By John Wild Buckley
I first started picking people up in college. It was a spontaneous thing, a fun thing, and most often a drunk thing. I would grab a guy around his waist flip him heels over-head up to my shoulder and press him crucifix style. Every single time I did it the purpose was to make people laugh. It was my trick, people liked it, people liked me. I am a giant after all and certain things are expected of you when you are the biggest guy in the room.
When I was growing up I had a real misunderstanding of what made someone strong. Ken Patera was strong, Billy Jack Hayes was strong, the Road Warriors were strong and Andre, well he was the strongest. I would read about him flipping over cars and ripping trees out of the ground. All of these guys were strong and all of them picked people up in fantastically impressive ways.
When I first committed to being strong I read about all the real strong men. I would read things like 600lb bench press and it put my 455 to shame. I was embarrassed. I wanted to be strong and I didn’t know how to get there. Deadlifting 6 plates would impress the guys in my gym, but I always felt like they were not the real guys, the strong guys, they were mortal and so was I. My numbers were ok but I still needed something, something other people couldn’t do. I found it in the kettlebell.
Kettlebells are weird and a little scary. They stay off to the side, often in a corner, and only the real freaks would mess around with them. Even fewer of those people would look cool. Most of the time the bell dominates the person holding it. Only the precious few could wield the bell in any kind of masterful way. They could tame the bell, they were the strong and I needed to be strong.
So I guess you could say that my endless pursuit of Kettlebell mastery sprung from my constant state of insecurity. I’m comfortable with that. I chase the beast every day. I try to get closer, try to get better. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be original. That might sound weird but if I am asked to perform a special lift or feat of strength it really bothers me to do something everybody else can do. When I see someone lifting a big Kettlebell I know a thousand people do that. It is not enough. I needed something unique.
Last February a friend of mine showed me a clip of Mr. Jeff Martone doing a TGU with his wife substituting for a Kettlebell. “Can you do that” my friend asked? That was it! Lifting people just like those strong guys from my youth! I knew if I could start lifting people, just like those guys, I would look strong, I would BE strong like them! That clip is where I got/stole the idea. I tried it during the “feats of strength” segment of the first US IKFF certification. I missed the lift. I was not strong enough. It crushed me.
I basically went insane. I started doing getups every day, 32kg, 40kg, 48kg, I needed the lift. I would even do getups with a full size heavy-bag on top of me. The next time I tried the lift it was easy. There I was, standing in front of a room of people holding a person over my head! It is shameful to say, but it was the coolest thing ever! I didn’t feel like the strongest guy in the world. I did however for a moment look like one of those guys from my youth, like Macho Man, or Ken Patera, or (seriously though) Andre. It’s an awkward admission but that moment really filled something in me that had been empty my whole life.
Once I accomplished my first lift it just went on from there. I train by lifting several Kettlebells in one hand. Military press, Bent Press, Side Press, Windmill, and TGU, all of that is pretty obvious but the real trick for me was the GS. Learning to generate force sequentially in an efficient and relaxed way is what got Steve Cotter over my head. If you watch any of my lifts I am pretty relaxed. Sometimes I find myself “binding down” during a tough pass bust most of the time I am just trying to be relaxed. I pass through the small muscle groups to get from power group to stable group. I use my largest most powerful muscles to launch the heavy weight from structure to structure. I find this takes more explosiveness then tension. The GS helps develop that kind of power and alignment. If your body isn’t lined up right and your bones aren’t stacked you’ve got no shot of holding that weight.
One other point on lifting people is if you “crush grip” a person you will probably hurt them. If you are strong enough to hold people overhead, you are strong enough to hurt them with your grip. Try explaining that at the ER! So for all of you who think this may be your thing,,,Good Luck and lift well!
Make sure you check out John’s next level 1 KB workshop in San Francisco, CA on February 28, 2009. For more info go to: www.orangekettlebellclub.com