Crawling is Awesome!

I am currently training for an advanced kettlebell certification and my biannual recertification. My coach has integrated something very simple, yet unusual by current standards, into my training program —crawling.  Yes, crawling.  Something all of us have done, albeit a long time ago, when we were infants and toddlers. Something all of us, no matter our age or current fitness level, should be doing every day.

I have some observations on crawling after doing it as part of a dedicated training regime for the past several weeks. A couple of weeks ago I had an epiphany on the awesomeness of crawling.

I have measured out the longest distance in the gym where I train – 15 yards. This is where I crawl. Interestingly, it is right behind the line of treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bicycles. So far, no one has stepped on or collided with me when they get off the machines.

On this particular day – my hard-core crawling day — I leopard crawled (on hands and feet, eyes looking forward, chest up and butt down).  Here’s what I did:

10 sets of 45 yard reps for a total of 450 yards

(1 rep is 15 yards forward + 15 yards backward + 15 yards forward without stopping.  In between reps I rest by walking forward + backward + forward the same distance.)

I did this in 24 minutes, which is equivalent to my current 5K PR (23:56—about 7:30 min/mi pace) set two years ago. So I crawled 450 yards (total)—a quarter mile—in the same amount of time it takes me to run a 5K. I can tell you that comparing the two activities, my body has worked harder (frankly it felt the equivalent of running over 5 miles instead of 3.1 miles). To me, the benefits of crawling far supersede those of running: my entire body is involved; by default I utilize/need more mental focus and it is apparent that my mind and body are working synergistically; my joints are used in a non-threatening, low-impact way; the level of conditioning of my cardiovascular system is at least as intense, but I recover quicker; and the best part, after I’m done when I take off my T-shirt I really look buff (no, I do not do that in the gym in front of everyone; it’s in the locker room before I shower).

Another thing I notice—I feel happy (elated is a bit more accurate) after I crawl like this. It’s different and a better more natural feeling than an “endorphin rush”. It’s a bit hard to describe, but I definitely have more mental and emotional fortitude to deal with the rest of the day at my “day job” in an office. Seriously, it’s a challenge to be sure, but I really enjoy crawling. It’s a classic “love/hate” thing that I really look forward to now.

In fact, I enjoy crawling so much that I have been doing it on my “rest” days. Last week I decided to see how far I could go without stopping. My goal was 150 yards. I was at home and it was an unusually lovely day for Washington, DC in July.

I crawled 160 yards without stopping! It wasn’t easy; in fact I would say that it was an all-out 10 out of 10 effort. After I passed the 100 yard mark my thighs were burning and I was breathing heavy, but thanks to my awesome wife, who gave me encouragement all along the way I pushed (crawled) through the physical and most important for me, mental hump and crawled another 60 yards until I stopped.

Crawling is awesome!


How Far I’ve Come

Last weekend I picked up some heavier kettlebells to train with.  I remember at last year’s Summit of Strength, Jeff O’Connor, Master RKC, telling the men to use some “manly” kettlebells, not the sissy light ones.  He meant kettlebells over 24 kg (53 lbs).  So, taking his advice, albeit almost a year later, I got a pair of 24 kg, a pair of 28 kg (62 lbs), and a 32 kg (72 lbs).  I remember when I got my first 24 kg how small the 16 kg and even 20 kg kettlebells looked next to it.  Now my 24 kg kettlebells look pretty small next to the 32 kg.

Yesterday I picked up and pressed the 28 kg on each side.  It felt good and surprisingly didn’t require a lot of effort.  This is significant, because I proved to myself how far I’ve come since I first picked up a kettlebell (an 8 kg on June 21, 2010—interesting that in retrospect I consider that date as a milestone) and even since I certified RKC on May 1, 2011.  During the cert I set a PR by pressing the 28 kg with my right arm (my “stronger” side); I couldn’t do it with my left arm.

Yesterday I also picked up the 32 kg and cleaned it with each arm.  I tried to press double 32 kg kettlebells at a workshop on March 24 but I wasn’t able to.  I will press the 32 kg with each arm and eventually press double 32’s.  I know I will because I will continue to improve in my training, but most important, I will do it because I want to.  I want to continue to show myself how far I’ve come.


Karen’s Cancer Adventure

Pressing double 16kg kettlbells (35# each). Feeling strong and powerful. Sisu.

In June 1997 I was diagnosed with stage 3 thyroid cancer and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I had been healthy and active my entire life, so it came as quite a shock. Even more shocking was when the doctor said I had two years to live – if I was lucky. I was 34 years old. I had a radical thyroidectomy. In addition to the thyroid being malignant, I also had 2 malignant parathyroids and 6 malignant lymph nodes. The surgeon also removed 2 more lymph nodes that were precancerous, plus neck muscle and my jugular vein for good measure. For two months after my surgery, the range of motion of my right arm was shot. I was unable to dress myself. Michael had to get in the shower with me.

One day I decided to try to exercise. I put Richard Simmons’ “Stretchin’ to the Classics” in the VCR. I couldn’t even stand up for 5 minutes. Richard kicked my butt. I cried. The next day, I tried again. I cried again. But I kept trying. Every day I got a little bit better. And I mean a very little bit. But I kept trying.

Over the next two years, I felt hunted, always wondering if the cancer would come back. When it didn’t, I felt relieved. But I was still sick – I seemed to catch one cold after another. I had bronchitis, pneumonia and mononucleosis. I wasn’t able to exercise like I had in the past. I made horrible food choices. I gained weight. A lot of weight. And I lost a lot of confidence in myself. I had all but given up. I figured if I really was going to die of thyroid cancer, then who cared what size corpse I was?

After several years of trying to lose weight, getting sick and gaining all the weight back again, I got fed up. I decided to make one small change at a time. I started by ditching sodas and walking. I picked up my dumbbells again. I tried Pilates and yoga. Slowly the weight came off, and my confidence started to come back. Then I hit a plateau. In hindsight, I realize that the plateau came at the same time I got bored with my workouts.

In April 2010, I found out about a free, online kettlebell and nutrition program. I went in with the attitude that if I lost 5 pounds, it would be great. I’d be happy. After 12 weeks, I had lost 12 pounds and regained my confidence in myself and my body. I had increased my strength and mobility, too. The day I snatched a 12kg kettlebell was one of the proudest days of my life. That’s the day I knew I had beaten cancer. I was hooked. So hooked, I decided to become a certified kettlebell instructor.

In May 2011, Michael and I became RKC certified. The RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) is the gold standard of kettlebell certifications. I pushed myself mentally and physically over the 3 day cert in ways I never dreamed possible. We left the certification excited and determined to help our clients improve the quality of their lives through kettlebell training.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my cancer adventure. I no longer feel hunted. I am full of hope and grateful that such a horrifying experience led to the wonderful life I have now. Sure, I’m missing parts, but I’ve gained a stronger, happier, more grateful me in the bargain.