SIMPLE SAMPLE KETTLEBELL WORKOUTS

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I usually avoid workouts of the day and I’m typically not one for posting them.  I believe that stringing together a random series of single workouts simply can’t deliver the kind of results that a well thought out program can.  Additionally, if someone tackles a “WOD” before they are ready for it, then the chance of injury is high.

Let me point out a few differences between workouts and programs:

  • Workouts are about being entertained and challenged right now, while programs are about long term results and preparing your for a challenge.
  • Workouts have a one size fits all mentality, while programs take the individual’s goals and limitations into consideration.
  • Workouts are there to kick your ass, while programs are designed to make you better.
  • A workout is simply something you do once then repeat rarely or never again, while a program often consists of the same workout repeated daily, for weeks on end with a few variables changing over time.

The Right Time and Place
While I’m clearly in favor of following a good program over working out… I do believe that there is a right time and place for a good workout every now and then.

The Right Time
The right time is when you need variety, need to test yourself after completing a program, or need to blow off some steam AND you don’t have any conflicting goals that the workout can interfere with such as needing to perform at a high level within the next day or three.

The Right Place
Your are in the right place in your training for these workouts when you have all of the featured techniques  dialed-in at such a high level that there is practically zero chance of you doing it incorrectly even under a high level of fatigue.

Here are a two sample kettlebell only workouts for your amusement. Be sure to use them only at the time and place.

WORKOUT #1: “GOING BALLISTIC”
The idea behind this workout is to start out with a relatively difficult movement then move on to progressively easier and easier ones as fatigue sets in. Every movement is ballistic and done with maximum hip drive.

Grab three different sized bells  small medium and large.
Men: 16kg, 24kg, 32kg, Women 8kg, 12kg, 16kg

Whatever technique you are using, perform an all out set per arm with the heaviest bell, then do the same with the medium bell and finally then smallest bell. When you are done, start over with the largest bell using a slightly less demanding lift.
Keep moving on to less and less demanding lifts until you are thoroughly “worked out”.

Example:
Using three single bells

  1. Snatches: Heavy x all out left & all out right, Medium x all out left & all out right, Light x all out left & all out right,
  2. High Pulls: Heavy x all out left & all out right, Medium x all out left & all out right, Light x all out left & all out right,
  3. Cleans: Heavy x all out left & all out right, Medium x all out left & all out right, Light x all out left & all out right,
  4. Swings: Heavy x all out left & all out right, Medium x all out left & all out right, Light x all out left & all out right,

Of course if  you’re advanced and have the means you can always Double the Pleasure by using three pairs of bells instead.
Example

  1. Double Snatches: heavy all out,  medium all out, light  all out
  2. Double High Pulls: heavy all out,  medium all out, light  all out
  3. Double Cleans: heavy all out,  medium all out, light  all out
  4. Double Swings: heavy all out,  medium all out, light  all out

Note: Using this double format I was able to perform a 15-minute workout that burned 26 calories per minute.  I never repeated it.

Workout #2: “MR. CLEAN’S LADDER”
This workout features the clean and reminds me of the telephone game we played in grade school.
Using one or two bells perform 1 rep of a clean, then one rep of a technique of your choice.
Remember this sequence and repeat it adding another clean and another technique, then repeat this new sequence adding again and again and again.

  1. 1 Double Clean + 1 Front Squat
  2. 1 Double Clean + 1 Front Squat + 1 Clean + 1 Military Press
  3. 1 Double Clean + 1 Front Squat + 1 Clean + 1 Military Press + 1 Clean + 1 Snatch
  4. 1 Double Clean + 1 Front Squat + 1 Clean + 1 Military Press + 1 Clean + 1 Snatch + 1 clean + 1 Push Press

Climb as high as you can then rest as little as necessary.
Repeat the same ladder with the chosen techniques stacked in reverse order

  1. 1 Double Clean + 1 Push Press
  2. 1 Double Clean + 1 Push Press + 1 clean + 1 Snatch
  3. 1 Double Clean + 1 Push Press + 1 clean + 1 Snatch + 1 clean + 1 Military Press
  4. 1 Double Clean + 1 Push Press + 1 clean + 1 Snatch + 1 clean + 1 Military Press + 1 clean + 1 Front Squat

The same workout can be performed with higher reps per ladder or a single bell so you’ll need to repeat each ladder twice (once with each side of your body).

 

 

 

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IMPROVE YOUR PULL-UPS BY LEARNING TO RIDE WAVE

RIDING THE PULL-UP WAVE

The pull-up is possibly the king of bodyweight exercises. It encourages a healthy strength to bodyweight ratio, builds strong abs, lats and a mean grip. Most people think of the pull-up as an exercise in upper body strength, but when it comes to conquering a pull-up or adding more reps strong abs and timing of the breath are essential.

THE PULL-UP DEFINED

First, let’s be clear on what a pull-up is:
A pull-up begins with you hanging motionless from the bar in an overhand grip, with arms extended and your feet off of the ground.
From this motionless dead-hang, you will pull yourself up without swinging or kicking until your throat or chest touches the bar.
Consecutive pull-ups require you to lower yourself under control and start each rep anew from a motionless dead hang.
No kicking, swinging or kipping is allowed. Ever.

THE STICKING POINTS OF THE PULL-UP
During any lift there comes a point in the movement where you experience poor leverage or a transition between muscle groups that can cause your lift to slow down or grind to a halt.

Here are the three most common sticking points I’ve found in the pull-up.

  • The start: Overcoming the inertia of the dead-hang.
  • The Mid-Point: the point where your elbows approach shoulder level
  • 3/4 The Way Up: The point where the bar approaches eye level.

As with any lift there are a lot of little tricks of the trade to develop the strength to pull or push your way out of your sticking point such as partial reps, isometric holds and so on. But another way is to learn to shift gear and accelerate before you get stuck. I’ve found that hardstyle abdominal training and power breathing as taught in the StrongFirst School of Strength are two great ways to cruise through these sticking points.

HARDSTYLE ABS
To improve your pull-ups you’ll need stronger abs. You don’t need a visible six pack, but you will need a strong midsection. This can be accomplished through a variety of methods, but before your start cranking out worthless traditional crunches putting your spine into flexion I strongly recommend the methods found in Hardstyle Abs and the StrongFirst Bodyweight Instructor Course. The methods are vastly superior to traditional sit-ups and safer. With a qualified instructor these methods can produce dramatic results in a single session and life-changing results after 8-12 weeks. After learning these methods you’ll find ways to strengthen your abs anywhere with little to no equipment in a manner that will actually strengthen and protect your back instead of injuring it through commonly practiced methods.

During a pull-up strong abs can be used to knit the entire body into a solid and more manageable piece to be controlled in space.
This becomes evident with the following mental experiment: Imagine pulling a friend up over a wall who is holding still then another friend who is flailing about. The one who is holding still makes your job easier by allowing you to direct all of your effort into pulling, while a friend who flails about causes you to expend extra energy toward steadying or steering him as you pull.

The ability to both strongly and quickly contract and relax your abs means you relax at the proper time during a pull-up and quickly tighten in time to cruise through a sticking point.

Note: “Hardstyle Abs” is the title of a fantastic book on abdominal training by Pavel Tsatsouline. ALL of the abs drills I use and teach are derived from his methods contained in the “Hardstyle Abs” as well as what I’ve learned from attending his courses and bodyweight strength instructor certifications.  I recommend them because they are 1) Safe, 2) Simple and 3) Devestatingly Effective. One of the principles behind hardstyle ab training is learn to generate MORE tension with your abs and to do so faster. This ability to quickly contract your abs AND contract them harder is the equivalent of putting in a powerful engine so your car.

BREATHING
Athletes such a powerlifters, martial artists, boxers and volley ball players understand that breath control is the key to producing power, or relaxation. A long sigh can relax, while a short intense grunt produces maximal strength. Listen to a pro tennis player hit a ball with power and you’ll notice a sharp and loud exhalation similar to a grunt to produce power followed by longer drawn out sigh to promote quick relaxation. To learn power breathing, I recommend visiting a StrongFirst certified Instructor, preferably one who is certified as bodyweight instructor as well.

RIDING THE WAVE
One way to get better at pull-ups is to coordinate your abdominal contraction around your breathing.
Initiate the pull-up with a grunt, pushing the diaphragm down and zipping up the abs with the intention of shortening the distance between your sternum and belly button. If done properly, you will feel like you are braced for a punch to the midsection. By strongly and quickly contracting your abs in this manner while hanging from a pull-up bar your feet will pull up quickly and start a shockwave that travels upward within the body. When you can do this strongly it’s like getting a small push from below to start your pull-up.

Practice this combination by hanging, then tightening/grunting as you give an initial pull, do this repeatedly for several reps.
Notice sensation it creates as well how far it gets you into the pull-up. Also, take note of how quickly the tension from the initial explosive grunt dissipates. This is the initial “wave”. It will only get you so far, to your first sticking point to be exact, but it’s a great start.

Now that you have practiced this explosive take-off it’s time to learn to quickly change gears and keep accelerating.
Just before you hit your first sticking point where the upper arms are approaching parallel to the floor tighten up your abs and glutes again with a sharp powerful hiss and pull. This second contraction of the midsection momentarily increases the tension in your midsection and surrounding muscles to facilitate a stronger pull. The key is to time it perfectly so that you get tight-ER just before you hit the sticking point and you continue accelerating. When done properly you’ll practically glide right through your first sticking point. The next sticking point occurs just before you are about to clear the bar. By adding another strong contraction / sharp hiss just before this sticking point you improve your chances of cruising past it as well.

So the pull-up is initiated with a grunt, then quickly followed by a short hiss and increased tension when necessary before a sticking point.

NOTE: It’s important to point out that in both types of breathing an audible grunt and hiss are not the goal of the power breathing but the result of an incredibly forceful abdominal contraction. Simply making noise misses the point and will not give you the desired result. The grunt is the result of the initial contraction and the hiss is the result of breathing out while tightening the midsection further.

Like anything that requires timing, this skill will require practice.
To practice and get this down you will need a partner to help you through the sticking points at first. Your partner will place their hand on the center of your back. When you get stuck, your partner’s job is to give you just enough assistance to keep moving and finish the rep.The speed of the assisted rep should be as close as possible to the speed you intend to do an unassisted rep. As you practice your partner should give you feedback and communicate to you when he or she feels you are improving and requiring less assistance. Eventually your partner will need to push less and less or not at all.

Give this a shot and let me know how it helps your pull-up training.

THE SNATCH TEST, CONFIDENCE AND THE THEORY OF RELATIVITY

If you don’t already know, the 5-minute kettlebell snatch test involves men using a 24kg(53lb) kettlebell and snatching it overhead 100 times in 5-minutes.  Women use a 12kg or 16kg bell. Individuals over 50 years of age or under a certain weight class are allowed to use a lighter bell.  If you’ve never experienced it before it’s a real eye opener.
 I remember the first time I attempted it back in 2007. I had read somewhere that to be considered a man among men you should be able to pass the 10-minute snatch test and achieve 200 or more reps in with a 24kg bell. Challenge accepted. I bought a kettlebell, practiced for a few weeks and took the test. A few minutes into the test, my lungs and forearms were on fire, I felt dizzy, light-headed and noticed my heart rate monitor was beeping at me. I decided to set the bell down and check my heart rate… it was 214 bpm.

I casually walked over to the EAD and performed some fast & loose relaxation exercises while waited for my heart rate to come down.  Needless to say I  didn’t finish my snatch test on that particular day.

If I would have stopped there, I would probably be terrified of the snatch test to this day. Instead I simply found a proven plan, followed it for a few months and rocked the snatch test.  Since then I’ve passed it many times and have achieved 220+ reps in the 10-minutes snatch and 94 reps in 5 minutes with a 32kg.There are a lot of things that go into successfully passing the 5-minute snatch test and lots of great articles and books already exist on the subject. However, what I don’t see or hear enough of is advice on the mental approach to passing the snatch test. The reason I say this is that so many people especially kettlebell instructor candidates seem to place a disproportionate emphasis on the snatch and waste a lot of energy worrying about it.

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.” – Albert Einstein

IT’S ALL RELATIVE
Confidence can only be earned through experience.
In other words, to confidently pass the snatch test you must intelligently and systematically make your training harder than the test.

THE ELEMENTS OF THE SNATCH TEST
I’m absolutely not implying that you head off and start doing something crazy like a 15-minute snatch test once a week. Instead, break the snatch test down into its most difficult elements and strategically tackle the elements that challenge you the most.
Start off tackling one element of the snatch test with a relatively easy effort and gradually build  up to a point that slightly exceeds what the snatch test requires. For example, build up to 200 snatches in a single workout, or learning to snatch a heavier bell for 5 to 10 reps. Once you know that what you’ve experienced and conquered before is equal to or greater in difficulty than what you are about to do, then you’re going to walk in with confidence and overcome.

“Cry in the dojo. Laugh on the battlefield.” — Samurai Maxim

4-Points to Consider When Preparing to Pass the 5-Minute Snatch Test

  1. Getting comfortable with heavier weight overhead
    This goes back to getting stronger, and surprisingly it is often overlooked. Nothing will make you feel relaxed with your snatch test bell overhead like knowing you can snatch a bell 1/3rd heavier or better for several reps or control a bell twice the size overhead with a movement like a getup. The whole idea is to put heavier weight overhead and hold it there, so that holding your snatch test bell overhead feels relatively easy by comparison.

  2. Getting comfortable with higher reps
    The standard approach to passing the snatch test is to perform 10 reps, switch hands and repeat for a total of 100 reps.

    If this is your strategy for passing the test, then your training should involve doing more than 10 reps per hand for a grand total of more than 100 reps, I recommend 150… so that by comparison 10 reps per hand switch for 100 reps feels relatively easy.

  3. Get comfortable with snatching for more than 5-minutes at a time
    This theme shows up in the Rite of Passage by Pavel Tsatsouline as well as Brett Jone’s snatch density training in his SFG Prep article. In the Rite of Passage a pair of dice is rolled to determine how many minutes of snatches you perform on snatch day, so an unfortunate roll of the dice may result in you doing 12-minutes of snatches. In Brett Jone’s Snatch Density Training a candidate will be performing anywhere from 7 to 14 minutes of snatches.

    If the five-minute snatch test is your goal, then your training should consist of snatch for more than 5-minutes so that the snatch test feels relatively easy by comparison.

  4. It’s a minimum standard
    The 5-minute snatch test was never intended as the end all be all of kettlebell prowess. It is an entry-level minimum standard for instructor candidates. The stronger you get and the more experience you get under your belt, the easier it should become.  While many say that the 5-minute snatch test never feels easy and I believe this is true to some extent… I argue that it’s all relative. If you’ve completed something much harder in training, like the 10-minute Snatch Test or SSST, then the snatch test will feel easy by comparison.
TAKING ACTION
One day a week perform each of the following:
  • swing variations and even snatches with a bell heavier than you intend to use for your snatch test.
  • Getups with a bell heavier than you intend to snatch.
  • Take several weeks to build up to snatching your snatch test size bell for up to 150% of the reps required in the snatch test and using up to 150% or more of the reps per hand you intend to us during the snatch test.
  • I’ve personally found that when it comes to conditioning, going all out one day per week is enough to elicit and adaptation. The other days of the week I recommend  focusing on high quality strong/powerful reps with plenty of rest in between, sort of an aggressive playfulness. To the outside observer you should look calm and never tired.
CONFIDENCE BOOSTING SNATCH TEST ROUTINES
Routine A: The Relatively Heavy Warm-Up
Perform either one getup per arm with a bell 1/3 or heavier than your snatch test bell – OR – Perform 3 to 5 snatches per arm with a heavier bell rest a few minutes Destroy your snatch test.

Routine B: Chunking the Snatch Test If you’re the type of person that struggles at 60-80 reps or the 3-minute mark then this method is for you. Warm-up as stated above in routine A then perform your snatch test like so 2 minutes  all out, 1 minute rest, 2 minutes all out. Done. Most people can get 50 to 60 reps done in the first two-minute sprint and nearly recover entirely in the 3rd minute. Once you realized how little remains, the last two minutes feel like a breeze and typically end in a Personal best.

StrongFirst Instructors and Candidates

StrongFirst Instructors and Candidates from the April 2014 SFG I & SFG II Certification in Chicago where I had the honor of serving as an assistant instructor . I’m the only guy in the front row looking the wrong way. ;]