Friday, January 5, 2018

Agatsu Level 2 Prep


Shortly after I completed the Agatsu Kettlebell Level 2 Certification (June 2017), a few people reached out on how I prepared.

I was excited to share my journey, but when I started to write, I didn't know where to start.

And I still feel like I don't have a complete answer.

However, seeing how the certification is coming up this June, I figured I should put something out there. This is also about the time last year when I started to seriously prepare. And while I "passed" Level 2, I'm still working on the Level 2 fitness standards, and hope to get closer to 100% by June.

Enough of the preamble. Here is a primer on how I prepped for Level 2. Questions and comments are most certainly welcomed.

What is Agatsu Level 2?

Agatsu is well known for its kettlebell certification program in Canada and worldwide. More notably, it is known for producing well-rounded generalists with high fitness standards.

The Agatsu Level 2 Kettlebell Instructor Certification is one such example. To pass Level 2, you need well-developed strength and mobility.

To illustrate, here are the fitness standards for Level 2:

  • Pistols  (10 unbroken reps on each leg is 100%-unassisted)
  • 5 Minute Snatch Test (100 snatches total is 100%, only one hand change, women 16kg, men 24kg)
  • Jerk Test (35 unbroken double jerks is 100%) (women 16kgs, men 24kgs, no time limit)
  • Pull Up Test (strict -no kipping, unbroken chest touches the bar, 10 reps is 100% for women, 15 reps is 100% for men)
  • Bridge Test (3 minutes is 100%)
  • Toes to Bar (10 unbroken strict no kipping is 100%, performed on stall bars)
  • Ring Push Ups (unbroken in external rotation, approx 1 foot from floor, 10 reps for women, 15 reps for men is 100%- hands must stay positioned in external rotation throughout the movement)

To pass, you need an overall percentage of 75%.

Most people can't just waltz in and pass without significant training (at least, most people I know). While you may be strong in one or multiple areas, there's a high chance there are gaps in other areas.

What follows is how I prepared. Each person will likely need a different approach to address their own weaknesses.

I'd love to hear from you if you plan to attack this beast!

How I trained for Level 2

1. Identify your "why"

Okay, I know. This sounds cheesy. But for me, this helps me develop a strong mind. And training the mind is just as important as training the body, if not more!

So, why do you want to achieve Agatsu Level 2?

Is this the right fit for you?

Training for the Agatsu Level 2 test helps you become (in my mind) the ultimate generalist.

But it may mean giving up other things for a period of time to address your weaknesses.

For me, this meant putting a hold on powerlifting, long distance running, starting BJJ, CrossFit, and all the other fun things I enjoy doing.

For you, it may look a little different. But the principle is that I needed to ensure I was able to train with a decent amount of intensity. And for that, I needed recovery.

So that's why you need a "why". Having a strong purpose keeps you focused.

2. Commit

Once you decide this is the right fit for you, commit.

Sign up. 

This is probably the most important. Signing up makes it a lot more difficult to quit. Even if you think you need a few more months to train. You'll be surprised what you can accomplish with a few months of focused training.

Click here to sign up for the 2018 certification happening this June.

Be Accountable

Tell people. Friends. Strangers. Social media. It helps (for me at least) if you tell people you respect. A big part of my motivation was to not disappoint them.

And find training partners (in person / online) to inspire you and keep you accountable. It helps if they are committed to Level 2 as well.

Accountability helps you stay on the path.

Is this realistic? 

I know I just said sign up, but it also helps to have a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses ... and to have a general idea what you can accomplished with focused effort and consistent training. Agatsu Level 2 has generally been held around June (this year, June 23-24, 2018).

I would generally recommend 3-6 months to prepare, depending on your strengths and weaknesses.

Oh wait, this means you can sign up now! Of course, you need to complete the Level 1 course first. Here's a link to the upcoming Agatsu certifications.

The goal should be realistic (e.g. not next week), and real enough to possibly scare you (e.g. not 10 years).

3. Programming

Assess & Plan

Identify your baseline and map out how you'll get
there. The better you assess, the better you'll progress.

Take time to know your strengths and weaknesses. And start finding regressions / progressions to help you take you to your goal.

If you need some help, feel free to reach out to me or to someone you trust. There are also plenty of good stuff online (and not-so-good stuff, so choose carefully).

Build a strong base

6 months out, I'd recommend a generalized training program that will help you build all-round strength & flexibility.

The more time you address your weaknesses, the better generalist you'll be overall. The Agatsu Online Training is a good place to start.

Attack your weaknesses 

To do well on Level 2, you need to spend more time on your weaknesses. For example, I had fairly strong one-legged squats (10+ reps / leg). So, I spent a bit of time each week just to maintain that strength. I don't need to do pistols with 100+ lbs for reps ... at least, not yet!

Think of Pareto's 80/20 principle. What is the "20%" of work that can yield "80%" of the results?

What are high-leverage activities that will make the best use of your time?

For me, that meant more work on mobility (bridge and toes-to-bar tests) and strength-endurance (snatch and jerk tests).

Tips for each test

Before I even start with this, you should know the standards. For example, I thought ring push-ups were a walk in the park. However, when someone showed me what "external rotation" meant, I realized it was a much bigger hole in my game.

Without further ado, here are some tips for each test:

  • Own the isometric (top and bottom position). This applies to pull-ups, push-ups, and pretty much everything else too. For example, if you can't stabilize yourself at the top of the rings, take a step back from that muscle-up. 
  • Most people are strong enough to do a pistol. But you may be lacking in your ankle or hip flexibility. 
  • As weird as this sounds, it also helps to have hip flexor strength. Holding that opposite leg up is harder than it looks!
  • For increased stability, it helps to create more tension in the body. One way to do this is to grab the ground with your feet and to think about your hamstrings pulling yourself down to the ground.
5 Minute Snatch Test 
  • I'm going to assume you know how to snatch. The Level 1 course goes over this.
  • Build endurance at light-medium weight. Timed sets is one way to do this (e.g. 1:00 - 2:00 - 3:00, with 1:1 work:rest)
  • Spend time with the goal weight (24 kg for men, 16 kg for women). And work towards getting 100 reps in with this in a training session. Even if you have to break it up into 20 sets of 5. Eventually, you will be able to do the 100 with less rest, etc. I started with 10 sets of 10 reps / arm. It was heavy, but gave me a sense of what it felt like.
  • Work on technique. A more efficient technique will make this easier.
  • Sign up for a kettlebell sport competition. I did a comp a few months before Level 2 using 16 kg bells. It certainly helped me get a sense of both the physical and mental games of kettlebell sport.
  • Build your grip strength. The first thing that dies in the snatch is likely your grip. A strong grip transfers to virtually every physical discipline, and happens to be a good indicator of life expectancy.
Jerk Test
  • Same points as the snatch.
  • I'll also re-emphasize the point I made under "pistols": Own the isometric. Spend time in the front rack. Spend time with the bells overhead. Build endurance.
  • Breathe. This one has no time limit.
  • Build your overhead press. Being stronger makes everything easier.
  • Work on technique. I wish I spent more time working on bumps and front rack holds.
  • Mobility might be a limiting factor for some, especially shoulder / t-spine mobility. Working on your bridge will help a lot with this.
Pull Up Test 
  • I'm going to assume you can do strict pull-ups. Maybe a strict chest-to-bar pull-up.
  • I got the best bang for my buck spending time on banded pull-ups. I spent a lot of time at the end range of motion (between chest touching the bar and a few inches off). I chose a band that would allow me to feel the muscle engagement (not just a band that would get me to the bar). It's not just about getting there, but how you get there. For me, I treated this like any other strength exercise. 5x5 at 80% ish seems to do the trick (for me, that was the black band).
Bridge Test 
  • I spent the most time on this one. Even though I didn't pass this test, I learned a lot through the process of training.
  • Mobility is the main issue for most people. Shoulder mobility, t-spine mobility, tight hip flexors, tight fascia, etc. Do some focused mobility and flexibility work. Get help from a manual therapist. 
  • Be patient. Easy come, easy go.
  • Be consistent. 
Toes to Bar 
  • Okay, first, do you have strict toes-to-bar without stall bars? If not, that's a great place to start (e.g. hangs, knee tucks, leg lifts, building to toes to bar).
  • Okay, you can do these strict? Good! Do you have the mobility to do them on stall bars? This one surprised me. For a quick check, lie on the ground with your arms overhead. Now just lift your legs and touch your hands or the floor. Easy? Didn't think so!
  • For me, the following stretches helped the most: weighted pike stretch (and Jefferson curls), hamstring / glute / lower back stretches, and ... neck stretches (lying on the ground, lifting my legs, and trying to touch the ground with my legs straight).
  • Whether it's strength or mobility, spend the majority of your time on your weakest link.
Ring Push Ups 
  • ... with external rotation. This means rings turned out at 45 degrees, with that angle maintained the entire way.
  • Own the isometric. Emphasized yet again. Are you stable at the top and bottom of the push-up position with the rings turned out?
  • Build the negative. This is especially important if you can't do a push-up yet. Building the eccentric is also useful to build strength (more time under tension, etc).
  • Practice on a stable surface. Whether it's parallettes or kettlebell handles, practicing on a stable surface helps you build strength with external rotation. 
  • Find the right regression. As you start working with the rings, find a height where you can get some solid volume in. For example, I got to a point where I could do 1-2 reps with external rotation. At this point, I spent the majority of my time training elevated push-ups by simply changing the angle of the rings. 5 sets of 5-10 reps worked for me.  As with any bodyweight exercise, lots of volume at sub-maximal loads seem to do the trick.

Closing thoughts

Okay, that's a lot of information. Some of it may be useful. Some of it, not so much. Take what's useful. Discard the rest.

If the Agatsu Level 2 Fitness Standards are part of your fitness goals, I'd love to hear from you and follow your journey. You can reach out to me by commenting on this blog post or finding me on Instagram (@joshuahywang).

And if you want some help, I'd be happy to help you free of charge. Actually, let me clarify. I'm happy to offer my coaching services free of charge. But it will still cost you. If you want my help, I want to know you have some skin in the game. For me, this means you signed up for the Level 2 certification (100% committed), and willing to send me videos of your progress (or post your training progress on social media for me to follow). Of course, if you just want help with your fitness or nutrition, I'd be happy to help with that too. Just shoot me a message.

With that, I'm off. 

Happy New Year!

Here's to an awesome 2018!