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Baseball, Cystic Fibrosis & Kettlebells, Interview with Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis At San Jose RKC Kettlebell Press

Dragon Door: How did you get started with fitness and kettlebells?

Taylor Lewis: In 2011, I had just really gotten started as a trainer at Bally Total Fitness in Fresno, CA. I had the opportunity to train a WSHL juniors hockey team, so I searched online for info on how to train hockey players. I was a baseball player so I had no idea how to do it. Mike Boyle's name kept popping up, so I got on his newsletter and saw he had a one-day seminar in Boston. It was perfect because my Dad is from Connecticut and I wanted to see Boston, so I flew out a couple days early. I arrived on Thursday and checked into the hotel which had an attached restaurant.

After checking in, I went to the bar at the restaurant, and sat down. Someone sat down next to me and asked why I was there. I mentioned the Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning conference. He said, "Oh really? My name's Dan John, and I'm the keynote speaker!"

For the next three hours, Dan and I sat there drinking whiskey and talking about the workshop. Mike Boyle had flown Dan in early to talk to his staff, and Dan invited me to come along. I ended up spending the whole weekend with Dan and Mike just listening, talking and training. Dan said that I needed to get into kettlebells, and I thought, "What the heck is a kettlebell?"

I decided to fly out again for Dan’s HKC workshop a month or two later in Connecticut. From there I saw he was doing the San Diego RKC that Summer. I asked Dan if he thought I could be ready in three months and he said to do it! He sent me a 13-week training program, and by the end of the summer, sure enough I was RKC certified. Dan John has been my mentor ever since I met him in that bar in Boston.

The kettlebell is a really good tool for my athletes, especially since I work with a lot of baseball players now. We don’t do any Olympic lifts with the baseball players, so kettlebell swings and one-arm kettlebell swings give me another way to incorporate speed and power—while reducing the risk of wrist and shoulder injuries.

Dragon Door: Are you still training hockey players now or mainly baseball players?

Taylor Lewis: I was in central California when I started training hockey players, then moved to Northern California to work at my old college. Now, I’m training about 90% baseball players. I consult with a few high schools and am the strength coach for Sonoma State University’s Division II baseball team. I also train various athletes in the offseason—from Major League players down to 12 year olds.

Dragon Door: You recently went to the RKC in San Jose with Dan John, were you recertifying?

Taylor Lewis: I first certified in 2011 with Dan John and Brett Jones in San Diego before the split. After that I shifted over to SFG but wasn’t fully involved and heard Dan was coming back to the RKC. So I talked to John and did the whole RKC course again a few weeks ago to stay current. Now I will be going to the RKC-II in Chicago at the end of the year!
Taylor Lewis Get-Up at the RKC

Dragon Door: What do you like most about Dan John's teaching and coaching style?

Taylor Lewis: He gets frustrated when everyone says that his teaching is simple and easy, because it took him many years to make it simple. But that’s why his style works. Our approach to training allows me to teach forty people at once and they all "get it". With Dan, in just a weekend you’re able to understand it, relate to it and implement it. While the skills might be specific, Dan also teaches the generalizations that you can use with anyone from athletes, general populations, and even specialized clients who may have specific concerns or injuries.

The way Dan teaches, you know what to implement Monday morning. With his teaching background, he coaches so well that he makes it simple and it resonates.

Dragon Door: What do you like most about kettlebell training?

Taylor Lewis: First, the fact that you can take it anywhere and use it. And it's extremely user friendly. There’s a lot of technique to learn, but I think that it's a great tool for teaching ballistics. It’s so much safer and easier to teach kettlebell swings to forty baseball players than a barbell clean. With an everyday client who is trying to shed fat, you can give them a lot of swings or intervals, and all of the sudden a few days later they already feel leaner.

I had been swinging kettlebells to get ready for the RKC, and when I went back to the barbell for deadlifts, my deadlifts were stronger than before! That's what I like about the kettlebell—it just works. You don’t have to even get into the science.

The kettlebell teaches how to create tension, then how to turn it up or down. At the RKC in San Jose, Dan talked about the whole "arousal level"—when to turn it up and down. You can immediately learn that skill from kettlebell swings, goblet squats and the various presses.

It's extremely important for our athletes. My baseball players need to ramp it up when necessary, and have the understanding (and capacity) to bring it back down so that they’re not always at the highest threshold. Our athletes learn this from kettlebell training.

Dragon Door: What's your favorite kettlebell move to teach?

Taylor Lewis: I am a fan of the swing and the get-up, and obviously the goblet squat. Those three movements from the HKC are useful for baseball players. Many of our guys lose their hinge because baseball is such an anterior dominate sport. They live in extension all day, so we need to work the posterior chain. The swing is especially good for people with bad knees, or if there’s not a lot of room in the gym. With the swing, you can burn fat without having to go anywhere. Plus, you train endurance and glute activation.
The get-up is a full body exercise that’s great for overhead athletes. I believe that everyone (especially people with desk jobs) should train like an overhead athlete. A kettlebell overhead and resting on the back of the wrist, activates the posterior part of the shoulder capsule where the rotator cuff and other stabilizers resonate (and are usually not optimally working). You can’t get that same activation from a dumbbell.

I like to teach people how to squat properly by giving them a kettlebell for goblet squats. All our athletes practice goblet squats to improve their squatting patterns in the beginning. And we do them in season just to maintain good structure. Having the kettlebell in front, creating tension, and driving right back up from a goblet squat easily transfers to a barbell front squat or back squat. It is also very important for maintaining pelvic floor activation.

Dragon Door: You mentioned the RKC-II earlier, but what are you working towards in your training right now? Or working on in general?

Taylor Lewis: I would like to take on the Beast Tamer Challenge. I've always admired the athletes who take on the challenge whether they succeed or not. It is just fun to watch them. Right now, my main focus is establishing a good pistol squat. Playing a rotational, asymmetrical sport for such a long time has created a gap in how I create, transfer, and use tension and force. I have found that planks, side planks and birddogs are a lost art in training. They have helped my pistol squat tremendously, especially the side planks. I credit that knowledge to Dan and Stuart McGill.

I also work with adults and young adults with cystic fibrosis. Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disease that causes thickened mucus to form in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. Something I am working to continue to developing their training and learning how to really attack recovery. Recovery doesn’t just mean what happens after a workout—nutrition, sleep, hydration—all of which are extremely key. What I’m doing with my clients with CF is to build recovery into their rest intervals.

For example, if they have a minute of rest between sets, when they have 20 seconds left of rest, they will take 2-4 good diaphragmatic breaths before setting up for the start of the next lift. This approach to rest has not only helped them regulate low to high or high to low arousal, it also gives their bodies the opportunity to go into the lift with a higher potential for tension. The body only has so much tension and arousal available throughout the day. If you live in a chaotic world, you may need to find ways to help keep some in "the tank". Diaphragmatic breathing (in through the nose and out through the mouth) is an instant down regulator.

I am also slowly implementing this recovery strategy with our baseball players. A kid who hits a baseball then runs a double will be out of breath if he's going at 100% capacity. So, when he’s on second base and has 30 seconds off, if he's been training to breathe with his diaphragm, it will help his recovery. Then getting to third base and home will be a lot easier.

We’ve been experimenting with doing sets of kettlebell swings then focusing on breathing between the sets. There's always something to be done even during rest time. It’s a goal of mine to improve the recovery process within the training sessions and after they leave the gym. If we see our clients for two or three days a week for an hour each time, how can we help them get their bodies to live in the parasympathetic mode? So, when someone cuts them off, or their kids get in trouble in school, or some other random stress happens, their body remembers how to come back down quicker because of their training. It’s all about trying to make a positive, conscious shift when you’re trying to regulate the system up or down.

During the initial assessment of about 95% of my clients, we can see that they’re breathing through their secondary respiratory system all the time. It’s my goal to get them to the opposite subconsciously. Dan John talks about a "high arousal, low arousal" dial—and when to dial it up and when to dial it down. Dan has helped me teach the same thing with my CF clients and it’s exciting to watch the development.

Dragon Door: It's fascinating that your approach is beneficial for baseball players and your clients with CF. How did you decide to use it with both groups?

Taylor Lewis: When I was working on my masters project, I rode down to Stanford with my brother, Dr. Zachery Sellers. He specializes in researching the GI tract in patients with CF. I had planned on doing my master’s thesis on post activation potentiation, and while we were talking, he asked if I would be interested in helping him out because a lot of the current research was only based on conditioning. The exercise programs specifically broke down their conditioning workouts to the minute, but there were no specifics for strength training. So I decided to shift to a project helping a lady with cystic fibrosis—and our only focus would be strength training. We all know that strength training and conditioning work together, but I wanted to show the CF community the importance of specific strength training guidelines.

Now, my goal is to get more involved down at Stanford doing research and helping to build programs for these patients. Some of the patients and kids can’t leave their hospital rooms for multiple days to three weeks, and they are asking for exercise programs. Unfortunately, the doctors do not have the time to write exercise programs, so I want to come in and help develop programs or at least give them ideas. Since there’s no cure for cystic fibrosis yet, I’m hoping to contribute my knowledge and expertise to find something that could help possibly find a cure or improve quality of life.

Dragon Door: Which exercises work best in these healthcare settings?

Taylor Lewis: We just completed the paperwork, but that population can't necessarily ramp it up to a big degree, because it will exacerbate their symptoms. My project used breathing concepts from PRI, and Dan John's Easy Strength method. I set the rep range at no more than 10 reps per exercise per day for 4 days a week—lifting two days on, one day off. The client gained a lot of strength but was most importantly, she improved her 6-minute mile test (a staple test for cardiovascular endurance in the CF community) without doing any cardio. My masters project caught some interest in the CF community, so now I am down at Stanford diving deeper into the research and developing programs we can test with a bigger sample size. Hopefully we can get funding for research and enough equipment to get the patients into the weight room for 20 minutes, 2-3 days a week to help them get out of the hospital sooner.

Unfortunately, CF patients are at a higher sympathetic nervous tone because of their lungs and how the mucus builds up so quickly. They also need to do a lot of breathing treatments. Baseball players also have a higher sympathetic nervous system response, but it’s different. Their response environments are also very unique and give insight into tension and various arousal levels on a high level just like CF. And since this training works with adult CF patients and Major League Baseball players, we know it will also work for our everyday clients.

Dragon Door: How does this training work with your baseball teams?

Taylor Lewis: I'm working with the Sonoma State Baseball team in Rohnert Park, I also am working out of a facility about 30 minutes north of San Francisco where I train general population clients, traveling teams, and consult for a few high school teams in the area.

I think everyone needs some type of percentage-based training. I design the training around the gaps which need to be filled and how much importance is assigned to those gaps. For a baseball player I may need 50% posterior chain importance, 25% anterior dominance, and 25% breathing. We all need to include every fundamental human movement in each program, but a different percentage of each will be ideal for an individual athlete. It is important to understand that once we change one percentage, then it will alter the other side.

Taylor Lewis RKC BU PressFor example, if I am training a pitcher who throws a lot, his shoulder will show a form of anterior dominance that might look like his throwing arm is internally rotated, his pec or lat is tight, or it may look like a decreased synchronization of the scapulothoracic joint or various other possibilities. So, I would give him a strength program to create a new system on the posterior (back, hips and ribcage). Then I would need to address and understand how the front side will react after I alter and manipulate the posterior and lateral sides. The pitcher may need to re-learn a movement.

It depends on the clientele, but generally everyone needs posterior strength and to learn to breathe from the diaphragm. I also think they need to know when to ramp it up and when to bring it back down.

Dragon Door: I’ve also noticed that since I started kettlebell training years ago, my general coordination has improved.

Taylor Lewis: Kettlebells train the brain to communicate with the muscles faster. Kettlebell swings can help slower people get faster, and it truly translates to our athletic agility and speed drills. I'm teaching the brain to understand how to move quickly when necessary. Kettlebell ballistics like swings, snatches, and cleans help us understand fast movements in a safe manner. Kettlebell ballistics also have a huge quick isometric hold, and teach us how to relax it—then go fast and lock. It’s like crushing the brakes to understand how to stop. I think that's huge because there's a point where you either fall or you stop and brake.

I also think that loaded carries are wonderful for "building the armor". Creating tension with single and double rack carries just builds everything. I just give my clients a couple of kettlebells to rack or put overhead, and it just works. My clients often buy in with one session and no questions. They pick it up, carry it around, and they get it.

Dragon Door: Do you have a favorite workout with loaded carries for your clients?

Taylor Lewis: I am a huge fan of performing a Turkish get-up to the top position then walking for 60 yards with the kettlebell overhead before coming back down. This is repeated on the other side and followed by a sled pull. We repeat this for 3 rounds.

You-go-I-go is always fun for my clients. One person will do a rack carry down and back while their partner is doing kettlebell swings. They will keep swinging until their partner returns. With our baseball players, I really like having them do long slow bottoms up get-ups followed by six kettlebell power swings. There’s something about the 100% neurological system focus as they move through the get-up. It activates a lot and gets them set up for swings right after. Swings, carries, get-ups, and goblet squats target just about everything. Even if we only have five minutes to train, we can do something beneficial.

TaylorLewisAtRKCPress thumbnailTaylor Lewis trains at Line Drive Baseball and Softball in San Rafael, CA. He can be contacted by email, Facebook: Taylor Lewis Strength Coach, and Instagram: tlstrength35.