Well, as an experiment, I did 10,000 reps in the Kettlebell Swing over a few days. I started with 1000 and realized it was a lot, did 700 the next day and decided that was too much and slid to 500 a day. Today, I did my workout with a 48 kilo bell, a 36 kilo bell and a 20 kilo bell and brushed through 300 so fast, it felt like a warm up.
If the Swing, as advertised, is the “king of conditioning exercises,” I decided to go “all in.” The experiment has been fun, in an odd way. A few months ago, I couldn’t imagine doing 300 swings as my easy day. Now, I can breeze through them. Moreover, my hips feel very good and my posture is so much better. Even though I teach people to do “all of this” corrective stuff, I ignore it (to my eternal dismay) as much as anyone.
Certainly, there is more than I am going to share here, but, for now, this is some of the thinking. I would suggest having a system of counting. My favorite is this
Each time you do one of these clusters, you make a check mark. Five clusters is 500 reps. Certainly, you can do more or less, but this is what I like.
One Kettlebell that is the right load for you.
Bare feet or “minimal shoes.” No heels at all!
Heart Rate Monitor
Clock (to really just keep you on track)
A whiteboard or some method to check off the sets.
Determining the Right Bell
Although one could make a sweeping statement that men should use the 24K and women work with the 16K, many trainers are under or over belled. In a training group, one person is sprinting and one person is walking with a “one size fits all approach.” Because we are looking at 500 reps a day, Heart Rate is an interesting way to determine the right bell size.
Generally, though, the 24 and 16 recommendations are pretty good, but these two tests can really give some insights.
First, I have a complex way. You need three friends to help and one of them, at least, has to be a competent instructor.
Put on a chest strap heart rate monitor. Assistant number one will stand behind you the whole time and monitor your heart rate holding the watch. The HR monitors we use have a chest strap and a wrist watch that gives you the information. During swings, I don’t want you stopping and looking at your wrist.
Assistant Number One will be looking for two numbers:
When your HR hits 180-age, this person will give the command to stop swinging. Assistant number two will now note the time.
When your HR hits 160-age, assistant number one will give the command to begin swinging again. Assistant number two will note the time.
For those who don’t understand this, 180-age is to take your age (you should know this) and minus it from 180. If you are 30, this will be 150.
Assistant number three is the key (and it rhymes). This is the experienced person. You will do three swings and then assistant three will start hitting the bell down towards your zipper in what are called “Spike Swings.” Don’t “guess” what you think this is, by the way. Have someone who has been taught to do this and understands it. The additional ballistic hit is stunning to the movement and the HR goes up a lot.
Stop the test when the swinger doesn’t come back down to the 160-HR number for a minute and a half or two minutes. This is vague, but it depends on so many factors.
Too complex? The following is almost exactly what most people find to be the same as this:
Two hand swings for 15 reps. Be SURE to attack both the hinge and the plank.
You need to finish this set either exactly at 15 seconds or a shade under that time.
Rest 15 seconds
Two hand swings for 15 reps.
Rest 30 seconds
Two hand swings for 15 reps.
Rest 45 seconds
Two hand swings for 15 reps.
Rest 60 seconds
Two hand swings for 15 reps.
Stop. Now: Check HR every 30 seconds. If it comes back to 160-HR
Under 30 seconds: Seriously? Grab a real bell. Just kidding, but most people are underbelled by a lot for swings.
60 seconds: You might need to go probably four kilos or so more on your bell. Test again soon.
90 seconds: For now, you are right “there.” This is the bell for you.
120 seconds plus: Don’t die. You went “over” on your weight choice.
Neither method is perfect!!! That is why I am sharing this. Feel free to give me feedback. When I posted the strength standards (, most of the feedback has been either “I am not strong enough” or “what’s an overhead squat?” In other words, the feedback hasn’t helped me much. I have been asking for real numbers, real experience, not just the problems. Problems? I got problems.
So, on deciding whether this HR test is valid, I would like real feedback. If you “feel” something is right or wrong, good for you, but I would like something a bit more concrete.
The advantage of Fixed Weights
The kettlebell is a fixed weight. And, that is a good thing. When I first joined the Pacifica BarBell Club, Dick Notmeyer had an assortment of barbells that were fixed. Before the universal acceptance of the adjustable weight Olympic bar and the flooding of the training world with machines, most people trained with fixed weight bars
If you were going to do a certain kind of press, you walked over to the rack, pulled out the 110 pound bar and did your work. Maybe for curls, you walked down the rack and grabbed the 80 pounder. A few years ago, California got rid of the weights in prisons and many school gladly loaded up with all the free equipment. The problem for the high schools was that every piece of equipment was fixed as “Bubba,” as I was told, likes to use free plates as a weapon.
The upside of fixed weights is that, for one thing, they don’t fall apart. I see these adjustable weight Kettlebells at the “mart” stores now and I can imagine how they would survive a normal training day. Next, fixed weights allow you to “know” how this is going to feel and you can up the other qualities that make a lift. For KB work, you want to snap the finish with you glutes fired, heels planted, top of the head high and then throw it back at your zipper into the hike pass as hard as you can. In typing this, you could have done ten to fifteen reps. So, fixed weights allow you to focus on the dynamics of the move, not just the load.
Moreover, fixed weights give you an insight workout to workout. In this grand experiment, I found that the workouts were getting easier. The load was the same, the heart rate was in range, but my perception was that things were getting easier. So, I attacked the swing with more velocity. Instantly, my heart rate went back up and I became a sweaty mess again. Increasing load is my single favorite thing to do in the world, but fixed weights give you a chance to look at other qualities, too.
The discus, shot and hammer for Olympians all weigh the same. The winner gets the velocity factor right.
Heart Rate Monitors
For the past few years, since HR Monitors came down in price so much, I have my group invest in one. Especially if over weight or over 30, I think you can do a lot of smart things by looking at your pulse. David Hemery, the 1968 400 meter Intermediate hurdle gold medalist, was the first to really make this clear to me. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with timed rest periods and they remain the single simplest way to measure rest that I know, but using the HR is a bit more engaging. I use Phil Maffetone’s basic formula of:
180-Age= “Around” where you want to train. So, we adjust the load to help with that range. Since I have a lot of KBs, I did some experimenting. Load, however, is only half, if that, of the issue: the more aggressively you spike and snap the swing, the more your heart beat sores. So, if I recommend a 24 kilo bell and you simply sit and sway with your body mass moving the bell, your HR won’t do much. Using the same bell with dynamic swings will change the whole formula.
It’s very much like the garbage jogging of the 1970s. You would incredible mileage from guys who ran horrible times in the mile and 10Ks. Choosing to do a lot of garbage swings doesn’t lead to superior conditioning and, honestly, you will probably end up with a bunch of aches and pains, perhaps a nice injury, too.
One big warning about HR Monitors: if you all use the same brand and talk to each other, the HR Monitors pick up your neighbor’s pulse. I have seen my heart rate jump from 110 to 131 without moving an inch. What? I was simply standing to close to somebody else.
The group following this four/five day a week protocol meets in the morning. We have discovered that coming in fasted is a better idea than any kind of snack. IF is this year’s buzz word (functional, core and corrective have been the past years champions), but it seems to really work well with this challenge.
Most of the group has experienced some interesting losses around the belt line (“I need new pants!”) as well as a general sense of just feeling “in better shape.” The upside of this kind of very general conditioning is that it carries over to the next set of goals and pursuits. A month of swings is a great way to go from offseason to early preseason for any athlete.
Finally, on my great (GREAT!!!) trip to Costa Rica, I had a Powerpoint that I promised to send. Well here you go: