Rhythm (you either have it or you don’t, that’s a fallacy….)
Sorry, music flashback—that was my jam back in the day.
Rhythm—not the elusive dance rhythm, but the rhythm of life—is something we have lost touch with in certain ways. (Don’t worry, I’m not going too deep down the rabbit hole and this does have to do with programming and kettlebells.)
There is a time to every season. But in our “on demand” and immediate-access modern life, we have the ability to override the seasons.
Athletics used to run by the seasons. How do you think baseball players became known as the “boys of summer” at the professional level? In a high school or college year, there were fall, winter, and spring sports. During the summer, you were either “off” or just playing pick-up games with friends.
Now there is a year-round focus on most sports where a summer league leads into fall season into winter indoor practice (depending on the location) and on into spring season—and all training the same sport and patterns. The previous rotation of sports meant pattern overload was less of a potential issue.
But we have overridden the natural variation in our lives.
For our training and programming, there can and should be a rhythm and variation just as there is with sports. While Mae West may have felt that, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Too much usually turns out to simply be too much.
Let’s run the numbers on running for a moment. Based on some average data points, we can say that a mile is roughly 1,500 steps and that impact forces on each of those steps will be somewhere around 2.5-4 times your body weight. Calculate the tonnage for one mile for your body weight. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds, that’s:
180 x 2.5 = 450 x 1,500 = 675,000 pounds of impact
Now calculate that for three miles (4,500 steps), and then for a marathon (26.2 x 1,500 steps).
While I do feel that you should focus on being fit enough to run instead of running to get fit, maybe the real issue with running for a lot of people is simply too much of a good thing.
Baseball pitching counts pitches, and in other sports, field and court time are tracked and measured via GPS. So many sports are adjusting training and competitive time and load to avoid “too much.” Pitchers take time off pitching (or should) and runners should take time off running—and kettlebell athletes should take time off from certain lifts or patterns.
Greasing the Groove vs. Pattern Overload vs. Movement Variability
Let’s start with defining each of these concepts:
- Greasing the groove is essentially consistent practice without fatigue to learn/enhance a skill or pattern.
- Pattern overload can be thought of as wearing a path in the road that becomes too deep.
- Movement variability can be thought of as an exploration of adaptability.
How these three things interact is important to a long-term programming strategy:
- “Strength is a skill” is one of our central principles in StrongFirst and we know that putting in the time and reps through purposeful practice is a key to learning anything from a swing to a military press. Pavel’s greasing-the-groove style of consistent practice without fatigue achieves tremendous results. Conversely, inconsistent practice of a skill like squatting ensures only soreness and prolonged skill acquisition.
- Pattern overload is the “too much of a good thing” saying manifested in our training. This overload can occur in terms of volume, load, or fatigue/incomplete recovery. Literally, it means too many reps, too much weight/impact, or hitting the road again within the same pattern before recovery is complete. Just as a road becomes hard to travel or unsafe as the tires dig deeper into the surface, fatigue and stress accumulate within the body and can lead to a breakdown.
- Movement variability enhances our ability to adapt and respond to different postures, positions, load, and angles. Incorporating it can be part of avoiding pattern overload. Ground Force Method is a great way to implement variability into your movement practice. Or pick the opposite of what you do most. For example, if high tension strength work is your focus, then yoga might be a good practice to add into your schedule to allow you to focus on breathing and relaxation. Our ability to adapt is an essential skill. Life, movement, and athletics are variable as much as we try to groove our skills and movements. Life means variability; therefore, part of our training should reinforce this skill of adapting to the variations.
So, your training plan should have consistent skill practice with load that avoids pattern overload and it should have enough movement variability to enhance adaptability but not end up being random acts of variety (great line from Mark Reifkind) that impede skill acquisition and practice. Easy, right?
How to Structure a Year of Training
Let’s take a 30,000-foot view of a year:
52 weeks = 4 x 12-week blocks with a week to rest between blocks
For each of those four “seasons” (i.e. twelve-week blocks), there should be a different focus. Having a different focus does not mean there cannot be a consistent theme in your training. It just means that one to three skills will be put in the spotlight for that time period (more on this coming).
So, here’s an example of a one-year plan:
- Block 1: TSC prep for the April event
- Block 2: Military press and swing
- Block 3: TSC prep for October event, prep for a powerlifting meet, or…
- Block 4: Simple & Sinister training
Block 1 will highlight training for pull-ups, deadlifts, and kettlebell snatches. For example, this could look like the fighter pull-up program, a Plan Strong deadlift plan, and kettlebell snatch training with a goal of max reps in a five-minute period. Support work would include low-volume heavy swings and get-ups, along with walking and Ground Force Method work.
Block 2 will have a goal of a new military press max. A Plan Strong military press plan plus a Strong Endurance plan for the swing. Support work can include get-ups, bottom-up presses, and front squats.
Block 3 will depend on your chosen goal, but let’s say it is a powerlifting meet. So barbell work for the squat, bench, and deadlift will be the focus. A plan from the SFL will fit in nicely here and support work will be low-volume get-ups and swings.
Block 4 is a chance to “defrag the hard-drive” (I just lost a lot of millennials) with a super simple focus on progress toward the Simple (or Sinister) goal. Another option would be to go lighter on the kettlebells and prioritize bodyweight work like that taught in the SFB. This is the chance to forego any overhead work since so many kettlebell lifts utilize the overhead position/pattern. Just as it can be important for the baseball pitcher to take time off throwing to allow for complete recovery, it can be important for the kettlebell athlete to take time off pressing and snatching to recover and come back stronger after some work on other areas.
With this plan, in the course of a year you have barbell strength work, kettlebell conditioning and strength work, and bodyweight work. Peaking the deadlift once or twice a year but consistently grooving the hip hinge via swings and snatches is a good example of a shifting focus while maintaining a consistent theme. Symmetrical barbell focus is balanced in the next block by asymmetrical kettlebell work.
In addition, keep in mind the wise words of Louie Simmons: “Compete your strengths, but train your weaknesses.” If your TSC block revealed that your deadlift was weak at the start, then the next block should include drills to address that. If the snatches revealed a need to work on an efficient overhead position, then the next block should address that. Perform an AAR report during the week off between blocks and that will help direct programming decisions for the coming block. Programming is a living thing.
Training by Seasons Means Training for Years
Taking a seasonal approach to training can be a tough perspective to embrace and enact. We love to work on what we are good at doing. If I am great at pressing, then I want to work on my pressing—all the time. I may fear taking time off from something because I may lose “it” (strength, skill, etc.).
So, let me share a story with you.
Bruce Lietzke was a golfer who was famous for playing a large fade driving the golf ball and also for taking off three months (or so) from training when the season was over. A fellow competitor who did not believe that Bruce really took three months off hid a banana in the head cover of Bruce’s driver to test his suspicions.
Well, three months later, you can imagine the mess of a moldy, decaying banana that had to be scraped off the driver and out of the head cover. Mr. Lietzke really did take time off from golfing and came back refreshed and ready—and still a professional. He did not “lose” his golf skill in taking time off.
Embrace the rhythm and variations of “seasons” (of blocks) and “play the long game.” Rotate goals but with a theme. Play and have movement variability built into your routine. Enjoy the process.