(Otherwise known as “They gave me a soapbox to stand on. Hear me out on this long read.”)
Once upon a time in a galaxy not so far, far away. I broke myself, I broke myself right proper.
Please let me set the scene for you.
Have you ever been to a rock concert at an arena or an outdoor music festival? See all those stages/lights/sound/video gear in the ceiling? I used to be the stagehand technician (roadie) that would work and run crews to set all that gear up. From the back of semi trailers to building the show, a nap under the stage during sound check (if you were lucky), work the show, then take everything down and put it back in the truck. A very physically demanding job that I did with a smile and much enjoyment.
In 2006 at 24 years of age I damaged my back from a bad lift while working at a local arts festival. The morning after the bad lift, I awoke to the inability to physically move. Any attempt to move from my horizontal state sent sharp, electric pings through my body. (Have you ever had lower back pain that when you’re about to sneeze, you brace yourself against a chair because this sneeze is going to send huge shocks through your body? Extremely uncomfortable.)
The Coles Notes version is as follows – My skeletal musculatory system (muscles that hold your skeleton up) had fully contracted and remained in a “contracted defense mode” to protect my spine from my bad lift. I was so useless that I had to be carried and put onto the toilet to go the washroom.
Fast forward 2 months of daily massage or chiro (Sounds fancy right? No friend. Extremely painful muscle releasing), physiotherapy, stretching, and the inability to physically feed myself, I successfully became tentatively mobile and independent again with a cane at the age of 24. (I recall a quip from my father about how I had a cane before him during this time.……)
From 2006 to 2011 my goal was to protect myself from ever having to use a cane again, let alone having my food fed to me via the Spoon & Fork Airlines. I decided the right now solution was to shut down all challenging physical activity for fear of re-injuring myself. This included my physically demanding career and replacing mountain biking, rock climbing and skiing with walking, bicycle commuting, swimming and yoga. Which in my mind should have helped improve my situation. However, the big mistake I made was seeking out desk work. Unintentionally making myself even more stiff, fragile & vulnerable to reinjury.
In 2010 I slowly re-introduced skiing and mountain biking where I found I was still stiff, stuck and very weak. Causing these once incredibly enjoyable sports to be absolutely terrible.
So I began pushing myself to attend more yoga, do more swimming and more walking with very little improvement.
In the spring of 2011 I started to accept that I may never return to fun, fast sports. Just remaining weak and inflexible was becoming the answer to never hurting myself again.
Till my good friend Ray said. “You and Landin should join me at russian kettlebell.”
“Ray. What the flip is russian kettlebell?” I bluntly asked.
“Doesn’t matter. Just meet me this Sunday on Fraser street at Vancouver Mind-Body Centre.”
“Hrrumph. Okay.” I replied with a bit of bravado.
I had every intention of watching Ray and Landin (my partner in crime) from the sidelines.
Well. Dear friend. I was all kinds of wrong.
I was introduced to RKC instructor, Natan and informed him of my previous injury and current state.
“Okay well come at least do some warm up stretches.” He said optimistically.
So I joined in.
“Squat down, keep a straight back, put your palms on the mat, keep them there and straighten your legs.” He instructed and demonstrated.
Knowingly ( and clearly expressed all over my face ) I couldn’t squat, let alone get my hands to the floor I replied to Natan, in a confident, self assured voice.
“I can’t do that.”
“Really?” Came the response as he marched over to me.
WIth a few adjustments to how I was standing, my approach to the movements and working through a bit of discomfort (not pain to be clear) my fingers hit the floor. Holy shit.
“Now tell me. Are you able to touch the floor whilst standing up?” Came the question directed as a statement.
“Yes.” Was my surprised response.
“Good. Enjoy. Because later when you’re ready. We’ll make it harder.”
And with that I was introduced to the kettlebell swing with a very heavy 6 kg bell.
Cool story Marcia. What is your point?
I’m getting there. Stick with me.
At the time Sunday mornings were the only kettlebell classes available at VMBC, if you wanted a kettlebell workout, you got your butt there on Sundays. Which quickly turned kettlebell class jokingly into “Church”. People of all walks of life showed up in special outfits (gym clothes), went to a special building (Vancouver Mind-Body Centre) at a specific time (10:00am) and listened to a guy at the front tell & show us how to do our kettlebell technique properly (Natan) with the occasional life lesson thrown in there somewhere too.
The “we’ll make it harder statement.” turned my 6kg kettlebell, into an 8, then a 12 and now I’m confident and strong with a 16kg. 5 years later I’m starting to eyeball the 20kg as my next labour of love. Along with the increasing kettlebell weight, my flexibility has improved and am now very close to achieving one dead hanging chin up. As VMBC added more classes, kettlebell practice became and is a natural occurance in my life as eating food and binge watching shows on Netflix. Getting sweaty, moving heavy weights, trying (and failing) bodyweight challenges like pistol squats no longer hold a negative/scary feeling or “I can’t do that” for me, I am simply going to kettlebell, with wonderfully encouraging, like minded people and “Hey! We’re going to try something new today. A 60 kg bell just showed up.”
The point I’m making is that when it comes to the body my experience has been it is going to take time. Whatever the goal is from strength building to weight loss to rocking a visible six pack, take this slow or you’ll likely over-train, get frustrated and abandon your goals.
I’ve learn’t I needed the following things along the way to get this far.
- Asking for help. Anything from asking for a spotter on a heavy, overhead lift to needing to a professional who is educated in a topic that overwhelms you. E.I – nutrition. Do your research, you’ll thank yourself on the other side.
- Meet people and engage with those who either have similar goals with positive attitudes. The last thing you need is someone talking negatively like you’re back in high school.
A great example of wonderful comradery happened today at 7:23am in Tabata while we were doing Prisoner Lunges.
“Just laugh Malcolm. It makes it easier.” – Jane
- Your mindset will make or break you. Are you going to a grueling, terrible workout? Or are you going to go see if you can swing a 12kg today for the first time? Deadlift 60kg? It is all about how you approach hard work.
- Finally, good old fashioned stamina. This is going to be hard, difficult, frustrating and sometimes makes you question your sanity. A favourite quote of mine comes from the book, The Art and Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig
“Well, it’s hard country,” I say with a little irritation. “They know it’s hard before they come here and are ready for it.”
I add, “If one person complains he just makes it that much harder for the others. They got stamina. They know how to keep on going.”
Robert M. Pirsig ( Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)
I have been able to safely, slowly re-build and ultimately improve my machine. There were and will be hard days, weeks and months. There were times when real life would happen and kettlebell would be the 1 hour escape. And an additional unplanned bonus is I’ve built some amazing friendships along the way.
It has been more than 6 years since I had to use a cane and I can confidently say I’m much stronger now than I was in my physically active 20s.
So there it is friends. I’m done with my soapbox. Take your time, have fun, be safe, get excited about small achievements along the way and always put it out there when you need help. I promise you something good will come of it if you keep at this thing called kettlebell.
But Marcia really. How do you know something good will happen?
I don’t know where my cane is.