I didn’t intend to make the title sound too “infomercially” so that you’ll read the rest of the blog post. The truth is, I really have found a way to instantly make my lifts stronger at the gym and this is all thanks to (you can probably guess it by now) – the Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC) and Pavel Tsatsouline’s teachings.
What I’m about to tell you are very important concepts that has helped me lift heavier and get a more efficient workout. These concepts can benefit anyone who strength trains especially those who have a difficult time lifting progressively heavier weights during a workout. Let’s go through these concepts now shall we?
The concept of irradiation was taught to us by, Doug Nepodal, Senior RKC and my team leader, when he was teaching us about “the Press.” The press that most people know about is the military press. Doug demonstrated irradiation by doing a one-hand military press with a kettlebell and squeezing something like a towel, a hand gripper, (pretty much anything you can squeeeze) etc. with your free hand. Pavel also discussed this in his DVD program, “Power to the People,” (PTTP) while doing a one arm curl and making a fist with his free hand. Irradiation is simply the act of actively contracting the other muscles in your body besides the one that you are using in order to immediately increase your strength during lifting.
Pavel basically explained irradiation as your muscles triggering signals from the brain to send more “juice” or power to the main contracting muscle. Think of it as your other muscles cheering your biceps, in the case of the one arm curl, to lift the weight.
Taking this concept further…
A major breakthrough that I’ve learned during the RKC weekend is the skill of contracting every major muscle in your body while lifting weights. For instance, if I were performing barbell curls, I would be contracting my leg muscles (glutes, quadriceps, calves) and my upper body muscles (trapezius, pectorals, abs) in order to harness more power for those curls. I used to think that the curl is an isolation exercise but doing it this way not only makes your lifts stronger, it also helps you burn a lot more calories than your regular curls because it becomes a total body exercise. Both of these factors combined make the curl a more efficient exercise.
I practiced using all the tension in my muscles during the first day of RKC when we were learning the kettebell swings. If I wanted to powerfully propel the kettlebell with my hips, I had to really connect myself to the ground with my bare feet, pull my knee caps up, and tense all my major muscles. The result is one powerful KB swing.
The Art of Breathing
During exercise, I used to take my breathing for granted because I’m usually more focused on lifting the weight and exercise form. But, this is a huge mistake because just the act of inhaling and exhaling air at the right moments during your lifts makes a big difference on your strength. I realized the importance of this while practicing my clean and press. The kettlebell clean basically starts from what I call a semi-swing but the KB lands on the back of your forearm (near your wrist) and rests in between the “triangle” of your bent arm (see picture). You can then perform a military press from this position.
During the clean and press, the breathing starts from when you pick up the KB from the ground. As you reach the KB, inhale deeply and don’t let go of any air, hike pass the KB behind (like a one-hand swing) and go straight to a clean while still holding your breath. As you begin your military press, exhale the air in small increments as if your letting air out of a tire from a very small hole. The important point to remember in this is to really hold your breath until you’re ready for the press. Doing it this way helps you keep tension in your whole body which in turn will give you more power for your press. When applied to a more familiar exercise such as the squat, you would inhale while your legs are bent, hold your breath as you straighten your legs, and exhale at the top.
Irradiation and breathing really has made a big difference in my lifts. I know that it can be difficult to describe concepts like these in words so, if you have any questions regarding these concepts, please feel free to leave your comment below. Pavel actually discussed a lot more concepts in PTTP so if you are interested in knowing more about those techniques, I highly recommend watching the DVD and reading the book. But, if you were able to understand these concepts from this post and start practicing them at the gym, I would love to hear about your experience. More power to your lifts!