De-Mystifying Kettlebell Workouts, Part 2

Good news about my dog – he seems to have undergone a subtle change since the last time we talked. The other day he was actually able to walk between me and the trash cans without completely freaking out.

What changed?

I’m not exactly sure, but I think it was a new strategy I tried using with his leash. I kept just enough tension on it to direct his focus straight ahead. I think. I’ll try it again and report back – for all of you who have problem dogs like me…

But that brings up a very good point which we said we were going to look at last time – how you can make continual progress with your kettlebell workouts.

Here are a five steps critical to your success –

  1. Pick a unit of measurement.
  2. Measure consistently.
  3. Record your results.
  4. Monitor progress.
  5. Make changes as necessary.

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Pick a unit of measurement.

There are only three measurements you can use –

a. Intensity – a given percentage of your maximum
b. Volume – total amount of weight lifted (sets x reps x load)
c. Density – total amount of weight lifted in a specific time period

I am a big fan of density training – measuring the amount of work performed in a unit of time. It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s hard to break. Simply pick a time period – say 15 minutes – and do as many reps as you comfortably can in that 15 minutes. You can use intensity – Press the 48kg? Then the 32kg is just under 70%… You can use volume – 32kg x 5×5 is 25 reps with just under 70% of your best Press – probably not enough to make improvement (the problem with volume alone a sole measurement while using kettlebells). Or again, you can use density.

There is no “right” choice – just the one that’s easiest to measure for you based on the kettlebells you currently have available.

2. Measure consistently.

It makes good sense then that you should measure this repeatedly. I’ve railed in the past about random workouts of the day, and unless they’re repeated with some measure of frequency, without any planned testing – like an RKC Snatch Test – it’s virtually impossible to measure progress. So, pick a method of measuring and use it consistently so you can track your results. With density, you simply keep the same unit of time – in our example, 15 minutes, and repeat the “same” workout. The difference is you’re attempting to do more work in each 15 minute block.

3. Record your results.

This one should be self-explanatory – but what point is measuring if you’re not recording your results? You want to look back over time and be able to see consistent improvement or not. So do yourself a favor and get a training journal of some sort.

4. Monitor progress.

This kind of goes hand-in-glove with #3, but it’s taking it to the next logical level. It’s one thing to record your results, but it’s another to analyze the data you’re collecting. So, once a week or some other consistent time period – look over your training log and truly determine whether the kettlebell workouts you’re doing are leading closer to your goal or further away from your goal. This leads us to our last point –

5. Make changes as and when necessary.

Here’s a great example – let’s say your goal is to make gains in strength on the Press. You’ve set up what you believe to be a great program focused on the Press. You look at your training log, and although you thought you were having great workouts, your progress isn’t very good. It’s not up to your expectations.

What do you do?

Well you can keep going or you can stay the course. If you’re not making the [realistic] progress you expected, or you can make some changes.

Wrap Up…

So there are the five steps to making continual progress with your kettlebell workouts. Make sure to implement what you need to. Sounds like a no-brainer, but I’m sure there are some of you reading who will say “Yeah, wow, that was great – great ideas. I have to make sure I do that… later…” And then, like I’ve done so many times in the past, fail to implement what you just learned.

I hope you found that helpful. Please leave your comments and tell me what you think, what you are currently doing, and what you’ve found helpful.

6 comments… add one
  • ralph Jan 25, 2011 @ 9:53

    Geoff-one workout for strenght i like to do is a single cl-sq-press on the minute with a heavy bell for me for 15 mins. then the next workout add
    a rep so im doing 2 cl-2 sq-2 presses on the min for 15 min ect. i learned this technique from tim and betsy’s dvd

  • Chris Jan 25, 2011 @ 9:58

    Thank you again for the great info.

  • Jason M Jan 25, 2011 @ 10:15

    Great article Geoff! I have been back on the Program Minimum routine while rehabbing my shoulder and work my swings exclusively using density. I will stick with a certain size KB and certain swing style and get in 3-4 density swing routines a week for two weeks, then I will either swing the bell size, the type of swing, or even the number of bells (ala double swings). Rinse and repeat every two weeks. When I eventually return to a bell and swing, I have a number to look back at and try and improve on. Have been doing this with ETK for a couple months before screwing up my shoulder and continue to do it with PM with outstanding results. Kudos to Bud Jeffries for his swing article that originally inspired me.

  • Billy Meyer Jan 25, 2011 @ 13:42

    Geoff,
    Great article. I like #5 the best. If others here are stubborn like me, you have to make changes because you overdid something and can easily succumb to defeat. Unless, you rearrange the first 4 steps to make your program successful. Your goal or measurement of progress may have changed, but just enjoy the fact that you are making progress and gains. Progress is only limited by your mind. And Geoff you’ve laid out a blueprint for progress and how to measure it. I think that makes this a really awesome plan as long as your mind is right, and making progress, in some definitive way… helps keep your mind positive and on track even if your body may have strayed a little off track. So again, I think this line of thinking is excellent and logical and circular towards success.
    Billy

  • Erik Petersen Jan 25, 2011 @ 14:48

    How can you apply this to group sessions, recording data effectively?

  • Chris Edwards Feb 3, 2011 @ 12:29

    Geoff, I have been reading and love all your articles/posts from motivational to applied logic and practical. The measurement piece is so critical. I read an article from Coach Charles Staley in the now defunct Mind and Muscle Power magazine about by the numbers. I have an excel spreadsheet that got into the nitty gritty of measurement of volume, density, etc. and can email it to you if you want, even though it was based on a typical bodybuilding routine. It measured volume of sets/reps, duration of workout, average rep speed, determined total time under tension of the workout and during a typical 60min weight training session, only about 5% of the time was actually spent under actual tension!! Sad compared with a 15/15 swing or VO2 Max snatch protocol. I made great progress on 5/3/1 program as well because it too was specific for main powerlifts, used percentages, periodized the load including deload. I have shifted entirely to KBs due to shoulder arthritis and labral tear from too much “bench press”. I got the burn 2.0 and when I get mobility back, will complete the program.
    Thanks so much for the outstanding Blog, articles, ebooks/books, videos and support. You are a true credit to the community~!

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