On the AKC Forum, Chris Rice paid me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received in regards to my set at the Arnold KB Competition…He said “I got to watch Cate Imes – beautiful economy of motion – she never makes a move that doesn’t advance the KB to where she wants it. I wonder how many reps one has to do to get to that point?”
I love that compliment because in my mind it acknowledges the hard work I’ve put into getting decent at the lifts over the last few years (I assume in this case he means the snatch). It also confirms the mark I would like to leave on this sport in terms of technique and what I would like others to see in me as a lifter.
I am always in awe of great athletes regardless of the sport. I’m in awe of raw talent. I’m in awe of the hard work, consistency and the dedication that it takes to reach a certain level. I’m also continually impressed by those who can put aside their egos to learn like many of the lifters at the Arnold Kettlebell Competition are prepared to do. Several years ago, that is exactly what I did. I decided to really dedicate myself by giving up other types of training. I’ve written about that experience in other blogs, so I won’t bore you with a rehash of that experience. But, for anyone who hasn’t read, that is one of the things I personally had to do to reach my current level of proficiency. A better athlete with more raw talent may not need to go to such extremes, but I did.
What fuels your sets in training and competition? Is it a drive to win to rank? There is nothing wrong with these things and we all start there. For me to reach a higher level, my goals had to shift somewhat. I had to stop focusing only on numbers. When I focused on them and only them, my progress stalled. I struggled and let my technique slide. What I learned in training or not training specifically for the Arnold classic is that not focusing on numbers for awhile or even just a meet can have very good benefits. I know my coach Valery Fedorenko has said something similar to me and others many times. But, we don't always hear it right away.
I told folks I wouldn’t set PRs at this meet. I didn’t. But, I didn’t do a single 10 min Jerk set in training with a 16kg since Vegas in May 2008. I also did very few snatch sets with a fast pace. Yet, I came into the meet and put up respectable numbers and technically displayed probably my best sets in terms of evenly pacing myself and making every rep look good. Even with less than stellar competition ready conditioning, I was able to put up decent numbers. Why? Because my focus has been on technical improvements and refinements. Those refinements have boosted my confidence in terms what I can do on a given day under less than ideal conditions. There is a big picture; and I’m starting to see it. My ultimate goal is to move the 20kg like I do the 16kg. To do that, I must be near perfect with my technique or as perfect as I can be.
Does this mean that I don’t need to ramp up my conditioning and intensity? Absolutely not. But, in my opinion those things can be at odds with each other if you are trying to use the lifts for conditioning when you lack the skills. If you go too hard or to fast before you have the technique, you run the risk of not ever really learning the technique.
I will use my Finnish friend Kukka Laakso as an example. I started corresponding and doing some online coaching with Kukka sometime in the spring of 2008 in preparation for Hamburg. She was struggling with 16kg snatches, but it was apparent to me that she was plenty strong and plenty fit. In Hamburg, she did 63 reps but was showing a mindful pace. I'm sure she had done more reps than this in practice, but I had advised her to slow down. Later in the summer, she did 89 reps after being sick for a few weeks. On Saturday, she did 157 reps. Did her fitness levels and strength levels double or triple since June? I doubt it. She made huge technical leaps and in fact there were very few suggestions that I could offer her.
I will use the Steven and Maya's Ice Chamber team as an example. At every meet, each lifter is displaying better technique than the previous meet. They may not all be setting PRs everytime, but they are better lifters and they see the big picture.
Liberty Gray and her team are fine examples of folks that are new to this sport but understand that they are going to have to step back and focus on technique if they wish to get better. There is a huge amount of talent on the team and like their Ice Chamber counterparts they will do great things in the future.
In addition to several really good technical displays, I saw the lifters at the Arnold Classic demonstrate some awesome displays of conditioning and guts. Now, the focus needs to shift somewhat to technical improvements. That may mean that you slow down your tempo and that you do more assistance work like the one arm jerk. It doesn’t mean you are going to get deconditioned, because even slowing down is still work and there are other things you can do for your conditioning like running or rowing if you feel you need more.
I realize that these ideas are not revolutionary and strength and conditioning coaches have been writing about these things for a very long time in terms of training cycles. But, I felt the need to put it in context of Kettlebell Lifting and the sport in terms of what I witnessed at this weekends awesome Arnold Classic Kettlebell Competition. I also feel like this is timely. Many folks came away from the competition wondering how to improve for the next meet. My advice to several of them is to slow down and focus on technique. I think conditioning is much easier to build and takes less time than skills and once you solidly develop skills….you own them. Everyone that asked my advice is more than fit. So, now it’s just a matter of stepping back, evaluating technique and taking the necessary steps to improve it. Initially, your numbers in practice may go down, but over the long term, they will climb significantly and your ability to handle heavier bells and longer durations will grow.
Thanks to everyone who made the Arnold KB Competition. The list is long and we all know that this meet would not have been possible without folks like Lorraine, Matt M, Andrew, the AKC (Valery, Eric, Jon, Krystina), the IKFF (Ken and Steve), Ironworks FE, and all of those who volunteered their time to judge. Thanks to all of the competitors. This is probably the biggest KB meet to date in the USA (110 competitors). I think it is a very exciting time for the sport and I hope that my posts and advice helps those of you who are struggling see the big picture so that the sport continues to grow.