Manchester GSU Open – whoo hoo competition time!

I’ve not blogged for a while, both my job and my training have been pretty demanding of late and I rarely have the time at the moment. However it’s bank holiday weekend and I have a short breathing space so I wanted to share my thoughts about the first GSU competition in Manchester last weekend.

As regular readers will be aware, I really struggled as I prepared for this competition. I was competing with a 12kg which I feel is an entry weight really and so should find pretty straightforward. However, right up to the moment I stood on that platform I didn’t feel comfortable about how well I was lifting. I was so nervous that  my coach spent the final pre-competition session going through relaxation techniques. We also spent a session working on chalking a kettlebell. Both sessions were really useful. I stopped tearing up my hands because I was now chalking properly and the breathing exercises actually helped me sleep!

Weigh in was on Friday so we all checked in the night before competition. I had to work on Friday so ate light foods and drank small amounts up to lunchtime and then fasted. Sitting on a train full of people tucking into early evening snacks was torture but worth it as I weighed in at 53kg. Then Maxine, our new team member, and I tucked into some food and crashed out at our hotel. I’m glad I went to bed early as I was woken at 3:00am by some party girls arguing next door. After banging on the door and threatening an early wake for them they settled for a while before starting again at 4:00am, at which point I called security, but couldn’t get back to sleep. This was frustrating but didn’t worry me too much as I barely slept during the three days of RKC so I knew I’d be able to lift.

The gym was really well set up with plenty of space to compete and warm up, and clear time and counter displays. However the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, I could chalk my own kettlebell and coaches could stand close enough to encourage. Timings worked like clockwork and the small team of judges were great, fair without being officious. I was lucky enough to have a familiar face as a judge, I knew she would be quietly fair, which helped my nerves. The Manchester team provided refreshments, including a delicious array of cupcakes with little kettlebells on them.The music was more to my taste too, including a few tracks I train to, which really helps in an unexpected way.

Unfortunately I arrived too late to buy a crochet kettlebell but must put in an order! My coach’s three year old daughter, Bella, bought one and spent the day doing snatches and swings with it. Reading stories to Bella also helped keep my nerves at bay during the morning.

Maxine and I were on the first flight. I started at quite a fast rate but remembered that pace was important so slowed and began to breathe carefully. I could see the woman next to me was faster but I decided to keep my pace and do the time. Thus my score was low, 119, but close to the 120 I aimed for and I finished the ten minutes . Maxine also did well at the other end of the platform. We were both quite happy and relieved.

During training we were given ten minute breaks between ten minute sets, now we had an almost four hour break. So we both circulated, catching up with old friends and cheering on other competitors. My coach had an injured knee but decided to compete and gave a great 24kg jerk set, finishing ten minutes when others could not.

The tough part about biathlon is that you have to psych yourself up to compete twice in one day. Jerk is my worst discipline so I always feel better when it’s over. Therefore standing on the platform ready for snatch was not as bad – just get this over with-I thought. Again I started fast and then slowed down to a steady pace. The drama started at the other end with some shouting about lock outs, then I heard a kettlebell crash to the floor and the woman next to me struggling. The score in front of me showed I had a considerable lead at this point. Then the kettlebell next to me hit the ground too! My coach says I smiled, I just remember grimly keeping going. In fact Maxine and I just kept going – a testament to out rigorous training. Maxine managed a gold winning 204 and I managed 181! We were both really pleased and relieved. Only one snatch score beat me in my weight class, pushing me into second place but I was really happy with a silver!

Medals and kettlebells

The rest of the afternoon was spent winding down and enjoying impressive performances from other athletes.  The relay was great fun too, with a little dressing up and some hot competition. Both Maxine and I were delighted to go up to receive our medals and even happier to skip up together to receive a silver for our coach, who had to leave early. We both enjoyed the post competition meal but exhaustion crept up so we left before the main celebrations!

A big thank you to the Manchester team for a great day, well organised, with a great atmosphere. Couldn’t ask for more. Our little team from Nottingham performed well so we are hoping to gain a few more members for the competition in London in September.

I am really pleased with my performance, particularly my coefficient, no medals for this but I come easily within the top ten competitors. I’ve learned the value of breathing and pacing, taking control of my competition set, not just going for it. This has given me the confidence to start to train with 16kg, I have a two week holiday just before London (my poor, long suffering partner wanted a kettlebell free summer)so may find myself carrying a kettlebell onto the plane! Let’s see how the training goes.

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Reflecting on just how far I’ve come

When I’m finding the training hard and don’t feel like I’m making much progress, it’s good to stop for a minute and remember just how far I’ve come in the last three years. I joined Kettlebell Nottingham almost three years ago. When I joined I’d just finished the 10,000 swing challenge and was feeling good about being able to swing a 12kg for 1 minute (two hands) and swing the 32kg for 5 reps. I was very much a Hard Style practitioner and had worked alone mainly as I hadn’t realised Nottingham had it’s very own kettlebell classes. I ran a little, but had knee problems when I ran any distance. Oh and had given up on the jerk because my trainer at the time felt it was too complex for me to learn.

Over the last three years I’ve trained for and passed the HKC and the RKC and rectified my running issues so that I can now happily run 5k on a regular basis. The classes are good fun and I’ve made a few kettlebell loving friends along the way. Over the last year I’ve changed my technique completely so that I can compete and have taken part in two competitions so far. This morning I swung 2 sets of 1 minute with the 32kg (just about), snatched and jerked 12kg for 5 mins each with 1 hand change each time and happily managed some 16kg bumps. It’s not been easy, lots of blood , sweat and tears (mainly from my coach) but I can see the progress I have made when I take the long view.

So, how is the training for Manchester going? Despite all the practice I’m getting , my technique is still not automatic, I forget quite quickly in a test or class situation. My biggest faults are not leaning back into my heels, forgetting the hip wiggle in the snatch, not getting right down to my hips in the jerk and forgetting to breathe. This means that I’m not as confident as I could be going into Manchester. I have managed 10 mins jerk and snatch with the 12kg now, as long as I get the pace right. If I start like a rocket, I run out of steam – which isn’t good. Therefore the next few weeks will be about pace and breathing, staying in control so I finish the set. This competition will be about long term strategy and not getting too nervous. I think there will be some great competitors there. The standard is rising quickly.

My training week now has six sessions: 1 personal training session based around skills and two homework sessions at home practicing those skills and working on timed sets; two circuit classes, which provide assistance work on strength and conditioning(and some light relief) and finally a 5k run for conditioning.

Long term I’m still working on improving my relationship with the 16kg. Getting the pace and technique right so that I can compete with it. Work with 14kg is progressing, a 2kg increase is less daunting than a 4kg increase. This time next year maybe? That 40kg in the corner of the gym looks tempting too…

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Blogging has been difficult over the last few weeks because I’ve been so busy. I used to blog on a Saturday morning whilst my partner enjoyed sleeping in (he’s a night owl and I’m an early bird!). However I adopted a Saturday morning run after the sports camp in Newcastle and so don’t have time to blog as often. Today I’m on holiday so I thought I’d spend some time updating.

Even though it’s assistance work at the moment, the running is beginning to grab my interest because I’m finally getting success. I joined Park Run before Christmas. This a free 5K group run which is organised by volunteers in a local park near you. My event takes place in a local country park where I often choose to run anyway. There is a website where you register and get a bar code. As mentioned above, my run meets at 9:00 on a Saturday morning (come rain, shine or snow), we all start together and then volunteers marshal and act as timers. When you get to the end your bar code is scanned in. A few hours later the results are published and I get an e-mail giving me my time and place in the run.

When I first started I didn’t have my bar code so I don’t really have a baseline. However,when I did finally use it I discovered I was faster than I thought. Although I finish somewhere towards the end of the field, my results are age adjusted and show that when I am compared to other runners which are my age and sex, I am just in the top 50% and I’ve regularly achieved first or second place within that group for that run. This has encouraged me to go to the run more often and push myself to improve my time. Hence running, not blogging. Over the last few weeks I’ve improved by 86 seconds.

Kettlebell training has now stepped up a notch as my next competition is a few weeks away! I’ve signed up to compete in the biathlon with 12kg. I’m no where near ready to compete with 16kg yet. 12kg is tough enough. I’ve managed 10 mins jerk but only 8 mins snatch so far. However when I was tested a few weeks ago I only had 10 minutes between jerk and snatch set and was still shaking from the jerk set when I began the snatch set! So I’m hoping that further training and a longer break between sets will mean I can finish 10 minutes snatch.

My coach has been working on technique with me so that I am more efficient, I’m not a fast learner when working on movement so this has taken a while. But I’m slowly improving. My training program before Christmas involved weight ladders, now I’m back to timed sets, building up the length of time I’m working with this weight and becoming familiar with the pace I’m going for. I’m not aiming at medals this time, I’m aiming at completing the set to plan.

The glove snatch sets have now arrived in my program. At sports camp in December I couldn’t quite complete 10 mins glove snatch with 8kg at a reasonably slow pace. Over the last few weeks I’ve completed 10 mins and then 10 mins at competition pace. Now I’ve been challenged to complete 12mins  – arghh! I hope my windows survive.

Alongside two home training sessions, a PT session and a run, I regularly go to two circuit classes at my coach’s gym. These are really important for my morale. My team does not have a team training session for lots of reasons so this is an opportunity to train with others. The circuits are kettlebell based but include body weight exercises too, giving me some variety. Group numbers are small and ,unlike classes in health clubs, most people come regularly and work hard, so there is a great atmosphere of support, challenge and good humour –  we know each other quite well now. A little bit of laughter goes a long way when the going gets tough!

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A little knowledge…

There is a saying – “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. On the whole I have to agree, particularly in my professional life. However I sometimes find the opposite is true when I’m training.  Perhaps I should say “A little understanding” helps from time to time.

Very often trainers are full of instructions, ” Put your feet, like this, stand like that, breathe!” I do my best to comply without questioning but not always understanding and am sometimes able change my regular form and sometimes not. As I’ve become more skilled; worked with more sophisticated trainers and attended workshops alongside trainers and coaches my understanding has deepened and this has changed my performance profoundly.

For example, my RKC trainer was very picky about how I stood and where my feet were placed. He never explained why so I just thought he was overly exacting, after my RKC he was better at explaining why and I began to understand how important stance was, preventing injury and improving efficiency. Knowing this I now try to remember to think about these factors when starting a set.

The same is happening with breathing at the moment. I do tend to forget to breathe, particularly when concentrating on form or getting to the end of a set. A number of interesting articles about breathing have been posted on Facebook recently. Reading these has helped me make sense of why I should breathe (I don’t feel skilled enough to go into the specifics about why here, but take a look at the Facebook pages of Brighton and Manchester kettlebell clubs). Now I know some of the theory behind why I should breathe, I am making a real big effort to learn the breathing patterns and embed them in my practice – not easy but worth it as I’m going to improve both my performance and well-being. In fact I experimented with breathing and not breathing during some work on squats during circuit class a few weeks ago. Concentrating on breathing and ensuring I breathed properly reduced the pain and extended the length of time I could squat. From this I recognised that I could use this to improve my response to the 10 minute sets required for competition. Easy to say, harder to put into practice!

My resolve to run and improve my aerobic capacity has also hardened since the workshop in Newcastle and I’ve been out running more regularly. In fact I ran as often as I used kettlebells over the Christmas break. My trainer has written me a program based around reps and volume for a few months. Each session has a weight ladder: 6-10 heavy reps          ( 14kg for jerk, 16kg for snatch), 20-35 12kg reps and 40-55 8kg reps. This is programmed for both jerk and snatch every session. I then have some swings and presses for assistance work. Last week I completed 472 jerks and 538 snatches in these sessions alone. I also do two circuit classes and a run. As the circuit classes include some kettlebell lifting, I can complete well over a thousand lifts in a week. Over Christmas I noticed my shoulders and arms feeling quite stiff and painful. So I gave myself a rest over New Year. A rest for me involved joining Park Run for two 5K runs and walking 8 miles over Losehill and Mam Tor. However the break was good and my upper body feels much better.

Going into the New Year I’m coming to the end of this program and my first test sessions with 12kg loom. Not looking forward to those, feel quite nervous. However our small band of athletes may expand as others begin to show interest in competing so we may be able to take a bigger team to Manchester. I was particularly pleased to meet Maxine, who contacted me through Dragon Door, at class today. She is so strong and well motivated I know she’ll make a great competitor. Despite the challenges ahead, I’m looking forward to some great kettlebell fun this year.

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Kettlebellqueen's Blog

Every now and again I do something slightly crazy. Last weekend falls into that category. Most people spend December weekends in front of the fire with a glass of wine, but not me, I decide to head north for a GS training session with two of Ireland’s best Kettlebell athletes, Eddie Sheehan and Mark Stapleton.  Even the travel was a challenge, as the rail track between York and Newcastle had been damaged by a landslide. I began the journey after work on Friday, not really sure that I would get to Newcastle that night. Thankfully, a few brave train drivers were navigating through the affected area and I arrived at my B&B in Tynemouth late Friday evening.

Early Saturday morning (having persuaded the B&B owner to make an early breakfast), a small, brave band of kettlebell athletes gathered at a small gym in North Shields. Once again I was the…

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Just keep going!

This time last week I was enjoying a quiet swim in a hotel swimming pool in Cardiff, steadying my nerves ahead of competing in the 3rd Welsh Open Kettlebell Championship. I was looking forward to the competition as both my coach and his wife, Mel, were also competing, going with a team is great as you gain strength from the moral support and advice of others.  Familiar faces from Brighton and Manchester were also taking part, catching up with everyone was great. Kettlebell sport is very friendly, on and off the competition platform.

On this occasion I was competing in the biathlon as there was no long cycle competition. The biathlon involves 10 minutes of jerk, followed at least 30 minutes later, by 10 minutes of snatch. As I only had a few weeks to train after Kilkenny I competed with 8kg not 12kg and I weighed in at 54kg.

Although nervous, I felt quite confident because I had increased my jerk reps during training by 40 over the past seven weeks, from around 160 to just over 200. Unfortunately, however, I was suffering from and upper back/ shoulder issue related to an old injury. At the beginning of the set my legs went wobbly and I struggled to coordinate the jerk, but soon got into a rhythm. The kettlebell was also quite cold, which does affect how the kettlebell feels in your hands. Three minutes in and that right shoulder started playing up, I couldn’t lock out straight up. My arm kept moving outwards. Four and a half minutes in I decided to change arms early as this was slowing me down and I was afraid of losing reps because I couldn’t lock out, bad memories from Kilkenny caught up with me. Big mistake! I couldn’t finish five and a half minutes with my weaker left arm, losing out on 15 seconds of jerks. I was so angry with myself! I only managed around 170 jerks. Nowhere near what I am capable of. Mel did great, she completed 200 reps in her first competition!

I debated pulling out of the snatch but decided to carry on and stop if my shoulder couldn’t cope. I’m glad I did, when I heard my judge say 25 reps after my first minute I knew I was going at some speed, so I ignored the shoulder and just kept going! At minute 8 I couldn’t feel my left hand and was barely hanging on, but people were shouting encouragement by now, so I kept going and pushing those reps. When the clock stopped I almost dropped the bell my forearm was so sore. I walked over and checked my score. The judge was double checking in disbelief and I had to look twice. 242 reps, 40 more than I had managed seven weeks ago, at the beginning of my preparation for this competition. I just smiled and couldn’t stop smiling, this was a great score, and the judge said my lock out was great!

Thanks to Richard Witworth for the photo

Our team had to leave early for several reasons so we missed the prize giving. Only overall winners were being given trophies and I wasn’t expecting to get a place after that jerk set. So you can imagine my surprise when I got an e-mail asking for my address. That snatch set had won me overall third place coefficient winner! There is a trophy in the post. Looking at the results I also won my weight class, beating women half my age. Mel and Laurence also gained top ten places. Our little group did very well thanks to a great training program and work on form.

This has been a great confidence boost and I am already looking ahead to the next competition. However I am taking a couple of weeks off or at least at a slower pace just to give myself a mental and physical break. My upper back and shoulder needs to recover too. In December I’m traveling up to Newcastle to train with Mark Stapleton

and Eddie Sheenan, which should be really interesting and very challenging. Then I’ll start working towards the next competition using 12kg , not 8kg.

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Learning new techniques. Out with the old, in with the new….

Whenever a trainer I have been working with goes on a training course, I view the next PT session with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation. In the past the trainer has come back, thrown out all that went before and started again, so I wasn’t too surprised when my PT session last week went that way…

My current trainer went away last weekend to work with Eddie Sheenan and Mark Stapleton on Russian style Kettlebell Sport techniques. I was tempted to go to the course but decided to wait and hear some feedback from him before signing up myself. The feedback he gave was very positive so I’m now considering booking myself onto their course in Newcastle in December despite the fact that my bank account is looking rather sad at the moment. This kettlebell sport thing is not cheap! I’ve not quite forgiven Mark for Kilkenny but I think I need to take learning new technique seriously if I am going to continue to compete.

The changes are quite fundamental. I’ve been swinging hardstyle for around six years now but have made some changes over the last year to improve efficiency. I’ve already reversed the breathing and changed the downward movement when snatching. However my press technique is still very much hardstyle when not doing the jerk and my hip thrust is still based on hardstyle technique.

Russian GS style swings are very different, the legs straighten as you swing back and there seems to be more of a bounce than a hip thrust. This affects the snatch as swings are really just half snatches in GS. I’m also going to need to lean further back on my heels during both jerk and snatch and change my rack position.

However the most fundamental change is about relaxation as this increases efficiency and speed. For me that’s hard because I’m such a tense person, however, health wise, learning to relax is good. Relaxing my legs but keeping them straight at lockout will take some learning. Breathing will have to change too, but I can only take so much change at once.

My partner has been laughing at me as I’ve been practicing the new swing move in the kitchen without kettlebells. As one friend said – air kettlebells! I am beginning to apply this move now, but tend to revert back to hardstyle when I’m tired at the moment.I’m not expecting to have implemented all this by the time I compete in Wales, we’ll make the real changes when this competition is over.

Stretching and flexibility are also important so I’m also following a twenty minute stretch routine most mornings. I’m stretching out my back, hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and heels. I’m not yet performing the splits (not sure I ever will)but not far off being able to push myself into a crab position –  the last time I did that I was 14! The benefits of this will go beyond GS sport as I move into my 50s and my body starts to stiffen up, the stretch work will keep me moving, which is a good thing.

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