Sunday, May 18, 2008

Training for Life.

Me with Pavel and Vadim Kolgonov at the Danish RKC. Thank you so much for everything Pavel.

Since I started training, at age 14, I have always and only trained for competition. Even when I wasn't competing that often, as when I was doing marathon, ultra and triathlon training I was always training with a goal in mind, even if the deadline wasn't that apparent. Since I started in the prehistoric days before the fitness revolution took over and people realized the health benefits to working out, I never conceived of training without a goal in mind. And that goal always included a trip to a competition or a platform or some other form of testing myself and seeing for real if my training concepts, methods and strategies were actually working or whether I needed to 'go back to the drawing board'.

It wasn't until 2002, when I tore my rotator cuff, and in addition to not being able to train the squat or the deadlift I could no longer even bench( the laziest of all exericses!) that I realized that my lifelong strategies and methods were no longer viable. Of course, at the time I had no idea of what I would ( or could) do next as everything I tried hurt more than the last thing and just getting out of a chair was hard. Walking two blocks would cause unbeleivable pain. I was truly at the end of my rope. Thank God for Mike Castrogiovanni and his vision for me getting involved with the RKC. He was the one that told Pavel about me and brought Brett Jones up to my home that fatefull Thanksgiving. As well as pushing me to become RKC and training me for it as well. That was the new begining of this unbelievable recovery that I have been able to make, thanks to Pavel, the kettlebell and the RKC methods. It truly saved my life and my sanity, not to mention the incredible tranformation it has afforded my wife. I will be forever gratefull.

But I also realized something just the other day; all my life, as a competitive athlete, my goals were to become a better competitive athlete. Everything I had was sacrificed on the alter of improvement. My jobs were all taken so they fit into my training schedule, my life revolved around my training, my recovery and my competition schedule.Pain, soreness,poverty were all things that had to be endured to accomplish my goals.

I was training to become better at training.

And even though I knew I couldn no longer go to the Olympics I was still training to achieve the highest level of accomplishment I could. "First you live like a pro, then you get to be a pro" was my mantra.

Even when, at the end, when I was so sore and jacked up from even the smallest workouts I confused that with the "good" soreness one gets from a tough workout.I hadn't accepted that the recovery from my training took eons longer than any supposed benefit I got from the training. Never quit, never surrender was my mindset and limping around for days after a pissant squat or deadlift workout was just more of the price I thought I had to pay to at least keep some semblance of strength as I got older.

SO, when a few days ago I had TONS of things to do for the day, with the heat in the 100's, lots of walking and assembling and carrying and moving and chores to do I realized that not only could I do this stuff after a full day of working, but that it was EASY; that not only could I keep on going( with no food no less and no weakness or hunger) but that the heat didnt bother me, the effort didnt bother me, I could walk as far as I needed to without limping from pain. That I didnt have to get off my feet at 4 pm and spend the next 2 hours trying to 'unwind' myself as I had done for years just to be able to work the next day did I realize that I was now fit for my LIFE, for the first time in years. Many,many, many years.

When I went to Denmark last week and had to walk miles through airports, stand all day for days on end at the cert; not be able to get my 'normal' training and recovery workouts in and was not only OK but thriving I realized that that is the real goal of my training now. Not to be fit for more training or competition but to be fit for life.

I know that if I have to miss workouts it is not only ok, but what my training is supposed to be preparing me FOR. Real world tasks that have to be done. Not just competitive , made up games and tests, as much fun as they are( and they still are for me too), but the real world tests and challenges.To be tough and resilient enough to make it the next 40+ years with vim and vigor and strength and health. " A back of iron and legs that never quit", those are my new goals.

Speaking to my training partner Nick, who, after a bad back injury last year decided that he would continue to train the squat, but not the deadlift or the bench about it said" I still want to train the squat; not to see how much I can lift but to keep myself strong for everyday life. I don't want my training to mess me up so much that I can't do normal things, no matter how much it will let me lift in competition."

Such a smart man for one so young.

Years of training for competition had skewed my point of view and references so much I had lost track of what was really important. Being injured so severely so young of course had a big impact on this but I took it too far. I was always searching for the "flow" state that I found in competition and hard training. It was the place I felt whole again, where I could overcome my injuries and debilitation and soar once more. Now I realize I was just breaking myself down even more and postponing my recovery.
When I was 21 I wrote a novel( never published) called " A question of Balance" about my gymnastics competing and coaching experience and that phrase has always stuck with me. Searching for balance has always been a key metaphor in my life, even when I was decidedly out of balance.Perhaps even more because of that.

Now, at 51, in perhaps the best shape of my life, physically and, more importantly, emotionally and spiritually, I feel like I know what that balance looks like, and feels like. I no longer have to be the biggest, or the strongest or the fastest to feel whole. I am whole.

I am so thankful to be out of pain, and be able to move and experience the joy of using my body physically again, to reclaim what I had in the beginning but never really appreciated. They say you don' really know what you have until you lose it and I can attest to that.And how what's really important is so simple and basic that is overlooked by almost all, all the time. And it's right there for everyone to have.

I won't forget this again.


Howie Brewer said...

Very insightful, heartfelt and true Rif. I turn 40 in 8 months and having a 2-yr old, my biggest goal is to be able to keep up with him 10 and 15 years from now. And to be prepared for anything that comes along in between. Thanks for sharing.

Franklin B. Herman said...

Another of your powerful observations that really pulled my heartstrings .. thanks!

Like yourself I'm a "middle age" man with adult kids who wants the rest of his life to be of the highest quality both physically and mentally.

Everyday I count my lucky stars for discovering RKC hard-style training (both physical and mental) and how it has changed my life for the better.

Geoff Neupert said...


GREAT insights--glad you are finally "there."

I too am examining my life and asking myself what the cost has been and what the cost might be and whether or not I'm willing to pay that cost.

Give me a call when you get a chance.


Mark Reifkind said...

being able to move and run and play with your kids is so much more important than any poundage I ever lifted. way more. I just wish I had known that sooner.the kettlebell is such an incredible tool for staying fit and healthy at the same time in the shortest amount of time.

Mark Reifkind said...

thanks franklin,

I know just what you mean about lucky stars and discovering RKC. What a blessing it has been for me and so many others.

Mark Reifkind said...

glad we got the chance to talk Geoff; you know how long a road this has been for me.

Bob Garon II said...


Your words are very inspiring. I really like the "Question of Balance" concept.

I am always doing my best to find a balance in my life where training is concerned. I came from a bodybuilding mindset in my background where hypertrophy and pain was the only way to experience results. I found kettlebells through a friend/prior client shortly after my herniated disc injury almost 2 years ago.

This has been a tough road, but a very fun one as well while attempting to recover from the injury. It seems like just one stupid movement in the wrong way will set it off into spasms and inflammation. I know what training movements not to perform(deadlifts, barbell squats, sots presses), but hate being limited. I love the physical environment and opportunity that kettlebells have presented to me and I have never been stronger.

I turned 30 this past December and only want my growing years to be ones filled with education, inspiration, fulfilled experiences, and all centered around my love of simply being as healthy as I can be. That is why I love to train. I competed in sports when I was younger, but for me now competition is only as good as my last workout. I compete with me and my own personal bests.

I hope to be able to afford the RKC one day, but in the meantime have truly enjoyed the enlightenment of you Mark and others such as the websites of David Whitley, Anthony DiLuglio, of course Pavel(dragondoor), Steve Cotter, Jordan Venzina(he has been a great help and he's lucky to have you), and there are others as well. I frequent these sites each day to just catch a glimmer of what you interesting men have to offer the not only kettlebell community, but also the entire community of self-improvement. I will say this again- You have truly inspired me more than once.

Thank you Mark and I hope to one day have the privilege to meet you and be trained by you.

-Bob Garon

P.S. I'm gonna post this on my site as well so others can have the chance to know your story.

Mark Reifkind said...


I know what you mean about spasms. I suffered from some serious spasms in the psoas, lateral hamstrings, lumbar spine and calves for many years. It was what drove me to discover corrective exercise and learn the difference betwee tonic and phasic musculature. I saw a way to balance my body and musculature and get out of pain.
I too very much being so limited but I tell you what; I hate being in constant pain more.
So the first thing one has to do is stop doing the offending motions and get the body balanced first. If you keep applying the inflammatory source the problem won't heal.
THat is what I have finally come to after fighting to keep squatting benching and pulling for so long while still in constant pain.
Doesnt sound so smart now but I had always been a competitor- it was who I was.somethings have a steeper price tag than others.
Bob I'm sure we will meet and train one day. its a small world.

Boris said...

I pulled a hamstring scooting out of bed to tend to my (then) newborn son and that was the first of many hamstring and lower back issues that plagued my short career as a less-than-mediocre powerlifter. It took me several years to finally accept what your lifting partner seemed to figure out pretty quickly.

Great stuff - thank you Rif.

Bob Garon II said...

I have been using the foam roller for quite some time. I started using it merely on my IT Bands and have seen great results. I'm still trying to figure out how to effectively use it on my hams and lower back.

I don't really have much pain at all in any area, but the lower back I guess spasms according to my chiropractor. It does become inflamed when I either train to hard or just do something to tweak it. I've had about 3 flare ups over the past 2 years since the original injury. One of those was when I was trying to deadlift. I have since decided that I will simply not ever deadlift. The other time I remember was when I was moving last year. It was the hottest day of the year(114 degrees) and it was actually the last piece. I lifted and instantly knew what I had done. Now I will hire movers the next time I decide to move. :)

This injury is indeed a plague, but I have found ways to work around it. The foam roller and regular massages are great tools to keep it at bay. I just wish it would completely heal. I read somewhere it may take around 5 years for that to happen.

Any advice Mark?

fawn said...

What a really moving message... thanks for posting it.

Mark Reifkind said...


two things to look into, Z health drills and learning how to use the foam roller or myo fascial release balls for the piroformis.
I've found SO many connections between locked piriformis' and lower back tightness. also LOTS of abdominal stretching( back bends over stability balls and upward facing dog pose from yoga.
stretch out those abs!

Mark Reifkind said...

I know just what you mean. the hammies and lower back are seriously intimate. I love the foam roller for stretchingout the hammies.

Mark Reifkind said...

thanks fawn,

glad you enjoyed it.

Bob Garon II said...


From the looks of things it doesn't seem as though my abs are the problem needing to be stretched. In fact when I bend forward I feel relief. I try to keep my legs straight, weight on heels, and touch my chest to my thighs. This seems to give me a really good hamstring stretch that works.

I can't find the right way of using the foam roller on my hams. Whenever I sit on it they don't really feel like much is going on. I just try to do a lot of floor stretching work on them instead.

I have never used miofacial balls. Where do I get them and is there a good reference you recommend to train me on them?

I looked at Z-Health's website some time ago and was nothing but confused as to what it even was. Also I don't want to spend money on anything that expensive unless I know exactly what I'm getting and if it is the level of training I require. I wouldn't want to purchase something I will not benefit from if it isn't as advance for me as I need or that I would progress quickly at and then feel I wasted my money. If that is not the case with Z-Health then please advise further.



P.S. Maybe I might just have to take a trip out to Cali and work with you for a weekend. How would I go about doing that as financially efficiently as possible? You can email me privately if you want.

Mark Reifkind said...


alot of times themuscles that are overstretched feel temporary relief from being stretched but it doenst help in the long run
you shoulde get my dvd on restoring lost physical function as it covers all thelength tension imbalances as well as how to use thefoam roller correctly.
I dont think the weekend thing will work; first cause I dont work weekends :) and it wouldnt be feasible finanacially for almost anyone if they wanted to induce me too,lol

Bob Garon II said...

We'll we can certainly do it during the week.

Whatever works best for you, but I will definitely purchase your DVD. Just go to dragondoor for it? Is that the best vendor?


Tori said...

Very inspirational! Thanks for sharing. It couldn't have come at a better time when I am trying to figure out my own goals. I have learned so much from your blog and Tracy' guys are awesome!

Mark Reifkind said...

thanks tori,
I've been reading your blog and tracy has linked it to her site. hope that's ok.
you are really making progress and thats great to see. thanks for posting here.


Tim Anderson said...

You are still my Yoda. Awesome post; and so needed. Thanks again.

Mark Reifkind said...


good to hear from you and thank you for the compliment.good to know I can still inspire :))

Gabi said...

So very educational, thank you for sharing, Mark.

"I know that if I have to miss workouts it is not only ok, but what my training is supposed to be preparing me FOR. Real world tasks that have to be done." - Realizing that must feel like receiving the release order from one's own self-built prison.