Strength Book Club

I took a weekend away recently and decided I wasn’t going to work at all. That’s pretty tough to do when you own a business. Everyone talks about the “freedom” to “make your own schedule” and all of that. Which, don’t get me wrong, is awesome, but the downside: it’s tough to truly take time away.

I was determined though. There would be no thinking about: kettlebells, workouts, training programs, clients, marketing strategies, goals, etc. I brought my book club book and started reading on the plane. It is a really great book- the women in my book club always pick winners- and I was getting into it.

Then I got to my destination and pulled “Easy Strength” by Pavel & Dan John out of my suitcase.  I brought it in case I finished my book club book.

I mean, really. Look at this cover! How do you NOT want to devour this book right away?

Kept thinking, “Do not read it… No work this weekend… Put the book down… Walk away…” And I did walk away that night.

But then I went right back to it first thing in the morning. It was the cover that sucked me in originally. That perfectly muscular athlete, ready to sprint, with calm determination in his eyes; he seemed to embody the title over his head, “Easy Strength”.

I started reading on the deck with my nice warm cup of coffee. I was only going to read the first little bit.

Just until my coffee was finished.

But Dan John and Pavel are both such great minds in the strength world. The way the book is written, it feels like you’re eavesdropping on a conversation they’re having about their very best ideas and experiences with strength. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t going to stop reading any time soon. Actually, it was only page 3 and I was hooked.

That’s where Dan John explained his genius four quadrants idea. The quadrants are based on the number of qualities a sport requires (i.e. strength, speed, agility, power, vertical leap, etc.) in relation to the absolute maximum or each quality (i.e. how fast is fast enough for your sport? how strong is strong enough?).

Let me explain. We inherently know that a good 100m sprinter is fast enough to be a football running back, but does he have the lateral movement, the strength, or the size to play football? A great female miler has the endurance to last through three soccer games as a mid-fielder, but does she have the speed, the strength, or the coordination to play this team sport?  Not all sports need all qualities and that’s where the genius of the four quadrants comes in.

It’s not a bad thing that the miler is not a great soccer player. She’s a miler! She doesn’t need agility to run around in a circle. She needs speed, but in a different way than soccer players. Same goes for the sprinter- if he were to gain size to play football, it would most likely slow him down. Back to the question: what do you need for your sport?

Needless to say, I couldn’t put the book down. It was nugget after nugget of brilliant information.  And it seemed so EASY to do!  You mean you don’t have to go all out, kill yourself every workout, and feel depleted to know you’re making progress and getting results?!? That’s what the these guys have seen time and time again. Imagine being happy after a workout and feeling like you still have more to give to your training. Don’t you think you’ll be more likely to stick to it? So instead of reading over one cup of coffee, I cheated and kept getting refills because I didn’t want to stop reading!

With my bottomless cup of joe, I got through most of the book. The entire time I was reading, I was thinking, “Why can’t this be my book club book?”

And then it hit me.

Why not start a Strength Book Club?  We can read or re-read some of our favorites together, then come together after a month to talk about what we learned.

Many of my RKC buddies are already reading it, so Pavel & Dan John’s Easy Strength is the SBC (Strength Book Club) Book #1. It’s also available in eBook if you prefer that method. Even if you’ve already read it, I’d love for you to join the discussion. It’s one of the best books out there and it’ll be a great one to discuss.

Here’s how I propose we do this thing:

  • Pick a book
  • Take a month or so to read said book
  • Test out new strategies on yourself &/or your clients
  • Discuss highlights, questions, what we learned
  • Discuss what worked, what didn’t, and everything in between
  • If we need more time to discuss results we get with clients, we’ll come back and discuss at a later date

What do you think?

For the rest of the books, I’d like to steal my book club’s strategy for choosing the next book we will read. It goes like this:

  • Recommend 5 books
  • Everyone in the book club gets 2 votes
  • Vote for the 2 you’d most like to read
  • You may vote twice for the same book
  • Book with the most votes will be the next SBC book

Who’s in?

Start reading today and we’ll “discuss” via the comments section on Monday, May 7th!

Thanks for stopping by!

Iron Maiden Val, RKC, CSCS, FMS
Official DragonDoor Iron Maiden Challenge Winner


Pull Ups for Women

I’ve written a couple posts for friends on Pull Ups for women, and I wanted to link to them on this site, for reference. Yes, these articles are aimed at women, but anyone having trouble with their pull up can benefit from these tips.

One here for RKC friend Steve Holiner, aka “Coach Fury”


One here, for my buddy Josh Hillis, RKC & Fat Loss Expert, aka THE go-to guy to lose those last stubborn couple pounds

Video to accompany Josh’s post- COMING SOON!

Strength and the Recovering Runner

As many of you know, I’m a recovering runner. Similar to friends of mine who consider themselves recovering Catholics: we really appreciate everything taught to us in youth by those institutions, but we’re ready to take what we learned and run with it. So to speak.

My running career taught me plenty of valuable lessons: discipline, how to push past what I thought were my limits, how to train to compete, the importance of training cycles, and so much more. And I wouldn’t be where I am today without the experiences running afforded me: getting out of my tiny rural town, a 95% scholarship at a D1 University, my first experience with Olympic lifting (with Ethan Reeves and his crew at Wake), and my subsequent love of Strength & Conditioning.

I’m really glad I had those experiences but due to a variety of reasons, I’m never going to be a competitive runner again. It took some time to deal with that reality (to be totally honest: 6 months of little to no workouts, lots of pizza, buffalo wings, beer, and 15 extra pounds on my little frame). But once I did, I really embraced it and started training for health. I needed to after my little “bender” and honestly, I was tired of competing.

For 10 years, I trained myself and my clients for health. I truly enjoyed NOT having a goal. I wanted to feel good and move well and I wanted the same for my clients. I think that’s what helped me get stronger without really trying, but more on that later…

When I finally got the competition bug again, it wasn’t for running but rather for a Deadlifting competition. I never would have considered it, but I went to a Return of the Kettlebell Seminar and Pavel suggested I try deadlifting. When Pavel suggests, you do.

So I did!

I found a coach, Steve Belanger, RKC and he wrote a 6-week program for me. I had never even attempted a max deadlift so I had no idea what to expect. With the program he wrote I was able to work up pulling almost twice my body weight.  Which is cool, I guess, but no where near real competitors.

The problem with my training leading up to the powerlifting meet was that I didn’t change my running mindset. I wanted to be sweating and out of breath during and after my workouts. That wasn’t happening with the 10 deadlifting reps that were planned for my workout every day. I didn’t tell Coach Steve, but I would deadlift and then I would go right into doing all of my other workouts.

An example of what one of my workouts:
Joint Mob Warmup
DL 5x135lb for warmup
DL 5x200lb
DL 5x205lb
3 rounds of: 20Swings, 10Stepups w/weight, 15Pushups, 60s Plank, 20Swings, 10DblFrontSquats, 8Pullups, 8Bridges

The one redeeming factor was that I did my DL practice first, when I was “fresh” (and that is in quotes, because how “fresh” can one be doing these workouts 4-5x/week?).

Looking back, I was training for endurance, except I wasn’t training for an endurance sport. I was supposed to be training to lift heavy thingsI know that endurance training hinders strength training. I know that from reading it over and over. I’m smarter about it when I train my clients. But stupidly, I thought those rules didn’t apply to me.  Because of my running background, I thought “endurance” to me wasn’t the same as “endurance” to everyone else.  I thought I had such a great endurance background and base, that doing it during my powerlifting training wouldn’t effect me. I’m special, right?

Wrong. It’s safe to say the endurance work did negatively effect my pull, but I didn’t really think about how much because the DL competition was just for fun.

Then a year later, I started seriously training for a strength competition, and I tried the same thing again: do my Iron Maiden practice, and then do my other stuff after.

What I got was:
Complete exhaustion
Inability to do my Iron Maiden practice
A big slap on the wrist from my coach

What he told me was something to the effect of: Resist the temptation to do more. If you want, you can go back to your running and other stuff after this training is over. Focus all of your energy on your strength program right now. The short workouts and rest days are there because you need them. The extra stuff is stressing your body when you need to be resting your body.

And I felt it.

So I took a leap of faith and I stopped running and I stopped all of the extra stuff I was doing on the side. And you know what? I was a little antsy at first and I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. But after the first week, I felt awesome. I needed that rest. And by the end, I felt stronger than ever.

What I realized is that my running mindset wasn’t allowing me to train for strength.  My need to be better and do more was actually holding me back from being better and doing more. For the trainers out there reading this- has this ever happened to you? Do you tend to work yourself harder than you need to? Do you go back to your “default” training style even when you know there’s something more effective out there? Do you find yourself overtraining at times? Do you get antsy and think “more is better” and then wind up with overuse injuries?

If so, there’s a big question that’s important to ask when training yourself and when training your clients. I know, it seems silly and a “no duh” kind of thing, but I think it gets overlooked. What are you training for? Don’t just ask yourself at the beginning of the month. Ask yourself every day: What am I training for? And if this exercise/this workout plan is not helping you reach your goals, then you need to get back on track.

So, I’m going to ask you: What are you training for? Let me know! And let me know what you’re doing to get there!

Thanks for stopping by,

Iron Maiden Val, RKC, CSCS, FMS

Making the Iron Maiden Look Easy

So, I’ve written a lot about the program written for me and how it helped me meet my goal of making the Iron Maiden Challenge look easy. When I wrote about what I did and was interviewed about my process, there was some debate about whether I was giving too much credit to my coach.

To give you an idea of where I was at last year, I’ll give a brief overview of the major life events for me in 2011: got married, moved away from my life in California, sold my successful kettlebell business, moved to Denver, was starting my personal training business from scratch, became a step-mom, moved in with my husband and his two kids, and was trying to find my way through all of that. Some of it was good stress, but some of it was extremely challenging. Mentally draining which at times turned into physically draining. To say that 2011 was stressful is a gigantic understatement.

I went from This:
Happy Kettlebell Instructor on the beach

To This:

Crazy stressed out chick

The reason I’m telling you all of that, is because last year I needed a coach more than ever. I’m not one to ask for help, but through last year’s trials, I learned how to be ok with it.

I really needed a plan but I was determined to do the work to get me to my goal. I knew I would overtrain, over-think, and/or second guess myself the entire time if I didn’t have a coach. I was able to give credit where it was due because the lifts spoke for themselves. I did listen to my body and I did adjust the plan when I needed to, but I also learned a lot while training for strength.

To claim that I had no help would be absurd! There are so many people in this industry to learn from, that anyone who claims they did something “on their own” is either stupid, or a liar.

I think I’ve said a couple times that my goal was to “make the Iron Maiden look easy”.  I didn’t want there to be any doubt in my mind that I would be able to complete each lift.  And with my training program, I was able to do that. I felt so incredibly strong with the strength work and the tapering at the end, I felt invincible!

It was seriously so freaking cool. At 131-lbs I was doing Pull Ups with a 28kg kettlebell (62lbs) strapped to my waist. That’s 193-lbs. Really?!? Never EVER thought I would be doing that.

And that’s kind of why I love strength. When you train for it and do it well, you feel like you can conquer the world. Especially being a woman. It’s awesome to train and know you’re strong and capable. Of pretty much anything.

You can see the Iron Maiden Challenge video on my About page, or on my YouTube channel.  But for the first time, I’m sharing my video below of my practice the week before the Iron Maiden Challenge. I surprised myself and did all 3 lifts with the 28kg.  You can see how happy I was.  I couldn’t help my giddiness!

Again, comments & questions are always welcome.

Thanks for stopping by,

Iron Maiden Val, RKC, CSCS, FMS
Official DragonDoor Iron Maiden Challenge Winner

New Strength Blog

Since completing the Iron Maiden last year, I’ve been getting requests from other trainers and RKCs about my thoughts on, experiences with, and training for strength. A great deal of the questions are specifically about the Iron Maiden Challenge and how to train to complete that. Many of the other questions are more general about Women and Strength. Still others are about kettlebell technique.

I was trying to answer the technical and Iron Maiden questions in my other blog and it just wasn’t working. My Simple Strength & Fitness blog is for the majority of my clients, who are people just looking to live healthier lives every day.  I felt like I was trying to reach everyone: current clients, former clients, potential clients, RKCs, future Iron Maidens, kettlebell enthusiasts, recreational runners, and strength athletes. While trying to speak to everyone, I ended up speaking to no one. My grandmas don’t give a rats @%$ about training for the Iron Maiden and RKCs really don’t want a basic jump rope tutorial.

Enter or Val’s Strength Blog!

In this blog, I intend to talk about:

  • Getting Crazy Strong
  • Kettlebell and Lifting Technique
  • Any New Stuff I Learn
  • Things I Think Will Help You Get Crazy Strong
  • Answers to Common Questions I Get About Women and Strength

Comments, questions, and thoughts are always welcome. I will do what I can to reply in a timely manner.

Thanks for stopping by!

Iron Maiden Val, RKC, CSCS, FMS
Official DragonDoor Iron Maiden Challenge Winner