This past January, I participated in a Kettlebell instructor certification seminar with the International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation (IKFF). This was the third kettlebell certification course I’ve attended, and it was both the most comprehensive in terms of technique, and yet also the most sparse in terms of catalog of techniques. Since my reason for taking this course was to focus on the primary kettlebell lifts used in sport competition, this suited me just fine. The IKFF website describes their approach as such:
Join us this Tuesday, August 27th @ 7pm when we welcome Paul Taras Wolkowinski for an introduction to the use of the Indian Clubs. Paul is an Australian instructor and researcher on the use of Indian Clubs, as can be seen at his site . He will be visiting Forteza next week to check out our Gymuseum, and since he’ll be in town, Paul has offered to teach a short workshop on the use of the clubs.
Paul has a short routine that will work great as a mobility warmup, will help to keep joints healthy and strong, and is an excellent conditioning method for martial artists, particularly those involved in weapon arts.
On Saturday, July 13th, the members of Team Forteza attended a group workout with Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena. With just one week before the Illinois Super Spartan Race, we were in the final preparations for the race. For the past two months, the team had been training hard, eating clean (supposedly…), and felt ready and confident. The Spartan group workout promised to be a great measuring stick for how well prepared we truly were. As Joe himself said, if you can get through his workout, the actual race will be a walk in the park.
Bravado aside, we were all thinking the same thing: how much harder can this be compared our weekly group training? What followed was 2 1/2 hours of brutality in the sweltering Summer heat. After a brisk warm-up, the workout started off with a quarter mile of walking lunges. Everyone’s quads were on fire before we reached our destination: an outdoor park that didn’t offer a single bit of shade to protect us from the midday sun. After a bit of bear crawling, we lined up in rows of 22, with each row being about ten people deep. Right away, it was obvious who was actually training for the upcoming Spartan Race, and those who were less prepared. Next came 100 jumping jacks, animal crawls up and down the field, and fireman carries. Not even half way through the workout, and people started to drop out. Then came the 300 burpees.
Getting through an obstacle race takes a team effort, even if that means helping or requesting aid from strangers. Cooperation in the midst of competition, as the saying goes. In ancient Sparta, the mighty phalanx was so effective because the Spartans wouldn’t fight as individuals. Instead, they fought as one, impenetrable unit. Every Spartan protects the the Spartan to his side, Joe emphasized. To hammer in this point, the group had to do all 300 burpees together. If even a single person was out of sync, that burpee didn’t count. So, what was 300 buprees turned out to be a hell of a lot more!
By the time we finished the burpees, and then started the sprints, squats, and planks, the army of would be Spartans had thinned drastically. What were rows of ten, were now rows of two or three. The most any line had left was four Spartans standing strong. And among these elite stood Team Forteza, who stuck it out until the bitter end.
By Jesse Kulla Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture &Martial Arts Personal Trainer and Martial Arts Instructor
Obstacle or “Adventure” racing has become one of the most popular ways to test your mettle and inspire yourself to a new level of training. At the top of the obstacle race food chain is the Spartan Race – a race of pure craziness. When you are going to call yourselves “Spartans” and label your skill levels as “Beast”, “Ultrabeast” and “Death Race”, you pretty much have to be ready to throw down and throw the kitchen sink at competitors. And oh how they do, as you can see at the Spartan Race website.
As an athlete, I’ve taken part in the Spartan Race for several years now, as a personal trainer, I’ve respected the Spartan’s goals of seeking excellence, and then pushing one level further. Of course, that means that once there was an opportunity to become an actual certified Spartan trainer – the first in Chicago – I wasn’t inspired to go, I had to do it! So, what do the founders of the Ultra Beast put would-be trainers through?
Wow, Where to start? I carried myself to Atlanta, in hopes that the weather would be nice, and so it was. We call that a small mercy, because it would be the only gentle thing that weekend. Got some sleep. Woke up, and got to the venue. It was a fancy gym, with everything you could want in a health club and spa. Not what I expected – I was thinking more like a sand-pit with ropes and stones. Nor did I expect that the first thing I would become acquainted with wouldn’t be the gym, but the first rate conference room. (More on that in a minute.)
Introductions were made, and stories from races that we have all run were shared. I did not win the farthest traveled award, there was a gentleman there form San Francisco. I also met the winner of the 2012 Spartan Death race. It was inspiring and humbling to learn that he had absorbed over 60 hours of punishment to claim that title. Yeah, 60 hours. I have some new standards of “toughness”.
Before we got started, we took a 5 minute burpee test. Yes, that means we got up, paired up, and did “hands off the floor” burpees for 5 minutes, to see who was could hack it. I was not at the bottom of the heap, but 63 was nothing to brag over either, I think 84 was the winning number. Now, I expected something like “drop and give me 5 minutes of burpees” – these are the Spartans, right? But see, like the Spartans of old, who were both warriors of supreme physical skill and tactical warcraft, we were here to hone our minds alongside our bodies.
And that was why we went from burpees to that conference room, where my brain was filled with science data, recovery charts, and the importance of Mental Grit. Vital to all racers, and more so to those who profess to learn the arts of defense, Mental Grit is the power to preserve despite terrible odds, nasty surprises, and truly “long haul” exercises. We then did a little work out before breaking for lunch: about 300 meters of bear crawls, just to whet our appetites. Lunch was all business, talking with other trainers, sharing success stories and work out tips.
Of course, having just filled our bellies, it was time to dive into nutrition as soon as we got back. That was extremely in depth, and changed how I viewed athletic nutrition. After a few hours of that, we broke, and did an hour long “level one” work out, which is just the Spartan way of saying “Good job in the class room, see you tomorrow”. I went back to my hotel and soaked for an hour, rehydrated, and got ready for day two.
Day two was all talk of program design and goal-setting. This was partly a refresher course, but had a lot of insight into helping clients set goals, as well as getting to the root of clients’ health issues. The program design was intensive. We talked for hours about how to “Spartan folks up”. Far and away, this was my favorite portion of the weekend. Skipping lunch, we broke into groups and went running, with one group running their work out, start to finish, and the other two groups sweating through them. Three hours of pure brutality. It was hard, but I got through all of it. Not everyone did. Survival is the first step on the road to excellence!
I now know why the Spartan gym has a full spa – you need it just to go home. After some time in their hot tub, I felt better, I limped to the hotel, packed, returned my car, and spent 18 hours In the airport getting back to good old Chi-town. This was a mind-blowing weekend, and my ideas about training for peak performance will be broken into before SGX and after. My clients are already profiting from the new ideas and strategies, be they there to cut weight, increase functionality or race train, and I can’t wait to share more of the techniques for honing Mental Grit.
Later this summer, I’ll begin my preparation to run the Beast. I’ve beaten the Sprint, and I’ve beaten the Super. Time to go for the gold, and come home with my running shoes or on them. I hope to see you there, because I’ll need a team. Spartans, are you ready? Aroo!
FIGHTINGFIT! CHICAGO’S MOST UNIQUE BOOTCAMP
Martial arts is one of the most effective forms of cross-training available. It combines aerobic and anaerobic exercise with a diverse workout that builds core strength, cardiovascular fitness, hand-eye coordination, balance, and timing. There are plenty of cardio-kickboxing routines out there, but we wanted something a little more challenging, and more in keeping with what Forteza is all about. Thus, FightingFit!
FightingFit! is a solo training program that combines a great way to build confidence, bust stress, and get in touch with your inner warrior through a combination of weapons training, basic boxing skills, body-weight exercises, Kettlebells and “old school” fitness techniques that literally extend back hundreds of years, you can now use the tools of the warrior to build endurance, agility, raw power, reaction time, and fluid motion.
This was something that hadn’t been tried and we weren’t sure how it would do. The good news is that the program has seen a lot of service this year. Students from all of Forteza’s other programs, and some folks who just wanted a new way to get in shape came together to train. A lot of pounds were lost, and no one failed to get stronger. 2013 is off to a great start, and we are looking at new drills, new routines, and yet another season of fighting our way to fitness!
(The FightingFit! program was also a big hit with the media, being showcased in the Chicago RedEye, and with WGN’s Jonathon Brandmeier. Jesse Kulla explained FightingFit to Johnny B on this PodCast (starting at 6:50), and was later invited to demonstrate on his TV show.)
BRING ON THE SPARTANS: ADVENTURE RACING
Forteza had a busy adventure race season, participating in not one, but two Spartan Races! The Spartan Race is known as the most difficult mud run out there, with only a 70% success rate. Three of our athletes traveled down to Indiana for a 5K Spartan Sprint in April, and in October, we had a whopping eleven Spartan compete in the 9 mile Super Spartan. As if the obstacles and mud weren’t enough, the weekend of the Super Spartan also dropped into freezing temps. However, even through cramping and near hypothermia, the entire team made it through the end.
You can read more about Forteza’s The Road to Sparta on our personal training blog.
In order to prepare for the challenge of two Spartan Races, we had to run two Temple Burnings in 2012. The Temple Burning is an annual tradition of a full day of physical training designed to push each athlete to their breaking point. Temple Burnings aren’t just for the Spartan Racers; there is a mix of martial arts students, personal training clients, and weekend warriors. The first Temple Burning was done along the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan, and highlighted such fun activities as uphill burpees, a pull-up contest, and sand sprints. The second Temple Burning was even harder, and only included the Spartan Race team. Each athlete had to keep a 25-35 pound kettlebell in their backpacks as we ran through the 5 mile course, which included break out kettlebell circuits, tabata rounds, and the dreaded hill sprints.