Interview with Emily Friedel: coaching, workshops and GS

Emily has played a big role in the development of GS in Australia. She was the first person to achieve the rank of Master of Sport in biathlon and long cycle and has taught all over the nation. She has been a great help for a number of people in the sport, including myself, and has a huge amount of teaching/workshop experience.

 

How do you view the differences in learning in a workshop environment to long term coaching?

In a workshop, the information presented has to be generalised as it’s a group learning situation – this means that individual feedback and development are far more limited than in a one-on-one long term coaching relationship.  One of the benefits of a workshop is that people have an opportunity to watch others lift and see some of the teaching cues/corrections put into practice, however long term coaching is the only way to truly get individualised technique analysis and programming (both of which are essential for safe and effective training).

A workshop is really just a starting point for people to grasp the basics of lifting and get a better understanding of the fundamentals of both technique and, for personal trainers, teaching strategies.  There is only so much you can cover in a day and there’s a fine line between giving enough information and overloading people, so in my opinion anyone who attends a workshop (on any type of technical lifting) should always follow this up with coaching to continue to develop their skills.  People who walk away from a day workshop and think they’re either ready to start training themselves or others in kettlebell lifting are a worry!

 

You have tried many different methods of teaching complex lifts like jerk and snatch. What do you feel is the best method of teaching?

First and foremost develop skill and strength in a logical progression.  Many people go straight from learning the one arm swing to snatching and in my opinion this doesn’t represent a logical progression because many skills essential for the snatch are skipped.  So, I think the best path to safe snatching is as follows:

One arm swing – this is obviously the base of the snatch
Clean – to learn how to catch the kettlebell on the back of the wrist without impact on the forearm and how to catch the kettlebell when it’s released into the backswing
Overhead press – to understand safe overhead lockout position
Push press – to learn how to fixate in a simple overhead ballistic lift
Jerk – to learn how to fixate in a more complex overhead ballistic lift and develop the shoulder strength/stability to fixate safely in the snatch

Once people have developed the necessary skill base, the easiest way that I have found to teach the more complex lifts is to break them down as much as possible, work on each segment separately, then when each segment is perfected combine them into the final product.  For example, with the jerk, after trialling many approaches over the years, this is the one I found worked fastest for most people:

Break the jerk down into dip, bump, top of the bump to catch in the second dip (this bit I learnt from you, James!) and practice each part individually WITHOUT a kettlebell at first.
Once all of the parts are being performed competently, string them together very slowly (again without a kettlebell), talking people through each step – dip….bump….drop under…stand up.
Once it is understood how the sequence of the parts of the movement fit together, then it can be performed faster (still without a kettlebell) until “real time” speed is achieved.
After going though the above process, I then go back to breaking the movement down but WITH a kettlebell this time: dip, dip & bump, overhead squat
Then it’s finally time to attempt the full movement with the kettlebell (and it can be worth going back over the full movement without again beforehand too).

What are the most common mistakes you see with these lifts?

There are a lot!  I will say that most of the common mistakes are a result of a skill deficit that usually results from a simpler lift not being perfected.  For example poor fixation in either jerk or snatch is often seen in people who don’t have a sound overhead lockout position in the overhead press and can’t perform a push press competently.

In the snatch, one of the most common mistakes is over-reliance on the upper body to pull the kettlebell up, instead of using body weight shifts to move the weight.  This usually stems from less-than-optimum swing technique (either using a more “hardstyle” swing or poor timing of leg and hip extension on the upswing).

The drop of the snatch is also a sticking point for people.  Most lifters catch the handle too early and rotate their hand after catching, both of which prematurely fatigue the grip and cause friction on the palm.  These issues also relate to not using their bodyweight to effectively counterbalance the kettlebell to guide it into the backswing.

With the jerk, the loss of elbow-body connection during the first dip/bump is a very common mistake and results in inefficient energy transfer from the lower body to the kettlebell.

For many people, catching the kettlebell in the second dip is also problematic – they have too shallow a dip, catch the bell with a bent arm or don’t get their hips directly under the kettlebell when they catch it.  These issues are often related to a lack of flexibility in the spine and shoulders.

 

How has your teaching evolved over the years?

Well I started out lifting and teaching “hardstyle” so it’s obviously changed quite a lot!  My teaching has evolved with my learning, which has been fairly constant since I started lifting kettlebells.  I’ve tried to access the best knowledge available and the better I’ve understood the lifts, the easier it’s been to teach skills in a logical progression, identify mistakes and be able to correct them.

One thing I’ve always had to be aware of, and try to fix, with my teaching is a tendency to over-coach – giving too much information at once.  A better understanding of the lifts helps reduce over-coaching because it’s easier to identify the core problem and focus on that, rather than trying to fix a bunch of peripheral problems, but it’s easy to get carried away…

 

What do you feel is the most important factor in progressing in kettlebell sport?

Patience!  You need the patience to perfect technique, which is key not only for injury-free lifting but ultimately for good numbers.  You also need the patience to persist with a given weight until you’ve mastered it before moving up.  You need the patience to deal with the inevitable plateaus in training and to accept that progress is usually quite slow.

 

What are the major barriers for novice kettlebell sport lifters? How do you address these barriers?

I think a scarcity of good coaches in Australia is a huge barrier to novice lifters over here – most people won’t be able to find a good coach near them so even getting started in the sport can be extremely difficult.  Luckily there are some great online coaches out there, but online coaching has its limitations and I think having better access to face-to-face coaching would make it much easier for novice lifters.

A lack of availability of training partners/teams is also an issue.  Training alone is not easy and the support of a training partner or team can make a huge difference.  The Ice Chamber Kettlebell Girls Team is a brilliant example of how a strong and supportive team not only attracts new lifters but also helps keep them involved in the sport long term.

I think both of the above barriers would begin to be addressed by developing a more cohesive kettlebell sport community in Australia.

 

What do you think GS has to offer other sports?

GS is great GPP for just about any sport.  Due to its power endurance nature, GS requires all-round fitness so it is also a means of identifying and addressing weak points.   Of course, it is also great training for the mind and teaches you to stay relaxed even under high levels of discomfort – something that is particularly important for any competitive athlete.

 

Any other good questions I should ask you?

No, but I would like to say thank-you for what you’ve done for the sport, James.  Coaches like you who are always learning and improving themselves are exactly what the sport needs over here and I think this blog is going to be a brilliant resource for novices and experienced lifters alike.

 

Emily was kind enough to take part in a pilot study from 2011.

Author

My name is James Ross, I’m a qualified personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach and amateur sports scientist. I am a founder and coach at Cohesion Strength and Conditioning in Melbourne and started the website www.gsscience.com.

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