Counting Calories vs. Counting Macronutrients

By Coach Artemis

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Recently I was talking to one of my clients about a friend of hers who was doing Weight Watchers for the second time and she asked me, “Should I count calories?” or “How important is it to count calories?”.

In the conversation that we were having, my client, let’s call her Diana, was telling me a story about how she went out to lunch with a friend of hers, let’s call her Jane, who was going through the Weight Watchers Program for the second time.  Jane ordered pizza for lunch because it was less “points” than say a bun-less burger with a side salad.

Diana was telling me that she questioned Jane’s choice because she knew that regardless of “points” that there were healthier and more nutrient dense options available to her on the menu, like a bun-less burger with ¼ avocado and a side salad.

Continue reading this post on Iron Body Studios website HERE.

10 Reasons Why I Love Kettlebells

3493lbs of Kettlebells

As a FitTag Ambassador, in honor of the #FitTag hashtag for the week of September 22, 2014 #Kettlebells, I put together this post. You can follow FitTag on twitter @FitTag, on Instagram @FitTag and on Facebook .

In no particular order, here are 10 reasons why I love kettlebells:

Symmetry

Kettlebells promote symmetry. Since you have to train each side of your body separately when training with kettlebells, each side must build up its own strength and skill to work with a particular kettlebell weight.

For example, I am right side dominant and when I was training for my kung fu black belt, I would do all of my weapons forms with my right side. As a result, I was extremely asymmetrical as my right side was much stronger than my left side.

Now, we will never be perfectly symmetrical, but after working with kettlebells very regularly since receiving my kung fu black belt 5 years ago, my left side is just as strong as my right side.

I can press and get-up the same weights on both sides for the same number of repetitions.

One of the additions to my weekly exercise program that I found helped to build the most symmetry was training get-ups every time I train AND programming in one day that I train 3 sets of 3 repetitions of get-ups one time per week.

28kg Get-up_v2

Lowest System Load

Kettlebells allow you to train with the lowest system load for maximal results.

Let’s take the kettlebell swing for example, the purpose of the kettlebell swing is maximal force production. Therefore, if the correct force is applied to an 8kg (~18lbs) kettlebell, that 8kg kettlebell can weigh up to 80lbs. If an 8kg kettlebell can weigh up to 80lbs with the correct force applied, imagine how much a 24kg (~53lbs) kettlebell can weigh if the correct force is applied?? Subsequently, the kettlebell swing can help to improve dead-lift strength because it allows you to use the lowest system load for maximal results. You are getting the most bang for your buck, by using less weight. As such, if you do not have a heavy weight available to you for dead-lifts, then just do a few sets of perfect kettlebell swings and apply maximal force, and you just worked towards a stronger dead-lift.

Compact and Portable

Kettlebells are compact and portable and make a great home gym. They don’t take up a lot of space and they are easy to travel with on road trip vacations. I even have clients who pack one in their suitcase when they travel on planes for vacations and business trips!

Functional

The asymmetrical shape of the kettlebell translates to the asymmetrical shape of loads and packages that we lift in real life. Therefore, whatever you do in the weight room with a kettlebell translates to activities in real life.  Many times I’ve had clients comment that they caught themselves doing a get-up to get up and down from the ground, or when they went to lift their groceries or suitcase they immediately are reminded of the farmers carries they do in their training with kettlebells.  For me, lifting kettlebells helps me to lift and carry 44lb Poland Spring water bottles from the front porch to store on our back stairs!

Efficiency with Inefficiency

The kettlebell swing is an inefficient exercise in that it’s not something that you can do for a long period of time versus riding a bike, which is a very efficient exercise as you can ride a bike all day long. By being inefficient, you maximize your training time by burning the most calories in a short period of time simply by training 10 to 15 minutes of kettlebell swings or a kettlebell complex.

Combines Strength and Cardio Training Into One Compact Package

Kettlebell training involves both grinds (strength movements) and ballistics (cardiovascular training). With one single kettlebell, and one simple 30-minute workout, you can train both strength and cardio together.

(See swings for cardio above and front squats for strength below!)

Compound Movements

Many kettlebell movements, like the kettlebell swing, are compound movements. Compound movements are total body movements therefore you have to recruit more muscles in order to complete the movement, versus an isolated exercise like the shoulder press alone. Since you recruit more muscles when training a compound movement, you burn more calories in a shorter period of time. The more muscles you recruit to perform a movement, the more calories burned, the more bang for your buck and the more you maximize your time training especially if you only have a short time allotted to train.

For example, the kettlebell front squat is a compound movement as multiple joints must work together to complete the movement.  Not only are you using your legs to lower your body into the descent and press into the ascent of the squat, but you are also engaging your abdominals and your lats along with all of the muscles of your upper body to support the weight in front of you and to maintain an upright posture.

DBL FSQ_v3

Builds Strong Glutes and Are Good For Your Back

All kettlebell ballistic movements, like the kettlebell swing, are based upon the hip hinge and loading the glutes properly. By training the hip hinge and loading the glutes properly on a regular basis you will strengthen your glutes, build a stronger and shapelier booty, and take the stress of load away from your back and transfer it to your hips and glutes which are equipped to handle load.

In addition, kettlebell training teaches bracing and maintaining a stiff stable spine while managing an unstable load. Per Dr. Stuart McGill, symmetric stiffening of all the muscles surrounding the spine without hollowing or pushing out the abdominal wall is a superior technique. Kettlebell training helps to improve the spine bracing skill.

Double 48kg (212lbs) Kettlebell Dead-Lift

Always Challenging, Never Boring

I have been training with kettlebells for over 6 years now. It is the primary tool that I use to train, and it never gets boring. To me it’s like a martial art, there is always something more to work on, something more to improve, something more to learn. There are endless combinations of movements from swing intervals, to complexes and chains, and working with both single and double kettlebells.

Supports Skill and Coordination

Kettlebell training helps to support skill and coordination. The more you improve the skill, the more muscles you recruit correctly, the more muscle you build, the more calories you burn, and the more you benefit from kettlebell training.

Seven Ways to Train for a Stronger Press – Part Five: Double Kettlebell Front Squats

DBL FSQ

This is the fifth installment of a seven part series about how to train for a stronger press. In this installment I will talk about how training heavy double kettlebell front squats, just once per week, can help you to improve your upper body press strength.

If you missed the first four installments you can read them here:

As I mentioned in my post “How I Completed The Iron Maiden Challenge As a Lightweight” I wrote myself a specific training program to build strength for a half body weight military press in order to press 24kg (53lbs) successfully. Part of this program included training heavy double kettlebell front squats with double 24kg kettlebells (106lbs) one time per week.

Why Heavy Double Kettlebell Front Squats?

The Double Kettlebell Front Squat is both a lower body press and a total body movement. Training the double kettlebell front squat will help to improve how you grind through a strength movement, and since it is a lower body press and a total body movement, it will allow you to push more load in order to build strength for an upper body press

Double 24kg (106lbs) Kettebell Front Squats 5 Sets of 3 Repetitions

In kettlebell training with have grinds, which are strength movements, and ballistics, which are explosive, cardiovascular movements. The double kettlebell front squat is a grind. This means that when you are going through the movement of a double kettlebell front squat, in order to successfully ascend from the bottom of your squat and push your bodyweight plus the additional weight (e.g. 106lbs) that you are holding in the rack position in front of you, up against gravity, you have to know how to properly grind through the movement with proper tension techniques, muscle coordination, and breath.

Training this grind movement with a front squat translates to the upper body press, because you have to grind very similarly through an upper body press.

In addition, since the double kettlebell front squat is a total body press, you can push more load than you can with simply an upper body press.

For example, at a bodyweight of 117/118 pounds I am strong enough to front squat double 24kg (106lbs) kettlebells for 5 sets of 5 repetitions but I am not strong enough (yet ;) ) to press double 24kg kettlebells overhead in an upper body push.

Subsequently, training the press variation of a heavy double kettlebell front squat allows me to grind and press twice as much weight (48kg – 106lbs) as my ultimate goal weight (24kg – 53lbs) for my upper body press, and therefore build strength for my upper body press in general and specifically for a half body weight military press.

In addition, by virtue of training heavy double front squats once per week, I also trained heavy double cleans once per week, but not in excess volume. Every time I had to clean double 24kg to start my front squat I gained practice and strength from that 106lb clean. I only trained five 106lb single cleans per week, as I only did five sets of 106lb front squats, but those five singles were enough to build hip power with double 24kg kettlebells that in turn built hip power for my single 24kg clean to press.

Training heavy double cleans once per week far more improved my clean for a 24kg press than training single 28kg (62lbs) loaded kettlebell cleans.

If you can generate enough hip power to kettlebell clean 106lbs in a clean, smooth, strong movement, then a 24kg kettlebell will clean right up, smooth like BUTTAH.

22kg (~49lbs) Press shown below, but you can see how smooth and strong the clean is as a result of training heavy double 24kg kettlebell cleans:

How Did I Progress The Double Kettlebell Front Squat?

I did not come right out of the gate with the ability and strength to squat double 24kg kettlebells. That’s A LOT of weight for someone my size! I built up to it over time.

In my opinion, if you cannot clean the kettlebells then you have no business squatting them or pressing them!  You must build up strength to a solid clean before you can squat or press a particular weight.

It took me 16 weeks to reach my goal and the first week I tested the waters with double 18kg (~80lbs) for 5 sets of 5 repetitions.

That was easy so the second week I trained double 20kg (88lbs) for 5 sets of 5 repetitions.

That went well so week three I trained double 22kg (~97lbs) for 5 sets of 3 repetitions. This was very hard for me at the time (the note in my training journal read, “These were hard. Keep working with these.”), so I stuck with double 22kgs for 8 weeks.

Over the course of 8 weeks I worked up to 5 sets of 5 repetitions with double 22kgs. Once I worked up to 5 sets of 5 repetitions with double 22kgs, I trained this weight for a few weeks before moving onto double 24kg (106lbs).

During week 11 I started to work in double 24kg front squats and I started at 3 sets of 2 repetitions, then worked up to 5 sets of 2 repetitions, and then added on reps to the sets as the weeks progressed.

By week 16 I completed 5 sets of 5 repetitions with double 24kgs and I stuck with that for four weeks until the week of the Iron Maiden Challenge.

Double 24kg (106lbs) Kettebell Front Squats 5 Sets of 5 Repetitions

Hopefully the progression that I used and provided as an example helps to give you an idea of how you can, safely and effectively, work up to your goal weight for heavy double kettlebell front squats.

In the next installment of this seven part series about how to train for a stronger press, I will talk about Crawling for Time. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions about heavy double kettlebell front squats!

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If you would like to learn more detail as to how I structure programming specific to pressing or to train for a half bodyweight press then I hope you’ll join me for my workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift on November 8, 2014 at Iron Body Studios in Needham, MA.

If you have a current strength goal that you are working towards, or need help deciding on one, this workshop will help you to decide on a strength goal and learn programming to work towards that strength goal.

Early Bird price ends on October 1 and spots are already filling up so register soon if you are interested because it will be limited to 30 people.

I look forward to lifting with you on November 8!

~Artemis

Read more about I Am Not Afraid To #LiftNYC HERE!

Learn more HERE ==> http://bit.ly/NotAfraidToLift

Register HERE under EVENTS ==> http://bit.ly/LiftWorkshopRegister

Early bird pricing through October 1 – $149.00

Regular price after October 1 – $199.00

I will see you on November 8 & I look forward to lifting with you!

#BeXena

#NotAfraidToLift

 

I Am Not Afraid To #LiftNYC

#LiftNYC

Last weekend I presented my strength workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift at Drive495 in New York City to a sold-out group of 30 people.

The workshop was open to both men and women, however the majority of attendees were women.

IMG_9511 The Women from Results Driven Fitness in Central Valley, NY

This was significant because it is not often that a group of 20 plus women gather together to discuss and learn about strength training ranging from dead-lifts to weighted pull-ups.

I touched upon the “Bulking” Myth when it comes to women’s strength training but I did not have to cover too much on that topic because everyone was in agreement that lifting weights builds a better, not a “bulkier” body and that it was really cupcakes that make women “bulky” not lifting weights ;) .

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In fact one of the participants shared her story that she actually LOST weight when she started to lift weights more frequently, which was opposite of her goal of wanting to put on muscle weight. More often than not this happens. Women tend to lose weight and/or lean out when they start to lift weights more regularly. They gain muscle, but either lose a few pounds or maintain the number on the scale but drop a few clothing sizes.

I even had a client yesterday share with me, as she went through her sets of weighted pull-ups with 12kg (26lbs), 18lbs, 14lbs, 10lbs for 1, 2, 3, 4 repetitions respectively that she had actually LOST weight and recently she has been lifting heavier weights than she ever has since she started training with me four years ago.

Often I wonder why, specifically, it is that people read my blog, follow me online, and listen to what I have to say. What is it that makes what I have to say and what I write about different from what some other women in the Fitness Industry have to say?

Before the workshop I emailed out a questionnaire to participants and one of the questions that I asked was “What do you seek to learn at this workshop?”

One of the registrants answered this question for me in the questionnaire. She hit the nail on the head in particular in the second part of her answer:

“Are there different considerations or adjustments that need to be taken/made when women strength train versus men? A lot of literature, both online and books, on strength programming are written about men and seem to be tested by men–SFG bloggers, Breaking Muscle, and T-Nation…there are some women who will share their programming, but rarely are women trainers talking about strength. It’s mostly metabolic conditioning, being fit, or “being good to yourself.” I want to hear about simple strength building for women or at least from women.”

Let’s start with “Are there different considerations or adjustments that need to be taken/made when women strength train versus men?”

I advocate that women train just the way men do, because that’s what I do and what we do at Iron Body Studios and we deliver results. There is no special program for women versus men. All men and women dead-lift, squat, do pull-ups, press, and kettlebell swings. Whether man or woman, the only differences are based upon the individual’s fitness level and any physical limitations they may have based upon past injury or for some other reason.

Of course there must be special considerations made for women who are pregnant or postpartum.  However, women who are pregnant and postpartum still do the majority of the same movements that we have our non-pregnant and non postpartum clients do except we monitor load, volume, exertion, and ensure that they are training specific exercises to maintain core integrity as much as possible throughout pregnancy and regain it postpartum.

Next, let’s discuss “I want to hear about simple strength building for women or at least from women”, and this is where she hit the nail on the head.

I write about strength training and programming to build strength. For example:

  • Generally, what do you have to do to in order to reach your strength training goal or goals?
  • More specifically, how to you train to complete the Iron Maiden or Beast Tamer Challenge?
  • How do you build strength to press a heavy kettlebell?
  • More specifically, how does training double front squats improve your overhead press strength and skill? (Taught at the workshop and next up on my Seven Ways to Train for a Stronger Press blog series!)
  • How do double kettlebell dead-lifts improve your barbell dead-lift?

A short excerpt from the workshop about how double kettlebell dead-lifts improve the barbell dead-lift:

As I have said before I am not Pink and Fluffy, I’m not going to write about or post a #selfie of my latest “sweat sesh” (a phrase I LOATHE by the way), but I will walk you through some simple but not easy kettlebell snatch chains or swing intervals that will make your feet and eyeballs sweat; BUT I will not try to be cute and trendy and refer to it as a “sweat sesh”.

My goal is to empower women through strength training. Through strength training they will gain confidence, self-esteem, freedom of movement to complete daily tasks without the assistance of others. Such as declining assistance with “heavy” groceries from the grocery store clerk and having the ability to carry all six grocery bags in one trip rather than make three trips.

As a result of this confidence, self-esteem, and independence through strength, women will feel GOOD! When you feel down go lift something heavy or swing a kettlebell, nourish your body with REAL, healthy food, and then you will feel GOOD! That’s my self help book for ya’ – “Unsexy Training” Methods all the way!

For those of you who know me, you know that I am sensitive, caring, and giving, but I am a doer not a dweller. Life is too short to dwell for too long, go DO something about it!

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This past Saturday at I Am Not Afraid To #LiftNYC everyone stepped out of their comfort zone and tried a movement they have not tried before or lifted a new, heavier, weight for the first time.

Many did an assisted pull-up for the first time,My favorite moment? When I just about burst into tears for fear of doing my first (assisted) pull up!” ~Melanie T.

More specifically:

  • Laura S. hit a PR with a double 36kg (160lb) Dead-lift.
  • Michi T. did a bottoms up press for the first time ever and crushed it with 10kg (22lbs)
  • Jessica M. did a 10kg (22lbs) weighted pull-up for the first time AND she had NEVER trained weighted pull-ups before!

 Jessica’s husband Chris Merritt, who also attended the workshop, owns Beyond Strength Performance in Northern Virginia. Make sure to go check it out if you are in the NoVA area!

  • My distance coaching client Jessica V. who also attended the I Am Not Afraid To Lift in New York City last weekend provided to participants a tangible example of how the double kettlebell dead-lift improved her barbell dead-lift:

“The addition of double kettlebell dead-lifts into my strength training program improved my barbell dead-lift form and technique better than any other assistance drill I had previously attempted. 

Previously, I did not always load my hips properly and I found myself lifting with my back and leaking tension or simply not creating enough tension to initiate a pull or complete multiple repetitions with good form.

Working double kettlebell dead-lifts improved my hip hinge and forced me to generate and maintain maximum tension throughout the entire lift.  Standing directly over the bells helped me to better understand how to pull weight while keeping the load close to my body–ultimately making sure that my lats were fully engaged from the initiation of the pull to the completion of the pull.  A proper hip hinge, with maximum tension in the lower body, taught me how to sit back into my hips so that they were loaded correctly and made initiating the pull with my hips and not my back or shoulders completely achievable.

Essentially, the concept here is that with lats fully engaged and a fully loaded hip hinge, one could sit back and hover the weight off of the floor.  And finally, achieving a full lockout at the top of the pull–generating a standing body plank–reinforced the feel of maximum tension and the need for tension before, during, and after every pull.

Additionally, the handle size of kettlebells provide an excellent grip training aspect that makes “breaking” a barbell or holding a barbell for consecutive pulls much more manageable. “ 

For those who are new to lifting, this workshop is about learning to lift,

“I never felt like I couldn’t participate and I came away with so much knowledge and a renewed sense of purpose.” Emily S.

For those who already have experience with lifting, this workshop is also about taking your lifting to the next level… and of course laughter…

“My whole butt is on fire…” ~Artemis 

and dropping a few F and M-F bombs…

If you are not afraid to lift I hope that you will join me for I Am Not Afraid To Lift Boston #LiftBoston on November 8 at Iron Body Studios!

Learn more HERE ==> http://bit.ly/NotAfraidToLift

Register HERE under EVENTS ==> http://bit.ly/LiftWorkshopRegister

Early bird pricing through October 1 – $149.00

Regular price after October 1 – $199.00

Based upon #LiftNYC I made some adjustments to the workshop agenda to improve the flow of the material covered and to ensure that we are able to cover everything planned in the time allotted. I will email out a detailed agenda that reflects these adjustments to #LiftBoston participants after they register.

I look forward to lifting with you on November 8!

View Pictures of #LiftNYC HERE

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#NotAfraidToLift

#BeXena

#XenaStrong

 

Seven Ways to Train for a Stronger Press – Part Four: Open Half Kneel Pressing

 

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This is the fourth installment of a seven part series about how to train for a stronger press. In this installment I will talk about the benefits of training your press in an open half kneeling position.

If you missed the first three installments you can read them here:

As I mentioned in my post “How I Completed The Iron Maiden Challenge As a Lightweight” after my first attempt at the Iron Maiden Challenge last September 2013, I took my press down to an open half kneeling position and trained press ladders in an open half kneeling position in order to clean up my press.

I dropped the weight significantly and started with 12kg (26lbs), then progressed to 14kg (30lbs), and then eventually 16kg (35lbs) as I worked through these press ladders in an open half kneeling position.

By training ladders in the open half kneeling position, I eliminated any tension leakages with my press and learned how to apply the necessary tension techniques for a stronger press (especially for a half bodyweight press), such as learning how to wedge properly and grind through a press by pushing into and under the kettlebell instead of away from the kettlebell. I learned how to use the correct technique, and all the correct muscles for my press instead of getting the bell above my head with brute force.

If you apply tension techniques correctly in an open half kneeling position, a light weight should feel challenging and you should be sore the first week or so in your abdominals, glutes, lats, and possibly quads.

Tension Techniques

  • Wedge
  • Position the kettlebell so that the handle rests low on the heel of your hand and deep in the crease of your thumb.
  • Squeeze the glutes and contract the abdominals so that your belt line is high. I like to call this “Trash Compactor Abs” or “Get short before you get long”.
  • Pull your kneecaps up to your hips and squeeze your quads like crazy.
  • Corkscrew your feet into the floor.
  • Maintain tension in your free hand.
  • Hold your breath or limit the exhale on the finish of the clean before the press to maintain tension.

When it comes to pressing and particularly pressing heavy, skill is more important than strength. Even if you have the strength to press a particular weight, if you don’t have the skill dialed in then you are not likely to be able to press a particular weight or it’s not likely to go up correctly.

See my Facebook Post below about To Press  A Lot You Must Press A Lot

I’ve included a video tutorial below about how to press in an open half kneeling position, the benefits of pressing in an open half kneeling position, and about how training your press in an open half kneeling position translates to your standing press.

In the video I talk about how when pressing from a standing position, your toes are likely to be slightly turned out (some people may be comfortable with their toes pointed directly forward, but not many). This turn out should not be deliberate or forced, just allow your feet to assume their natural turn out so that you are in a comfortable pressing position.

You will find that once you are in this position, when you go to engage your glutes, and tighten up your quads as you press that it’s easier to maintain tension through your hips and quads. You’ll know you’re doing it correctly because your butt and legs will be so tight that your inner thighs will feel like they are glued together from the rear. I forgot to go into this detail in the video, so I have to spell it out here ;) ….

After you watch the video there are two ways you can incorporate open half kneel pressing into your training program. 

  1. You can do what I did and train press ladders in an open half kneeling position for 8-12 weeks. Then you can take the ladders to standing. (See Part III: Single and Double Kettlebell Press Ladders of this series for more detail on how to train the press ladders.) OR
  2. You can go about your regular training program, say with heavier standing pressing two to three times per week and incorporate some lightweight, low volume (e.g. 3 sets of 3-5 reps) half kneel pressing into your program for 4-8 weeks as an assistance drill like the bottoms up press.

In the next installment of this seven part series about how to train for a stronger press, I will talk about Double Kettlebell Front Squats and how heavy double kettlebell front squats translate to a heavy press. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions about open half kneel pressing!

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If you would like to learn more detail as to how I structure programming specific to pressing or to train for a half bodyweight press then I hope you’ll join me for my workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift on November 8, 2014 at Iron Body Studios in Needham, MA.  (The NYC I Am Not Afraid To Lift Workshop at Drive495 is sold out!)

If you have a current strength goal that you are working towards, or need help deciding on one, this workshop will help you to decide on a strength goal and learn programming to work towards that strength goal.

I look forward to lifting with you on November 8!

~Artemis

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Learn more HERE ==> http://bit.ly/NotAfraidToLift

Register HERE under EVENTS ==> http://bit.ly/LiftWorkshopRegister

Early bird pricing through October 1 – $149.00

Regular price after October 1 – $199.00

I will see you on November 8 & I look forward to lifting with you!

#BeXena

#NotAfraidToLift

 

You’ve Completed a Goal, What Next?

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The week after I completed the Iron Maiden Challenge I posted on my Iron Body By Artemis Facebook Page about what do you do after you reach a goal?

If you missed my post about How I Completed The Iron Maiden Challenge As A Lightweight you can read it HERE.

SO, what do you do after you reach a goal?

You set new ones!

Out with the old, and in with the new!

Mindset is everything when working to achieve a goal AND when transitioning after you finish one goal and start the next one.

Definitely enjoy the high and sense of accomplishment after completing a goal and take a brief break from working so hard towards something, BUT have a plan for the next goal.

Having a plan will help you to keep this positive mindset and to avoid feeling lost or even a bit down after reaching a hard earned, long awaited goal.

A few weeks before the Iron Maiden Challenge on July 25, 2014 I started to think about what my next goals would be.

I knew it was important for me to have a plan after I accomplished this goal that I had been working towards for almost 3 years because when you’ve been working towards something for so long and then accomplish it, often there is a feeling of sadness or loss after the high of accomplishment has worn off.

I remember feeling this after obtaining my black belt test (which took me FOUR years to train and complete!) and it’s important not to let this feeling deter you from setting and working towards new goals.

It’s healthy and constructive to be working towards a goal and it helps to keep your training purposeful.  Often it’s good to have a few goals.  For example, maybe have an umbrella goal, like move well, get strong, and maintain health as you age, with a more specific strength or endurance goal under the umbrella goal that helps you to work towards your overall goal.

“To strive actively to achieve some goal gives your life meaning and substance.”, Bruce Lee

SO initially my goals were a 28kg (63lbs) weighted pull-up, a double 24kg (106lbs) kettlebell press, and a 32kg (70lbs) Turkish Get-up.

THEN I spent a weekend with strong family members, colleagues, and friends and a few suggested that I work towards all the Iron Maiden lifts with the 28kg – otherwise known as the IM Plus.  SO I added that to my list.

On August 10 I tested to see if I had the pistol squat and indeed I did!  So I can cross that one off the list.

28kg (63lbs) Pistol Squat

Since then I’ve adjusted my training program so that I can maintain and strengthen the 28kg pistol squat.  For example, I train pistol squats two times per week right now, so on one day I train heavy singles and on another day I train 3 sets of 3 repetitions.  On the day that I train heavy singles I ladder up to my heaviest single, which now is 28kg vs. 24kg.  On the day that I train 3 sets of 3 repetitions, I used to use 18kg (40lbs) now I have raised the weight to 20kg (44lbs).

There are a few other things that I do over the course of the week to train the pistol squat.  If you’d like to learn more about what these movements are, in addition to how did I adjusted programming for weighted pull-ups and pressing, in order to work towards all three lifts with 28kg, then I hope you’ll join me for my workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift on November 8, 2014 Chez Moi at Iron Body Studios in Needham, MA.  The NYC I Am Not Afraid To Lift Workshop at Drive495 is sold out!

If you have a current strength goal that you are working towards, or need help deciding on one, this workshop will help you to decide on a strength goal and learn programming to work towards that strength goal.

I look forward to lifting with you on November 8!

~Artemis

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Learn more HERE ==> http://bit.ly/NotAfraidToLift

Register HERE under EVENTS ==> http://bit.ly/LiftWorkshopRegister

Early bird pricing through October 1 – $149.00

Regular price after October 1 – $199.00

I will see you on November 8 & I look forward to lifting with you!

#BeXena

#NotAfraidToLift

 

How I Completed The Iron Maiden Challenge As A Lightweight

Iron Maiden Challenge 2014

On July 25, 2014, when I was in New York City assisting at a StrongFirst Level I Kettlebell Certification a few weekends ago, I completed the Iron Maiden Challenge.

The Iron Maiden Challenge is a weighted pull-up, a press, and a pistol squat, all three lifts with a 24kg (53lbs) kettlebell.

The equivalent for men is called the Beast Tamer Challenge and all three lifts are completed with a 48kg (106lbs) kettlebell.

You can read more about the Challenge HERE.

As most of you know, I trained for this strength challenge for almost three years when I started to work towards the 24kg pull-up in September 2011.  I first attempted the Challenge last September 27, 2013 and missed the press. I wrote about this in my post, “Achieve Your True Strength Potential”.

At 61 inches tall and a weight of an average of 115 to 118 pounds, no woman my size had ever attempted it or completed it.

To my knowledge, between StrongFirst and the RKC, I am the 9th woman in the world (the challenge is worldwide) to complete the Iron Maiden Challenge as well as the smallest and the lightest Iron Maiden to date as of July 25, 2014.

It was truly a journey to accomplish this goal, and there were many parts to this journey that contributed to a successful achievement. I learned an immense amount training for it. I acquired experience and knowledge that has made me a better and more knowledgeable lifter and coach, better equipped to help others on the same or similar path towards a strength goal.

One of the most significant aspects of this journey that forced me to re-evaluate my training and my technique was when I failed the press at my first attempt at the Challenge in September 2013.

There are always obstacles on the road to achievement.” ~Bruce Lee

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Turn Your Weakness Into Your Strength

Failing the press was the best thing that ever happened to me.  After I missed the press, I came back and worked very hard on improving my press technique.

I was strong enough; I just wasn’t doing it right.

I did not let this failure defeat me; I let it be the fuel to make my weakness my strength.

I was determined to make my strength balanced and to make my press just as strong as my pull-up and pistol squat.

I was determined to be skilled and strong at pressing.

On the Sunday morning of the StrongFirst Level I Kettlebell Certification a few weekends ago, Master Jon Engum was talking to the candidates before their snatch test.

For those of you who do not know Jon Engum, I have a great amount of respect for him. He has an extensive martial arts background and he is a very intelligent, skilled, and experienced instructor. Having a martial arts background myself, I completely identify with his mindset and approach.

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The snatch test is an endurance test that instructor candidates must pass in order to receive their kettlebell certification. Instructor candidates are required to complete 100 kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes with a 24kg kettlebell for men, and either a 12kg (26lbs) or 16kg (35lbs) kettlebell for women depending on their weight.

Occasionally instructor candidates will not pass the snatch test because they are not mentally prepared (it requires mental toughness for sure), they are fatigued from the physical volume of the weekend, their hands tear because they are not conditioned for the physical volume of the weekend, or they are just overall not prepared.

If you don’t pass the snatch test the first time you have to do it for your certification, it can really screw with your mind.

In order to help the instructor candidates mentally prepare if for some reason they did not pass the snatch test on that day, Master Engum posed the question, “How do you become better?”.

His response, “You turn your weaknesses into your strengths. You vow to make your weakness your strength or make that your strongest movement.”

This rang so true for me because it is how I felt about the press for the Iron Maiden Challenge. I may have failed it the first time around, but I did not let that screw with my mind or hold me back. Instead I came back from that failed attempt and vowed to make it my strength.

Now I am a pressing beast.

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This clever picture courtesy of Dave Clancy, Owner, Buckeye Kettlebells in Ohio

“You’re strong enough, you’re just doing it wrong.”

As I mentioned in my post “Are You Mentally Tough?”, after my first attempt at the Iron Maiden Challenge last September 2013, we hosted Charlie Weingroff’s T=R2 seminar and the filming of his DVD at Iron Body Studios at the end of October 2013. Charlie had witnessed my first attempt at the Challenge in September 2013 and while Charlie was at Iron Body Studios, we talked about my press.

Charlie said to me, “You’re strong enough, you’re just doing it wrong.”

Sound harsh? Not really. Charlie just tells it like it is. He is a mentor, teacher, and coach to me. I look up to him. He does not dish out compliments (unless truly deserved), he tells it like it is, one of the many reasons why I admire him.

He also cares tremendously about what he does and about helping people. He has true compassion and care, something that you cannot fake.

With that feedback Charlie suggested that I take my press down to an open half kneeling position, drop the press weight significantly (e.g. start with 12kg and move my way up to 16kg) and train press ladders in the open half kneel position.

By training ladders in the open half kneel position, I was able to learn how to apply the necessary tension techniques for a stronger press (especially for a half bodyweight press), such as learning how to wedge properly and grind through a press by pushing into and under the kettlebell instead of away from the kettlebell. I learned how to use the correct technique, and all the correct muscles for my press instead of getting the bell above my head with brute force.

My abdominals, my glutes, and my lats were incredibly sore during the first week I trained these press ladders.

Throughout this process of rebuilding my press, Charlie was a Force that kept me on my path.

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Charlie gave me the right tools to correct the pattern of my press and then he sent me on my way to use those tools correctly.

All along Charlie was there and as I got closer to the 24kg press and finally achieved the 24kg press, I sent him videos of progress, just as an FYI.

The week before the Iron Maiden Challenge I sent him videos of me pressing 24kg in my training session on July 18, 2014.

His response, “You’ve come such a long way. Well done.”

After I corrected my press technique by training open half kneel press ladders, I was ready to take it to standing and to start building strength with my press.

Operation Get #XenaStrong: I Became Really Strong and Put On Muscle Weight

Yes, I put on muscle weight in order to press 24kg. At my size, I had to; there was no way I was going to press that weight the way I needed to at 115lbs. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done.

SO for you women who are afraid of “bulking” up from weight lifting or putting on muscle weight, you don’t have to worry because it’s REALLY FLIPPING HARD and this is coming from a woman who is a mesomorph body type and builds muscle quickly.

Unless you are training for the Iron Maiden Challenge or some strength equivalent like a half bodyweight press it is NOT likely to happen from every day weight lifting for general fitness. Even then, the number may stay the same or go up on the scale, but your clothes will fit better or you may even have to trade them in for smaller sizes.

This has been a public service announcement. Now back to how I built up this strength and muscle to press 24kg…

I worked through the press ladders for about six weeks into early December 2013 and then I needed to take a mental and physical break from high volume pressing.

I took four weeks and followed Dan John’s 10,000 Swing program. By the time I finished this program the second week of January 2014 I weighed in at 114lbs down from 117lbs at the end of September 2013.

I usually weigh anywhere from 115-118lbs, but 114lbs is not abnormal. Since the 10,000 Swing Program is a program geared more towards weight loss and conditioning, versus maximal strength, I had not only lost weight but also I had lost some strength following the 10,000 Swing Program.

Now, every woman likes to see the smaller number on the scale of her plus or minus 3 pounds, but let’s get real here, I was not likely to press 24kg, at least consistently, weighing in at 114lbs. I knew I had to put some muscle weight back on and I WANTED to put some muscle weight back on because I wanted to be strong; strong enough to press 24kg like I owned that weight.

I was not particularly happy about my weight loss and subsequent loss of strength. However, I felt mentally and physically recharged after this brief detour and was ready to get back to training for the Iron Maiden Challenge and ready to train for strength again.

I had not lost the 24kg pull-up or 24kg pistol squat but I tested my press and the heaviest weight that I could press was 20kg (44lbs).

I wasn’t too upset because I knew that I was still in the process of rebuilding my press and in order to rebuild stronger and better, you have to start back at the beginning.

One thing I did notice when I pressed 20kg was that my form was better. I was applying proper tension techniques and wedging under the bell intuitively.

I was doing it right. Intuitively.

20kg Tall Kneel Kettlebell Press

Before I wrote my own press program that made me strong enough to press 24kg, I tried Mark Reifkind’s half bodyweight press program.  This program helped me to get back on the path to strength, but it did not get me to press 24kg.   When I finished the press program on March 6, 2014, I tested my press and I could press 22kg (48.4lbs) for a single on each side.

Instead of repeating Rif’s press program, I decided to write my own program.

As I wrote about in my article in Breaking Muscle “The Art of Heavy Lifting Without Overtraining” I programmed a light, medium, and heavy press day over the course of the week. One day double kettlebell presses. I also programmed in heavy front squats once per week and leopard crawling for time two times per week.

I followed this press program starting on March 9, 2014 for about 20 weeks and got crazy strong. By June 1, 2014, on my heavy press day, I was pressing the 22kg for 10 singles and I could have done more. By June 15, 2014 I started to work in sets of double reps with 22kg.

I even built up enough strength to press double 22kg (96.8lbs) kettle bells for multiple singles.

Double 22kg (96.8lbs) Kettlebell Press

For someone my size, it was bananas.

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The timing worked out perfectly because by the week of June 1, 2014 it was 7 weeks before the Iron Maiden Challenge on July 25, 2014 and over the course of those 7 weeks, I was pressing more weight and volume than I had in the previous 13 weeks.

What was I doing differently this time around?

In addition to following a different press program, and pressing correctly with the correct tension techniques, I was pressing successfully each time I trained which was not the case the first time around.

The first time around I had more failed presses than successful presses during my training sessions and trained my neuromuscular system to get used to failure.

The second time around I had all successful presses during my training sessions and trained my neuromuscular system to get used to success.

While I was following this press program, and pressing so much volume over the course of the week, I became really good at pressing.

Every once in a while I would have an “A-Ha” moment about a tension technique that I knew, but hadn’t realized it in application.

By training the press so frequently and with such volume the more I became aware of key tension techniques. This training actually turned into practicing these techniques and I truly learned what it meant to apply the following tension techniques to pressing:

Wedge

Position the kettlebell so that the handle rests low on the heel of your hand and deep in the crease of your thumb. 

Squeeze the glutes and contract the abdominals so that your belt line is high. I like to call this “Trash Compactor Abs” or “Get short before you get long”.

Pull your kneecaps up to your hips and squeeze your quads like crazy.

Corkscrew your feet into the floor.

Maintain tension in your free hand.

Hold your breath or limit the exhale on the finish of the clean before the press to maintain tension.

By June 30, 2014 I pressed 24kg on my left side for two singles. Two good singles. I did not video it, but Eric witnessed it.

I still did not have it on the right yet, but that was OK, I had it on one side solid and that’s all I needed… ALTHOUGH, I did hope that I would press 24kg on the right side before July 25, 2014.

About two weeks before the Challenge on July 25, 2014, I could tell that I had put on muscle. I felt and looked more solid and I could tell that I was weighing in more towards my plus 3 pounds versus minus 3 pounds. Since I knew I had to complete a snatch test for my own recertification to assist at the kettlebell certification in a few weeks I decided to weigh myself to make sure that I was not 123lbs or more which would require me to have to recertify with a 16kg snatch test. I have never weighed in more than 117lbs whenever I have had to recertify, so I have always snatched 12kg.

On July 12 I got on our scale at home and discovered that I was weighing in between 118-119lbs, which still qualified me to use 12kg.

Very rarely do I venture over 117lbs and never 119lbs. I cannot remember the last time I weighed over 117lbs, never mind 119lbs. I think maybe when I was in my early 20’s like 23-24 years old, during a time in my life that I used to eat hot pockets.

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You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. :)

I had put on two pounds of muscle (without the hot pockets :) ) beyond the heaviest I usually weigh and it was pure awesomeness.

THIS is why I could press 24kg. I was stronger and had the muscle weight to prove it.

After I missed the 24kg press during my first Iron Maiden Challenge attempt in September 2013, people kept telling me to gain weight, but I didn’t know how that was possible. I wasn’t going to change my diet (eat hot pockets) to pack on the pounds or eat when I wasn’t hungry, so how could I put on weight?

This goes back to my very first point that as a woman, putting on muscle weight is REALLY FLIPPING HARD and based upon my body type, a mesomorph, I build muscle quickly. So if it’s hard for me to put on muscle weight, imagine how difficult it is for a woman who is an ectomorph or endomorph to put on muscle weight?

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I didn’t change my diet and in fact, for reasons completely unrelated to training for this strength goal, I cut out cheese from two meals to one meal, and cut back on my almond milk consumption. So I actually cut out some extra fat and calories in my diet.

The change I made was in the training program I followed. I followed a specific training program which required me to press three times per week, heavy weight and in a lot of volume, and kettlebell front squat one time per week almost my entire bodyweight (106lbs to be exact) for 25 repetitions per session.

This program that I followed was specific to building strength for a half bodyweight press.

It was not my intent to gain muscle weight, my intent was to just get stronger, but by virtue of this program I gained muscle weight that went along with my strength.

Interestingly the number on the scale went up but my clothes fit the same.

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I did not turn green and bust through my clothing. I remained a woman, feminine and lady parts intact, just stronger.

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I noticed a little extra build in my shoulders, (but we all know that Shoulders Are The New Cleavage, so of course I was pumped about this ;) ), and more muscle in my legs and butt. Now, what woman doesn’t want luscious quads or a more muscular and shapelier butt???

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Another thing that is important to note, is that as soon as I stop following this training program, I will lose this muscle that I built. My body is not going to hang onto this extra muscle weight when I go back to my general weight lifting program. For someone my size it is going to be very difficult to maintain the strength and muscle to press 24kg.

I know I have already said this, but it’s worth repeating, if you are a woman who is afraid of “bulking” up from lifting weights, or putting on muscle weight, you don’t have to worry because it’s REALLY FLIPPING HARD and the experience that I had training for the Iron Maiden Challenge is living, breathing, actual proof of this.

  1. I was training for a specific strength challenge to press, pull, and one legged squat almost half my bodyweight. So unless you are training for a specific strength goal to lift weights of this magnitude, you are not going to build the muscle that I built. You will not build muscle the way I did by weightlifting for general fitness.
  2. I am a mesomorph body-type and I build muscle quickly. How my body responds to lifting weights is NOT necessarily how your body is going to respond to lifting weights.
  3. Even with a mesomorph body type and my ability to build muscle quickly, I had to train consistently for 20 weeks following a specific half bodyweight press program in order to build this strength and muscle and it was A LOT OF HARD WORK.
  4. If you lift weights for general fitness you will build muscle and the number on the scale will likely stay the same or maybe go up, HOWEVER, your clothes will fit better and in fact you may need to shop for smaller sizes.
  5. Building this strength and muscle was such hard work that I was ecstatic when I saw that I had gained muscle weight. I loved every ounce of the muscle that I built to be strong enough to press 24kg because I know how hard I worked for it and it felt AMAZING to be that strong. Being stronger trumps ANY number on the scale!

It was a truly amazing experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get strong, especially women, because this is a type of training that we are not inclined to gravitate towards and there’s nothing like being superhero strong.

Strength Positively Impacts Endurance: The Stronger You Are The Better Your Endurance.

Two weeks before the Iron Maiden Challenge, when I discovered that I had put on a few pounds of muscle, even though I was still weighing in light enough to complete my kettlebell instructor snatch test with 12kg, I decided to do a 16kg snatch test just in case for some reason on the day of testing I weighed in at 123 pounds or more.

I like to be prepared.

I had not been training snatches at all. Just two handed, one handed, and double kettlebell swings.  The last time I had done a snatch test with 16kg was on April 7, 2013 and it took me 4:35 minutes to complete.

Now, the snatch test is not a race. No one WINS the snatch test. You have five minutes to complete all 100 snatches and it is wisest to use all five minutes if you need it.

For me personally, I do not like to put the bell down during the test, so my time usually ends up being less than five minutes.

On July 13, 2014 I set out to complete a 16kg snatch test at the end of my training session.

I snatched the kettlebell for 10 right 10 left for five minutes without putting the bell down.

After forty snatches I was waiting for that feeling to settle in like I was going to throw up my heart the way you feel towards the end of a really long and fast sprint.

As I approached rep number 60 I was still waiting for this feeling to settle in… nothing… I was a little breathless but nothing out of the ordinary.

I finished the snatch test in four minutes, and then Eric walked in the door of the training room and right after I put the bell down I was able to carry on a conversation with him while catching my breath like I had been doing moderate kettlebell swings.

I didn’t need to do laps around the room until I could catch my breath so that I could talk again.

It was an amazing phenomenon.

Strength Positively Impacts Endurance; the STRONGER you are the BETTER your ENDURANCE.

SO, for the women out there who try to cut weight for the snatch test, because I’ve seen it and it’s not pretty because it screws your strength for the rest of the certification weekend, remember that the snatch test is not a wrestling match. You don’t need to cut weight and neither SHOULD you cut weight.

Just get stronger.

If I can do it at my size, then if you are naturally built to weigh in at 123 pounds or more and need to snatch 16kg for your kettlebell instructor certification, don’t cut weight, JUST GET STRONGER.

Stay Healthy and Injury Free 

Whenever you are training for a competition, performance, or a strength or endurance event, the most important things in your training are:

  • Don’t get hurt.
  • Don’t do anything stupid that will cause injury.
  • Don’t get sick.

Getting hurt or sick prevents your ability to train for your goal.

I was not so lucky. I sustained an injury about five weeks before the Iron Maiden Challenge and I started to come down with the fiercest chest and sinus cold I have ever had in my life about four days before the Iron Maiden Challenge.

I was lucky enough to be able manage training around my injury and I was mentally strong enough to put aside the fact that I was coming down with a bad cold until the day after the Iron Maiden Challenge.

Don’t get hurt.

I had been training one-arm push-ups once per week in low volume, like 5 to 10 repetitions, just to keep up with the movement. About five weeks before the Challenge I did something to my right shoulder while doing a one-arm push-up one day. That night, my shoulder didn’t feel right, but nothing too painful. It was something that I thought would pass.

Four days later when I was doing get-ups, I started to feel awful pain in my right shoulder. I had to cut my training short that day.

I immediately made an appointment with my acupuncturist and took a rest day the next day.

When I got back to training I identified the movements that caused pain, any horizontal pressing, so that included get-ups, crawling, bottoms-up press, one arm swings, double kettlebell swings, and snatches.

Vertical pressing did not cause me pain (thank God!) except for the bottoms-up press, ironically kettlebell cleans and pull-ups did not cause pain either.

I went to acupuncture weekly, which helped tremendously, and I continued to train but I avoided all movements that caused my shoulder pain.

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I cut out get-ups, bottoms-up press, of course the one-arm push-up, crawling, and I switched all one arm swings and double kettlebell swings to two handed swings.

When I went to yoga on my active recovery days I had to avoid eccentric push-ups (high to low push-up), push-ups, and any binds.

Also at yoga, this was when I would silently remind myself “Don’t do anything stupid that will cause injury.” For example, even though I started to do headstands on the hardwood floor at yoga, I decided to cut them out in the weeks leading up to the Iron Maiden Challenge, because I thought, God forbid I fall and hurt my neck and that be the reason I am not able to do the Challenge.

Make smart choices.

With this I was able to continue to train, heal, and get stronger to work towards my goal of the Iron Maiden Challenge.

Three weeks later my shoulder was almost 100% better, but I still trained with caution.

Don’t get sick.

The Tuesday night before the Iron Maiden Challenge I was unusually exhausted and came down with a sore scratchy throat and could feel congestion building in my chest.

I thought, “OH NO, I CANNOT BE GETTING SICK!”.

Over the next few days I was wavering, “Is this allergies or am I getting a chest cold?”

The Thursday before the Iron Maiden Challenge I was sure I was coming down with a chest cold, I was congested and had a little bit of a tight cough but it had not peaked yet, so my hope was that I would get through the next day, finish the Challenge, and then I could let my body get sick.

It’s amazing the things that your mind can make your body do, like hold off on getting sick, if you really want something.

I did make it through the day of the Iron Maiden Challenge, and successfully passed everything. Then on Saturday I got sick, cough, congestion, lost my voice and on Sunday after the certification weekend was over, the flood gates opened. The final exam is over, NOW I can get sick. This lovely chest cold settled in for about three weeks. I am just NOW feeling better.

One Week Before The Iron Maiden Challenge

Exactly one week before the Iron Maiden Challenge, on Friday July 18, 2014, I went through my IM lifts with 24kg for the last time before the Iron Maiden Challenge.

I had yet to press the 24kg on my right side.

That day, I pressed the 24kg on my right side, TWICE, and had the most amazing training session. It was just what I needed to leave me feeling confident about what I was going to do in one week’s time.

One of the hardest things to do when you are training for a goal is to trust the process. As soon as you let go, and trust the process, everything will fall into place just as it should, at just the right time. Even if that means, just one week before game day.

Below is a video of the 24kg press and 24kg pull-up from my training session on July 18.   I press, left, right, left, right and the presses get better as I go along.  My reaction when I press the 24kg on the right side for the first time is hilarious (scroll to 20 seconds in) and then I went on to do the pull-up and you can see how excited I am about how everything came together just as it should.  The whole time I’m talking to Eric, not my imaginary friend :) … oh and by the way, all the clothes I’m wearing in the video are XXS.  How’s that for bulky???

July 18, 2014 Training Session: 24kg Press Right and Left Sides and 24kg Pull-up

The Iron Maiden Challenge

Having the physical strength to complete the Iron Maiden Challenge is only a small part of the Challenge.

A large part of being able to successfully complete the Iron Maiden Challenge is Patience and Mental Toughness.

Patience

Having the patience to train for all three lifts and to trust the process because it can take years depending on where you start. It took me an overall total of 2 years and 9 months to complete the Iron Maiden Challenge.

Even while I made significant progress with my training over the years training for it, from the time that I first could do weighted singles with 16kg (35lbs) in May 2012 it took me over a year to be able to do a weighted single pull-up with 24kg in July 2013 and pull-ups come easy to me.

The press was more challenging, but from the time that I pressed 20kg for the first time in September 2012 it took me almost two years (1 year and 9 months) to be able to press 24kg clean and easy.

A lot of people don’t have the patience to stick with working towards the goal and I believe that is one of the reasons why there are so few Iron Maidens and Beast Tamers. They get frustrated that progress isn’t happening quickly enough, or that it’s taking so long to get that last lift, and most move on to another, unrelated goal and perhaps never re-visit their training for the Challenge.

Mental Toughness

As I wrote in my post “Are You Mentally Tough?” in my definition, mental toughness is having the ability to be “comfortable” being outside of your comfort zone.

The Iron Maiden and Beast Tamer Challenge is only held at Kettlebell Certifications. This means that in order to attempt the Challenge you must either be participating as a candidate at the certification or working as an assistant instructor at the certification.

This means that you do not sleep in your own bed the night before, all snuggly and comfy, and then wake up in your own house, and drink your morning coffee out of your favorite mug and have your preferred breakfast.

NO.

This means that you are likely traveling the Thursday before the Challenge to the location of the certification, (who knows what kind of travel day you will have), eating a meal for dinner that is not your regular meal, at a time that is likely later than your normal dinner time, and sleeping in a strange bed, or in my case, on an air mattress.

This also means that, you are not on your own schedule. If you are working as an assistant instructor once you get to the workshop location you must test out your skills and snatch test and meet with the Chief Instructor and the rest of the instructors.

One Day Before The Iron Maiden Challenge

Eric and I were up at 4:30 a.m. the day before and worked the morning teaching and training and then drove four hours to New York City.

Once Eric and I arrived in New York City, we dropped our bags off at my brother’s apartment in Harlem and then hopped on the subway down to Chinatown where the certification was being held, which was an hour travel time door to door. We had to be there at 6 p.m.

Once we arrived at the workshop location at Five Points Academy we discovered, there was no air conditioning, Muay Thai classes were in progress around us, and it was hot and steamy.

I weighed in for my kettlebell instructor snatch test that night at 119lbs (~54kg) therefore 24kg was still almost half of my bodyweight, but still the heaviest I have been in years.

We completed our skills and snatch tests, had a team meeting and then headed back up to my brother’s apartment in Harlem. We arrived back to his apartment around 8:30 p.m. and still had to shower and eat. We had to be back to the workshop location in the morning at 7 a.m. This meant an early wake up call and out the door by 6 a.m.

That night Eric and I slept on an air mattress in my brother’s studio apartment, which goes back to my first point that you don’t have a restful day the day before and sleep in your own bed. Between the air mattress and feeling like crap coming down with a cold, I don’t know how much I slept that night.

The Day of The Iron Maiden Challenge

The day of the Iron Maiden Challenge, I was nervous. I kept saying to Eric and my brother “I am so nervous.” I had crazy butterflies; although I’m not sure why because all my lifts were solid and I had done all of them in my training repeatedly.  However, I was still nervous for all the lifts, not just the press. I guess is just normal to be nervous.

The Iron Maiden Challenge was right after lunch at 2:30 p.m. that day so we were on our feet all morning teaching at the certification.

Take Note: The Iron Maiden Challenge is not the first thing you do on the day of. By the time the Challenge rolls around you’ve been on your feet working for over 7 hours… after having traveled the day before, skills and snatch tested the day before, eating dinner later than usual the night before, and having slept in a strange bed or on an air mattress the night before…

When we broke for lunch I ate a normal lunch and then got changed to warm up. Now, I know all the lifts look so easy on video but in reality you don’t just roll in on a carpet of clouds like an Angel in the Nutcracker Ballet and float through your lifts. It might look like that on video but that’s not what’s happening in reality or inside the person about to attempt the challenge.

I was nervous and hoping my press would do what it should that day.

The Iron Maiden Challenge

2:30 p.m. arrived and people were gathering around to find their places where they would watch this all take place. There were over 70 people gathered to watch me do this in a small space.

One of the Team Leaders, Cole Summers asked me if he needed to ask people to not sit so close to me. I said to him, ‘Thank you for asking, but I can’t worry about the crowd. I will just focus on the bell and what I need to do.”

The first time I attempted the Iron Maiden Challenge in September 2013, the proximity of the crowd did screw with my mind when it came time for the press because I was not confident with that lift.

This time, I knew what to expect with the crowd, and although I was nervous, I was confident about the all three lifts.

It was just me, the bell, and three lifts to complete.

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The Rules 

You may attempt the lifts in any order, and you are allowed two attempts at each lift.

You can read more detail of the rules HERE.

The First Lift

I wanted to complete the press first. It was the hardest and most stressful lift for me.

I also wanted to complete the press with my right side because even though it took me longer to get the press on the right side, I always have a cleaner press pattern on the right and I am less likely to lean.

I attempted the press first on the right side but stopped the press and put the bell down. When you watch the video you will see how far I get and probably wonder why I didn’t finish it.

First 24kg (53lbs) Press Attempt – Right Side

I didn’t like where the press was going. I was leaning away from the bell and not into and under the bell and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to recover and get under the bell. I didn’t want to waste energy trying because I had just started my lifts, and needed all the energy I had to execute clean, strong lifts, so I stopped the press and put the bell down.

It was a game moment decision.

After I put the bell down, you can see that I’m smiling but I’m not happy.  I’m actually really pissed off and trying not to let my anger get the best of me and affect my performance.

Anger can be channeled both correctly and incorrectly, so you have to be careful how you use that energy because it can defeat you if you use it incorrectly.

I decided to move on to my pull-up and pistol squat. I knew I would complete both of those no problem.

24kg (53lbs) Pull-up

24kg (53lbs) Pistol Squat

After I completed the pistol squat it was back to the press. I had one more chance to get it.

Before I started the press I was signaling to Eric in front of me who was taking video. I gestured with my hands asking him, “Right side or left side?” He was totally clueless and had no idea what I was asking him.

It was like Ralph Macchio in the final fight scene of the Karate Kid deciding to use his secret weapon, the Crane Kick, as his last move to win the sparring  match… except I wasn’t beat up… :) .

Scroll to minute 1:30…

Once I resolved I was on my own with this decision I decided to press left side; my secret weapon.  You can see in the video as I stare at the bell I’m trying to decide as I shimmy my shoulders. I’m also sh*t talking to the bell telling it this is it and it better f-ing going up because I am not attempting this mother f-ing challenge a third time!

I decided to press left because I knew for sure it would go up, but I just wasn’t sure what the path of the press would look like.

As soon as I put my hand on the bell, I let my anger channel into the clean and into the press to drive that sucker straight to the moon. You can tell by the expression on my face that I am pissed off.

24kg Press Left Side

I love the end of the video because you can see the relief on my face as I look to the sky and I say to myself in my head “Thank God!” then Jon Engum steps forward to congratulate me. It was a great moment.

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One thing that I love about the pictures and the video is the clock in the background. We started right on time at 2:30 p.m., Master Engum read the rules before each lift, and if you look at the picture of the press, the clock does not even read 2:40 p.m. It took me about 7 minutes or less to go through all three lifts. 3 years of training to do something that takes less than 10 minutes.   Haha!

A few people asked me afterwards if the right side press was some trick to scare everyone because the left shot right up and the right almost got right up to, but I stopped it. No, not a trick, just a smart decision to make sure my press was clean and strong.

I believe the Iron Maiden/Beast Tamer Challenge is not just a demonstration of strength but also a demonstration of skill and the hardstyle techniques that you learn as a StrongFirst or RKC Kettlebell Instructor. If you follow those principles and train properly, your lifts will, and SHOULD, show that.

In retrospect, Even though I wanted to complete the press first, I probably should have followed what I usually did in my training right from the start which is pull-up, pistol, press.

I found that in my training I had the best 24kg presses after I completed a heavy pull-up either 22kg singles or the week before the Iron Maiden Challenge when I pressed the 24kg on my right side, I did weighted pull-ups 1 set x 3 reps 14kg (30lbs), 1 set x 3 reps 16kg (35lbs), 1 set x 3 reps 18kg (40lbs). The weighted pull-ups help to warm me up for the 24kg press.

Lesson learned.

It Takes A Village

Even though I wrote my own program, I sought feedback from both Eric and my brother as I trained this program. They were there to help make sure I stayed on the path to success.

Throughout the whole process I had their support along with the support of many friends and colleagues.

My friend and colleague Steve Holiner (Coach Fury) happened to stop by at lunch. He had no idea I was planning to complete the Iron Maiden Challenge that day, because I had not told many people, but fortunately he was able to stay for a few minutes afterwards to watch. It meant so much to have him there along with my brother and Eric.

 

Eric bought me the tank top that I wore for the Challenge and the AWESOME Iron Maiden T-Shirt! Small, but very significant thoughtful gifts that meant the world to me. I am a lucky woman to have the support of such an amazing boyfriend!

This support kept me on my path and helped me to believe that indeed, no matter what my size, this goal was possible.

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This is a picture of the front of a card that  Cressey Performance Intern Hannah Wellman sent to me.  I had the pleasure of meeting Hannah in person when she spent the morning at Iron Body Studios one day visiting us.

Below is a video of the moments immediately following the Iron Maiden Challenge. You can see from the video the excitement and emotion. Many people cried that day, tears of happiness and inspiration, because many knew how long and hard I had worked to achieve this goal.

After 3 years of hard work training for this challenge, I still cannot believe that I accomplished this goal it was truly an amazing feat for me. I hope that I have inspired more women to train for and attempt this Challenge and inspired more women to train for strength and to not afraid to be strong!

Always train with purpose and have a goal, and may your all of your goals be THIS rewarding!

Iron Maiden Challenge July 25, 2014 – Iron Maiden Artemis Scantalides

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Do you want to learn how I trained and the program I followed to complete the Iron Maiden Challenge?  Then join me at my workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift on November 8, 2014 at Iron Body Studios in Needham, MA!  

This workshop is for both women and men.

(I Am Not Afraid NYC at Drive495 is SOLD OUT!!!)

Learn more HERE ==> http://bit.ly/NotAfraidToLift

Register HERE under EVENTS ==> http://bit.ly/LiftWorkshopRegister

Early bird pricing through October 1 – $149.00

Regular price after October 1 – $199.00

I will see you on November 8 & I look forward to lifting with you!

#BeXena

#NotAfraidToLift