Thursday, February 23, 2012


It pays to have smart friends with a sense of a humor. In my previous life, I produced visual effects for commercials and the occasional film scene or music video. I also helped run a couple of VFX companies. I had the privilege of meeting many great, bright and extremely creative people during my tenure in the VFX world. Last night, there was a reunion for former employees of one these shops. The reunion was organized by MegaMind, Todd Brous, President and CEO of Untwist Technology and the creator of the Hudzee hard drive storage case. Todd, and his Todd Squad, are responsible for creating, implementing and maintaining the infrastructure for many of New York's finest and most technologically advanced visual effects companies. He's also ventured into outdoor jumbo screen LED displays. 

For the location of the reunion, Todd got us space in Bar Basque on 6th Ave and 28th Street in New York City. Todd had previously set up one of his giant LED screens outside of the restaurant where diners, hotel guests and people on the street can watch movies, sports, etc. 

The screen as viewed from Ave. of the Americas and 28th St.

As part of the reunion, Todd offered everyone the opportunity to have their VFX and design reels play to the public on the jumbo screen. I joked on Facebook, "All I have is my YouTube channel: coachfurysc. You can loop me lifting stuff all night. \m/ \m/."

And with that, I walked into the bar, turned around and saw this on the jumbotron... 

Pressing the Beast for the people of NYC. 

It was me mid-press with the 48kg while training for the RKC Beast Tamer Challenge. The whole thing was both fantastic and completely ridiculous. Is this the biggest public advertisement for kettlebells? Not sure, but it was awesome. 

Fury view from the bar. 

I was glad that I had originally taken the time to add titles and a URL to the training clip. The video played at least a dozen times (one time as the commercial break during the basketball game). My wise ass comment had inadvertently brought Coach Fury, the Beast Tamer Challenge and kettlebells to the masses of NYC. Easily, hundreds if not thousands of people saw a portion of that clip throughout the evening.

I had a great time catching up with everyone at the reunion. While I don't miss the industry, I do miss the people (though I now train a lot of them). 

Special thanks to Todd Brous, the QM Ghost crew, and the Untwist/Hudzee squad. 

Click the links below to learn more about Todd, Untwist Technologies and HudZee.

-Fury out

Monday, February 13, 2012


Let's be honest, pull-ups are a pain in the ass. It takes an extreme level of patience and commitment to get strong at performing pull-ups. They are also an excellent exercise and one of the key tests of strength that almost everyone wishes they could do more reps of, or any at all. Pull-ups are also one of the few exercises that many people just assume they can't or won't ever be able to perform. Unfortunately, many people seem to write pull-ups off entirely. I've found that women seem to be particularly intimidated by them. I'm a believer that anyone can train for anything regardless of gender. That said, I thought women would prefer to hear about pull-ups from one of their own. 

Enter Valerie Hedlund, the Iron Maiden. Last year, Valerie became one of only three women to complete the RKC Iron Maiden Challenge. The Challenge consists of a 24kg/53lb kettebell clean and press, a 24kg pistol squat and a pull-up with the 24kg on a belt around your waist. Guess which most will claim as the hardest part?

Valerie's an inspirational person on many levels. I guarantee that we'll see more women becoming Iron Maidens after seeing Valerie's success. Though we touch upon it, the focus of this interview is not the Iron Maiden Challenge or heavy weighted pull-ups. It's about women doing pull-ups. My hope is that Valerie will inspire some women (and men) to stop fearing and start training for pull-ups. 

When and how did you start training for pull-ups?
I actually started when I was a kid. I was a little tomboy and I was always trying to keep up with my really athletic older brother. I was probably around 10 years old when I first started doing pull-ups.

As a woman, what was your initial reaction to the idea of doing pull-up? Were you reluctant? 
I always thought it was cool to be able to do a pull-up and I never wanted to let that slide. As a woman, it's kind of weird, but I'm afraid it will somehow just "go away". Like if I don't practice it, my body will forget how. There's probably some truth to that, so I practice them once a week or every couple of weeks. 

Now, I NEVER wanted to do pull-ups with weight. When I'm training, I usually try to remember the reason for the exercise/routine I'm doing. Until I heard about the Iron Maiden Challenge, there never seemed like a good reason to strap weight to my waist and do a pull-up. I was reluctant because it seemed like a very "male" thing to do and honestly, I was worried about getting "big". I know as a female strength professional, it's not ok to say or even think that, but I did. I am a product of my environment, and after living in California for 8 years, I started to see myself as the "big girl" at 5'3" and 129-lbs.  I've always had muscle and have learned in my 32 years to accept my body as it is, but I did not want to get any "bigger" when I had to stand next to 90% of the women in Southern California who are the definition of long and lean.

What type of training progressions did you use?
I did a lot of "Greasing the Groove", a la Pavel.  I did a couple clean, fluid reps every hour or two during the day, twice a week. I increased the weight as I thought I could and decreased when I was getting tired. Some days were better than others, but that's how training goes sometimes. Six weeks before, I did a peaking program and focused on gaining a ton of strength in my pull-up.

How long did it take to start seeing progress?
Truly not long at all. Maybe a month and a half of Greasing the Groove. I didn't test my max for that long. Just trusted the process and tried to mentally get away from the goal a little. Simply focus on the work I was doing at the moment, and trust that my form was getting better and my strength was increasing. I could tell that the pull-up with the 12kg & 16kg were getting easier.

What place do they take in your normal training?
When not training for something like the Iron Maiden, I'll probably put pull-ups in one routine every week or every 2 weeks.

When did the Iron Maiden Challenge become a goal?
I think it was at my RKC in April of 2009. During the press portion of the weekend, I pressed the 24kg kettlebell for the first time and someone suggested I train for the Iron Maiden. I had to read my manual to figure out what that meant, but when I saw what it was, I thought that maybe I'd try it. I had a lot of friends push me to do it- Gabby Eborall, RKC, a great friend, was probably my biggest supporter. She and I went through the RKC together and she told everyone who would listen that I pressed the 24kg. A couple months after the RKC, she and I took a trip to San Diego to visit fellow RKCs Franz and Yoana of Revolution Fitness and Gabby told them. They were both really sweet and encouraged me to really start training for it, and so I started working on the pistol. At that point, I was still skeptical about the pull-up with weight. Once I had the pistol and the press, I decided to start training for the pull-up too.

Why do you think more women haven’t passed the challenge?
That's a really good question. I think we're all pretty competitive and we don't even want to attempt at an RKC event without being completely confident we can do it. I was that way anyway. I trained to do them all with the 28kg so that the 24kg would feel easy. I didn't want there to be any question in my mind on the day of the challenge. I can only really speak for myself, but it was really intimidating. When I was training, I thought there was only one Iron Maiden- Asha Wagner. When only one person has completed the challenge in 10 years, it doesn't seem doable. That's why I'm hoping that more women will train for it now. It's NOT impossible and if I, at 5'3" and 131lb can do it, then more women can too. (Yes, I gained a whopping 2-lbs training for the Iron Maiden.)

Any words of encouragement for women that are intimidated by pull-ups?
Don't be! Pull-ups are fun and cool and every other woman in the gym will envy you if you can do them. =) Seriously though, if not for that, do it for yourself. For whatever reason, a lot of women aren't able to do pull-ups. If you can't right now, and you train for it, just think about what an accomplishment it will be when you are finally able to do one pull-up! Then don't stop there- get to 5 and then 10 and more! Your clothes may fit different when you build muscle- it's because fat can be stuffed into a shirt or into jeans. Muscle doesn't get squished into jeans.

What key words of training advice can you give a woman that's ready to step up to the bar?
Pull-ups are a total body exercise. Just like Push-ups, and Squats, and Lunges, and Swings, and Deadlifts.... I digress, but hopefully you get the point- if you do most exercises mindfully, they will be total body exercises. Pull-ups are not for your arms or your back, they're for your entire body. So keep that in mind when you're practicing. Here are a couple quick tips:

1- Get away from the sissy "pull-up helper machine". It's truly anything BUT a pull-up helper. It teaches you to only use your arms and back and negates everything from your chest down. 

2- Get a superband or travel band and put it around the pull-up bar. Put your feet in the band and allow it to help you up. Be sure to use your entire body to stabalize. My friend Mike Robertson, RKC has a great video to help demonstrate the assisted pullup. Betsy Collie, RKC Team Leader also has a great video on youtube. Betsy is a great example of long, lean, and super-strong. 

3- Pull yourself up by "driving your elbows into your sides". I think a lot of people pull with their hands, and that activates the bicep more. You do need to grip, and you do need help with your biceps, but your biceps "like" to help, i.e. we're accustomed to working our biceps. Focusing on driving your elbows down and into your sides will help engage your lats.

4- Don't think about just getting your chin over the bar. Throw yourself toward the ceiling. Corny, but it's kind of a "reach for the starts and you might touch a cloud" kind of thing...

5-  I'd suggest that every time you see a pull-up bar, go for a couple reps.  If you can't perform a pull-up yet, jump/hoist yourself up to the top position, pulling your elbows into your sides, and perform 3 negatives: hold yourself above the bar for a couple seconds and then as slowly as you can (I usually try to count to ten), bring your body to the bottom position, hanging with arms straight and shoulders still pulled into your body (shoulders away from ears).

Any final words?
Thank you, Steve, for asking me to write this. I get a lot of questions about pull-ups and it was good to finally get some of them on paper. For the women out there, don't be afraid to be strong! Strong does not mean big. Strong means using your body's potential. Strong is empowering. Strong means not getting osteoporosis when you're older because you were afraid to lift weights in your 20s and 30s. Strong means confident. Strong means your body is burning calories all of the time, trying to maintain the muscle. And I've heard that "skinny-fat" is no longer fashionable: "Strong is the New Sexy" and "Strong is the New Skinny" have been thrown around a lot in the media recently, so get on board now! 

Thanks Val! Ok ladies (and gentlemen), it's time to crush the bar and start making it happen. 

About Valerie: Valerie is the owner of Simple Strength & Fitness. Currently based in Centennial, Colorado, she serves the greater Denver area as a fitness, kettlebell, and strength coach. She offers a variety of services to include kettlebell classes, one-on-one training, and small group training. 

Her certifications include:
  • BS Health & Exercise Science - Wake Forest University
  • CSCS – Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • RKC – Russian Kettlebell Challenge Certification
  • FMS – Functional Movement Screen Certified
  • Iron Maiden – August 2011
For more information please visit her website