I made the decision to compete in the kettlebell championships after Alexi the Russian tank told me I could. His confidence fueled a burning ambition to win. When I dropped the bomb on my parents, they were less than enthusiastic. My mom’s two concerns: 1) You’ll hurt yourself and 2) you’ll look like a man. My dad was harder to read, but I could tell he was apprehensive by his silence. I guess it’s hard for a religious man to imagine his already spinster daughter (I was only 30) being able to find a husband when she looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger (I will never look like Arnold, no matter how hard I try). Fortunately, my friends were much more encouraging. Not only did they think it was “so cool,” several of them wondered why it had taken me so long to enter. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and solidified my determination to fulfill this new dream.
In my initial frenzy, I threw together a program which consisted of doing every exercise I could think of with as heavy a bell as I could manage. It was the sloppiest routine I ever wrote, but I was pumped on pure adrenaline and the prospect of crushing the competition. This craziness lasted two weeks.
I planned more methodically once the initial frenzy was over. I also consulted with Alex since he had competed before. This time, I designed my program properly. I planned for progressions and some rehab work for my back. I was seeing amazing gains in strength and endurance. I felt confident and even more determined. And then I took a piece of unsolicited advice and hired a coach.
The friend who recommended her convincingly argued that since I had never competed before, I should hire this coach who is a world champion. For the record, she is a beast. I have seen her in action and when I grow up I want to be her. She is an amazing competitor, and a true champion.
As for her coaching abilities, there were several warning signs that I should have heeded.
Firstly, she never asked if I had any injuries. I understand that when someone approaches a coach for competition there is a basic level of fitness. However, the first question that must be asked is “Do you have any previous injuries?” This is vital information, but not something that concerned her.
The second fact was that I had logistical equipment issues. Because I live in Israel and she in the US, I was responsible for posting videos of my sessions for her to view and critique. This was a nightmare for me because I could not get the 12 kg kettlebell and the recording device in the same place at the same time. I am not a technologically savvy individual and aside from a basic cell phone and a laptop to send emails, I don’t have any other equipment. I was able to borrow a camera from my job (I teach at a high school when I am not in the gym), but the facilities there are constantly in use and I was instructed not to videotape sessions while classes were going on. I ended up bringing the camera home and did a session with 30 pounds instead of 12 kg. This was unacceptable to her. If I am supposed to be training for a 12kg competition then I should be lifting 12 kg. I had a 12 kg in my locker at school, but I couldn’t get it home. In order to get to work, I had to ride my bike to the train station because the buses don’t run that early in the morning. Then I took the first train, transferred to the second train, and met the school bus at the train station for the last leg to work. The reverse commute was worse because of the 25 minute wait between train transfers. The journey was not conducive to kettlebell carrying. I figured the next best thing to lifting with 12 kg was to lift with 30 pounds since I had that bell at home. Apparently, I was very wrong. That led to the final point.
I didn’t get the impression that she was actually reading my emails or listening to the problems I was having. I wasn’t whining about the training, or about the exercise being too hard. I was completing the workouts she assigned, but I couldn’t get her the video, a point that I made several times. A couple of weeks into training, she sent me an email pointing out that instead of writing to her about the difficulty in getting the video up, I should be telling her about my breathing, my pace and the perceived difficulty of the workouts. That message infuriated me. I was keeping pace, and breathing and making it through all the routines without a problem. As a matter of fact, I had emailed her earlier on and said that the workouts were easier than I expected. It felt as if she was sending me a generic program without taking into account my experience and fitness level, but she also didn’t ask about my injuries so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.
For the first time ever, training wasn’t fun. I started to question whether I really wanted this at all.