Friday, February 12, 2010

Embracing Minimalism (Repost of An Old Article)

I wrote this a few years ago and posted it at my site which of course is in horrible need of a makeover.

I re-read it today to make sure that I still felt this way and to see if anything had really changed. I think the only thing that has changed is that I'm not driving to Madison, WI anymore..haha. I guess not everything stays the same.

Embracing Minimalism.

I have spent the last few years “embracing minimalism”. In my late teens/early twenties I was obsessed with material things. I spent too much money on booze, clothes, and gadgets. Consequently, by the time I was 23 or 24, I found myself in debt.. I worked a better part of my mid-late twenties getting myself out of debt. The more money I made, the less money I spent. Over time, I became less concerned with spending money on things that I really did not need.

I’m not sure what the real turning point was for me. I think I realized somewhere along the way these material things were not making me happy or healthy and often not utilized.. That’s not to say that I still don’t get caught up in some material things. I like to keep myself in a newer car, but it is mainly for reliability because I spend so much time driving. I also love a few gadgets like my IPOD which keeps me from having so many CDs in the floorboard of my truck and I also enjoy my Sirius radio which keeps me company on my long-frequent trips to see Kelly in Madison, WI. For the most part, I now save my money for things like travel and other things that are more “enriching” than clothes or the latest gadgets.

Embracing Minimalism is a concept that has found it’s way into my training. I used to buy anything I could on training be it magazines, books, DVDs, ect.. Some of these products served me well and did have a profound impact on some of the training changes I made over the years. Many of the materials are great resources but all of the information became almost overwhelming. I didn’t want to stay trapped with Analysis – Paralysis syndrome.

A couple of years ago, I came to the realization that dedicated focus on one rep maximal strength was not the best thing for me nor were the training routines associated with the goals of increasing maximal strength.. At one point in time, it was definitely important and the priority of my training. However, at that time, my ego ruled my training and I found myself driven by the weight I could lift even though it did not correlate to my fitness or well being.

Over time, I became more concerned with my longevity and my health. Moreover, I wanted my training to benefit my emotional state. That’s hard to do when your focus is on constant tension and Lord knows I have enough of that outside of my garage gym. That’s not to say I don’t backslide and get caught up on occasion by how much I can lift. That is also not to say that I don’t have a tremendous amount of respect for athletes who push themselves to go heavy, e.g. Olympic and Powerlifters. I just know there is something better for me at this stage in my life.

Obviously, as a kettlebell sport competitor, I try to do as many reps as possible and initially that was the primary focus of training high rep snatches, swings and some jerks. But, what I’ve found is the process involved in this training has made me more “connected” and physically aware. This training system is more than a competitive outlet for me.

I have learned that when I can remove my ego from the effort, I tend to have an easier time making progress and going longer and even faster. I found myself struggling before the last competition. Even prior to Nationals, workouts were a struggle because I was too concerned with numbers. Right before the competition, I just kind of let it go and had a great day….

What I’ve realized is that I don’t need a multitude of exercises or exotic routines. Minimalism is my friend. Too many things are a distraction and if you’re like me, you’ve got enough distractions in life.

I have the confidence to say now that all I need is couple of full body movements like the swing, jerk, snatch and maybe some variation on those movements. But I have an overriding need to stay connected and this training modality that I’ve found through Valery Federenko and the American Kettlebell Club is the best way to do that; it is very similar to a martial art.

How do we get to this connected state? In order to be successful, you’ve got to learn the skills and apply those skills for time. Even for the non-competitor, there is a specific-simple way to do this. You focus on making your reps good through slow and deliberate practice. There is no need for complex training routines with this approach. This is simple, but not easy. It is certainly not easy for those who have spent years training tension or training to crank out mindless reps in a particular lift.

Going slow is a sure fire way to bring out flaws. Even going slow, you cannot last if you have bad technique. Going slow allows you to get a true feel for the movement. Going slow also allows you to go longer which of course is a critical component of building work capacity. No one has a true appreciation for this until they do a timed set where they can’t switch hands multiple times or set the bell down. This one component is the single most important component in my opinion. Nothing else forces you to become connected or increases your ability to “stay”. How can you reach this connected state if you set the bell down after a minute or even two minutes when it starts to get hard?

You might wonder what I mean by connected or when I use words like stay? Connected to me means that your body and mind are in harmony; you know that even though it is uncomfortable, you can keep going because you are physically capable. I don’t hit this state every workout. The days events or personal problems may find their way into my thoughts during training and I’m distracted; those days longer sets are a huge struggle. But, the goal is to reach this state and to do that I must clear my mind of the days events which is skill in of itself. No one said relaxing under stress was easy and we should never trivialize that skill! This training is tough; but you will learn to become tougher and the voice that is telling you to stop will become quiet.

The greatest carryover for some is that they learn how to stay by not setting the weight down even for a few seconds. In almost every other strength and conditioning modality involving weights, you can stop or set the weight down for a break. We train to hold onto the weight so even when we are resting we are working. We are forced to learn how to accept a safe level of discomfort.

This is definitely a modality that can boast effective short duration workouts that will definitely improve your overall fitness and well being. After a short time, I found that I recover between workouts quickly and I am rarely if ever sore. I have found that I can increase my volume gradually and things that once seemed impossible are now completed goals. There are times when my ego does get the best of me; I still find that I can grab a 32kg and press it or deadlift a respectable amount of weight even now weighing 35lbs less than I did in early 2006, and without any dedicated pressing or deadlifting practice.

This minimalist modality has been very liberating. It has given me the confidence to go heavier at times, but it has also given me the confidence and ability to go lighter or to do things for an extended period of time because the successful execution of this training works your mind just as much as it works your body. More times than not our mind is what limits us from doing truly remarkable things.


Howie Brewer said...

Very nice write up Catherine. And very true, probably for most kettlebell athletes.

I think we all go through that stage where we try to find as much information as we can, attempting to wrap our minds around our training and probably in way, even if subconsciously, looking for that magical protocol. But over time we come to realize that it is the physical training that makes the difference. I also think over time we start to internalize our training, as we get more and more connected, it becomes a part of us and we no longer feel the need to advertise it to others as much. I think this same phenonmenon occurs when one studies martial arts as well, as you made reference to. Thanks for sharing.

CI said...

Thanks Howie.

Noah said...

Found your blog via Valery Federenko on Facebook, and reading this post, I gotta say that your story of where you were in your early twenties and your realization about embracing minimalism kind of freakily mirrors where I'm at at the moment (23 and in debt? Check!). I'm even going into IT as well, although I'm my KB journey is just starting and I'm still getting whooped by my 16 and 20kg bells.

Anyways... I found your post very inspirational, so thank you for sharing your experiences! Best of luck in kettlebells and all other things as well!

CI said...


Sorry, I'm just now seeing your comment!

Hang in there and work hard and you'll be fine! Thanks for the kind words!