rep nonsense; triples and fives rule. And pick the right exercises. We have tested some of the exercises from Bullet-Proof Abs at Prof. Stuart McGill’s lab and they were winners. Among other things, we have discovered that they recruit the internal obliques very intensely, which is very important to a powerlifter. It was great to confirm that the Ab Pavelizer TM, the device for modified Janda sit-ups I have patented, does enhance the abdominal recruitment, and so does the “power breathing” technique. In addition to the book, I have a free e-course on hanging leg raises, an exercise Russian powerlifters and fighters swear by, and Americans do incorrectly. Go to the www.dragondoor.com home page and download your free PDF of the Super-Strong Abs the Naked Warrior Way course.
MR: I think you and I are very similar in our approach to building a better overall athlete, and movement quality is a huge component of that.
Let’s switch gears for a second and talk about kettlebells – why are kettlebells such a great training medium?
PT: I could talk about the subject for hours so I will focus on the most unique aspect of RKC kettlebell training, the over speed eccentric in swings and snatches. It provides an additional or even alternative modality to plyometrics and offers unique body composition benefits, both muscle building and fat burning.
I will cite Siff: “One may produce the same force by moving a heavy load with a small acceleration or a light load with a large acceleration, but the training effect is very different. Explosive, low inertia training targets involuntary, neuromuscular and central nervous processes more strongly than high inertia training which has a greater effect on static strength development and muscle hypertrophy.” With depth jumps you can reduce your inertia only as far as you can reduce your bodyweight. And one has be content with the acceleration of 1G. Not so with kettlebell swings and snatches. You can go as light as you want and you can throw the kettlebell down as fast as you want for an incredible preload for the next rep. Dr. Mel Siff coined a term for this type of training –actively accelerated ballistics. “Here you… rely solely on your muscles. Instead of lowering the [weight] slowly or allowing it to drop under gravitational acceleration, deliberately pull the [weight] downwards as fast as you can, stop the downward motion at a suitable point before the end of the movement and as rapidly as you can, try to accelerate the [weight] upwards into a powerful concentric movement.”
It works. Senior RKC instructor Kenneth Jay who is the strength coach for several Danish Olympic teams and a researcher at the University of Copenhagen conducted an experiment in which untrained subjects added 3-8cm to their standing vertical jump in just two weeks of explosively snatching light kettlebells. At the same time, at the same university, another group of untrained subjects added only an average of 2cm to their SVJ from doing depth jumps.
Not only the gains were greater in the kettlebell group, the training was much safer. No matter how perfect your landing mechanics are -and I will venture a guess that they are not -with every landing you are stacking the odds against yourself. You have no landings to worry about when you snatch your kettlebell. Of course, you will still have to master the jumping technique, but RKC kettlebell snatches will go a long way here as well. While you will need to practice the foot and ankle action separately (Verkhoshansky recommends jumping rope), the hips, knee, and back extensors work the same way in kettlebell snatches and vertical jumps, and you also will learn what Supertraining refers to as “pneumatic shock absorption”, or how to pressurize your intra-abdominal cavity before the amortization. So you get to practice essential elements of jumping many times over safer than it was ever possible.
It is interesting that one must use a light kettlebell to get the most benefits. Dr. Siff reminds, “The important thing to remember is that this form of training, according to Newton’s Second Law, focuses on force being increased by means of acceleration and not added mass…” When I met Brett Jones, today is a Master RKC instructor, he could parallel squat with a belt only two times his bodyweight which many sources agree is a prerequisite to jumping well. Yet 5’9″ Jones could not dunk a basketball until he started explosively snatching a 24kg kettlebell. Later he progressed to much heavier kettlebells and significantly increased his relative squat strength, from 2.0 to 2.64, yet he could not fly as high any more. Now he is back to snatching his 24, the standard issue in the Russian military by the way, to reclaim his impressive vertical.
Senior RKC Mark Reifkind has been the most vocal proponent of going lighter and faster in kettlebell snatches. He has been doing most of his with a 16kg kettlebell, only occasionally going to a 24. Although his goal was cardiopulmonary conditioning and health, to his surprise Rif has experienced an absolute strength increase and visible hypertrophy of the back and shoulders. This would not have been unexpected in an untrained person, but consider that Mark is a former elite gymnast, a powerlifter who has held California bench press records, and a bodybuilder… Then of course there is Donnie Thompson, RKC who gained 26 pounds of muscle on a routine that emphasized kettlebell quick lifts with light kettlebells in just three months. His coach, Mr. Haney, RKC a 51-year-old former college champion shot putter, added 15 pounds of muscles following the same training plan. When I asked Louie Simmons what he thought about Don’s progress, the Westside mastermind answered that kettlebell quick lifts, unlike the plyos, do not just rely on the stored elastic energy but work the muscles as well. Read up on Lisa Ericson’s SMART exercise methodology in Supertraining and look up Chad Waterbury’s references on fast eccentrics for more ideas on why such training promotes hypertrophy.
Of course, Donnie did not just gain useless bodybuilder meat, he gained strength. Nine months after dropping deadlifts from his training and replacing them with kettlebell pulls Donnie Thompson, RKC, took his deadlift from 766 to 832. He also credits kettlebells with adding 100 pounds to his bench press. The rest, as they say, is history.
I would like to add that Dragon Door kettlebells are specially designed for explosive training. Some companies’ kettlebells are made for kettlebell endurance competitions, others for juggling, and most are made with no rhyme or reason at all. Our kettlebells are customized for over speed eccentric snatches. The weight distribution and the handle height are just right for explosively tossing the kettlebell over your fist in a perfect groove.
MR: Tell me a little bit about the RKC program; I’m fascinated by it, but haven’t yet been able to attend.
Who is the RKC geared towards? And what will they get out of it?
PT: After I taught a kettlebell workshop at Westside Louie Simmons told me that what I had done was “reverse engineering of what the strongest people do naturally.” At the RKC we don’t treat the kettlebell as the end all but a tool. And what we teach is not just how to use the kettlebell but how to move in a variety of contexts -powerlifting, martial arts, tactical, etc. Our graduates include top powerlifters like Donnie Thompson, Mark Bartley, and Amy Weisberger, renown strength coaches like Dan John, NFL strength coaches like Chip Morton and Tony Spinosa, special operators (I teach in-house RKC courses to the US Secret Service, the US Navy SEALs, etc.), fighters, scientists, medical professionals, personal trainers, and regular hard comrades.
In addition to the kettlebell snatch test you will be tested on your technique, teaching ability, and good judgment. The course is very physical, you will be practicing drills a lot and doing several intense workouts a day for three days, plus a killer grad workout. Although most students come well prepared, we typically have a 20-30% failure rate. I promise that you will take your athletic performance to the next level once you have taken the RKC course. Here is the schedule: http://www.dragondoor.com/author_workshops.html
MR: While many want to pigeon hole you as a “kettlebell guy” (just like I’m the “mobility guy!), you know a ton about strength as well. Could you talk a little bit about the Smolov squat routine? I actually first learned about you from an old Powerlifting USA article, ya know!
PT: Getting pigeon holed as the “kettlebell guy” does not bother me. The kettlebell will teach you a lot more than just using kettlebells.
As for powerlifting, I hope your readers will enjoy an excerpt from my Power to the People Monthly Newsletter which is aimed at experienced PLers. Since you have asked about Smolov, a coach who has had great influence on Russian powerlifting, I have picked a section of the newsletter which deals with his radical recommendations on the DL technique:
“At any given moment the projection of the common center of mass must be made through the point of stable equilibrium, otherwise, the [righting] reflexes cause additional muscle tensions aimed at regaining a stable position. They, of course, are completely unnecessary from the point of view of rational athletic technique.” (The sidebar in Power to the People Monthly explains why this statement does not apply to the American DL technique.)
Thus Smolov’s goal is a perfect balance from front to back. He achieves it by keeping the weight over the natural balance point of the foot, by aligning the bar and the body’s center of mass exactly over that spot, and by lifting straight up.
According to Gurfinkel & Kots (1965), one’s center of mass is projected over the ground exactly halfway between the heel bone and the first knuckle of the big toe. In other words, the middle of the foot if you chopped of the big toe while leaving its first metatarsal alone. That puts the bar projection roughly between the third and the fourth, if you count from the top, shoelace holes on your Chucks, slightly in front of the middle of an “uncut” foot.
To get your own center of mass over that sweet spot Smolov directs to bring your shoulders slightly in front of the bar as an Olympic lifter. IPF world champ Victor Furazhkin has taught me an easy way to hit the sweet spot -keep your sternum over the bar for the first half of the pull.
This is the kind of information you can expect from Power to the People Monthly. Subscribe at www.powertothepeoplemonthly.com
MR: One of your tricks to squatting better is to engage the hip flexors; what does this mean, and how does this improve your squat?
PT: You need to literally pull yourself into the hole, as if you are doing a sit-up. The psoas originate on your lumbar spine so contracting them helps you keep your arch. Also, you will maintain a better anterior pelvic tilt, which means your glutes will be stronger. There are some other benefits as well, but the bottom line is you will squat more and safer.
On the other hand, stretching the hip flexors will up your deadlift. For instance, after practicing the hip flexor stretch I an teaching on my DVD Strength Stretching (http://www.dragondoor.com/dv024.html) Louie Simmons added 50 pounds to his rack pull.
MR: If you don’t mind, give the readers three simple things they can do to improve the quality of their workouts.
PT: Strength is a skill, so approach your strength training as a practice, not as a “workout”. Study various reflexes and neurological phenomena and use them to get stronger. Read and reread the chapter on “superstiffness” in Prof. Stuart McGill’s Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance (www.backfitpro.com).
MR: Okay Pavel, last question and I pose this to everyone!
As coaches, we’ve all made mistakes in the past – what was one mistake you made, and how have you since gone on to correct it?
PT: Coaching myself the way I would never coach a client. For some reason you get the idea that the laws of adaptation do not apply to you. Remember, you are not special, treat yourself the same way you would treat any other athlete.
MR: Pavel, I can’t thank you enough for being here today. Please let my readers know where they can find out more about you and your products.
PT: www.PowerbyPavel.com. Stop by and say hello on our forum and don’t forget to subscribe to my free e-newsletter. Or else. Power to you, Comrades!