Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Advantages of the Kettlebell Snatch

The kettlebell snatch: Swing, pull, press, pause

The kettlebell snatch is a notably complete strength building exercise. That makes it beneficial both as part of a exercise program, and as an example of what a good strength exercise includes. This article will describe why the kettlebell snatch is so useful in an exercise program, as well as some of its limitations. The goal is to describe without being a tutorial.

There are several things that make an exercise more 'complete'. First is that the entire body is involved, feet to hands. Second is that it involves a large range of motion and working in more than one direction. Other important factors are that both the movement and stabilization are provided by the body, it can be progressed(made harder), it has both strength building and power(strength speed) development, and that it has good carry-over to other sports and everyday life(aka functional).

Another benefit of the snatch that is lacking in many strength building exercises is the skill and neurological demand. Since so many elements of movement and coordination are involved, and at high speed, the nervous system is challenged to put it all together.

Full Body
The snatch is done while standing, with the resistance(weight) held in one hand. All the force is transmitted between the feet and the working hand, and everything in between must work to maintain alignment. The primary muscles that move the kettlebell are the hamstrings and glutes, and also working hard are the spinal erectors, lats, traps, and rhomboids to resist the pull of the kettlebell, and deltoids and triceps in pressing the bell overhead. Some of stabilizing muscles next.

Kettlebell anti-rotation loading
Range and Direction of Movement
The kettlebell moves from thigh level to overhead, and also from a bit behind the torso, in front of the torso, then above the back. The vertical change is about five feet of lift for an average height man. Besides ROM utilization, this also means a large amount of work(in physics, work is force multiplied by distance).

Primarily the movement is in the sagital plane- straight ahead to behind. However holding the kettlebell in one hand also creates a strong torque on the body in the transverse plane, making this an excellent anti-rotation exercise. With the weight overhead the load is on only one side, so lateral bending must be resisted. These twisting and bending forces strengthen the smaller muscles within the spine, the obliques, quadratous lumborum(QL) and other muscles between rib cage, spine, and pelvis, plus improve neuro-muscular control in these directions.

The snatch can be progressed by lifting a heavier kettlebell or doing more reps. Heavier weight means more power development and more reps builds endurance. The form of the exercise stays the same. Double snatches can be done using two kettlebells, which gives more emphasis on the lower body and spinal erectors with less anti-rotation and shoulder loading.

The snatch is about moving a heavy object overhead. To accomplish this goal when it's not an exercise, a person would use the strongest muscles in the body and use momentum to move the object through the most difficult part. Since not everything needing lifted can be held symmetrically between two hands, training one arm at a time is necessary. The lift would be done planting the feet solidly on the ground and without anything to support or brace the body.

Being able to combine and transition movements is a very important ability for functionality and for sports. The snatch can be broken down into three parts, and this is the way it is taught. It begins as a swing, goes through part of a clean, then a high pull, and finally an overhead press. For hypertrophy(increasing muscle mass) the three parts could be done separately, but when put together in one continuous movement, motor skills are developed and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

The single arm snatch provides minimal load in spinal flexion(anterior core strength), and horizontal push. Knee extension using the quads is not stressed, and standing with the feet even and parallel is not always possible in other activities. Good mobility in the upper spine and shoulder are required to correctly hold the kettlebell overhead(see Improving a Rounded Upper Back). The complexity of the exercise means it takes time and effort to learn to do correctly.

Complementary Exercises
Single arm press
These limits suggest some exercises to add the kettlebell snatch in a minimal program. A walking lunge will provide both quad development for leg extension, and more stability challenge in the hips in an asymmetric stance. Add a horizontal press using an adjustable cable machine or resistance band for a pushing exercise, working the pecs, anterior delt, and serratus, plus resistance to spinal extension via the abs(rectus abdominus) and obliques. Note that this is a hypothetical program, and three exercises really aren't adequate.

The Turkish Get Up deserves mention here- It alone would be nearly perfect to complement the snatch. The Get Up incorporates a wide variety of body positions, is slow with more stability challenge, and has more anterior emphasis. But since it is so good it will get its own article(soon).

For another look at minimal program development principles, see 
Selecting Strength Exercises with Five Examples

Expanded look at the kettlebell snatch

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fitness Reading Roundup

A few of the interesting articles from recent months, starting with a new offering for equestrians.

Fitness for Horseback Riding

Equestrian Fitness and Cross Training
This explains the Steven Rice Fitness approach to training a rider on the ground to be better when on the horse.

Core fitness training for riders boosts symmetry in the saddle – research
"The physical influence of the rider is increasingly being recognized as an important contributor to equine back pain and lameness, and research demonstrates that asymmetrical loading in particular can be damaging to the horse."

Strength Leads To Confidence | Ride Magazine
"The beautiful thing about workouts that focus on core-strength and balance, is that by the second day you can already feel a difference and after a week or a month, the difference is tremendous. Knowing that your balance is better and that you can move with the horse easier, most definitely will give you more confidence when you are stepping onto that keg of dynamite (I mean, horse)."

Fizz Marshall’s therapy centre blog: Our new rider performance facility is offically open!
This is how fitness training is done
"Riders must realise their worth if we are to continue to move forward as a sport and be taken seriously by our sporting peers. Coordination, strength, balance, mental toughness, dedication, mettle and patience (in abundance) – riders have the lot. We want to create a culture whereby we recongnise these traits and treat ourselves as well as we treat our horses."

Fitness and Physiology

Task-specificity of balance training.
Balance training is very task specific. The other problem is that being unbalanced limits how hard your muscles can work, so neither balance nor strength improves. Unilateral and asymmetric training on solid ground is very good though, for example single leg deadlifts.

Lifting Weights, Twice a Week, May Aid the Brain
"Now a new experiment suggests that light resistance training may also slow the age-related shrinking of some parts of our brains."

Why Do Muscles Feel Tight?
"Why do muscles feel tight? Does that mean they are short? That they can't relax? And what can you do about it? Here are some of my thoughts about why muscles feel tight and what to do about it."

Resistance Training Seems to Preserve BMD in Seniors
-However, modest bone loss seen with aerobic training
Bone mineral density preserved better with strength training than cardio, at least for the population studied. Cardio training is good for you, but shouldn't be all you do, and if you pick only one, IMHO go with strength.

Note this part about what constitutes resistance(strength) training:
"In one trial, the participants were randomized to a structured resistance training program in which three sets of 10 repetitions of eight upper and lower body exercises were done 3 days each week at 70% of one repetition maximum for 5 weeks, with or without calorie restriction of 600 calories per day."

The one repetition maxium(RM) is how much you could lift one time if you tried as hard as you possibly could. If you could pick up a 100 lb child once, the 70% 1 RM would be picking up a 70 lb child, and doing it 10 times. Holding a 2 or 5 lb dumbbell while you do aerobics is not strength training.

Lifting: The Cure to Cramping Might Be Hidden in a Dumbbell
Cramps are still a medical mystery, but evidence shows strength training might help
Great article, reminding us of one of the many benefits to strength training.

Keep Moving to Stay a Step Ahead of Arthritis
This is an excellent article that applies not only to arthritis, but most chronic aches and pains.

Pain Science

Explainer: what is pain and what is happening when we feel it?
"Pain is not actually coming from the wrist you broke, or the ankle you sprained. Pain is the result of the brain evaluating information, including danger data from the danger detection system, cognitive data such as expectations, previous exposure, cultural and social norms and beliefs, and other sensory data such as what you see, hear and otherwise sense."

Stabbed in the back: Moving the knife out of back pain
Very thoughtful look at treatment of low back pain.
"We need to assess and treat the human body less like a machine and more like an ecosystem."

Can we please stop blaming the doctor (at least some of the time)?
Enjoyable essay on how much the mind can influence the body.
"If person expects that a treatment is going to have a positive effect, it greatly increases the chance of that occurring – isn’t that an amazingly wonderful and slightly mysterious phenomenon? Studies that look at these interactions in clinical situations are plentiful and it is such a  well documented phenomenon that it almost seems not worth mentioning.  But it is amazing isn’t it?"


Diet, exercise or diet with exercise: comparing the effectiveness of treatment options for weight-loss and changes in fitness for adults...
Large meta-analysis of weight reduction by diet, or exercise, or both. The combination of diet and resistance training(RT, aka strength training) was more effective than just diet or diet and endurance training(aka cardio).
"Most importantly is that protocols utilizing exercise were more effective than those that employed just a hypocaloric diet. With the combination of diet with exercise (especially RT) being more effective than diet or diet with ET in reduction of body mass and fat mass while retaining of FFM following treatment."

RT- resistance training, ie weight lifting
ET- endurance training, ie cardio
FFM- fat free mass, ie keeping muscle as you lose fat

The Fats You Don’t Need to Fear, and the Carbs That You Do
“The mistake made in earlier dietary guidelines was an emphasis on low-fat without emphasizing the quality of carbohydrates, creating the impression that all fats are bad and all carbs are good,” Dr. Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology, said. “It’s really important to distinguish between healthy fats and bad fats, healthy carbs and bad carbs.”


Dogs Love Steven Rice Fitness!

Updated with even more dogs visiting in the park.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: A Guide to Better Movement

A Guide to Better Movement
The Science and Practice of Moving with More Skill and Less Pain
by Todd Hargrove, CR, CFP

In my personal training and bodywork practice, the importance of quality of movement -incorporating mobility, strength, balance, and variety- continues to evolve and become paramount to my approach. Combine an interest in understanding and managing pain, and this book becomes a perfect match for my professional interests. I think anyone involved professionally with movement or pain treatment, or personally interested in those topics, will find it equally important.

The book has three parts:
  1. The Science of Moving Better
  2. The Science of Feeling Better
  3. The Practice of Moving Better and Feeling Better

Part 1 discusses concepts about how the many parts of the body can coordinate to create good movement.

Some things desirable for good movement are being efficient and reducing unnecessary action, responsive to the environment, functional, and safe. Movement patterns should be variable, so that there not a single fixed way to perform an action, and feel good to do,

This is part of development from infancy. How we move is not built-in, it is learned through experimentation and feedback. How we perceive the body is also learned, and like movement, it can change.

As part of this learning the brain creates a map the body, forming perceptions that are how we consciously think of the body, which are influenced by sensations from the body. To rephrase- sensations are signals from the body, perceptions are interpretations based on sensations and several other factors(more about this in a moment). The quality of the body's movement depends on the accuracy of this map.

The way to build accurate maps of the body is to move and to get sensation back from the body(proprioception). More movement means a better map, which means better movement, with more pleasure in movement, and better performance. Attention is important, so mindful movement and focus help to form a good map. Stimulus from movement that is relevant to some task will also do more than passive and arbitrary inputs to the body. If a baby wants to explore, crawling will provide a very rich learning experience in movement and body map development because of its relevance to exploration.

Pain however, distorts the map and discourages movement. Less movement leads to a less accurate map, and the dysfunction spirals downward.

Part 2 deals with understanding pain, and how to experience less of it.

The modern theory of pain science is known as the pain neuromartix.
"The neuromatrix helps explain the relationship between pain, tissue damage, sensory signalling, perception, movement, thought, and emotion."
In other words, pain is an experience dependent on many factors, and is not a direct measurement of tissue damage. This is a major departure from older theories, and the often compelling message we feel. This does not in any way suggest pain isn't real, but that it is not an accurate measure of damage of the body. Pain is the mind's way of getting attention for a perceived threat, such as moving a body in a way that might increase existing damage, or recreate a situation which caused damage before.

Making things worse, pain can be increased by sensitization, the process whereby the amount of negative stimulus required to cause perception of pain decreases, and the perceived intensity increases. What may have seemed a minor discomfort before an injury can seem much worse afterwards, even when the tissue is fully healed. The mind is just more protective now.

Now that the connections of the nervous system with movement and pain have each been discussed is the most interesting part of the book to me: Learning how changes in movement and pain sensation affect each other, and how to use this to overcome limitations one may cause in the other.

In the body, pain can do several things. Pain inhibits strength. If a movement is associated with pain, it isn't possible to apply as much strength to it. Pain also reduces flexibility. The brain is trying to do anything it can to avoid what it believes could cause injury, and reducing strength and range of motion are two of its methods. (An interesting side note: The primary change from stretching isn't changing the physical properties of the tissue, it is increasing stretch tolerance, which is how elongated the tissue can be before pain occurs.) Pain also decreases endurance, and creates a sensation of fatigue.

The physical state of the body, and the mental state, interact bi-directionally

To move better, decrease pain. To decrease pain, create controlled, safe movement with feedback.

Some specific strategies
Move slowly and gently. Pain is a threat warning, so give the mind time to process the change in the body, and don't make the change extreme.

Use graded exposure. Introduce movements that have problematic in the past progressively. The nervous system will gradually learn that the movement is safe, and be less likely to feel pain.

Novelty. Sometimes exploring new movement patterns gets more attention in the brain and overcomes habitual patterns that are problematic.

Create movement with abundant proprioception AND

Use developmental(as in learning to move as an infant) positions and movements. Developmental movements are typically done on the floor. The floor provides constraint, therefore less threat of moving too far, and less need to create stability internally. Touch sensation from the floor is a strong source of feedback, greatly improving the map of the body formed in the brain. Better map, less threat, and less pain.

Avoid pain in movement. Don't reinforce the association of the movement with feeling pain. Also avoid fatigue, which can make it harder to focus and learn new motor patterns and body maps.

My speculations
It is my opinion that external sensation while being firmly supported is a major reason for the success of many bodywork therapies. The controlled manipulation of tissue and facilitated movement during massage, while lying on a table, is one example. Another is in restorative and yin yoga, which combine yoga positions with supporting bolsters to provide safety from stretching too far, but also give tactile feedback. Furthermore, both bodywork and yoga are usually done in an environment promoting relaxation with the guidance and reassurance of a professional. The mind associates the movement, position, and sensation with security instead of pain.

I even think one of the reasons that gym 'machines' remain popular is that they give both constraint and tactile feedback during the exercise. To someone worried about injury these can be very reassuring compared to simply standing and picking up a weight. (In a rehab scenario this may be beneficial, but otherwise could hold back someone's mobility and strength development.)

Part 3 gives example lessons to improve fundamental movement patterns and perceptions of movement. The exercises are from the Feldenkrais Method, which Hargrove teaches. Most are done lying or kneeling on the floor without equipment, with a very gradual and mindful approach.

I have used just a couple of these- the typical client coming to me for personal training doesn't need to practice the rudiments of movement(or isn't interested if they do). I do want to borrow from the lessons to expand the mobility drills I use though. For people with enough motivation and limitations to movement I think these lessons would be more important.

Get A Guide to Better Movement: The Science and Practice of Moving With More Skill And Less Pain and start helping yourself and your clients move and feel better.

 Please make comments on Facebook Steven Rice Fitness review: A Guide to Better Movement

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Exercise Club Workshop

Learn basic exercise club technique and start building stronger, more mobile shoulders and arms.

The next workshop will be offered in Palo Alto by personal trainer Steven Rice on Saturday, March 7th, in Mitchell Park.

Swinging clubs is great for

  • warming up before a hard workout
  • improving coordination and dexterity
  • working the shoulders through full range of motion
  • strengthening shoulders, arms, hands, and core
  • preventing and rehabbing shoulder injuries
  • moving and stabilizing the entire body in all directions
  • complementing weight training and sport-specific training
  • helping office workers with tightness and posture

Do you play tennis, volleyball, or swim? Do you have shoulder problems? Clubs are great for athletes swinging rackets, throwing balls, or making other frequent overhead motions.

Swinging a heavy club is great exercise for building lateral stability, working the core and hips from side to side.

How's that brain/muscle connection? Hands good at doing what the brain wants? Can both sides move independently? Cross the mid-line? Move in all directions, and change direction? Club swinging will challenge all these movement skills.

Students learning club exercises.

More background information is on my page Leverage Club Training

The next 90 minute workshop will be held on Saturday, March 7th, at 9:30 in Palo Alto at Mitchell Park. The cost is $45 with $15 deposit, $55 at the event. Clubs will be provided. Class size is limited to 6 people to provide personal instruction. If the workshop fills, a second afternoon session will be added.To register or get more information send an email to info@stevenricefitness.com