Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The soft side of hardstyle.

The RKC method of training involves many components. The high tension, full body irradiation principles of creating strength that Pavel wrote about in Power to the People;the ballistic kettlebell lifts such as the swing, snatch, cleans and jerks written about in the original RKC book and Enter the Kettlebell; the methods of increasing joint mobility and muscle flexibility from Super Joints, Relax into Stretch and Fast and Loose complete the basic structure of the RKC system.

And while the hardstyle of generating force( segmented body segments,compensatory acceleration techniques and an explosive mindset) is the predominant concept in the ballistic lifts one thing seems to be forgotten when this way of swinging is talked about: that for each high force hip snap there is a concommittent relaxed stretched phase that preceeded it and will preceed the next high power rep. This balance of forces, this alternation of high tensions with equally powerful stretches on the same muscles creates a harmonious balance similar to many athletic movements.

Some have gotten the impression, it seems, that hardstyle kb training means maintaining total body tension on both sides of the ballistic coin, that using the hip as the power source for the ballistic swings is done in a rigid way that compromises safety and somehow makes one inflexible and full of muscle tensions.
While using total body tension is the key to lifting heavy weights safely and should be used on TGU's, military presses, deadlifts, pullups etc this is not the case with the ballistic swings and is quite the opposite.
The eccentric phase of the swing or snatch is not done with high tensions slowly, but with as much speed as possible creating kinetic energy and more stretch on the posterior chain muscles that drive the hip snap. In the advanced techniques one actually pulls oneself into the back stretch to make an even faster and more powerful eccentric stretch and therefore a stronger/faster hip snap and swing.
Just like Okinawan karate moves, the goal is to focus all one's power into one very fast, concentrated movement that create as much force and fast as possible. Mass X Acceleration = Force. Move it faster, higher forces.

These magnified forces gets transmitted through the body and affect all the muscles and joints. A virtual force, as Louie would call it but very real nonetheless.But without the same stiffness producing aspects of 'grinding' type high tension lifts. Fast is good.

Fifteen years of chasing maximal tension in competitive powerlifting left me very strong but basically immobile and damn near crippled. I have spent the last 3 plus years stretching, vibrating and massaging and swinging the tension out of my body, even going so far as giving up not only my favorite strength moves but ALL high tension moves in an attempt to relax my asymmetries ,get myself square plumb and neutral and get out of pain.

All I had left were the ballistic moves and while I knew I needed not to impart more tension into my muscles I I also knew I need to stay strong and be able to train as hard in order to stay ( somewhat) sane.
So its been swings and snatches and swings and snatches, all done as explosively as I could muster trying to accelerate the weights as fast and strongly as I could and create as much stretch in the hips each rep.

Pavel told me early on that for ballistics to think of the body as a bow. The head is the top of the bow, the feet the base and the hips as the bowstring. If you want the arrow to move farther and faster pull back the bowstring further. Then you just let it go. Stretch the muscle hard and it contracts hard. Stretch it further and it contracts harder. Yet each stretch keeps the muscle pliable and open.

I have been doing this for many thousands of reps now and over time it seems I am getting looser and have to stretch and roll less and less to maintain the muscle lengths I need to be in neutral. And yet I am stronger, more enduring and leaner than I have been in years.With considerably less pain. And yet my swings and snatches are getting stronger, faster and more powerful.

Before I would do workouts and be sore for days, my body just storing every bit of tension it could hold til I rolled, or thumped or stretched it out, a holdover from all the high tension lifting.Now I can do TONS of work each day and not even feel tight or sore the next day, a great sign of adaptation. BUt it's adapted to a all new high level of work and this has been my main goal beside get out of pain: as big an increase in work capacity as possible.

So what does all this mean? It means that even using high force, high acceleration techniques for your ballistic swings and snatches will NOT make you tight ,stiff and slow, just the opposite.And for every hardstyle hip snap there is a counterbalancing force reducing hip stretch that will help to keep you as limber and mobile as you will be fast and powerful. A balance of tension and flexibility, the RKC way.


Tim Anderson said...

Rif, this post belongs in a book. You should write a book. Awesome stuff.

Mark Reifkind said...

thanks man, getting there I think but don't tell Pavel ;)

Diane said...

Hi Rif, I am new to kettlebells and a fan of Tracy's blog. Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this post, awesome stuff! I'm with Tim on the book idea, and while your at it, a CD with Tracy too!

AikiBudo said...

Rif, this is definitely an article at least, if not the bulk of a chapter in your upcoming book.

An excellent treatise on how ballistic moves as taught in the RKC system (and being and integral part of that system) build fitness, [ie. strength, flexibility and endurance] and athleticism. Like you said, tension is only one side of the coin. There is another side (and an edge too!)

I agree with Rannoch, required reading for all RKCs and a good thing for anyone questioning the value and purpose of the RKC system.

Petr said...

Interesting :o) I used to be very fast and very (very...) loose. But without much power.
I ended up with back injury as I was sooo loose my back (spine) stability was almost non-existent and while kicking and punching in martial arts my body just did not hold together.

So my quest is opposite of yours - lots of deadlifts, tension and improving my back stability. No stretching at all (not counting some joint mobility).

Yeah, I almost forgot, cool article.

Mark Reifkind said...


I actually started out too flexible as well many years ago( from gymnastics) and didnt stretch at all during my powerlifting years( mistake). I went too far and now have to really undo that damage.But everyone is very different from that perspective. The key is to get into neutral no matter how you have to do it.thanks and glad you liked the article.

Mark Reifkind said...

diane, thanks and we are definitely working on tracys swing time training dvd!top of the priority list.


thanks too and the book concept is slowly coming together. I'm slow but persistent :))

Geoff Neupert said...


And I agree with, Tim--I'm still waiting for that book. Perhaps we the demanding will have to sneak around you and have your wife paste a collection together in your name.

Glad to hear the tension is being relieved.

Brett Jones said...

Just start typing or dictating - get it done!
Great post and great info! People hear one thing at a time usually - high tension techniques gets translated into "only HTT or HTT all the time" - it is a balance.

Brett Jones said...

BTW - I'm telling Pavel. ;)

Mark Reifkind said...

LOL @ brett. hey , if you have havent noticed I AM writing ,lol. Just here......
I'm getting there; I told you I was slow but presistent.

and thanks geoff, things have really turned a very nice corner and its very cool.no pain is good too,lol.
My g5 is magic man, just magic.

Aaron Friday said...

Not ONE book. Find a way to make 5 books. People don't want to pay a crap-load of money for one single thing, but they will gladly pay a crap-load for a whole series. It's about perceived value.

Also, have electronic copies available for download at 25% off, with no printing costs or inventory for you to absorb.

Taikei Matsushita said...

When it is done, and I'm prepared here, option would be translating into my language. Not a single KB book here yet.

Christine Petty said...

This is a good post that I can understand clearly, and that's saying a lot with my little brain.

Anonymous said...

Women’s nike tn Shox Rivalry est le modèle féminin le plus tendance de baskets pour le sport. tn chaussuresConcernant la semelle : le caoutchouc extérieur, l’EVA intermédiaire et le textile intérieur s’associent pour attribuer à la nike chaussurestenue féminine une allure distinguée et une démarche sans reproche.

Anonymous said...

China Wholesale has been described as the world’s factory. This phenomenom is typified by the rise ofbuy products wholesalebusiness. Incredible range of products available with China Wholesalers “Low Price and High Quality” not only reaches directly to their target clients worldwide but also ensures that wholesale from china from China means margins you cannot find elsewhere and China Wholesale will skyroket your profits.