Comfort Zone Free

If you follow my blog, as most of you know I am training for the Iron Maiden Challenge.  For the challenge a woman must complete three lifts, pull-up, strict press and pistol squat all with a 24kg (~53lbs) kettlebell.  The equivalent for men is the Beast Challenge with a 48kg (~106lbs) kettlebell.   I had planned to attempt this challenge in April when I assisted at the Boston SFG Level I Certification but I was not ready.  I have the 24kg pistol, a 24kg pull-up and a 22kg (~50lbs) press, so I am not far off at this point.  Solution: keep training.


With the warm weather here in Massachusetts for a only a short period of time, I have been getting in my Vitamin D and taking advantage of the park next to my house in Boston called Fallon Field.  It’s a baseball field and at the far end of the field, at top of the hill there is a playground with a jungle gym perfect for pull-ups!

So Sunday I took my training outside.  Sundays are usually a heavy press day and include pistol squat practice and bodyweight pull-ups.  This is the first time I have practiced both heavy pressing and pistols outside, in a field on an unstable surface, without walls and with the sky for the ceiling.  Talk about a proprioceptive adjustment!  I seriously felt like a warrior in battle trying to get through my training session on Sunday – most particularly through the heavy pressing.


I grabbed a 20kg (44lbs) and a 22kg (~50lbs) (my new favorite bell size that I have been training with), packed my ab wheel and chalk in my bag and headed outside.  THIS was the plan:

  • TGU 2 R/L 20kg
  • Bodyweight Pull-ups 10, 9, 8, 8, 8
  • Pistol Squats 2 R/L 22kg
  • Overhead Press 3 R/L 20kg
  • Standing Ab Wheel 5
  • RH/LH Swings 10 R/L 22kg

Everything above sets of 3 except for the pull-ups, which were 5 sets.

Then the plan was to finish with heav-ish get-ups and one arm swings, 5 sets, as follows:

  • TGU 1 R/L 22kg
  • RH/LH Swings 10 R/L 22kg

THIS is what I actually ended up doing:

  • TGU 2 R/L 20kg
  • Bodyweight Pull-ups 10, 9, 8, 8, 8
  • Pistol Squats 2 R/L 22kg
  • Overhead Press 1 R/L 20kg – 10 sets of singles
  • Standing Ab Wheel 5
  • RH/LH Swings 10 R/L 22kg

Still sets of 3 for most movements, except for the pull-ups, which were 5 sets and I was having a crappy press day so I had to change the sets and reps for pressing to 10 singles.

After struggling with the press, I was done with having heavy things overhead so I decided to bag the heavy-ish get-ups and just finish with 10 minutes of one arm swings with the 20kg, 10 R/L on the minute – which comes to 30sec of work, 30sec of rest for a total of 200 swings.

This is how things went down:

Get ups were fine; although it’s completely different looking up to see the endless sky than if I was training inside and looked up to see a ceiling.  Proprioceptively it gives you that feeling of looking down from a great height, like you’re going to fall off a balcony, or fall off a cliff.  It definitely challenges your balance and stability.

Pull-ups, I had to run up the hill to the jungle gym to do the pull-ups but they were no problem.  I am accustomed to the jungle gym pull-up bar and pull-ups are one of my strengths, so even if I have a “bad” pull-up day, it’s easy for me to shake it off.

Pistol squats were challenging but I was successful.  Again, pistol squats are one of my strengths, HOWEVER, finding my ground on the soft uneven ground of the baseball field and fairly long grass in need of a cut, while holding a 22kg kettlebell, was definitely a challenge.  However, by the second set of pistol squats, my body started to adjust to the new surface and accepted the challenge.

Overhead press.  Oh the overhead press, my nemesis.  Over the past 6 weeks I finally started to have progress beyond sets of singles with the 20kg.  I can usually press the 20kg for multiple sets of 4 reps right and left with the 20kg.  So over the past 4 weeks, on my heavy press day, I have been training 3 sets of 3 reps with the 20kg.  Not on this past Sunday!  I went to press that sucker and first it didn’t even go up.  I was determined to press it for my reps of 10, so I went back to it and was able to press it for singles on each side.  So, I swallowed my pride and decided, “ok, today will be a 10 singles kind of day.”  It was hard to find my ground on the soft uneven soil and grass and I was so frustrated about having to revert back to sets of single reps that I literally shed tears.  I know, it sounds ridiculous, but that is how much this goal means to me.  The most important thing is that through all this frustration, I didn’t stop.  I focused on the 10 sets of singles and I did them one after the other, without moving to another movement, I just focused on the press, and without letting my frustration, tears and the soft uneven surface beneath my feet deter me.  I finished my 10 singles and moved on.

Standing Ab Wheel.  Trying to maneuver an ab wheel from standing over soft soil and grass was like watching a toddler push a 3-wheel barrel over a hilly field.  It was like the ab wheel was laughing at me the whole time as I tried to roll my body out from the standing position.  So, I walked it over to the baseball diamond and did my roll outs there.  The sand on the baseball diamond was still a little rough, but it was manageable.

One Arm Swings.  Nothing different than as if I was swinging inside and quite a relief from the battle that I had with the press that day.

When it comes to competing or performing, whether it be a race, lifting, the Iron Maiden or Beast Challenge, a kung fu tournament, belt test or demo, or a dance performance you never know how you’re going to feel the day of the actual event and you don’t necessarily know what the “set-up” will be – e.g. How will the competition floor be set up?  Where will the judges be?  Which way will I have to face to start my form?  Will it be equipment that I am used to using?  Therefore, it’s in your best interest to train in all sorts of environments prior to the event, from a controlled environment indoors to outside in a field for example.  When I used to train for kung fu competitions, I would practice my forms on the training floor at my kung fu school and practice facing all directions, outside, in a commercial gym aerobics studio, in my living room and in my kitchen.  This didn’t mean that I was going to have a foolproof competition, but it helped me to confirm that I could rise to the occasion mentally and approach the task that I trained for feeling capable in my skills with confidence.  As I wrote in my post “Capable with Confidence”, the uncontrollable physical and environmental aspects aside, 80% of it is mental and you just have find your zone and “bring it”, in order to get what it is you came for, done.  Or as Master SFG Mark Reifkind writes in his post PR for Real.  One man’s quest to Military Press half his bodyweight.  And the Mind Spot.” “Suit up, show up and see what you’re made of. Or not.”  

Along the lines of training comfort zone free, as I wrote in my post “Back to Basics” you should always practice the skill, movement or in the case of martial arts – the form, that you least enjoy practicing.  For me right now in my training, that is the press.  It’s not that I hate pressing – I actually LOVE pressing heavy things overhead.  It’s that I hate the “crappy press” days that unexpectedly pop up like the day that I had on Sunday that make me feel as if I am not making any progress.  The most important thing is to train through these days, keep practicing that one skill or movement that challenges you the most physically and mentally and do not give up until you reach your goal.

On a final note, when you have those “crappy press” days, even though it’s important to regularly train the skill or movement that most challenges you most; it never hurts to revert to a skill that is your strength to give you a little boost.  For me, that is the pull-up.  So this past Monday, the day after my epic fail press day, I decided to see if I still had the 22kg pull-up that I achieved back in May when I attended CK-FMS.  That day was actually a good example of being completely out of my comfort zone as I decided to attempt this PR at the end of a long Saturday of learning, surrounded by a large group of CK-FMS attendees, and using a weight belt to attach the 22kg pull-up to my waist that was stiff and awkward and very different from what I was used to using.  Needless to say, I achieved the PR that day back on May 4, 2013.  On Monday, I demonstrated an even stronger pull-up.  Showing that a month plus of training weighted pull-ups certainly paid off.

The 22kg pull-up felt so manageable that this past Wednesday, I decided it was time to see where I was at with the 24kg pull-up.  These were the results…

Looks like two lifts down, and just one lift and 4.4 lbs to go before I am ready to attempt the iron Maiden Challenge 🙂

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