Athlete Journal: Andrew Read, Entry 7 – Two Masters

Have you ever tried to please two masters? What if those masters were Ironman and RKC training? Here’s what I’m doing to try to blend the two.

Click here to read other journal entries and articles by Andrew Read, and look for his new journal every Monday as he trains for Ironman Melbourne.

Journal Entry 7 – Two Masters

Have you ever tried to prioritize two things at the same time?

Didn’t work out so well?

That’s almost exactly where I am right now. One part of me is in constant training to uphold the RKC standards I agreed to when I became an instructor and Team Leader and the other part of me is trying to get into serious endurance racing shape. But the two are largely at opposite ends of the spectrum. One is very low rep, high load work and the other is all about minimizing body weight and maximizing efficiency via hours and hours of endurance work.

I’ll be honest – the RKC standards are tough for me. There are many in our ranks who are freaky strong and likely could never train again and still pass our standards. I am not one of them.

That’s not a bad thing as it always gives me something to work on in my own training. However endurance work and strength training don’t often go so well together. Have you ever seen an elite runner, cyclist, or triathlete up close? They look so fragile and delicate. Right now I’m probably about 7-8kg heavier than what the “right” weight would be for an endurance athlete my height. George Hincapie, Lance Armstrong’s right hand man in many of his famous Tour victories is the same height and 10kg lighter!

So how is it possible to satisfy two masters with opposing needs?

The first thing on my agenda was to get rid of all exercises that were unnecessary. The RKC “Big Six” is already pretty refined and it is hard to make that smaller, but I still have. Here’s my basic two day a week strength plan:

  • Get ups
  • Double kettlebell clean and jerks (otherwise known as long cycle)
  • Pull ups
  • Barbell front squats
  • Kettlebell snatch

That’s it. I don’t do anything extra. For the get ups I work up to what is my test weight of 40kg and do some reps there until I’m satisfied with my form. For clean and jerks I follow a modified De Lorme pattern, where I do reps with a light weight, the same number of reps with a medium weight, and then finally repeat with a decent weight.

For right now I’m being cautious with these. My top set is with two 28kg bells. I can go heavier, but I’m careful to make sure it doesn’t impact my swimming on the same days. I’m also using clean and jerks because I believe they help to keep stress off my AC joint, which is already copping abuse from all the swimming (and I’ve had surgery once already on my left shoulder) and also because I get fantastic incidental conditioning from them.

Pull ups are in there simply because they’re a great upper body exercise and if I don’t do them regularly my ability at them vanishes instantly. Five sets of five with 20kg are all I get here.

Why the barbell for front squats instead of kettlebells? For the simple reason that I can use more weight. The position of kettlebells for front squats makes it more of an upper body exercise than it is a lower body exercise. I squat so I can pedal harder therefore I want more weight. The bar is the right tool here.

Kettlebell snatches because they’re a great strength and conditioning exercise. The RKC is famous for its five minute, one hundred rep snatch test with a 24kg bell and it’s an important part of our system. So I do one hundred reps at the end of each session with a 28kg bell.

So far this is working really well. I’m loving the clean and jerks instead of normal pressing, although they seem to make me pack on size in my upper body. Once I’m back in my groove well with them – maybe in a month or so – I’ll be more likely to do them for a simple five sets of five instead of the De Lorme approach. I’ll be able to use more weight and it’ll actually keep me fresher, too, so that’ll be a good change. I do need to be careful on front squats not to push too hard. I don’t need to squat a house, just enough to keep my legs strong – and I find heavy front squats really hard on my lower back because my torso is quite long and difficult to stabilize. A sore lower back means no riding and even a hard time in the pool when it comes to tumble turns.

The key for all this is to keep my eyes on both goals – do well at Ironman and at least maintain my strength according to RKC standards. Lifting heavier, while possible, is not only necessary it may cause other problems – shoulders fatigued from clean and jerks may not stay stable while swimming and tired and heavy legs from squatting will make running hard.

Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. Avoiding the distraction of “fun” and adventurous training is difficult. But there will be plenty of time for that post IM. For now it’s keep it simple and use only the exercises that will get me the best return for the minimum time.