How to Achieve More from Your Training with Less

When it comes to achieving your fitness goals most of us have been taught that more is better,  it’s the make more money by working more hours mindset.  We do things like join more fitness classes, spend more time doing cardio, purchase more nutritional supplements… more, more, more.  Sometimes it works for a short while, but then our bodies adapt and we become so efficient at our routines that the results we seek stop coming.  

When things stop working, don’t get fed up because you don’t have the time to do more, instead start finding ways to achieve more by doing less. 

“Prior to taking Mr. Steven’s kettlebell class, I was maintaining my weight with running and weightlifting 1.5 hours 5 days/week. I was bored and in need of something new. I then began doing kettlebell 1 hour 3 times a week. Not only did I maintain my weight with less than half the time spent at the gym, but I saw added muscle definition as well. When I decided I wanted to lose some weight, Scott encouraged me to keep a food journal and we upped the intensity of some of my workouts. I quickly lost 12 lbs and am on my way to losing more. Thanks to Scott’s fun and challenging class I enjoy working out and am in the best shape of my life. For the first time ever I feel like an athlete. It is a very professional class- he is very knowledgeable and always makes sure we are doing the movements safely and explains why this is important. There are people of all ages and walks of life in our class and we are all very addicted to kettlebell.”-Janae Henry

While there is a limit to how busy you can be, there is no limit to how skilled you can become. The art of achieving more by doing less comes down to skill. The more skilled you are with the tools you have the more you can accomplish in less time. 
When it comes to fitness, the more skilled you are with your body, the less techniques, the less equipment and the less total training time you will need to achieve results that are superior compared to someone who is less skilled.  As you become stronger, you will develop the skill of contracting your muscles harder.  Contracting your muscles harder not only takes more energy to do, but it takes more energy to recover from as well.  The more skills you can internalize, the more advanced skills you can learn, allowing you to squeeze more and more transformational potential out of every repetition. 
As an example, when I first learned to the perform the kettlebell swing there were no instructors in Nebraska at the time, so I was forced to teach myself from a book. I trained hard and got to the point where I could swing a 62lb kettlebell at 40 reps minutes for 12 minutes non-stop and I thought that I was pretty awesome…., as it turned out I was making some novice mistakes such as trying to conserve energy instead of maximizing force production. When I finally had my first real instruction from Master StrongFirst Instructor Jon Engum it took me only ten reps with a 35lb kettlebell and I was feeling muscles I never felt before.  You see, when I improved my technique I was able to achieve superior results and be more challenged with 1/48th the reps and 57% of the weight. Ever since that day I’ve been fascinated with the less is more approach to strength training. 
In the book “The 4-Hour Body” author Timothy Ferris, SFGII describes how Tracy Reifkind, SFG was able to lose 100lbs of body-fat and keep it off by only doing 20-minutes of kettlebell swings 3 days per week for a total of 4-hours a month.  Tracy’s husband happens to be Master StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor Mark Reifkind, so you can be assured that her technique is dialed in. 
In a 2009 study* performed by Chad Schnettler, M.S., John Porcari, Ph.D., and Carl Foster, Ph.D., the exact kettlebell snatch technique we teach in our group classes was proven to burn at least 20.2 calories per minute for the average participant and that does not include calories burned afterward during recovery.   In fact, in 2010 using this very protocol I conducted my own personal experiment and found that I was able to burn 26+ calories per minute and I was able to lower my resting heart from the mid 70’s to the 44bpm in just 5 workouts and less than 2 cumulative hours in 5 weeks. 
One of the most brilliant coaches I’ve had the honor to meet and learn from is Master StrongFirst Instructor Dan John. On more than one occasion he would talk about how some of his workouts consisted of a little as 6-reps. On his first rep he’d snatch 225 lbs or more overhead, then add weight to the bar and repeat this process 5 more times building up to a near all out effort.  
If you value your time and believe in treating strength as a skill then you’ll feel at home with our Omaha Elite Kettlebell classes. We will find ways to keep you challenged by making you more skilled at becoming stronger not busier.

Are You Pulling Your Weight: Part 2

As a kettlebell instructor one of my favorite
non-kettlebell exercises is the pull-up. The pull-up is an
efficient way to simultaneously improve abdominal strength, upper
body strength and flexibility, shoulder health, grip strength,
overall body composition, and all around athleticism. The good news
is that the pull-up is nothing to be intimidated by, it’s simply
one point on a long continuum from planks to pull-ups and beyond.
If you have healthy and mobile shoulders, want a challenge and an
honest assessment of your overall fitness, the pull-up may be just
what the doctor ordered.

5 Exercises to Help
You Conquer Your First Chin-Up

The biggest problem with
achieving your first pull-up is that in order to get better at
pull-ups you need to do a lot of pull-ups. One way to do this to
find several ways to train cheated or assisted pull-ups all the
while stripping the pull-up down and training it’s individual
 components. Pullup

    1. Hollow Position Drills and Power Breathing
      The gymnast’s hollow position is essentially a
      high-intensity upside down plank. One way to begin to learn this
      technique is to learn how to turbo-charge your plank position by
      maximizing the strength of your muscular contractions with
      hardstyle techniques like power-breathing then progress to learning
      to hold the hollow position on the floor.  There are various
      way to practice the hollow position. Pictured to the right is
      the hollow position with the added challenged of holding a
      stretched elastic band under the small of my back. If the band
      slips out, I lost my abs.  An advanced variation would be to
      hold the arms out overhead as if hanging from a pull-up
      bar.Recommendation: Build up to 20-30 second reps. Start
      with three sets of three reps and progress to five sets of five
      For more
      information on power breathing and maximizing abdominal strength I
      recommend the Book & DVD  “Hardstyle Abs by Pavel
    2. Hanging
      for Time
      If you can hold the hollow position well on
      the floor, then progress to holding the hollow while hanging from
      the pull-up bar. It’s essentially a regressed hanging leg
      raise. Performed properly, this can be an incredibly intense
      exercise even for individuals who can perform 10 pull-ups or more.
      For example: one advanced variation is to where ankle weights or
      hold a kettebell on your foot.Practice holding at the bottom, top
       and even the middle of the pull-up position. It’s ok to
      use box to step on or have a training partner assist you into
      position. Start with the dead hang with arms straight. When you can
      do that, progress to hanging from the top position with your elbows
      flexed (Do not rest your chin or jaw on the bar). When you come
      down you can lower yourself slowly which is training the pull-up in
      reverse. Recommendation: Build up to
      15 and 30 seconds holds.
      Start with three
      sets of three reps and progress to five sets of five
    3. Batwings Batwings are an
      exercise I first read about from Master StrongFirst Instructor Dan
      John.  The batwing is essentially a plank where you pull a
      weight with one or both hands up to your side and hold for time.
        The goal for men is to hold  16kg/35lbs. and women hold
      8kg/18lbs in each hand,  get the thumbs to armpit height and
      hold for 10 seconds or longer. Tight chests and shoulders are
      epidemic in today’s society, so many people find this
       movement  especially challenging. I recommend using
      stretches like armbars and
      brettzels.Recommendation: Build up
      to 10 second holds. 
      Start with three
      sets of three reps and progress to five sets of five
    4. Suspended Rows Use your
      favorite brand of suspension trainer or gymnasts rings and simply
      perform rows as shown. Lean back to about 45 degrees or better and
      row yourself to standing. You should maintain a plank or slight
      hollow position throughout.  Always lower yourself carefully
      and keep your shoulders tightly packed so that they don’t get
      yanked forward and out of the socket.  Inhale as you pull.
       Similar to the Batwing , strive to get your elbows behind
      your ribs.  Pause motionless for a moment at the top and
      bottom of each rep.Recommendation:
      Start with three sets of five reps and progress to five
      sets of ten reps.
      Occasionally test yourself
      and move on when you can achieve 20 reps with control and good
    5. Elevated Rows These are the
      same as the suspended row with the additional challenge of worse
      leverage.  Place your feet on something sturdy  and start
      so that you are parallel to the floor when suspended. Perform in
      the same manner as the suspended
      row.Recommendation: Start with three
      sets of three reps and progress to five sets of five
      Occasionally test yourself and shoot for
      10 repetitions.

To Chin-Ups & Beyond…. While
the exercises above are a great start, this list is far from
exhaustive. The number of ways to work toward the pull-up and
chin-up do not stop here. The possibilities are limited only by
your imagination, but a good trainer will find the fewest exercises
with the biggest bang for the buck.  Personally, I’ve been
able to get clients from zero to hero with only three variations,
one of which is not shown above.

& 9th 2014
Subscribe to our email list to
get more information on our March 8th Ladies’ Strength Workshop
with Master StrongFirst Instructor Karen Smith Hosted by Omaha
Elite Kettlebell


Before getting
started here’s a quick list of pre-requisites for safely training
on the pull-up bar. 
Trunk Stability: Do you
have sufficient core strength in your lats, abs and glutes to keep
the body knitted together and stable as you raise and lower your
body through space?
Do you have healthy mobile shoulders that
are  capable of safely attaining the overhead lockout or start
Are all the muscles surrounding the
shoulders including the lats strong enough and coordinated enough
to keep the shoulders held tightly and safely in their sockets
while supporting your weight?
Grip Strength: Do you have
the grip strength and endurance to hang on to the bar long enough
to get the job done?
As a Functional Movement Screen Specialist and
StrongFirst Bodyweight Instructor I will use a quick series of
object assessments to determine the appropriate starting point for
The Author:
John Scott Stevens is a Level II StrongFirst Certified
Kettlebell Instructor, StrongFirst Certified Bodyweight Strength
Instructor and CK-FMS Functional Movement Specialist.
He can be reached at
(402) 403-3975