Kettlebell Workouts – How Much Is Too Much, How Much Is Enough?

I am famous, world-renowned actually, for over-estimating my abilities. Or at least I would be if I told the world of all my failures in the strength training world. In the past I have tended to work extra hard during times of stress. Big mistake. This lapse of judgment has led to injuries and setbacks.

I got an email from someone hoping to go to the RKC who experienced the same thing. He overestimated his abilities to do a program, and then had his life thrown into hyperdrive – a move, working 2 jobs, setting up a new business, renovations. His results? Overtraining and frustration.

Ever been there?

I think we all have at one point or another.

Here are some ideas to help you decide what’s “too much” and what’s “enough”.

1. The first key then is to think about minimums – similar to the Program Minimum. My good friend Brett Jones, asked me a couple of years ago, “What’s the least you can do and still make progress?”

I hated that question because I want maximums. I want to gain 25 pounds of muscle and push my squat up 100lbs in 6 weeks. (Yes, those types of numbers are possible – drug free – under the right conditions.) We always want maximums don’t we, (heck – I do, that’s for sure) but those “right” conditions very rarely come around. When they do, they almost have to be forced, or at the bare minimum, coerced.

The goal is always to make progress, but we don’t have to make progress in all areas at the same time and at the same pace.

2. The second key is to honestly evaluate our current emotional state and how that’s linked to our circumstances and base our training on that. It’s really all based on energy flow and management. You must have enough energy for the “musts” in life, but still have enough energy left over for the “wants” – the stuff that keeps you going. And you can’t spend so much energy on the “wants” that you can’t do the “musts.”

I love high-freqeuency strength-training. But it takes a toll on me physically because I can’t recover enough to sustain the progress I want. This negatively affects my mood, so it decreases my daily productivity. Bad news for me. So in the interests of self-preservation and sanity, I must choose a lower frequency training program. Results still come, just at a slower pace, which is better than not coming at all.

3. The third key is to align your training goals with keys 1 and 2. Make sure they’re realistic and not “pie-in-the-sky” goals – like “I will win the world championships next year by adding 150kg to my total” or something crazy like that. A good goal to shoot for is a continual 2.5% strength increase every 6 weeks. Yeah, I know, sounds low. But when was the last time your strength increased 10% over a 6-month period? Can you say for sure that it has? How did you measure it? I think you can see where I’m going here. This is very similar to key #1.

4. The fourth key is to get help. I’m not talking about psychological help, but rather an extra eye or mind to get you through your program. Life was not meant to be travelled or experienced alone. Get an extra pair of eyes on your training plan. Go see an RKC and have them fine-tune your technique so you get more results out of your training. Get on a program and actually follow it instead of trying to wade through internet forums piece-mealing your own plan together. (No I wouldn’t recommend doing VWC 2 days per week, Naked Warrior 2 days per week, along with RTK the other 3 days per week…) Or, actually hire someone to [help you] design your programs and take most of the guesswork out of it. Yes, it will cost you money for sure, but you’ll save time and energy, which are far more important in the long run.

So EXACTLY how much is too much? How much is enough?

Too much is focusing on too many goals at one time. Pick one. Stick with it for 6-12 weeks. Then pick another.

Enough is being able to measure and make sustainable progress over that time period. It’s easy enough to do with the right program.

But again, too much and enough are based solely on you, your energy levels, and your circumstances. No one can tell you EXACTLY. Only you know that for sure. Being brutally honest with yourself will go a long way.

A great template to use is a three day per week program alternating strength with conditioning – grinds one day, ballistics the other. 45 minutes is about enough. Alternately, you could do 4 days per week – 2 days of strength work and 2 days of conditioning. But I’d keep the training sessions fairly short – about 30 minutes or so.

Remember, it’s not how much work you can do, but how much you can recover from.

Keeping that final point in mind is key to making and sustaining progress.

Ultimately it’s the answer to “how much is too much, how much is enough?”

Feel free to drop your comments below.

12 comments… add one
  • Dalius Mar 7, 2011 @ 8:43

    how much is enough that’s really the key question. and that’s not philosophy, but physiology. in my case- measure your heart rate (HR) first thing in the morning-just open your eyes, grab a watch and count. after few weeks you will have a graphical curve. if your measurement goes 7 beats higher then usually-bad news, time to slow down for at least 72 hours.

    • GEOFFN Mar 9, 2011 @ 12:25

      Dalius – HR is a great indicator. Thanks for sharing.

  • Justin Mar 7, 2011 @ 11:53

    Geoff great article. I was just thinking about the same things today as I also like high frequency training and have a tendency to over shoot it. Have a great day!

    • GEOFFN Mar 9, 2011 @ 12:24

      Justin – yup, happens to all of us.

  • Daniel Hanscom HKC Mar 7, 2011 @ 12:21

    Thanks for the counsel, Geoff. I, along with most driven folks, have definitely found myself in the position of overestimating what I can recover from. I’m glad to hear that I’m not alone… It makes it possible to learn from those who have gone before, so to speak. I’ll be implementing your advice. Does anybody else find it kind of bizarre that for some the hardest discipline is buckling down to do the work while for others the hardest discipline is knowing when to stop?

    • GEOFFN Mar 9, 2011 @ 12:24

      Dan – we’ll chat soon.

  • Martino Mar 7, 2011 @ 12:46

    This information is great stuff and appreciated. Your programs also have unload periods built into them which shows some wisdom. I just went over the line after 8 weeks of pretty hard training (muscle switching to burn) . My immune system was taxed and I got an illness that I am bouncing back from now and lost some time. The most amazing thing it that I knew what was going on and backed off some but not enough–well almost back to full speed. Listen to the man.

    • GEOFFN Mar 9, 2011 @ 12:23

      Martino – Listen to the man? Ha! Maybe. Always listen to your body. Feel run down? Slow down before you fall down. 🙂

  • Russ Moon Mar 7, 2011 @ 13:34

    I quoted you in GNC while leveraging my gold card to stock up.

    I mutated your phrase a little but gave you the credit this is (#1 of the 3 mention rule) – I realized it doesn’t matter how much I can do (stimuli), what matters is how much can I adapt and how.

    There’s a test today on the measurable results so I’ll have those for you soon.

    • GEOFFN Mar 9, 2011 @ 12:23

      Russ – yup – adaptation = stimulus + recovery. Always.

  • Wendy Beitel Mar 8, 2011 @ 18:25

    Thanks for the encouragement. I had been making great progress over the last four weeks on my clean and press sets. Last week went up in reps again and felt really strong. However, yesterday I was just not up to par and felt frustrated. When I thought about the couple of previous nights I realized I hadn’t slept very well. I strongly dislike not being able to make my goals, but I know that I am still stronger than I was four weeks ago, and my numbers will probably be back up at my next session.

    • GEOFFN Mar 9, 2011 @ 12:22

      Wendy – No problem. Also remember that progress isn’t linear. It ebbs and flows just like the waves of the ocean. They key is to create the trend so when you look back over time your much further along from where you started.

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