Monday, August 18, 2008

Training Bio

This is actually a repost of a blog I wrote on my old site Titled "We All Started Somewhere". However, given recent internet discussions and debates, I feel it is worth reposting and for me re-reading.

How did I get here to Kettlebell Lifting as my primary source of training and why is the journey important?

I started weightlifting when I was 13 years old at a summer weightlifting camp. I actually remember starting earlier than that when I would routinely grab my dad's dumbbells and try to curl them. I've always loved strength training and had a fascination with lifting heavy things.

In the 9th Grade, I tried out and failed to make the Jr. High basketball team. I was crushed. Sports and athletics had been something that I always wanted to do. I was afraid that I may actually have to enroll in a non-athletic program, and my friend said, hey what about Cross Country? I said, "do I look like a runner?" She said, "No, but the throwers get to enroll in Cross Country and they lift weights in the off-season". It was a dream come true. I enrolled in Cross Country. 3 of us had a simple but well-equipped weight room to ourselves. The other 2 were 2 years older than I was. We had basic olympic barbell weights, one lifting platform, and one or 2 squat cages. Most of our lifting comprised of compound movements, bench pressing, squatting, power cleans, ect. Mind you, we were lifting un-supervised for the most part. Two days a week we did running, sprints ect. I'll be the first to admit, we probably weren't the most adept lifters, but by the time I was 16, I had benched 150lbs, and squatted (although not a full squat), 300. We were strong for our age. At that time, I had no appreciation for the basic movements we were doing.. I also had little appreciation for the role of strength training, build, and other factors in athletics. I was arguably one of the strongest throwers, but was not one of the best.

After leaving High School, I didn't do any serious exercise for a couple of years. My idea of exercise was an occasional basketball or recreational softball game. I gained a lot of weight after high school. I ballooned up to 210. I managed to lose 60 pounds without serious exercise, but I knew I wouldn't keep the weight off, so I joined the gym. Even at 150 lbs, I was "fat". Several years of inactivity, and I no longer had any of my High School muscle. At the time, Gold's was running something called Nutrionanalysis. It really was a pre-cursor to body for life, but you basically ate 6 meals per day, worked out 5 or 6 days a week and did cardio. They took measurements at the beginning and after 12 weeks. All of the weight training consisted of machine circuits with 8-10 machines. Of course, I didn't fully appreciate the simplicity and the effectiveness of the High School weight room I had and thought that these modern machines were much better. Well, I went through the program with great results even on those blasted machines. I went from 150lbs - 30% bodyfat, to 165lbs-22% bodyfat. The trainer was stunned at the results. My clothes were definitely loose...and I was able to regain the lost muscle..with machines. But, I was consistent with my training and diet.....

For several years, I worked out at the gym and did a pretty good job maintaining what I had accomplished. I might have gained back a few pounds, but I was consistent and I enjoyed the routine of the gym; I enjoyed and took pride in my 30-45 minute bouts on the stairmaster or life cycle. Then life happened....

My Grandmother passed away in 1995. This was a life-changing event. I had lived with my Grandmother from the time I was 18 until the time she passed away when I was 23. Even when I was young, she only lived less than a mile from us. She was always a source of stability in our family when we went through some very hard times. Needless to say, her passing was a major milestone in my life and I fell into a depression as a result. I pretty much abandoned all exercise. I made it to work every night on the graveyard shift, but could rarely sleep more than 2 hours a day...I was ridden with insomnia and wasn't eating.

In January of 1996, I was given the opportunity for a promotion if I moved to St. Louis. This was my opportunity to get out on my own and grow up. Of course, this opportunity wasn't without it's challenges. I was on a startup project and I worked 4 or 5 months straight (on graveyards) without a day off, and sometimes worked as much as 100 hours per week (and this was for $27K per year). Needless to say, while I might have been minding my career, I had totally neglected my body. I gained back all the weight I had lost and stopped caring about the food I put into my mouth.

While the job I had taken was a good stepping stone, I knew there was no future in the company. I also knew that working the graveyard shift was not good for my long-term well being. So,I found a better paying job with better hours. After settling in to this position, I was quite content with work, but very unhappy with my appearance and my overall health. So, I rejoined the gym. For a few months, I went on an irregular basis. I was still in school at night working on my bachelors or routinely had to work late. So, it was hard for me to juggle the gym with school and work. Well, I knew that the only thing I could do was go in the mornings.

I started working out at Gold's Gym in downtown St. Louis in the morning at 5:30. I got the consistency back. I started back with a mix of barbell and machine lifts, and got back into a regular routine of cardio. I met some great people in the morning. The morning types were always friendly but were always there to work out-not socialize. It was here that I met Francine. She and I both recognized that we were both "strong" girls. We started working out together. Francine introduced me to some high intensity training, circuits and stuff. At that time, they were harder than anything I had done. I still did curls, leg machine stuff, but I had re-integrated squats, some ugly Power cleans, and bench pressing back into my training.

Francine also introduced me to California Martial Arts Academy where I've made some lifelong friends with folks like my instructor Jay Damato and his wife Robin Veale. CMAA is a mixed martial arts school. I loved learning BJJ, boxing, ect. However, I quickly realized that while I was strong, my strength did not serve me that well in this environment. It was like I was in high school..very strong, but the strength didn't readily benefit me for this type of sport. After I got my butt kicked several times, I began to realize that I needed to focus on relaxing and learning and practicing the specific skills.

My progress in the gym had stalled. I had been an avid reader of MM2K and seen several of Pavel's articles. I picked up a copy of PTP. I started regular deadlifting for the first time in my life, and applied the principles to the bench press while I worked to side press the olympic barbell. After 6 months or so of dedicated training, I had worked up to 265X5 on the deadlift and 210X3 on the bench press, and was finally able to side press the bar. It was around this time that Pavel had an article related to using dumbbells for KB lifts like swings, clean and jerks and snatches. So, based on his article, I started finishing my workouts with dumbbell swings, C&Js(although I hated them with dumbbells..they were awkward for high reps), and snatches. I immediately saw the benefits in this training. My conditioning was rapidly much so that the cardio equipment was a far less challenge.

After a year or so of this training, I finally forked over the cash for a 12kg and 16kg KB. I immediately discovered why everyone was saying they were far better than dumbbells for these lifts. I remember snatching the 16kg KB the first time and fighting to stabilize it at the top. I still did the barbell lifts at the gym, but by this time I had abandoned all single joint movements like curls, tricep extensions and leg extensions. I would do a strength session in the morning, and save the ballistics for the evening. Within a few months, I had noticed a tremendous increase in my endurance on the mat. I could outlast guys who were stronger and bigger. I also was just simply moving better. I started to appreciate the idea of training movement and not muscle!

I started posting a little on the DD forum about my results. I purchased a 24kg after 6 months. I was able to use it for swings, and worked diligently to press it. It was around this time that Kettlebell Sport or GS was a hot topic on DD. Chicago was hosting a meet in Jan of 2004, so I decided to make the drive and compete. I didn't have any anticipation of winning; I didn't train specifically for it. I think I did 95 total on my snatches and 30 jerks with the 16kg. I loved the atmoshpere and I met some very cool people that day.

In spite of a "strike scare" at work, I managed to make it on a last minute plane ticket deal to Sterling, VA in May 2004 for the NAKF Nationals. The results of the competition are unimportant, but what is important is that I finally got to meet Lorraine and Christine and made several other good friends through this meet. Steve Cotter was in attendance and I got to meet him for the first time. Like the Chicago competition, I loved the largely supportive atmoshpere and the grit of the competitors.

In June of 2004, I attended my first RKC. It was another great opportunity to meet great like-minded people. It was a fun and informative workshop.

I continued to attempt to improve my numbers in the Snatch and Jerk the only way I knew how. I continued to train some at the gym and some at home. In December of 2004, I finally squeaked by and made CMS numbers. In February 2005, I attended a Valery Federenko workshop in San Diego. It was here that I finally understood how to structure my training and that in turn caused me to look at my training differently.

Numbers are really important to most of us and for good reason; they are a representation of progress. I had to put my ego aside with this new information. I had to learn pacing and duration training. Moreover, I had to learn how to relax while stressed. I'm not talking about tension and relaxation although that is important...I'm talking about learning to breath; learning to accept discomfort and learning how to safely push through it. Endurance activities (aside from cardio machines) were things that I had generally avoided. I really wanted to make 10 minutes and learned to put the numbers aside and work towards that goal. In doing that, I not only went 10 minutes, but saw my numbers shoot up. I hit 183 by May of 2005.

Even with all these benefits, I viewed this type of training as a seasonal-competition thing. It wasn't that I didn't do snatches, jerks, ect. But, I didn't keep my attention on training for time until several months out for a meet. Even though I knew the benefits of this training, I still just did it for the sport. That's not to say that I stopped training or stopped training intensely.

This year has been another turning point in my training. I've come to really appreciate Kettlebell Lifting, not only for the sport or a specific competition but as a viable training modality in it's own right. My conditioning has never been better and neither has my recovery. Now that I'm finding consistency in my diet, I'm once again losing fat. What is the point of this very long-winded training bio?

Many of us are often zealous when it comes to our training. We are quick to judge others that may work on machines or do something we know or think is probably less effective. Remember that a large portion of our population doesn't do anything for exercise. I found success with machine training at the age of 20 because I was consistent with it and mindful of my diet. Was it the best thing I could have been doing? No. But, it served a purpose at that point in my life and I learned that consistency is extremely important as well as the diet.

I've come full circle....My garage gym is very similar in simplicity and effectiveness of my high school weight room from 20 years ago. I couldn't be happier with the arrangement even in the dead of winter when it is 20 degrees and in the summer when temps approach 110 in the evening.

Remember..we all started somewhere. It is the journey that makes me appreciate my current training modaility. I'm now reminded of the Rush Lyric "The point of the Journey is not to arrive". Every step in the journey has been a learning experience and the journey isn't over.


hunashaman said...

Hi Catherine,
Thanks for a great post. It takes me right back to the early days of my exploration of physical fitness. Like you I've struggled with keeping myself trim and healthy. Now that I am finally training consistently with kettlebells things have become somewhat easier but it still takes discipline to pick up the bells and to ensure that I don't simply stuff my face with whatever food is readily available. Thanks for reminding me what this is all about. Strength to you! Johan.

Catherine Imes said...

Thanks Johan!