Happy New You: Dave, I hope you don’t mind that every time we get together to talk that I thank you for being an inspiration and hero to me. Whenever anyone asks me to tell my story about my personal experience with back pain I always tell them how you and Pavel gave me my life back. Dave, a lot of people may not know this about you, but you’re an engineer. I have to ask, what did you think the first time that you saw a Kettlebell (or as some people like to refer to it, a bowling ball with handles)?
Dave Werner: That’s a funny question since it’s because of kettlebells that I no longer work as an engineer. I was designing electronics for a living and I enjoyed the creativity required by that work. But it meant sitting at a desk or a lab bench for long hours. I was weak, fat and my back hurt all the time. I actually first saw a kettlebell in a book by Pavel Tstatsouline at the Bellevue Public Library near my work place called “The Russian Kettlebell Challenge”. This was November or December of 2000 and kettlebells were unheard of in the U.S.A. I had already read and used Pavel’s book “Relax into Stretch” so I just took a leap of faith and ordered a 16 kilo (1 pood) kettlebell and a video tape – remember those? – and went to work.
I did look at the structural integrity – or lack of it – of my body from an engineering point of view and I realized that it would be necessary to strengthen my back if I wanted any quality of life improvement. A kettlebell is not very heavy really and the movements in the book and video looked reasonable to me, so I just started kettlebell training. I went with low swings and built from there.
H.N.Y.: Dave, you, like me, are a walking testimonial to the power of using Kettlebells in the rehabilitation of an injured back. What do you say to the skeptics out there (I myself have encountered a few) that either don’t believe or simply can’t comprehend how powerful a tool the Kettlebell is?
D.W.: This question is hard to talk about because the changes and the transformations we’ve seen often sound too good to be true. Even with my own story, people have a hard time picturing me fat and decrepit. I think the best approach here is to keep trying to reach those who are able to listen, to practice what we preach and set the best example we are able. It’s not going to be possible to convince everyone.
H.N.Y.: I like to share with people the hard scientific evidence of Dr. Stuart McGill about how incredible the swing is in strengthening the core. Dave, I know you, you are a voracious reader, what scientific research have you found to back you up when you encounter a skeptic?
D.W.: In my own experience medical doctors were unable to help me regain my quality of life. Human health and performance, in my opinion, is an area of science that is very weak. Dr. McGills work is the best and almost the only reasonable research I have ever seen on spine mechanics. For general health and performance I looked to Russian research, specifically Vladimir Satsiorsky’s “Science and Practice of Strength Training”. For the rest, I’ve looked to successful coaches and tried to observe what works.
H.N.Y.: One thing that you told me years ago that has always stuck with me was, “Kettlebells will get you ready for running, but running will never get you ready for Kettlebells”. I didn’t understand what you meant at first, but once you explained it to me (in only the great and simple way that you alone can do) it made immediate sense to me. It was like the light bulb went on over my head. I would love for you to explain this concept to our readers.
D.W.: Running well is hard work and requires a surprising amount of leg strength. But running with a bad back involves a lot of pounding. The hard work we do with kettlebells develops leg strength and does not involve a lot of impact. By focusing on kettlebell training, I was able to regain the leg strength and cardiovascular capacity to run well and at the same time minimize the pounding. Kettebell training also develops a lot of hip and low back strength and stamina that you just don’t get from running. A lot of kettlebell work mixed with a little bit of running will prepare you for both.
H.N.Y.: Dave, one thing that I have always respected about you is that you are always setting goals for yourself. Besides personal goals or business goals you also have goals for health and fitness. Eight years ago I remember you telling me that it was going to take you about five years to get to the level of fitness that you wanted to be at. You achieved that and now you’re on to your next goal, which I think is great…but what do you say to the person who thinks that they can just walk into a gym once a twice a week for 20 – 30 minutes and then go home and drink a 6 pack of beer and think that they are going to be healthy for life?
D.W.: The only way to make real change in any area is long sustained effort. Not everyone is going to want to believe this. Those who don’t understand how real change happens are stuck in a pattern of a short period of rapid progress followed by stalled progress, burn out and disillusionment. In order to avoid this trap we have to learn to enjoy the process. In the area of fitness the pleasure and satisfaction comes from the process of getting in shape, not from the state of being in shape.
H.N.Y.: How much of health, fitness, diet, and exercise do you think is a “mental game”? What are one or two techniques that people can do to tap into their “mental strengths”? Something that they can do to help keep themselves from giving up right before they have a breakthrough in their fitness level?
D.W.: I really think that our lives are mostly mental; maybe 80 or 90 percent. Our brain controls all of our thoughts, our expectations and our movement. I think there are two keys to making our expectations realistic and our habits productive. The first is taking the long-term view so that daily ups and downs in our progress don’t get us too excited or too discouraged. The second key is to set short term goals; small, modest, incremental steps of progress that you can feel good about and reward yourself for. It’s important to understand that rapid short-term progress is a lot of fun but sets us up for disappointment later if we take it too seriously.
H.N.Y.: As I mentioned earlier, you are a reader, what are a few of the books that really had a huge impact on you and your life for health and fitness?
D.W.: All of Pavel Tstatsouline’s books; Robb Wolf’s “The Paleo Solution”; Stuart McGill’s “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance”; Vladimir Zatsiorsky’s “Science and Practice of Strength Training”
There are many other great books but one I really recommend is “The Gut and Psychology Syndrome” (GAPS Diet) by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. I have found that healthy guts and a healthy digestive system are extremely important for maintaining health. Her book is a great guide.
H.N.Y.: Who have been some of your mentors? Who or what inspires you?
D.W.: Jacques Cousteau was an early inspiration for me and he is one of the main reasons I joined the Navy. My Father inspired me with his quiet competence. I had many great teachers and coaches in my life. Olympic Weightlifting coach Mike Burgener has inspired me with his enthusiasm and dedication to his craft. Ido Portal has inspired me with his passion for movement.
H.N.Y.: Dave, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
D.W.: Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert has a video on the web, a TED lecture called “The Real Reason for Brains”. In this video he advances the idea that the brain exists solely to control movement. Everything else we are is a side benefit of that process. I think this a key insight and that we can greatly improve our enjoyment and quality of life by studying and practicing movement of all types. This is the real secret to how I rehabbed my back. I got moving.
H.N.Y.: Where can people find out more about you and your work?
D.W.: My bio: http://crossfitseattle.com/about/staff-bios/dave-werner
You can follow CrossFit Seattle on Twitter @CrossFitSeattle
My back rehab story: http://crossfitseattle.com/knowledge/articles/back-injury
An article I wrote about the need for movement skill: http://crossfitseattle.com/knowledge/articles/redefining-athleticism
H.N.Y.: Thank you for your time today. I always enjoy talking with you and learning from you.
D.W.: I’ve always enjoyed working with you Wendy. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.