You Have to Swing Them Bells

TAGS: Pavel Tsatsouline, kettlebell workouts, kettlebells

Do you face three of the same challenges that I regularly confront with my conditioning?

  1. I hate doing cardio in pretty much any form (although I’m wondering if shooting hoops with my eight-year-old son on an eight-foot ring qualifies?).
  2. I don’t have huge amounts of time to focus on conditioning because getting time to do my strength work can be an issue.
  3. I don’t have (or have access to) a Prowler.

Before Jim Wendler goes all medieval on my arse and tells me to find a hill and sprint up it until I lose my cookies or grow a pair, indulge me for a moment. I never really saw the point in running unless it involved someone chasing me or me chasing a lump of pigskin. The whole concept of a “Fun Run” is really one of the great oxymorons of the modern age. However, I have found an alternative that allows me to complete some butt kicking conditioning work without going anywhere near a hill, all in the span of twelve to seventeen minutes (twenty if you include a warm-up period).

The answer—kettlebells. In my mind, there are four main kettlebell exercises—kettlebell swings and their variations, kettlebell snatches, kettlebell clean and presses, and Turkish get-ups.

My conditioning program is simple. I pick two of these exercises, do one of them for ten to twelve minutes, and then do the other exercise for five minutes. With kettlebell swings, two arm, single arm, and alternating arm versions are all fine, and I often mix each of them into the same session, particularly when they form the longer portion of the workout.

At the end of this workout, your heart will be pounding and almost your entire posterior chain will be screaming. Put the kettlebells away, walk around to get your breath back, get your bag, and get on with your life.

I will acknowledge up front that the workouts can be as boring as hell, but I make no apologies for this. I’ll take boring but brutally effective over mind numbing treadmill work any day. Focusing on holding on to your last meal can make the time pass quickly. Believe me. The key to getting through the workout is to focus on ensuring your technique is sound and remains that way for the duration. Once you get over the five-minute mark, fatigue will set in, and for the next five to seven minutes, a technical failure may result in an unwanted injury. If your technique starts to fail you, stop the exercise and move to another exercise. As my mother use to say, an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure.

Pavel Tsatsouline has written extensively on all things kettlebell related, including proper technique. Sample technique videos are available and I strongly recommend you study these prior to commencing with this protocol. The protocols presented here are variations on work presented by Pavel, particularly the ten-minute clean and press challenge. For this, I will forever be indebted to him.

One of my favorite variations is to line up four kettlebells of progressively lighter weight and perform twenty repetitions at the heaviest weight. Then I move to the next lightest for twenty repetitions and continue down the chain to the lightest weight before working my way back up the chain. While it’s mentally pleasing to move down the chain with the weight getting lighter, the mental challenge in moving back up the chain is significant.

For those who don’t have access to kettlebells, dumbbells can be used, but take care with your grip if you use two hands when doing swings. I also suggest that you give alternating arm swings a miss with dumbbells.

So the next time you’re contemplating another boring conditioning session for you or your client, mix it up and bring on a kettlebell challenge. Even a two-minute challenge will be significant for an inexperienced client. Remember, you have to swing them bells!

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