Answer to a Question That Keeps Popping Up
I was asked to comment about a book/program/article that uses just two movements, the swing and the push up. I am never a fan of commenting on programs I have never used, but then the question came up again.
If you have read my work, especially the free PDF “The Coyote Point Kettlebell Club,” you will find that we have been playing around with the swing/push up combination for well over a decade. Now, if you dig deeper, you will find that this wonderful combination is a part of the whole approach I have towards training, especially those metabolic workouts that have been the rage of this millennium.
Note: at the end of this essay, I will include my One Kettlebell Workouts (Swings, Goblet Squat and Push Up variations) for you to enjoy. And, save you money.
I could just say, “Yep, this book’s a great program.” Or, “It sucks.” Neither passes the test of a good response.
I was taught the following when studying theology:
It’s good life advice and I do it until my family descends into frustration and madness. There are some things that need “distinguishing” here. Let’s begin.
First, there is always an issue with minimalism and minimal training programs. Yes, absolutely they work. It’s when you peel back the results is when you see the first two issues:
Minimum Effective Dose (MED) protocols bring minimal results…and that is fine.
When doing few things, the body adapts quickly and progress stalls.
Let’s discuss this.
Point One: Minimum Effective Dose (MED) protocols bring minimal results…and that is fine.
I always step back to the fall of 1977 when I sat across from Coach Ralph Maughan and I asked him the “secret” of great discus throwing. He answered quickly: “Lift weights three days a week, throw four days a week…for the next EIGHT years.” People miss that last line: EIGHT years!
You can tweak or hack yourself to doing the kettlebell cert test of 100 reps with a 24 kilogram kettlebell. I’m pretty sure I could have passed this the first time I ever touched a KB. I’m not being a jerk, I have a big engine and I have lifted since 1965. I can do some big lifts.
The key to understand is this: the 100 reps with the 24k in five minutes is NOT the real test. The other test is different: 200 reps with the 24k in under ten minutes.
It’s hard to do this one without some thought and practice. True, people have flown through the certs (especially recerts like how Tim Anderson passed his RKC recertification) without ever having touched a bell in the preparation process (or “lack” of preparation).
I don’t think the ten-minute test could be done with “hacks.”
This might be a bit off topic, but we discussed the idea of only have TWO tests for the advanced KB cert:
100 Swings with the 24k KB in under ten minutes
Half-bodyweight press with one arm (usually “The Beast,” the 48k bell)
I’ve done both in the same half-hour. It takes some training. It takes some effort. If you try to hack it, you won’t hack it. Few people, by the way, supported my minimalist standards. I think because it is really, really hard to do.
In a week, I know I can teach you the fundamentals and keys of the discus throw…as I did for 25 years at the John Powell Discus Camp.
See? I can “hack” you into being a discus thrower.
Except you will not be very good. Sure, you will turn and release it well and the distances would be fine for a junior high athlete. You won’t be good. Even if you wear a shirt with “Elite” written on it, you won’t be elite.
Keep the t-shirt. Maybe in eight years it will be true.
You certainly will progress well on a minimalist program especially if you have been training long and hard for a while. When Goran Swenson shared his two-day a week lifting program for throwers, I felt better and looked better. And…the discus went farther!
It could have been those nearly thirty years of training long and hard that helped, too. When I released the load and volume, my body expanded.
I don’t want to hear how you brought your 17 second 100-meter time down to 16.5 by doing some magic voodoo thing. I want to hear how you dropped from 9.9 to 9.8. I get it: hacking has its place, but I want to see the magic of improving high performance.
I have a book, make that “I had a book” where a famous hacker went to a specialist and took his performance from horrid to just pathetic. I understand the human need to hack things: just don’t think you are elite if you improve a marginal performance marginally.
Point Two: When doing few things, the body adapts quickly and progress stalls.
I read an article by Dave Davis in 1974 that changed my life. He noted that all shotputters did a combination of the Olympic lifts and the Power lifts:
Clean and Press (the O lift competitions dropped these in 1972)
Clean and Jerk
If you adopted doing “all of these” like I did in 1974 (later just the O lifts, then back again to all six), you could continue to adapt, grow and increase load and volume for decades. The body has a lot to adapt and accommodate to with this combination.
Toss in some bodyweight movements and perhaps some machines, kettlebells and suspension trainer work and you are going to challenge your body for a long time.
When doing programs like Easy Strength, many quickly find new personal records. A “mild” change in exercise selection often, like from bench press to incline bench press, gives us new PRs in these other movements. One of the “secrets” of training advanced athletes is to bring back “old” movements or simply change some minor part of a lift.
Power Cleans to Power Curls
Snatches from the floor to Snatches from the hang
Push Jerks to Behind the Neck Push Jerks
Back Squats to Front Squats
Deadlifts to Deficit Deadlifts
There are a few days of good old-fashioned adaption (first the shock to the system, then sustain the adaption in a progressive manner). If lifting is used as support for a sport (or occupation), we usually see performance improved. Well…ideally. Life has a way on stomping on the best of plans.
Although I absolutely agree what Pat Flynn says about the aging athlete (or person): “Plateau is the new P.R.,” for the athlete we need to have a toolkit of movements to reinstitute as progress stalls. It can be a simple variation, a cut in reps or sets, or something “wild,” like a vacation or the practice for a limited time of another sport.
We used to have something called an “off-season” that allowed the athlete to regroup, relax and reform. Hell, we have 14-year old kids in the USA who compete in their sport (with their club) year-round. The problem with this early specialization is that the child never learns the broad skills from other sports, games and life lessons.
Like doing JUST two exercises, those who specialize early miss the ability to learn and adapt to everything and anything competitive sports can teach us. I once ran into a truck trying to catch a pass…the truck was still moving. Nothing has ever felt like that since…it’s hard get hit harder than a moving truck!
I bounced back up after my brother checked my vitals.
Let me add some simple ways to further ongoing progress and adaptions. The first is a concept I first learned about in J. K. Doherty’s Track and Field Omnibook. It came from a German coach, Peter Tschiene, and later others “invented” it. It’s called Mixed Training.
In my “Little Red Book,” my notebook with quotes that I have handwritten since 1975, I have this from Bondurchuk:
Week One: 100%
Week Two: 80%
Week Three: 15% (Volleyball, easy runs, fun play)
High Pulls 7 x 30 75 pounds
Heavy Hammer (Ten Throws 28 pounds)
Power Cleans 7 x 20
Deadlifts 6 x 16
Throw weight (Then throws 44 pounds)
Squats 4 x 16 (Active Recovery)
Weight Throws (15 with 44 pounds)
Lateral Raises 4 x 10
Curls 3 x 20
Heavy Hammer (15 Throws)
Dumbbell Flies 5 x 15
Bench Press 6 x 30
Note: I have no actual details on this program, but the concepts I adopted instantly. (So, don’t ask me to explain the rep and set schemes…please!)
Basically, it’s “mixing” strength training with athletic performance. Many of my athletes remember my white pickup truck (loaded with my barbells and weights) waiting for them at the field when they arrived. We might do something as simple as this:
A lifting complex to “warmup”
3 sets of Clean and Press (One clean and eight presses)
Step and turn discus drills
2 sets of Eight Front Squats
South African drills (both kinds)
3 sets of 5 of a Snatch variation
Front Squats immediately followed by sprints (or, better, hills)
There you go: Your One-Stop-Shop for all things lifting and throwing. It was actually fun and the training sessions seem to whizz by us. Later, I adopted circuit training (see my free book on my site, danjohn.net or on danjohnuniversity.com) and we added more drills as well as Farmer Walks.
It worked. It works.
One certainly doesn’t have to go too far on this idea. I’m sure that general bodyweight training mixed with training would work well. I know that combining Power Snatches to High Jump training seems to work miracles.
I began just lugging one Kettlebell out to the field and that worked wonders. I prepped for my National Record by bringing my 28 kilogram bell out to the field and training “Jazz” style with the various throws and lifts. In full disclosure, I was also doing some seriously hard Loaded Carries and some Highland Game training to support my discus, shot put, hammer, javelin and weight throw performance.
What I am stressing here is simple: the athlete is basically just doing what most athletes do: strength work and technical work. But by “mixing” them, we don’t have a period of THIS and a period of THAT. This becomes the seamless training that I always strive for in building an athlete.
You can’t see where the lifting and technical work begins and ends. Everything is everything.
Something you might miss is this: you have a LOT of chances each workout to have a “win.”
Maybe a lousy throwing session is countered with some snappy lifting. Or, as happened most of the time, poor early throwing in the session was buoyed by some great tosses after squats or snatches. Mixed training allows for more adaptions….more chances to “win.”
Later, we added Range Throwing, or the Soviet Drill. Simply, we either use the athlete’s personal record or we have the athlete take several hard throws and get a sense of the distance.
Then, we put something, a large plastic garbage bin is by far the best, maybe five meters (15-20 feet, but it really doesn’t have to be perfect) shy of this best mark (55-meter thrower…garbage bin at 50 meters) and we throw. The goal is to first hit the bin and the winner, of course, is the one who drops it into the bin. Accuracy improves, timing gets better and, oddly, this “easy” throw gets really easy.
This is the Easy Strength approach to throwing.
Programs began to look like this:
Drills and lifting complexes to warm up
Throwing drills and easy full throws
A variation of the Olympic lifts
Range Throwing for as long as it is fun
Two times a week Hill Sprints
This could easily be adapted into any sport. My copy of Circuit Training, a German textbook from the 1960s is filled with examples on combining skills practice with strength and conditioning movements.
I think it is a lost gem in our training.
I have used three words to explain training for a few decades. I first adopted these after reading some insight materials from the old East German coaches. Now, obviously, these coaches had no fear about using ANY means for victory and their athletes were using shockingly high amounts of drugs to compete. So, I said that. I still think the materials produced from this era deserve some study. The three words are:
Accumulation is what I grew up on. We played every sport. We played every game. I learned every competitive lift and every exercise. My coaches had us explore all kinds of movements and systems. I “gathered” physical knowledge by doing things. I played water polo in P.E. class then wrestled that afternoon then played pickup basketball.
Were we great at anything? No. But I had a massive toolkit to draw upon for the rest of my career. I still think every athlete needs some time each year to get back to having some fun and exploring other things. East German discus throwers used to take an extended downhill skiing vacation as part of their “training.” The Soviet throwers and lifters used to compete so seriously at volleyball that many of them earned sports awards for their play…in their second sport!
The more one accumulates, the broader the base.
Of course, intensification means to raise the intensity, raise the standards. When I finally settled on “just” discus throwing, I began to lift some seriously loads in the Olympic lifts. My throws improved literally “by leaps and bounds.” I couldn’t play water polo then snatch close to 300 pounds (135 kilograms) a few hours later. The intensity demanded lots of sleep and lots of calories.
Intensity demands specificity. Tommy Kono, the Olympic lifter, was world class in two years (basically) after first touching the barbell. John Powell, the discus thrower, believes that one should be world class within THREE years of focusing on one thing…otherwise you are just not good enough.
Let that sit, parents of kids you are pushing to specialize, he said THREE years. Little Billy, the one you push to year-round sports, needs to be a household name in three years after he specializes in baseball (or whatever). And…good luck on that.
Transformation is the most overlooked. Somehow, we all understand building the base (accumulation) and then focusing on intensity. It’s the last part most people miss.
I always joke that basic coaching is simple:
This is what Transformation is all about. Richard Marks, the great San Jose strength coach, used to argue that one’s lifting performance needs to DROP as the season progresses so that the athlete can expand in the performance of the sport. Athletes HATE that. But, well, throwers need to throw!
This is the toughest lesson of all; we must ignore all of the other things in our training and become the goal. Oddly, this is where most of us leave our elite performances: we leave them on the practice field, in the weight room “showing off,” or in some bout of idiocy (like playing in a church league basketball game and twisting your ankle the week of Nationals). Transformation is all about focusing on the mission…the goal.
Few have the courage to actually do this. Something shiny always appears just as we approach that most important events of our career.
I simply have my athletes do some simple movements for three sets of eight with a minute rest. We only do two lifts a day and we do variations of the major lifts. All we want is a little hint of training in the weightroom, a touch of mobility and flexibility and a bit of maintenance in body composition, power and strength. Trust me, “it’s there,” none of your abilities went anywhere.
It’s hard to convince athletes of this, by the way. This idea of winning the workout is crippling some people’s performances.
I like people to win the championships.
Finally, there is one area of performance that takes a coach a few years to figure out: the athlete. Some athletes, especially those who are quick learners or blessed (short term) with early puberty, will gather a lot of awards and trophies and the world will expect greatness.
Usually, these athletes are fairly “washed up” by age 15 or so. Some athletes need pep talks and grooming, others need to be left alone. Some athletes rise to competition, others, as Coach Maughan used to say: “The adrenaline caused the iron in their blood to turn to lead.”
My whole book, Now What?, deals with the issues of arousal, tension and heart rate during competition. I don’t believe in peaking as it rarely seems to happen. I believe that Appropriate Practice, practices that tweak arousal, tension and heart rate towards the competitive state, to be far more important than some fancy spreadsheet laid out in the beige of the offseason.
Checklists insure everything is accounted for at the competition. I had a teammate that forgot to wear his shorts and discovered that, as did the crowd, as he pulled off his warmup pants for the 200-meter dash. That should be on the checklist. Checklists take your mind off of the tiny details.
I think that drinking Sugar Free Orange Flavored Metamucil for a few days before competition does more to insure performance than most of the crap (ha!) I see done by coaches and athletes. Five sets of three versus five sets of two in the last week of prep doesn’t matter if the athlete has competitive constipation. Laugh all you want but I think this makes a big difference in victory.
My job as coach is to teach the athlete to give the competition the athlete’s best performance. I focus on the process, not the results. I can’t guarantee victory, but we strive for “best.”
What do I think of this “book/program/article that uses just two movements?”
Dunno! I have not done the program.
But, I have done this:
Swing/Push Up Workouts
A common request after the HKC is: “Can you give me more workout ideas?” With the HKC Three (Swing, Goblet Squat and Turkish Get Up), I think that there is a Minimum Effective Dose for each movement.
Swings: 75-250 a day
Goblet Squats: 15-25 a day
Turkish Get Ups: 1-10 each side a day. (As Senior RKC Chris White reminds us: “Just doing ONE TGU slowly over five minutes is as instructive as anything you can do)
I think if we add Push Ups (15-25 a day), we might have a routine that will provide fitness, longevity, health and performance.
Yet, the devil is in the details.
How much equipment do you have?
Surprisingly often, many people have ONE Kettlebell. Or, we find situations with large groups where clients only have one appropriate KB.
There is a niche in this industry for One Kettlebell Workouts. I love them. I enjoy driving to a park, meeting with friends, walking a bit with my KB, training, and then enjoying a nice picnic. I keep this tradition alive every weekday morning when people join me to workout at 9:30.
I would like to explore the many options with have with One KB Workouts.
Most people want “Workouts,” perhaps “Training sessions” is a better term, but we need to spread our fingers out a bit and look at programming. I always talk about programming as the Four Twos:
I always ask the client or athlete to look 20 years down the line. The checks you write with your body with “Hold my beer and watch this” will be hard to pay twenty years from now. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” the best lesson of Jurassic Park, is also wise programming information.
Two week is just about the longest most people follow a diet or program. I’m actually exaggerating; with diets, it is barely two hours. But, can we look ahead two weeks and circle the issues and problems that are going to lead to missed workouts or bad choices in food and beverages. Can we proactively deal with this?
Tomorrow is my favorite. I always tell people “Tomorrow is going to be the greatest workout of my life. I will destroy all records, leave myself in a sweaty mess, vomit often and have one near death experience.”
Today? Oh, today, I will do the Fundamental Human Movements with appropriate reps, sets and load and strive for mastery of movement.
When tomorrow comes around I tell every one: ““Tomorrow is going to be the greatest workout of my life. I will destroy all records, leave myself in a sweaty mess, vomit often and have one near death experience.”
Tomorrow never comes!!!
In the programming section of the manual, and this should be review by the instructors, we find three terms that are important in program design:
“Intensity” has many definitions, especially since the Nautilus machine people gave us one, percentage tables from the Soviets gave us another and red faced people screaming at you gives us yet another. The upside of single KB work is that you can just put this aside: you only have one choice of a bell!
Volume is the total load. Reps times sets times load is a simple way to do this with the Olympic lifts, but the nice thing about single KB work is that you just need to keep the total reps. The load never changes. Spending time looking at volume is often the first clue about Minimum Effective Dose and the whole “less is more” philosophy that many excellent coaches and trainers live by every day.
Density is taking that same amount of work and cutting the total time. The reason I like specific workouts, as we will see with the Humane Burpee, is that we can see progress simply by timing the efforts. With the same load and same exercises, less time means progress.
Density is truly the most important of the three when discussing progression with single KB workouts.
Let’s first look at Swing focused workouts. One quick hint: don’t let the press dictate bell selection, especially with women. Recently, my group all traveled the Rite of Passage. On one heavy workouts, one of our females just picked up the 28 kilo and did five minutes of Swings. She didn’t notice that what she thought was a 20 was actually a full eight kilos heavier.
She realized that she had been underbelling her load in Swings. She has built up to the 16K in the ROP, but she could easily use more in the Swings and Goblet Squats.
These workouts are JUST for two handed swings, but feel free to adapt as appropriate. Moreover, as one person told me not long ago, “Just do 30 seconds of swings, 30 seconds of “Fast-Loose and try to add minutes when you can.”
A few years ago, I was asked to write about the 10,000 Swing Challenge. Basically, one sets aside twenty days and adds 500 swings per workout. If you swing four times a week, it takes five weeks; we usually did this five times a week, so it only takes four weeks.
“Yeah” for us.
The simplest version is this:
Swing 10 reps
One Goblet Squat
Swing 15 reps
Two Goblet Squats
Swing 25 reps
Three Goblet Squats
Swing 50 reps
Rest. That is 100 repetitions, so just swim through this an additional four times (five total giant sets)
An interesting version with the Turkish Get Up will really get your heart pumping (groundwork seems to oddly increase HR):
Swing 10 reps
One TGU, weight in left hand
Swing 15 reps
One TGU, weight in right hand
Swing 25 reps
Two TGUs, one left and one right
Swing 50 reps
A small note: I always go “Left First” when it comes to any one hand, one leg or one foot movement. That way, one never needs to remember what to do next. Ignore this at your own peril with large groups.
One could certainly do Push Ups, Pull Ups or nothing between sets of Swings. We found in our fourth 10,000 Swing challenge that this variation saved grip with heavier bells:
Repeat for an additional nine times (ten total giant sets). This allowed us to use heavier bells, but it also doubles the longer rest periods.
As I go through this, many will as about “rest.” With these workouts focused on density, FINISH the workout and stop where you need to the first few times. I think that natural rest periods trump programmed rest periods. If a strong man is using a light bell, there might not be a need for a single break.
Rest Periods are the ultimate “it depends.”
I love combining the Swing and Push Up. Getting up and down seems to be as hard as the two movements! I asked my friends to come up with their favorites…and here you go!
Workout Option #1
Swings for 20 seconds
Rest – 30 seconds
Repeat for 15 mins
* Per workout, increase pushups by 1
Workout Option #2
At the top of the minute:
20 swings, 10 pushups, rest the remainder of the minute.
20 swings, 9 pushups, rest … and so on down to
20 swings, 1 pushup.
If you want to do 15 minutes start with 20 swings, 15 pushups.
Next time do 21 swings each time…
Workout Option #3
* Note: Instead of time, add sets
Workout Option #4
=100 swings, 50 pushups, 0 fluff
Workout Option #5
8-10 Push Ups
30 second plank
1 minute various hip stretches
Repeat for 20 minutes
There is a million ways to do this, but this is a nice little group here.
Now, adding the Goblet Squat turns everything on its head. As we go through the next section, I tend to do things in this order:
Swings tend to be ten or fifteen reps, Goblet Squats NEVER more than ten and usually five, and the same for Push Ups (never more than ten and usually five).
My favorite is “The Humane Burpee.” Dan Martin gave us this name and I can’t think of a better term. You can certainly make this harder or easier, but just do the basic example first.
Be sure to follow the advice about reps on the GS and Push Up: we want the reps to descend as we move through the Humane Burpee, hence the name “Humane.”
So, here you go:
5 Goblet Squats
5 Push Ups
4 Goblet Squats
4 Push Ups
3 Goblet Squats
3 Push Ups
2 Goblet Squats
2 Push Ups
1 Goblet Squat
1 Push Up
That comes out to 75 swings, 15 Goblet Squats and 15 Push Ups. The real exercise seems to be the popping up and down for the Push Ups. Most of us don’t take any rest at all through the workout, but feel free to stop when you need to rest.
To make it harder, just slide the Goblet Squats and Push Ups up to ten. 10-8-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 gives you 55 total reps and that is plenty of work for a single day….in many cases too much.
I have three other variations that have value.
I’m not sure why this is called “Slurpees,” but it is:
10 or 15 Swings
5 Goblet Squats
10 Mountain Climbers (every time the left foot hits is a rep).
Let the GSs descend (5-4-3-2-1). That gives you 50-75 Swings, 15 GS and a lot of heart pounding.
“Hornees” are the first of our Loaded Carries. A Horn Walk is simply walking around with the bell on the chest. It keeps the tension high. So:
10 or 15 Swings
5 Goblet Squats
Horn Walk for an appropriate distance.
Again, let the GSs descend (5-4-3-2-1). That gives you 50-75 Swings, 15 GS and an interesting feeling in the whole area of muscles that squeeze things together.
Bearpees are great in groups.
10 or 15 Swings
5 Goblet Squats
Again, descend with the GS (5-4-3-2-1). In groups, you can have the two people be maybe 60 feet apart and they share the same bell. You will see a lot of racing here and the participants will quickly learn that they underestimating the crawling.
Once we get moving with Horn Walks and Bear Crawls, it is time to take the Loaded Carries into our basic work.
I name Loaded Carry workouts after the birds of the Raptor family. It started off as a joke about how we are picking up things and moving them, but we soon found that this was a nice way of organizing them. This workout is called the Sparrow Hawk or Sparhawk.
You will be doing Goblet Squats and Suitcase Carries. Suitcase Carries are like Farmer Walks, but you only load one side…like you are carrying a single suitcase.
8 Goblet Squats, then march away with the bell in the left hand about 60 feet (gym length is best).
7 Goblet Squats, then return to the original position with the bell in the right hand.
6 Goblet Squats, left hand suitcase walk.
5 Goblet Squats, right hand walk.
4 Goblet Squats, left hand walk
3 Goblet Squats, right hand walk
2 Goblet Squats, left hand walk.
1 Goblet Squat, finished.
That is 36 squats, but you are under load for about three minutes. So, your anti-rotation muscles are going to be working overtime with the asymmetrical walking and then will have to still join in to support the squats. You get the benefits of squatting including the mobility and flexibility work plus the additional boon of three minutes of time under tension.
Next, consider the “Cook Drill” from Gray Cook, P.T., founder of the Functional Movement System.
Here’s how it works: Standing, hold a kettlebell in the rack.
Now press the bell straight overhead and walk. This is the Waiter Walk. Your arm should be completely straight, and your shoulder “packed” (pull it down, away from your ear).
If you feel your arm start to wobble or your core start the shift, you’ve lost integrity. When that happens, bring the weight back to the rack position. Hold this position and continue to walk until you feel yourself losing integrity again. Release the weight to your side so you’re holding it like a suitcase. Once you can’t hold the weight in that position, switch hands and start from the beginning.
Gray recommends this for up to 15 minutes, but we get plenty with just going about 400 meters. What am I saying? We did that ONCE. Usually, we don’t go very long, but occasionally this is a great drill all by itself.
Want more? Try the CookED Drill. It is the same thing, BUT:
Left Hand Waiter Walk until nearing loss of integrity.
Left Hand Rack Walk until nearing loss of integrity.
Left Hand Suitcase Carry until nearing loss of integrity.
Repeat with the Right Hand. Sixty Swing only!!!
Sure, do again or three times, if you wish!
So, these are workouts. Sometimes, like the 10,000 Swing Challenge, you might want to circle a month and get a challenge done. Most of the time, do something like this daily
Naked (unweighted) Turkish Get Ups for five minutes
Practice few Hip Hinge Drills and a few additional Goblet Squat prying movements.
Pick a Single KB workout from above. Time it, if appropriate.
Turkish Get Ups, one to five per side.
Sparhawk, Cook Drill or CookED Drill as a Finisher.
Come back Tomorrow!