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Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) Review: Part III

Part I

Part II

Hands…I really wish I had paid more attention to the experts on this one.  Don’t be one of those (like me) who waits until AFTER ripping a hand to start making the relatively easy investment into hand care. Whether it was laziness or denial, there’s really no excuse for letting the hands go!  As Danny told me last year, a rip is an injury!   

I ripped fairly badly in early June during an outdoor snatch day.  Once my hands healed, filing callouses and treating with cornhusker oil became a daily ritual several times per day.  Additionally, I started doing most high volume snatching indoors next to a fan.  In fact one of my greatest fears was that my bottle of cornhusker oil (more than 3oz.) would be confiscated by the TSA in flying to California...last thing I needed that weekend was to circumnavigate San Diego trying to find a bottle of cornhusker oil!  Here’s a picture of a post-RKC set of hands that did not require any hand protection…

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Hands are a nice segue into everyone’s favorite topic, the snatch test.  Our approach to the snatch was slightly unconventional.  I did not complete an actual snatch test until course itself.  Yes, you read that correctly. Only once did I actually pass the test at home, and that was during set of 5 x 10/10, starting each set on one minute (total time was about 4:45-50) two weeks before the big day. 

I’ve had a few people ask if I was concerned not having tested before the actual test.   Yes indeed, there were several times in these last two years that I had been concerned about passing the snatch test.  Yet I also knew that passing the test was a result of doing many other things right, such as dialing-in the swing and taking care of hands.  Trying to force the issue with constant testing wouldn’t help much.  You’re either ready or you’re not.  Most important is getting ready to deliver on game day at the right time. 

One analogy is to stage racing in cycling (such as the Tour de France).  The final time trial often dictates the event’s outcome, but you still need to get there first.  You can’t win the Tour without “passing” the time trial, but your time trialing doesn’t matter if you fail in the events earlier days or show up to the time trial already blasted.  Likewise, your snatch test doesn’t matter if you can’t get through the first two days of the course at the RKC

Brett calls for a progression of 5L/5R x 15:00 working up to 10L/10R x 7:00 with the snatch bell.  As a modification we instead progressed from 5L/5R x 10:00 down to 10L/10R on 5:00.  I did not reach the last stage until August 12, only two weeks before the course.  When I got to snatching reps of 9/9, I knew my fitness was there.  And realistically, snatching more simply was not an option due to the need for hand care.  Again, it was never an issue of going for four to five minutes…it was all about getting the 24kg bell to feel light enough to throw overhead one hundred times.   

The VO2 max snatch protocol (15 minutes of 8L/8R snatches with 15 seconds “on” and 15 seconds rest) was a pleasant surprise.  After “moving on” from the 16kg bell last year, I had long felt that my biggest weakness was simply being too weak for the 24kg bell. 

How do you get stronger to lift something heavier?  You keep lifting heavy stuff…I mean, why waste time with such a wimpy little bell like the 16kg, right?  As a longtime decent endurance athlete, the cardio-respiratory part of high volume snatching has never been a problem.  Even though my primary events are marathon and half marathon, we do many sets on the track and in the pool in 4-5 minute intervals for several reps where the heart rate is higher than during the snatch test.   Five minutes all-out effort was not the issue…getting strong enough so that the muscles don’t fail under the 24kg bell was a different concern…

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I was admittedly skeptical for the VO2max snatches.  It seemed like I could snatch the 16kg bell all day so why bother?  When I try the 24kg again, isn’t that going to feel extra heavy?  Much to my relief, when I first went back to the 24kg bell after my first VO2 max day, I was surprised at how light the 24kg bell felt (relatively speaking).  

Speed and timing also clean up many issues and help economize movement.  One of my problems with the snatch bell has always been pausing at the back of the downswing.  This workout seemed to help remedy that habit. 

A few more general thoughts:

-As I mentioned in part I, the team energy during the snatch test is something very special.  Now, I wouldn’t PLAN on having adrenaline to carry you through, but mentally it seemed much easier to test with several people encouraging the entire time.  You hit 50 reps without even realizing it!  At that point, most people will have between 2:30-3:00 to complete 50 snatches…far more mentally digestible than 100 in 5:00. 

-Practice carrying stuff.  I alluded to this in Part I, but shuttling the bells back and forth from the gym was an underrated difficulty that weekend.  Fortunately, loaded carries are good training and I was exposed to doses both formally (carrying double 36s around Danny’s gym) and informally in shuttling my own bells around when going to train.  Carrying the bells at the course doesn’t exhaust you (other than the grip) but it might chip away at whatever reserves you have remaining after workouts. 

-The squat is often overlooked in RKC prep.  In fact, I personally neglected the squat for several reasons.  I had other more urgent matters such as the snatch and press that required more attention and a decent squat pattern comes naturally to me.  Also, wanting to continue running without thrashing my legs completely, I tried to do just enough to keep the legs sufficiently conditioned to avoid soreness during the weekend.  That said, the more I learned about the squat, the more I realized its value in complementing many other aspects. 

-Everyone brings something different to the game.  I have been fortunate to have a high FMS score with no failing patterns or asymmetries.  I am also fortunate that aerobic conditioning was never an issue.  There are others who can lift a barn but whose cardio or shoulder mobility would fail after lifting an empty cardboard box for multiple reps.   

-Yes, the course is mostly low repetition work, but the overall volume does require stamina.  Some may also theorize that volume training (a la the Jones program) may improve recoverability during the weekend.  As any reliable program (Pavel, Dan John, Brett Jones, etc) can be adapted, details matter in tailoring the programs to the specific needs of each individual.    

Summary

I can’t say enough good things about the course.  Part of me also misses preparing for the great unknown of the weekend, especially having spent nearly two years anticipating it.  Definitely have learned many things along the way and know I will learn more from this excellent community dedicated to strength and movement.  

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