Wednesday, December 22, 2004


It feels like it’s been months since I last blogged- been taking some time away from my computer to try and get my house organised for Christmas, amongst many other tasks I’ve been putting off- but I couldn’t resist posting a link to this story- mysterious cleaning of one of the Martian rovers! I am of course a massive fan of Ray Bradbury, particularly his Martian Chronicles (although that collection misses my favourite Martian tale, Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, which is a simply wonderful piece of writing) and also the great Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars stories. One of the great disservices science has done me is to prove that there’s no life on Mars- I’m much happier ignoring that body of data and imagining weird and wonderful things on the Red Planet.

Monday, December 13, 2004

1st KB Workout

I had my first Kettlebell workout Saturday and, though it was brief, I think I can definitely see how these things will be of benefit to me. I read over Pavel Tsatsouline’s The Russian Kettlebell Challenge and basically did a set of two of each exercise to get the feel for it and to try out the techniques. There are only a few basic exercises (although you can also incorporate normal lifts into your routine if you like)- swing, clean, snatch, military press and floor press. There’s also a side and bent press but I haven’t been able to master them yet. At this point, I’m happy enough with these. Though the KB itself felt pretty heavy at first, I think that’s a lot to do with the shape- after doing a few practice lifts, it now feels a lot less of a burden.

The key to KB training seems to be high rep lifts. Pavel doesn’t recommend the usual bodybuilding approach of training to failure and I’m happy enough with that while I experiment with this system to see its effects. His aim is not to build muscle but rather strength-endurance (which means it is ideal for those in the military). And believe me, these whole body compound moves will definitely build strength while the moderate weight of the KB enables higher reps. That’s not to say that the KB is easy to lift, it’s not. One other aspect of this sort of training is that it’s supposed to strengthen not just the muscles but the tendons and ligaments. After Saturday’s mini-workout I could definitely feel my wrist and elbows joints- they weren’t sore, but I could tell the joints had been worked. Sunday they felt fine. My forearms were also aching a little because hanging on to the KB as you swing it gives you a tremendous grip workout.

I’m going to try a full workout with the KB later today- you can use two but one is all that is required (and personally I think that using one adds a bit more effort to the moves as you have to work to balance yourself out). It’s a very compact home-gym system. Hopefully I’ll still be fit to type tomorrow and will report back on it. Apart from anything else, working with the KB is fun- a great change from barbells and dumbbells.

Friday, December 10, 2004


My Kettlebell arrived today. First impressions- damn but it’s heavy. It’s a standard one ‘pood’ KB, which is 16kg/35lbs. That doesn’t sound a lot with a dumbbell but somehow having the weight compressed into the cannonball shape seems to make it heavier. Having handled it, I’d only recommend this weight if you’re in fairly decent shape already- if you’re just starting to exercise, try a half-pood first to get a feel for it. I ordered mine from a UK company called and it was not only cheaper than a lot of other sites I visited, but also delivered very promptly. Ordered late Wednesday evening and delivered today. Great service.

My only problem now (apart from hauling this heavy lump of iron about) is that the guide-book I ordered from Amazon still hasn’t arrived. That really irks me because I paid for a next day delivery and I got an ‘item dispatched’ email on Wednesday. And it’s still not here. Once more, the Royal Mail proves its ineptitude.

I’m eager to get going with the KB but I’m going to have to wait now for the manual and have a study at it. I’ll maybe hit the gym and practice some deadlifts instead this weekend.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Head’s Bunker has a great little feel good blog today on heroes- go and check it out.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Left Handedness

I’m not sure what to make of this article. On the one hand (pardon the pun) it’s good to hear good things about being a lefty. Usually all I hear is about my lower life expectancy and knackered immune system. However, this ‘new’ research is nothing of the sort- the advantage of the left hander in combat (unarmed or with a sword/knife) has, I thought, long been acknowledged- maybe these guys have never heard of a sport called boxing? In fact, it would seem to be fairly obvious that someone used to fighting against a right-handed opponent might be thrown somewhat when facing someone left-handed. Perhaps it’s just me, but surely a lot of these “scientists” need to sort their lives out and go and do something useful with their university educations and grants. Are they actually getting paid for this sort of thing? Go and read the headlines on FARK for a week or two and you’ll be appalled by what passes for scientific research these days- pointing out the bleeding obvious.

Still, nice to hear something good about being a southpaw.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


I’ve posted a few items on fitness in the past, particularly on the Concept 2 rowing machine and on weight training (my preferred exercise). For the past month or so I have been regularly missing my gym workouts- and it’s starting to show. While I was weight training rowing took a backseat but I’m beginning to get back into the swing of doing a row most days now to make up for it. However, I really miss lifting and because my house is fairly small and contains two children I have no room for a decent weights set up. A bench with a squat rack just won’t fit. So I’ve been looking for an alternative. My office contains a Gold’s Gym Power Tower- a dip, pull up and press up station all-in-one- which is very handy but it’s just not the same; I like to lift things!

I first read about Kettlebells about a year or so ago. Imagine a cannonball with a handle and you’ve got your Kettlebell. The basic weight or ‘pood’ is 16kg/35lbs, but you can step up the weight to bigger KBs as you improve. It’s an old school training regime to be sure, but it seems to be highly effective at building pure strength and burning fat. Unlike normal weight training some of the routines for KBs involve ballistic movements- swinging the ball through parts of the lift. The great part for me is that the only equipment which is required is a KB and yourself. No benches or other equipment to clutter up the house. And it’s quite fitting given the few mentions Spetsnaz have gotten here lately- they apparently used KBs to train with.

There are a lot of claims made about this sort of training which, if only half true, would make it better than anything else going. The main guy who advocates KBs is Pavel Tsatsouline. According to him (and a lot of the reviews around the web) KBs are the single best way to increase strength, burn fat, and increase speed. Now, I’m somewhat sceptical about the extent of some of these claims but as the routines for KBs seem to be based on power lifting it seems to me that, if this is the case, they will do a lot of what they claim. I know that the basic lifts work with a barbell so I’m willing to try the same with a Kettlebell.

At the moment I’m trying to locate a company in the UK which sells KBs (plenty in the US but I dread to think what the shipping would be like) at a reasonable price- the cost varies wildly from place to place. Once I’ve tracked that down, I’ll invest in a KB and report back as progress (hopefully) occurs.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Special Forces Shovel

In my Edged Weapons post a week or so back I mentioned that one of the items I keep around the house is a basic entrenching tool with a single ‘kind-of’ sharp edge on it. Well, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into then check out Cold Steel- a great company- because they actually make a Special Forces Shovel that comes with axe-level sharpened edges which can then be brought up to a razor’s edge if required!

As with all their products it’s incredibly reasonably priced and, if the items of theirs which I own are anything to go by, damned rugged. I may have to upgrade soon.

Spetsnaz troops used the shovel (according to a book by Viktor Suvorov I read many a year ago) as a multi-purpose item. It was a measuring tool, it could cut bread, it could be hurled at an enemy (Spetsnaz apparently practiced this by running along a beam and jumping off as they threw their shovels at a target) and it was a pretty mean CQB item to boot. I’d rather face a guy armed with a bayonet that a sharp shovel. Oh, and you can dig holes with it too!

SCAR Rifle

Thanks to ACE, I’ve now seen the Special Forces new weapon of choice- the FN SCAR. At first sight it’s not the most stunning weapon I’ve ever seen- if fact it looks a little clunky, a bit underwhelming. But that’s not the point is it? It’s functioning that counts and if the internals of this are similar to the AK then reliability shouldn’t be a problem. Of course, part of the reason the AK design is so reliable is that the parts have a bit of play to them, the tolerances are pretty loose. Makes for a great weapon for poorly trained conscripts or terrorists, but what it gains in reliability it loses in accuracy. And for a modern, highly-trained Special Forces operator weapon maintenance will be second nature. I’d guess that in the trade off between reliability and accuracy, most modern soldiers would prefer more accuracy. No point in having a weapon that works all the time regardless of its last clean when you can’t hit a target at 200 yards.

It’ll be interesting to hear some reports on this thing. As ACE notes, FN is dedicating production to SF needs. If this thing is the bee’s knees then surely the Army would want to put it through trials too? Maybe this isn’t as ‘modular’ as they require?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Buffalo Shirt

One item that any Americans reading this might not be familiar with is the Buffalo shirt. While it’s not an issue piece of the British military uniform, it should be because virtually everyone in the Armed Forces has one. Available in various styles now, the standard Special Six shirt is an over-the-head top, lined with fleece and with a shower-proof outer. There are also ventilation zips down each side. This thing is incredibly warm and you could wear it and a T-shirt during a standard British winter and not get cold. If it gets wet, it dries in no time and it weighs very little. It’s light-weight and while the pack size isn’t that small, a few compression straps soon take care of that. It’s a fantastic bit of kit and it’s one that I’m sure almost every British soldier and Marine has.

I’m not sure if there is a similar item used by those in the American military, but the Buffalo has spawned a range of copy-cat products, the best and most popular of which are made by Snugpak. If you’re in the service or just an outdoors sort of person it’s certainly an item to have a look at.