Inspiration from the Iron Tamer: Day One

Several months ago, I committed to attending a two-day kettlebell workshop in Nashville, TN with the incomparable Dave “Iron Tamer” Whitley.

I was excited to learn about the bent press from the man who literally wrote the book on bent presses. I was also excited to learn about approaches to coaching and programming that would enable me to better help my students succeed, as well as to find out about his approaches to improving kettlebell ballistics such as the swing and snatch.

What I didn’t expect was to have a transformative experience with life-changing implications.

But that’s what I got.

In this post, I’ll share a few thoughts about the first of the two days; I will explore the second day in a following post. So stay tuned!

It’s All About the Breath

  • “Strength training is the act of willingly expressing the spirit.” –Dave Whitley, in Superhuman You
  • “It all starts with that spark of possibility, that inspiration.” –Dave Whitley, also in Superhuman You
  • “inspiration (n.)
    c. 1300, ‘immediate influence of God or a god,’… from Old French inspiracion ‘inhaling, breathing in; inspiration’ (13c.), from Late Latin inspirationem (nominative inspiratio), noun of action from past participle stem of Latin inspirare ‘blow into, breathe upon,‘ figuratively ‘inspire, excite, inflame,’ from in- ‘in’ (from PIE root *en ‘in’) + spirare ‘to breathe’….
    Inspire (v.) in Middle English also was used to mean ‘breathe or put life or spirit into the human body; impart reason to a human soul.'”–http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=inspiration

The first day of the workshop began with breath.

Not just a little bit: Dave spent several hours discussing the importance of breath and guiding us through different breathing methods.

Yep: the first half of the first day of an intensive kettlebell workshop focused almost entirely on different techniques for inhaling, exhaling, and pausing the breath; many of these techniques drew extensively on Wim Hof methods, and I encourage you all to learn more about that here.

Ultimately, I couldn’t be more grateful that we spent so much time on such a fundamental skill.

I don’t know how to describe the experience of these breath practices in a way that doesn’t somehow diminish them. What I can say is that I walked out more than convinced about the profound impact that breath can have upon a person’s health, focus, and well-being. I have since been practicing the breathing techniques that I learned every day, and I’m looking forward to deepening this practice.

I thought several times during that first morning about how the etymological root of the word “inspiration” is “breath.” As Dave rightly pointed out, the most important thing that we do on any given day is breathe… for without the breath, nothing else that we accomplish is possible. The breath is the foundation upon which everything else is built. And I mean everything. 

And so it is that every single one of the amazing things that we will ever dream, move towards, and accomplish all begin the same way: with inspiration, with breath.

But What About the Kettlebells?

The afternoon of the first day built upon the journey with the breath that we had begun in the morning; we explored ways that different approaches to breathing can impact kettlebell ballistic training.

We used some additional deep, controlled and mindful breathing techniques during the rest periods between sets of kettlebell swings, and then experienced the impact of Dave’s “heretical breathing” during long sets of swings. I was surprised at what a difference these techniques made upon my rate of perceived exertion during the sets, the degree to which I did or did not get winded, and the rate of recovery following the sets.

Long story short: I was reminded during these drill of a line in the Zen Buddhist chant “Affirming Faith in Mind”: “Your frantic haste just slows you down.” When I allowed myself to focus more on relaxed breath patterns both during and after sets, my work capacity and recovery time improved exponentially, and I wasn’t alone: this was the unanimous experience of every participant at the workshop.

This isn’t to say that I will never use the “hard style” breathing techniques again; I absolutely will (in fact, I did during a portion of yesterday’s training session). However, I will also be incorporating the more centered, relaxed breathing techniques that Dave introduced to us (in fact, I did some of those during yesterday’s training session, too).

So, during the first day of a two-day kettlebell workshop, I had multiple paradigm-shifting experiences that have lingered on and inspired me to new daily practices. Not too shabby, eh?

However, this was just the beginning, and day two had even more transformation in store for me….

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