[08:00] Why Mike is Such a Fan of the Kettlebell
[10:45] The Russian Military Secrets Mike Uses to Train and Compete
[12:55] What a Sample Workout Looks Like for Mike
[18:55] How Mike’s Training Approach Allows Athletes to Train Far Less Than Their Peers and Achieve Superior Results
[23:55] What Paul Chek Figured Out about Mike that Nobody Else Could Figure Out
[34:15] Mike’s Experience with DMT and Ayahuasca
[39:35] How Mike Fuels His Body with Diet
[44:30] Mike versus Paul Chek in Deadlifting
[48:55] The Biggest Mistakes People Make When They’re Trying to Get Stronger or Use Kettlebells
[56:26] End of Podcast
Ben: Why, hello! This is Ben Greenfield. I’ve been getting very strong using kettlebells and I interviewed a guy who has been integral in making that happen, a guy who is a freak of nature who can hoist 51 reps of double 72 lbs. kettlebells overhead in 10 minutes. His name is Mike Salemi, he’s the world Clean and Jerk champion in kettlebell lifting and we delve into that and a whole lot more in today’s episode, one of his mentors and instructors is Paul Chek. So if you liked him in my Paul Chek episodes, you’re gonna dig this one. I went to San Diego on a train with Mike for a couple hours down there then we sat down in my friend Drew Canole’s living room to record this, so I think you’ll dig it. We also video recorded the whole thing. So if you go to the show notes which I will announce during today’s podcast, you can go to those. You’ll be able to watch the video too if you wanna see me and Mike sitting there at the table chatting or see us being complete beasts in the garage of Drew, at least you’ll see Mike being a complete beast and you’ll see me flailing with a kettlebell.
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In this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“So for a novice who has no experience, for sure getting a qualified coach first and foremost, and hopefully a qualified coach that has some system of an assessment process to define where the person is in that moment and then structure the training program progressively so that they can hopefully get whatever their goal is.”
“When you’re first learning a skill, I like keeping the reps very low, get your rest period, make sure you got enough time to refocus, let the nervous system calm down, and then you go back and do it.”
Ben: I’m feeling good. I got all my sweaty sweatiness from that garage gym workout cleaned off and you look good too, did you get a cold shower in?
Mike: I did, I did; ice cold.
Ben: Yeah, that felt good and for those of you listening in, Mike Salemi and I just did you like “Sa-lee-mi” or “Su-le-mi” by the way, or “Salami”?
Mike: Su-le-mi is the pronunciation but my nickname always in powerlifting as I was a kid was Salami Mike, Pepper-turkey Mike; it was always lunch meat names but…
Ben: I’m just gonna call you Salami. So we were out in my buddy Drew Canole’s garage out here in San Diego and you did what you called working out and working in, which I understand as the technique that you learned from Paul Chek. But can you walk me through just a couple of things that we just got done doing in the garage?
Mike: Sure, so what we did essentially because I know that you’re getting ready for your RKC snatch test, which for the people that aren’t familiar with that, that’s 5 minutes for the males, 24 kilos snatching in 5 minutes, you gotta get a hundred reps.
Ben: That’s freaking hard.
Mike: It’s really hard.
Ben: My buddy’s a badass, he’s been in this podcast twice, Joe DiStefano and sorry Jo coz I know you're a listener but he admitted in some podcast he failed it and that made me nervous coz he’s pretty fit.
Mike: Well like anything, technique plays such a huge role and a lot of our work today was really just trying to help you be a little bit more of a technical lifter because I mean already, I already know wind and gas is not gonna be an issue for you because your motor is infinite, can go for days. For you it’s gonna be just technique, some alignment stuff and the better your technique is, honestly once you start nailing those and really start refining the technique, it’s gonna be not necessarily a walk in a park but you’ve got all the foundations of what you need in terms of mental fortitude, I know you're not gonna quit; you’ve got the gas thing, it’s just refining it. And anyone who takes the RKC strong first whatever the 5 minutes snatch test, no one goes into that unprepared and passes or slim to none. So that’s one of the things I appreciate about that test is there actually is a high failure rate so you have to work in it, you have to practice it so when you go through that curriculum, you're showing out what people have put in the time and really work for it. So what I appreciate about you is I know you said you’ve got it in February so you're starting at the good time and I know you’ve practiced a little bit before.
Ben: Yeah, that’s like five months, four or five months from now.
Ben: I’m a planner. I’m a prepper.
Ben: I live out in the forest off the grid and I am really a prepper.
Mike: My first powerlifting coach is one of my biggest mentors when I was a kid and he would always say the five-piece prior preparation prevents poor performance and so I’d always just drill those in and so I like what you're doing, I like you're mindset and I think you’ll do really well at it.
Ben: Awesome, okay cool. So for example one of the things we were doing was super slow kettlebell cleans, bottoms up, over the head down 3 per side, far different than what I told you my usual soul crushing workout where I’m just beat, and then we just stopped and we do like 10 super slow like tai chi type of, have you always worked out like that?
Mike: No, actually that whole methodology of training was introduced to me when I was really working with Paul Chek. Now I was exposed to Paul Chek’s work when I was 18 as a competitive powerlifter right before I was really at my peak; 18-19 is…
Ben: Yeah, I wanna back up and end here about it, coz weren’t you a powerlifter and then you got into kettlebell?
Ben: Okay, so walk me through this.
Mike: So my base, I mean as a kid as a young kid I was a gymnast, and so while I didn’t go to an extremely high level due to injury, that really set the foundation for movement and my appreciation to movement-body awareness. I think gymnastics and also martial arts that are really two fantastic developmental sports that you can put any kid through. So that’s was really my base and from there I got into competitive powerlifting and obviously powerlifting is strength-based sport and that’s really where my mindset and also my physical abilities really shine because I would, and this is something I really realized when I was working with Paul, is I’m a very much a fast-twitch athlete. So from the age about 14-15 up until my mid 20’s, I was very competitive in powerlifting and at my peak before I really stopped at kinda got to my highest level at the time, I was, think I was 19 I was weighing 178 and my best squat was 605, best deadlift was 615 and then my best bench press was 470.
Ben: You were like my friend Matt in college, Matt and I were night and day, he was total fast twitch, he was hairy like you, he’s like this hairy tall guy.
Ben: And we go for a run, right? I just run, I’d run for days but he’d run like the first half mile super-fast, we go to the gym and he’d crush me on the bench but then I just keep benching rep after rep after rep after rep so yeah, night and day I can tell what kind of athlete you’re like the fast twitch mesomorph powerlifter type of athlete.
Mike: I love that intensity and that preparation, I love that type of training which is that’s really what I took to and that was all drug-free powerlifting. And then I got into a little bit of Olympic weightlifting in college and really liked that, but then at the time I was a strength and conditioning coach at a collegiate level and I took a kettlebell sport because a lot of times when I was working with athletes it was always either on the mat, on the courts, outside, and so I needed something that, as much as I love the barbell, I needed something that was versatile, portable and something that was relatively small in size. So I took a kettlebell certification and I was hooked and one of the main instructors, actually he was the assistant instructor and his name is John Wild Buckley he was one of the coaches I’ve worked for a number years in kettlebell sport, he pulls me aside after and was just saying “you know, I think here’s a kettlebell sport” but prior to that point I had no idea what it was. I was like “kettlebell sport, tell me more” and so he explained what it is and we…
Ben: Well, I wanna know what it is too.
Mike: Yeah, so obviously powerlifting, one rep max squat, bench, deadlift; purest test of absolute strength. Kettlebell sport, which is one of the primary ways in which they train the Russian military, is very much a strength endurance sport. Now classically in kettlebell sport you’ve got 2 main events, it’s branching out a little bit more, but the main event that I competed is called long cycle and really what that is, is just to clean and jerk; men, 2 kettlebells, one in each hand. At the professional level, we compete with 132 kilo kettles, so 72 lbs. in each hand.
Ben: Seventy-two lbs. in each hand.
Mike: In each hand.
Mike: For 10 minutes nonstop you can’t set it down. If you set it down, set’s over.
Ben: Oh my gosh. What’s setting it down mean, does that mean that it touches the ground?
Mike: Touches the ground, it can’t touch the ground.
Ben: Holy cow!
Mike: Right, so your rest is here and your reps is here. So you can imagine the mental fortitude, the strength, the endurance, the grip, which is usually the limiting factor in a lot of lifters, and you got to repeat that and based off as your weight class and the repetitions you get that indicates what kind of ranking you’re in and so, at my best in kettlebell sport in the long cycle category, that my best was 51 repetitions at 73 kilos, so I was about 159-160 lbs. when I weighed in for that. So the reason why that really…
Ben: So that’s in 10 minutes, a 72 lbs. kettlebell in each hand and you did how many reps?
Mike: Fifty one.
Ben: Fifty one reps, both hands?
Mike: Both hands.
Ben: Oh my gosh.
Mike: And I also compete in the double 40 kilo category which is 288 lbs. bells, one in each hand; that’s more of a feat of strength category that not too many people compete in and that one I’ve competed in the 5 minute category, so 5 minutes clean and jerk unbroken as many reps as you can without setting the bells down.
Ben: That’s where you’re the world champion in.
Mike: I’m world champion at the 32s, the 40s is more…
Ben: The 32 is the 72 lbs.?
Mike: Yeah. That’s the professional, that’s really like the level that every main large kettlebell sport lifters kind of compared against. The 40 is more like a feat of strength and that was something I was really working on with Paul and that’s still something I’m trying to get up. My goal is to try and be the first North American, at least in competition, to hit one of the highest ranks with 40 kilos.
Ben: Okay, so walk me through what a sample workout would look like for you to get ready for something like that.
Mike: So right now I’m in a competition cycle so I compete on I think it’s the weekend of whatever, December 7th-8th, something like that and for the first time in over 8 years of competing, I’m gonna try a different category. So I’ve been competing classically in the long cycle and the clean and jerk; now I’m gonna compete in the 2nd classic event which is actually 20 minutes of nonstop lifting. It’s 10 minutes 2 kettlebell jerks without setting them down: up-down-up-down, 10 minutes unbroken, two 32 kilos, 10 minutes nonstop. Then they take that score…
Ben: No wonder the Russian military’s so badass.
Mike: Yeah, right? They take that score and then you come back later in the day and you compete in a single kettlebell snatch with one hand switch for 10 minutes, 32 kilos. So in training, I usually switch at the 5 minute mark but in competition my right arm is much more coordinated than my left arm due to some injuries and I’m right hand dominant, so strategically in competition I might go 5:30-6 minutes on the right and then I might switch, but it’s gonna be as many repetitions as possible. So right now my training, every training session combines the jerk component, double kettlebell jerk, and then a single kettlebell snatch.
Ben: Now even before you do all that stuff, you kinda walk me through this warm up, that to me was very similar; I did a podcast with this guy while back his name was Jake, he’s an ELDOA instructor, E-L-D-O-A. It’s this for of deep fascial stretching which is I know now you're familiar with, but the warm up that you did with me was very similar to that, do you do a lot of this ELDOA type of fascial stretching, too?
Mike: I do the ELDOAs and that’s something that I teach also with my athletes and it’s been the ELDOA as well as accompanied with myofascial stretching which is 2 techniques that Doctor Guy Voyer developed. Those 2 tools has been really useful for me…
Ben: Doctor Guy Voyer is the guy that developed this ELDOA stretching. For those of you listening in by the way, you got to listen to the ELDOA podcast too if you want to get that one hand and hand with this. I’ve got all the show notes for this episode if you just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/salemi, not Salami, bengreenfieldfitness.com/salemi, S-A-L-E-M-I. So you work in, your warm up and then you’re basically, it seems to me like you do very, very short powerful sets and then long rest periods.
Mike: So, we’re gonna go through the classic training. So usually when I first get into a training session there's always a core temperature warm up component just to get the blood flowing, get your fascia nice and warm. After that, which we did kind of some marching in place and some arm raises overhead, then we’re going to an osteoarticular warm up which essentially is form of joint mobility, so we start from the ankles all the way up and that form of kind of preparation is definitely something that I learned from the ELDOA community and Guy Voyer and his courses and then we got into the training. Now the training, usually in my own training I’ll do some type of activation-type exercise which is something that I learned straight up from Paul which has been super helpful. We didn’t get to do that but essentially it turns on the entire system and can override any prior, let’s just say improper movement patterns you have or any type of thing that you got going and can kind of override that so you’re fresh and you’re turned on. And after that we’re going to training; so I like starting off with technique work, so in the beginning of our session we got into 2-handed deadlifts, we weren’t into single arm deadlifts because one of the things that we went over today was trying to get you prepared for the RKC Snatch test, a few tips on that.
So because you gotta do your 5 minutes of single arm snatches, I wanted to progress you into that but kind of take you through drills step-by-step, and the foundation of the snatch goes down to the clean, goes down to the swing, goes down to the deadlift, so anyone with any faulty mechanics in their deadlift technique, it’s gonna be magnified as you move up to chain. So today what we did is an alternating kind of swing up to a snatch progression, we did swings, high pulls, and then snatches. We only did about 5 reps per side because when you’re doing high tension lifts like that and you’re really focusing on power, speed, explosiveness because the fast twitch muscle fibers don’t have a long duration at which they can essentially operate optimally at. I like, and especially you’re first learning the skill, I like keeping the reps very low, get your rest periods, make sure you got enough time to refocus, let the nervous system calm down and then you go back into it. There's a time and a place to push an endurance training, but when you're really focusing on learning the technique especially trying to be powerful, it’s all about…
Ben: You lay down the technique and eventually you get to the point where you're practicing, just get going to the pain cave in terms of getting those 100 reps in under 5 minutes.
Ben: How’s your training different than that?
Mike: So my training, because I gotta go essentially 20 minutes nonstop, so my training is much more continuous, much more endurance-based, but I think people would be pretty surprised because my training isn’t, and it’s gotten way shorter over the years for a combination of reasons, but my training really is only between, I do a lot of interval training, so I’ll just give you exactly what my last training was just to give you tidbit or snippet of what it was. So because I’m progressing into the double 32 jerks, right now I’m at 28 kilos, so I started at 16 about almost 2 ½ months ago and every 2 weeks, increase the load gradually; I do a lot of shorter sets, rest periods, I do a lot of interval training so was five 1-minute sets. I did about 17 reps in one minute, 17 reps and it was only minute on, minute off, minute on, minute off; so that was my training for the jerks.
Then I went into the snatch, now the snatch in my opinion is the most technical whether it’s a hard style type snatch or kettlebell sport snatch, it is the most technical lift there is. So for me, I’m honestly not so concerned about the weight that I’m lifting, I’m more concerned as “can I maintain the technique as I get fatigued”. So for me, to give you an example, I was doing double 28 kilos on the jerks but I was only doing 22 kilos on the snatch and really focusing on a fast pace and just on technique and keeping the pace as I got fatigued.
Ben: When I was with Paul Chek in the past couple of days, he told me Mike trains way less than his peers do, like shockingly less than a lot of the people you compete against. What is it that you’re doing as you do that, like what’s the secret sauce?
Mike: Well, I think over the years in kettlebell sport, the kettlebell sport is changing, so now I’m starting to see a little bit more of awareness in the sport but especially when I first got into it, it was really tough training. The volume was super high and there was almost an assumption that just like any competitive athlete or in just our western culture in general that more is better. However, one of the things I learned with Paul through his system of managing the entire person and really tracking certain indicators or signals of when someone’s under high physiological load, I was able to modify my training whether it was a volume, exercise, or even like we did today as you mentioned we combined today one of the things after our snatch training we went right into combining working out with working in. So for example, if I was under high amount of stress because I was under a relationship challenge, a work challenge or I was in a pre-competition phase where the training falls out; if for example let’s just take morning heart rate, if that was elevated beyond a certain point of what I was in let’s say the green zone to train, I would modify my training volume or just have it be a work in or a combo day like we did in the gym.
So that type of thing allows me to essentially not burn out so I can get to the competition with vitality because before what I was doing as I was training every session even if I was feeling beat up or I was overtrained or I was super stressed, I would just get the workout in because I’m a committed athlete and my assumption was I had to do the workouts in order to get the desired result. Yes, you have to be committed; yes, you have to stay on the plan but at the same time, in my experience at least, you want to honor where you are in that given moment and so through one monitoring my body in that moment, having Paul there to help kind of coach me to interpret those signals and then help guide me what I should be doing, I was training almost I would say 25% less than before but my results were the same if not usually, a lot better.
Ben: Okay so if I understand this correctly, and I want to ask you how you guys are tracking your physiological readiness in the second coz I know there's like rings, there's watches, there's biohacks, there's just listen to your freaking body; I want to know what you guys did. But in a nutshell, what you’re saying is that if an athlete or an exercising individual wakes up in the morning or any given day and they assess where they’re at physiologically and then do their training based on where they're at physiologically, they can get by on a lot less training than their peers because they're always operating in a relatively recovered or restored state.
Ben: Now I’m gonna call you out on that just a little bit.
Ben: What if you want to engage in like in this concept of periodization like overreaching and super compensation, do you actually go through periods of time where you intentionally dig yourself into a hole or is your philosophy just always train- recover?
Mike: No, I mean it depends. For example when I came to Paul, I came to him injured; that was the main reason I was going to see him, so I was going to see him for a specific orthopedic injury that no one can figure out. And so in that moment for sure I was a 100% if I wasn’t feeling right or my markers weren’t in line, I would just back off for sure. Now that’s pretty tough for an athlete, let’s say you got a competition lined up or you got a specific goal; it could prolong that, you might have to change your plans. So for me it initially was challenging to be open to that but once I kind of embraced it and once I did embrace it, then I realized “okay, I don’t want to be the type of athlete that only gets to a goal one time, two times, three times. My goal is to be a able to do whatever sport it is whether it is powerlifting, kettlebell sport, jiu-jitsu, you name it, for the duration of which I have the dream to compete in that.” In order to do that, in my experience, you need to be a little bit more of a mindful approach.
Now to answer your question, absolutely; super compensation, those kind of periodization strategies, I definitely use those as those do come in, but what I found is if an athlete, and I’m speaking for myself and the athletes that I coach, if they don’t have management of themselves then the hole that they could drive themselves into is gonna take them a long time to get out of it. And one of the things you classically see, let’s just use competitive body building for example. I see this on the fitness world a lot. So many competitive body builders especially fitness competitors, especially females, they’ll enter a competition, they’ll look amazing on stage and then they’ve driven themselves into such fatigue, adrenal fatigue, hormonal fatigue, that they never can come back on stage again. So I think you need to be under the eye of a skillful coach who knows how to not only interpret the added skillful level of periodization scheme but also how to marry that in a holistic model with what’s going on with the individual.
Ben: Gotcha, so I gotta few follow up questions on that; first of all, what was the injury that you came to Paul with?
Mike: So the injury that I though [laughs] I came to Paul with at least, was compartment syndrome. So compartment syndrome in my left forearm which essentially was every single time that I would do a tough effort in the gym, so let’s just say I mean it really could happen at lightweight, heavy loads, you name it, but any time I would push it, especially in competition my left forearm would swell up with blood and I would lose all feeling in my hand. So I was preparing like an animal anywhere from three to six months for a competition. I was dotting my eyes, crossing all my teas, my nutrition sleep, everything is in check and I would get to the competition and I would usually fall a few reps short of one of the highest strength in kettlebell sport. So it took me almost five years to reach that ranking because of this and it wasn’t until I went to Paul and started really getting assessed in terms of looking at not only what was being expressed was essentially the symptom, but what we found was there was a number of other things going on. For example I had, by birth which was confirmed by x-ray, an anatomical short leg on my left which was beyond a certain degree that’s considered significant, so I was essentially always walking in a hole, then I had a pretty significant atlas-axis subluxation so my..
Ben: You didn’t know all this when you went to Paul then he figured all this out?
Mike: Paul did but also working with Paul is, as you know, quite a big investment so what we did to strategize that is I had…
Ben: He’s got like a freaking Batman lab up there in his house.
Mike: Yeah [laughs].
Ben: His assessment room is crazy.
Mike: Right; it’s really neat, right? And so what we did was, to make it a little bit easier on me financially, was we worked with one of his high level practitioners in my area which is a guy by the name of Johnny [0:25:38] ______; excellent high level Chek practitioner. Very good, very thorough approach; we called him “the Scientist”, and so he would run my assessments and then he would send that information to Paul so it was a very much of a team approach. He would send that information to Paul, Paul would take a look at all the numbers, all the orthopedic assessments, and then when I would go see him once a month I would fly down for one to two days to San Diego, we would review how did the prior month go, what’s the strategy, where I am, what am I lacking, and then we would create the program based off of that. So Johnny was the one who initially who started finding these things and then Paul also took it to another level.
Ben: Okay, what was one of the things that Paul did do you think to identify issues with you that nobody else was seeing? Was there anything special or is it just his eye for detail and having worked with so many people?
Mike: It’s a good question. I think for sure the eye, I mean he’s assessed and looked through, just like for example if I was watching someone doing kettlebell swing; literally from the back of the room I could pretty much spot what they need to work on, where they lacking, where possibly I wanna go from the flexibility, mobility standpoint. So he’s seen thousands of people, not only from a movement side, the strength condition side but especially from the corrective side. So he saw me do a few repetitions and then he really realized in addition to some orthopedic stuff that was going on, there was a large imbalance between the phasic system or the prime movers system and myotonic system or the postural system. So essentially as I would get fatigued, I wouldn’t be able to essentially control where my arm was in the field of gravity so it starts getting unstable and then I would start over-gripping, the bell would be getting out in front of me and so I wasn’t able to manage going back down the powerlifter. So I got the motor but I need the level of stability to match that, otherwise it’s only a matter of time before the injury is going to kick in.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. The other thing that you mentioned was that you measure the physiological level, how do you actually measure that?
Mike: So in Paul’s system he teaches, I believe it’s in his Chek practitioner level 1, he’s got a questionnaire that he uses and possibly it’s in his Chek exercise coach course but essentially it’s a category of questions based off of musculoskeletal system, limbic, emotional, and hormonal stress. So essentially what you do is you wake up each morning and you fill out this questionnaire. So what it is is it’s walking you through…
Ben: Every single morning?
Mike: Every single morning, so I charted it for 2 ½ years, every single day in conjunction with his four Doctor system of looking at Doctor Quiet, Doctor Movement…
Ben: Yeah, we talked about that. By the way if any of you haven’t listen to my first 2 episodes with Paul Chek, definitely go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/salemi and listen to him. Those are probably perfect to listen to along with this one. So you responded to these morning questionnaires and you’re saying about the doctors?
Mike: So those and then I would track them essentially on Google sheets, so while I was away Paul could kind of check in and we graphed everything. So not only was I tracking things like morning heart rate, which is a very classic indicator of just overall physiological load and stress, but we were looking at all the other factors. So from a chart perspective, and this was also correlated to my training loads and training volumes. So we had a whole spreadsheet not only looking at what was the training like month-to-month but what was my four doctors system, how was I managing myself as well as what were the indicators of physiological load and then through that, I mean it’s a very thorough and detailed process but he could see from a distance and then help me undulate the programming and really after I would say it probably took me a good year and half to learn, and to a good degree, to master that system but I was working dedicated for him for 2 ½ years to where to the point now where unless I’m trying to figure out something that I can’t, whether it’s a performance issue, a skin issue, a digestive issue I go back to that system. But for the most part now it’s engrained in me so no matter what program I’m on because right now, for example I’m working with in terms of kettlebell sport, my coach is 7–time world champion Denis Vasiliev, and with his type of training it’s obviously different than Paul but I’m able, no matter what program I’m working on which is I think a huge asset, I’ve got essentially my internal indicators turned on.
Ben: Now did you ever question, when you look at all this technologies that are out there like this ring that I’m wearing that spits out your readiness score or the straps that you put on that measure heart variability and nervous system readiness or the Whoop is another one I know of or the BioForce Elite HRV; do you ever questioned like couldn’t I just skip all these questionnaires and just like strap on a [0:30:18] ______ to know where I’m at?
Mike: I think it’d be convenient.
Ben: That’s what I’m wondering.
Mike: I think it’s very convenient and I did try at some point the HRV but I didn’t do it for an expanded period of time to be honest, but what I didn’t like was having to wear, at least at that time I don’t know if it’s consistent now, but the heart rate monitor, the chest strap to bed because I found it was constricting respiration.
Ben: Yeah, you just put it on for 5 minutes in the morning.
Mike: Oh okay, okay. So with that, that was one of the things, at least the way I was using then incorrectly, why I didn’t continue with that. And I think those could be good but for me, I’m very open to that sort of thing but I also want to be able to be anywhere around the world whether be in the jungle, be in the traveling and be able to know internally through a practice of mindfulness, through a practice of awareness and all these factors where while it’s good I think to have some of this technologies, it’s also very valuable to be able to function without them because I think they can be very beneficial but if we’re over reliant on them, then were…
Ben: So you like to just use questionnaires?
Mike: I like to use these questionnaires but…
Ben: How long does that take to fill up?
Mike: Well, now if I were to do it now honestly 2 minutes, 3 minutes? 2-3 minutes, at least the readiness assessment. The four doctors I would be typing in more, stuff like what am I eating, the meal and such.
Ben: Right, right, okay.
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Ben: Now when you worked with Paul, he told me to ask you this actually, and you eluded to this that he had kind of a holistic approach and it’s no secret to podcast listeners who have heard my other episodes with Paul that Paul and I have done Ayahuasca and DMT together and we’ve journeyed. I’m curious how much of that you did in your coaching and how the emotional and spiritual component affected your performance or your injury recovery or anything else. It’s time to go woo-woo, babe.
Mike: [laughs] It’s time to woo-woo, we’re going deep now; going deep.
Mike: So at least my experience with Paul, so Paul first and foremost is a licensed shaman so he’s licensed to do that type of work, and I’ve only done 2 shamanic journeys with Paul and that didn’t take place until about 2 years in to our coaching. So with Paul it’s not something, at least my experience with Paul and how I know he operates, it is not something that’s taken lightly by any means; it’s very ceremonial. There’s a whole preparation process that goes before it. Again it took me 2 years to kind of be at a place where I could manage the possible potential experience that was gonna happen. So 2 years of preparation to get there and then there was a preparation pre-guidance during and then also integration after to interpret what was coming up. So that ultimately would make me a better person going into sport and going into life. So it was for me a very beautiful experience, a very powerful experience; I think some of the lessons that I’ve taken from them and continually trying to be mindful of the work on is not so much, when I first started competing I was always the all-or-nothing athlete. So I trained six months for a powerlifting competition back then, I would at that time based off the information that I had before I hadn’t even been healthy for example, I was doing the best I could, I was slamming Gatorades, I was eating your standard EAS diet approach and it was always all or nothing so after a competition I would binge eat and go drinking with my buddies and it was just an unhealthy practice but I was always outcome goal- oriented. And so working with Paul, one of the things that I realized was this whole idea and, also through the ceremony, was this concept of being process goal-oriented.
So to making the process of learning about myself along the way to manage my life stressors which the coaching with Paul very much, yes, I was going to him for performance and orthopedic issues, but if you look at the person which, in a holistic model looks at mental, emotional, spiritual and the physical, you’ve got to consider all those because I could tell you, from at least my experience and I’ve seen it cycle to cycle in over 2 ½ years, if I was under some type of family stress or work stress that shot up my numbers and that directly had an influence in my training. So to say that the mental- emotional component does not influence that I’ve been able to track and I could show you side by side, cycle to cycle and even when I was in a pre-competition phase, boom, you would start saying everything undulate. So for me a program that only addresses the physical is missing three-quarters of a car that’s got 4 wheels.
Ben: Yeah, the other one’s being, the other wheels being?
Mike: The mental, the emotional, the spiritual.
Ben: Mental, emotional, and spiritual.
Mike: So our coaching was very much physical but also had impact on those areas and the journeys, for me, brought me with specific intentions, specific questions that I had, a new found level of awareness and then it’s a process that still continuing to this day. I mean it’s something that I’m still working on, the lessons, and it’s something that doesn’t end; it’s not like something you, at least the journey that I’ve done with Paul, it’s not that you do a journey and then it’s over because then you miss the whole message of it.
Ben: Yeah, had you done that before or was that weird for you to do like a plant-based medicine journey, based on your upbringing or anything else, was that kind of a new thing for you?
Mike: Well, I grew up Catholic and it that was definitely a new thing for me and it was definitely scary but I know after 2 years of being exposed to Paul’s work and having just a different experience with it whether it was even just pot or marijuana to help, I was always against that growing up because my experience with it watching my buddies in high school, my buddies in middle school was just not a healthy one. They were just doing more as an escape and that’s fine provided that it’s a conscious choice but I always didn’t really like that because I always the dedicated athlete and I thought that I would get in the way of my training.
Mike: But then when I worked with Paul there was an intent, a purpose and also used more as therapy to build the physical and all the other components to what builds an athlete. It really made sense to me and I think too, one of the reason why I get so excited about going after the next goal even now like “what’s next, what’s next” and it keeps me hungry as — at every level of my journey as an athlete as the physical goals rise. In order to do so in this model you have to also ride simultaneously in your mental capacity, your emotional and your spiritual. So the whole person and the entire individual elevates and that’s what really excites me because at the end of the day, my dream is to become a whole athlete and to share what it means to be a more balanced and a mindful athlete with everyone around the world.
Ben: You talked about changing your diet, what’s your diet look like now? To fuel yourself for this beast of a competition, I’m just curious how many calories you have to suck down, what your approach is if you do the vegan thing, the meat thing, the keto thing, what are you doing as far as fuel goes?
Mike: I don’t really subscribe to… my diet is more or less ancestral or paleo-esque type diet but it’s really more of an intuitive-type eating program so I don’t, before I used to be very restrictive on what I would eat and what I would not eat; I don’t eat usually any glutton containing product grains or anything like that, no dairy, few to no nuts and seeds, don’t drink alcohol. So it’s a very clean diet but that’s more of a lifestyle for me. In terms of performance-based, I would say it’s really just based off of fields. So depending on the training if it is something like a pre-competition phase where I am pushing it, one of the things I find very much is I crave carbohydrates, so I’ll use a lot of plantain, sweet potatoes, kind of the more paleo-friendly ones, but if I’m more on the strength phase like on the off-season or immediately after competition which I love still the power lifts and the Olympic lifts, man like I really crave meat. So I allow myself now to be able just to check in with myself before a meal, I have to practice where essentially I try and check in on myself, do a few deep breaths and just ask myself how much food do I want, what type of food and just allow myself the freedom…
Ben: Paul does the same thing, he woke in the morning and Penny was making eggs, his wife was making eggs and Paul walks in the kitchen and takes his deep breath, closes his eyes, breathes out and he’s like “my body says no eggs this morning.”
Ben: Then he’d like grab the sausage and the kale. Is that the kind of thing you do?
Mike: Pretty much and I know it looks pretty crazy.
Ben: It’s not scientific but I do that sometimes; sometimes I’ll grab like a supplement, sometimes it’ll be something I’m gonna dump in a smoothie, sometimes something I’m gonna sprinkle on a salad and I’ll grab it. Sometimes it’s like jar of capers and all of sudden it’s like “no, Ben” and I know for those who don’t believe in like muscle-testing or kinesio-testing or the energetic properties of foods or quantum physics, this might not be something that you agree with but for me, if I ignore that sense and I proceed anyways and I consume that food, I always feel pretty sh*tty after a meal. It’s crazy.
Mike: Well here’s a note on that, I grew up with digestive issues and until I started doing functional medicine lab testing which was a dedicated process over three years, we found that I had a number of parasite infections, fungal, bacterial infections that were all the contributing factors to my gut and during that time I was doing food sensitivity panels, at least at that time the most accurate I think was the MRT food sensitivity panel and they test over like 400 foods and they tell you exactly what you’re intolerant to and at that time, that’s what I needed because I wasn’t necessarily open or ready for this type of information. So if you dump this intuitive type approach at me at that point, I would have been doors closed. But at that time I needed those objective measures and they really helped so they kind of opened the door, they met me where I was at and I will say I spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on those test and while I think there’s a time and place for those. Now I could just go for one month or three weeks on a food elimination diet and then re-introduce one food systematically at a time and I could just identify that way and put all that money into healing modalities, physical body work, food, and just have it be like that. So once again, kinda like the technology question, time and place but I don’t want it to be over-reliant on any of these.
Ben: Right, what about supplements, do you have any go-to supplements especially that you use for something like competition?
Mike: Supplements, again my feeling on supplements, it’s for a specific intention and typically when it’s been lab-tested or you work with some type of applied kinesiologist so you know exactly what you’re using it for. So the supplements that I do take all consistently muscle-test form, and I don’t really have any specific pre-competition, I just do some VCAs, I’ve got a cod liver oil, what else do I do? Pretty much it’s whole food-based and most of the time I don’t really, no big secrets, just good sleep, good food, good hydration, sound movement, breathing and thoughts.
Ben: Do you still do anything for the gut? Any gut type of support?
Mike: From time to time I will do a probiotic and then from time to time, usually once a year I try to do an anti-parasitic or an anti-bacterial cleanse.
Ben: Uhuh, like oregano and stuff like that?
Mike: It could be oregano, yeah; that’s really popular.
Ben: Oregano’s one of the best.
Mike: Yeah. [laughs]
Ben: If I have nothing on hand to travel with, I travel with oregano.
Mike: That and activated charcoal.
Ben: Yeah, we go to South America, Asia, that little bottle of oregano, you do that morning and evening and that covers 90% of your bases.
Mike: Yeah, that’s like your natural antibiotic.
Ben: Yeah, exactly.
Mike: So yeah, that would be something I would do from time to time, just as more of a maintenance thing.
Ben: Yeah, cool. Okay, so one of things I gotta ask you about Paul Chek before we close that loop is that he said that he deadlifted against you. He said I had to review you against it.
Ben: What happened when you deadlifted against Paul Chek?
Mike: Oh, this is a good story. [laughs] So one of the things that I appreciate most about Paul, and this honestly is why in addition to him being a very skillful coach in terms of as a therapist and as a strength and conditioning coach was, more than anyone that I’ve experienced in that realm especially, he eats, lives, breathes, [censored] what he teaches.
Mike: And so that means a lot to me, so the amount of changes that we went through, I don’t think I would’ve been ready or willing to listen had it been anyone else or had it been coming from anyone else, if the person conveying the information wasn’t doing everything that he was teaching.
Mike: So one of the things I love about Paul is when I would go down, when he would write the program, we would train together. So he’ll hop in and out, he’s in mid-50s, he’s more jacked than me [giggles], and he would hop in the program and train with me. So that was always something that I really appreciated about Paul and that was some of the best time, honestly, that I had with Paul and some of the fondest memories. So the deadlifting, obviously it’s gonna correlate to the swing coz it’s a pull pattern, or the swing, the clean snatch, those types of lifts so, especially in the off-season or in the early conditioning phases, some variety of deadlifting was always in there. And deadlifting is also probably our, me and Paul, we share… Even though I compete in kettlebell sports, I still think I love the deadlift, it might be my favorite lift. So we were deadlifting and Paul still, as grounded as Paul is, he’s still very competitive and there’s still a very youthful side to Paul, so when we would be lifting in this particular training session, I think we were working up to, we had started our workout with around 315, and Paul does a lot of stone stacking as I think you’re familiar with.
Ben: Yeah, yeah.
Mike: So he’s already got tremendous levels of awkward [0:46:28] ______.
Ben: He picks up heavy stones.
Mike: From a low, low position, right? As opposed to the deadlift where the bar’s raised. So with the deadlift that he likes, we would usually deadlift off an aerobic stepper which is a four inch raise. Now I’m not quite sure what the correlation is exactly; it’s gonna vary person-to-person for every inch in terms of how much harder it is, but let’s just say it’s 20-40 lbs. each inch. And so we would do our deadlift training, we were doing 315 off the blocks and we were going set for set, so we had our predefined, I think it was five sets of 5 or something like that. And we were going, I would go, he would go, I would go, he would go; and then we were both feeling good and so we got a little competitive. So why don’t we go up in weight, we go up in weight to about 345-355, I go, he goes and it keeps going until we get up to 10 repetitions at 405, so four plates on each side off of a 4-inch raised box. And I think he did 8 the set before, and then I jumped in and did 10, and that was supposed to be it, but once again the competitiveness kind of took over on Paul so he hopped in, did 10 repetitions but then after he set the weight down, unfortunately he tweaked his back pretty good and it took him over a month to heal from that. So the lesson for Paul was, in that moment, not to compete with Mike, not to compete like he used to, but 405…
Ben: He is pretty strong though. That’s impressive.
Mike: Four hundred five for 10 reps off a box and not really training for that.
Ben: Yeah, I’ve been deadlifting; I do most of my deadlifts with a hex bar. A hex bar deadlift, yeah. I interviewed this really interesting guy named David Weck who invented the BOSU ball. He studied Paul Chek’s stuff and thought “what if you cut that ball in half?”
Ben: So he meant the BOSU ball, he came to my house a few weeks ago and he taught me all these cool moves basically; he’s got this really interesting approach to hex bar deadlifting and I’ll have to show it to you later, for those of you listening in, just go listen to my episode with David Weck, coz it should be up by now. But it’s really interesting and I love the hex bar. I dunno if you consider that to be a bastardization of the deadlift but I swear by that thing.
Mike: Not at all.
Ben: I wanted also to ask you about this whole kettlebell thing, coz a lot of people listening in, they’re interested in kettlebells; they wanna get started with kettlebells. In terms of mistakes, what are the biggest mistakes people make when they start throwing a kettlebell around and they wanna get into kettlebell training?
Mike: So I would break it down by let’s just say two to three populations, so if we’re talking right now about the novice persona who has little to no experience with a kettlebell, the first and foremost biggest mistake that I tend to see is they learn on YouTube. So they don’t have a qualified instructor to take them through properly; not only the assessment and the pre-qualifying checklist to go through orthopedically to make sure they’re qualified and they don’t just pick up a heavy kettlebell and start snatching it for five minutes or they’re gonna rip their shoulder out. So for a novice who has no experience, for sure getting a qualified coach first and foremost, and hopefully a qualified coach that has some system of an assessment process to define where the person is in that moment and then structure the training program progressively so that they can hopefully get whatever their goal is whether it’s fitness or for a specific sport to get there safely because most people, in my experience, using kettlebells, it could be their sole modality but usually it’s, coz I work a lot of times with athletes, it’s kettlebell training to support jiu-jitsu. Kettlebell training to support tennis, kettlebell training to support hockey; so their main intention, or for you, kettlebell training to support the new catergory that you wanna get into for Spartan racing, which is shorter duration. So the kettlebell training will definitely be a key part but you also need to train very sport specifically for that, so having a qualified coach, and assessment process, and then really just taking it step-by-step, not I think, for me, single kettlebell training, there is so much benefit that you can just get with one kettlebell.
Ben: Yeah, you were showing me and we were practicing the Turkish get-up and you had ten different ways to get up with one kettlebell.
Ben: And you said you have an e-book that has how many?
Mike: So I’ve been working on, it’s been an ongoing project but it should be coming out in the next probably two-ish months but essentially this is volume one. What I wanted to do is, because the kettlebell is such a unique tool for its portability, versatility, compact-size, the amount of sporting abilities, strength, flexibility, coordination, power, et cetera that you can accomplish with it; what I wanted to do with volume one is really just show people anything and everything that you can do if all you had was one to two kettlebells. So with that, unique exercises in terms of not including variations, well over 150 and I think it’s gonna get over 200, not including the warm-up variations.
Ben: So when’s the e-book done?
Mike: In the next three months. I pretty much did all the photoshoots so if any of your listeners are interested if you just go to mikesalemi.io/waitlist then you can be put on that and it’ll be notified.
Ben: I’ll put a link in the show notes too, as well, if you guys wanna get on waitlist for this e-book.
Mike: And anyone that tells me that kettlebell training is boring, hopefully…
Ben: Dude, it’s not.
Mike: Yeah, and there’s so many different variations whether you’re training for power, there’s different techniques for that, for endurance there’re different techniques, if you wanna work in hand-eye coordination, there’s juggling techniques. There’s so many different ways you can use it as a corrective tool. So hopefully with this e-book is to kind of open up the box and show people the power and the amount of things that you can do in a short amount of time and just take it anywhere. So if you can throw it in your car, you can get an excellent workout in 15-20 minutes and have it be something that never gets stale.
Ben: Nice, nice. That was actually one of the workouts I did coming back from one of these trained hunt competitions that I do. You and I already talked about that, like I do these bow hunting competitions where you backpack 100-150 lbs. wilderness for 2-4 miles and an obstacle course race with your weapon. So you’re doing sandbag carries, and sandbag throws, and barbed wire crawls, and then also a 4-5 hour shoot-off for just stalking through the woods, shooting at these targets; it’s an amazing competition. And driving back from one of those, my buddy and I went, we won Montana as a doubles team, but coming back we had a workout that we did where every 30 miles we stopped and we each did 30 kettlebell swings and 30 burpees.
Ben: A 500 mile trip, we got back and very first thing we wanted to do as soon as we pulled in, we didn’t want to see our families, we didn’t want to unpack, we were just looking for steak. Let’s eat steak.
Mike: Oh man [laughs].
Ben: It was a great trip. What’s next for you, dude? I mean you talked about the clean and jerk competition as you wanted to step into the next level in that, but as far as you’re on spirituality or any other goals that you’re working on aside from this e-book. Is there anything that you’re really focusing on right now?
Mike: Yeah, so in addition to the e-book I’m also creating a conditioning program for combat athletes or anyone, whether it’s recreation or competitive. And while it’s gonna be primarily kettlebell-based, there’ll also be an introduction to other unconventional tools whether it’s Indian clubs, mace bells, crossfit Bulgarian bags; so that’s also something that I’m working on right now as well. And that’ll probably be released in the next four to five months, and so that’s really gonna be an online program, but in addition to that, really just teaching integrated workshops that all encompass tools that you can take anywhere that you can do anytime through a holistic model. So I also do nutritional workshops and also the corrective approach as well.
Ben: Very cool, you’re like a Chek practitioner as well, aren’t you?
Mike: I am, yep.
Ben: Okay, cool. I love it. So that means I actually trust you coz you went through that protocol.
Ben: Awesome dude. Well, this is crazy in terms of level at which you compete. I can’t imagine holding two 72 lbs. kettlebells, much less barely one, much less doing clean and jerks.
Ben: So I have no idea how you pull it off but it’s really interesting to get inside the head of an elite athlete like you who’s competing at this kind of sport. It’s amazing.
Mike: Thank you.
Ben: And for those of you that are listening, he is the real deal. One last question: if I wanna put a video in the show notes for people to see what this whole ten minute clean and jerk looks like, I mean a video of you doing the ten minute, do you have one?
Mike: Yeah, I’ll put it up or even just me demo-ing what the clean and jerk would look like or that type of…
Ben: No, send me the whole ten minutes.
Mike: Oh, okay.
Ben: Coz I wanna watch it and just see what you look like after ten minutes.
Mike: [laughs] Okay. Yeah, it’s woozy and I’ll be flat-out; it’s not pretty, you’re grinding through it.
Ben: E-mail it to me and I’ll put it in the show notes.
Ben: Alright cool. Mike, thanks dude.
Mike: Thank you for having me. Thank you, this was a lot of fun.
Ben: Awesome. Well folks, again you can access the show notes at bengreenfieldfitness.com/salemi, S-A-L-E-M-I. Thanks for listening in.
…a 72 pound kettlebell in each hand…
…51 reps in ten minutes.
Barely anyone on the face of the planet can accomplish this feat, but today’s podcast guest can.
Mike Salemi’s journey in strength & conditioning started at the age of 15 as a young and hungry Powerlifter. At his peak, Mike became a WABDL World Champion in the Bench Press and Deadlift, while simultaneously working as a collegiate level strength & conditioning coach. It was at this time that Mike was both introduced to the power of the kettlebell, and the work of respected Holistic Health Practitioner Paul Chek. Both have had large influences on Mike’s development as a more well-rounded athlete and person in the years that followed.
Currently, as an avid Kettlebell Sport competitor, Mike has achieved the ranking Master of Sport, and became the 2017 WAKSC World Champion in the Clean and Jerk. Through his unique approach, Mike has been able to integrate high-performance athletic training using a holistic model. His dream is to continue creating educational materials and programs that support a more balanced athlete.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-Why Mike is such a fan of the kettlebell, and he switched to it after being a freakin’ world champion in the bench and deadlift…[8:00]
-The Russian military secrets Mike uses to train and compete…[10:45]
-What a sample workout looks like for Mike to get ready for competition…[12:55]
-How Mike’s training approach allows athletes to train far less than their peers and achieve superior results…[18:55]
-What Paul Chek figured out about Mike that nobody else could figure out, an issue that completely reinvented Mike’s performance…[23:55]
-Mike’s experience with DMT and Ayahuasca…[34:15]
-How Mike fuels his body, how he incorporates intuitive eating in his approach, and how he banished his gut distress…[39:35]
-The crazy thing that happened when Mike deadlifted against Paul Chek…[44:30]
-The biggest mistakes people make when they’re trying to get stronger or use kettlebells…[48:55]
-And much more…
Resources from this episode:
Check out these videos with Mike:
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