Kettlebell Workouts That Combat [Holiday] Stress


It’s a KILLER.

And nothing sabotages your workouts faster than unchecked stress.

One day you’re going along fine and the next you hit a brick wall.

You just can’t seem to make progress. And the harder you press forward, the greater your chances of moving backwards and losing so many of your hard won gains.

In the last blog, we looked at some of the symptoms of stress and being over-stressed.

I told you we would cover one workout template to help you “de-stress.”

Upon further thought, I thought I’d cover not one, but three different kettlebell workout templates to reverse the stress process with workouts that you could use.

One of the problems with feeling stressed is that we need an outlet.

Many people actually find that trying to maintain their workouts during seasons of stress, like now – the good ol’ Holiday Season becomes a stress in and of itself. So they’re tempted to quit in the short term only to promise themselves that they’ll pick it back up in the New Year.

These are the “I don’t have time”-ers.

So the workout template for you if you’re one of these people is very simple – you need to use the approach called –

TEMPLATE #1: “Something Is Better Than Nothing.”

You need to commit to simply completing minimalist workouts 5 days per week. Now I know 5 days per week sounds like too much, but notice I said “minimalist.” And by that I mean “minimal time commitment” and “minimal exercise complexity.”

My wife just recently started one of these that I put together for her and she loves it. It allows her to mentally check the box and know that because she is being consistent, she will make progress.

(That’s a KEY point to remember – Consistency Mandates Progress.)

Here’s what one of those workouts could look like:

2 Hand Swings: 10 minutes. As many as possible.
Monday through Friday.
Total workout time per week: 50 minutes excluding warm up.

Why 2 Hand Swings?

Because it’s a major bang-for-your-buck exercise that will make you stronger and better conditioned. Plus it’s simple.

Why 10 minutes?

Because EVERYBODY can “find” 10 minutes to workout. NOBODY is that busy. If you think you are, well, sorry to break it to you my friend, you’re lying to yourself.

Obviously, this is just a template. You can plug any exercise in here that you want if Swings honestly don’t appeal to you. Or you can pick two exercises and alternate back and forth between them on alternate days. That might be good for variety’s sake.

Last month I started a private client of mine on this type of template. The “mission” was basically 2 Hand Swings six days per week until Thanksgiving. Nothing fancy, just short workouts. We started him at a whopping 3×10 (3 sets of 10 reps) every day for a week with the goal of hitting 100 Swings by the day before Thanksgiving.

How’s it working for him?

Beautifully. I just saw him last night and he’s feeling better, he’s less stressed, his posture is better, his clothes fit better, and he’s seeing progress again. This is a great template for him because it allows us to work on some other stuff when we meet. Most importantly for him, he now feels like he’s back in control again.

Why does this work? / Why will this work?

Because it relieves the stress of fitting in your workouts by packaging them into ridiculously bite-sized pieces that your mind/subconscious can get behind with little to no resistance. Anybody can find 10 minutes in their day to work out.

Not only that, because of the frequency of the workouts, it builds consistency, which keeps your momentum, and therefore basically puts your results on autopilot.

TEMPLATE #2: “Doing The Opposite.”

Many times we get stuck in a rut.

We do the workouts we like to do, not necessarily what our body’s need us to do for proper maintenance and performance.

In our kettlebell community we have a bunch of “hard chargers” who really push the “pedal to the metal” a great deal of the time. The problem is when you redline your engine constantly, your engine needs more frequent maintenance otherwise it breaks down.

One of the most common areas we face is Met Con – or Metabolic Conditioning, which primarily consists of ballistics work. While good in the short run, too much of this will burn you out. Bad.

So if you find yourself doing lots of ballistic work right now – Swings, Snatches, whatever – stop.

That’s right – STOP.

Do the opposite.

Spend some time slowing down and working on your grinds.

Do pure strength work.

This is one of the ways I lost 20 pounds this past year.

I have spent the last 15 years lifting as heavy as I could with not much variety in my routine. And in case you’re wondering, kettlebells are not really variety when all you do is Olympic lifting – squatting, pulling, and pushing – it’s really more of the same – the same patterns. So I did exactly the opposite.

I spent a lot of time on bodyweight and the flexion pattern.

This presented my body with a novel stimulus and started to take care of some of the compensations I had built up over the years. (I won’t get into those details cause that’s not a blog post but a book.)

This is a hard concept to grasp – not on an intellectual level but on an emotional level. We all have our “favorite” exercises and workout designs/programs. The ones that are the worst for us are usually the ones that produce phenomenal gains for us and then instead of switching and doing something different – opposite – we keep trying to milk the program and end up going nowhere or hurt.

Case in point – last weekend at Hardstyle Ventura I spoke with a gentleman named David who really loved Kettlebell Muscle and saw phenomenal results after the 12 weeks. So instead of taking my advice in the book and switching to something else entirely different, he tried to milk the program and stay on it. The result?

Two busted shoulders.

So, here’s how you do this yourself.

Look at your program. (You are following a program, aren’t you? If you’re trying to “design” your own you are really spending a lot of time and energy you don’t need to be. Get on a professionally designed one. Seriously. Despite what some may say, there are really a lot of us who know what we’re doing with program design.)

What are you doing the majority of?

Now do the opposite.

Here are some suggestions:

Ballistics? Do strength work.

Strength work? Do some conditioning.

Heavy? Go lighter.

Only KB? Add some bodyweight.

High volume work? Drop the volume, push the intensity. Rest more – a lot more. And use heavier weight.

Long workouts? Do short workouts.

Short workouts? Do shorter workouts.

High frequency workouts – like every day? Cut your workout frequency by 50%. Workout every other day.

Personally, the more I study this, the more I think we ALL need shorter, less frequent workouts. When I look back at my private clients’ training, most of our “work” over the course of an hour block is done in 20 to 30 minutes segments. The rest of the time is spent decompressing from the day and transitioning – transitioning from the day to the workout and from the workout from the day. This of course includes warm-ups and cooldowns.

It just really hard to focus – to really focus on our workouts for more than 30 minutes at a time when the world around us is zooming by at a million miles per hour.

Why does this work? / Why will this work?

What I’ve learned over the years and has been corroborated by really smart guys like Soviet sports scientist, A. Vorobyev, is that the body performs better on contrasts – one type of training load contrasted with something relatively different, yet similar. For example, heavy with light. Fast with slow. (Ballistics with Grinds.)

Remember the key word here – similar. Running 3 miles one day and then maxing out your deadlift the next does not work. It’s counterproductive.

TEMPLATE #3: “Get In, Get Out”

This is really a time-based template.

It’s arguably my favorite. And it’s really good for those of you who find yourself feeling almost frantic at this time of year – or anytime of the year for that matter.

You set the duration of your workout and you do what you want to do within it. So time becomes the limiting factor. This is called “density training” and is one of the smartest, easiest ways to track your progress.

(Charles Staley popularized this over the last decade with his EDT programs and so has Ethan Reeve, S&C Coach at Wake Forest U. And you’ll also notice that Template #1 is organized around time. I really like training this way.)

Another reason I think these are some of the best templates is because it allows you to really focus and be present in your workouts. That of course allows for a much higher quality workout which in turn produces higher quality results, which of course is what we’re all after.

So here’s a density based program called “The Kitchen Sink” because it encompasses everything you can and should be doing at various times of the year. You can actually use this right now with great success.

“The Kitchen Sink.”

Frequency: 3 days per week. Non-consecutive days.
Duration: 20 minutes, excluding 5 minute warm-up
Focus: Everything. 🙂

Day 1: Single KB Work Basics

A1. 2 H Swings – sets of 10
A2. Get Ups – sets of 1

Day 2: Bodyweight

A1. Chin Ups – As many reps per set as possible minus 1 rep (leave one in the bank)
A2. Pistols – Play. As many as you feel like each set

Day 3: Double KB Strength Work

A. Double Clean + Press – ladders. 1,2,3,4,5

Yes, these workouts are short. You may feel like you can and should do more.

That’s the point.

That’s one of the biggest lessons I failed to learn early on from my weightlifting coach. You should ALWAYS feel like you could do more after each workout – training session – training lesson.

By keeping each workout purposefully short, you maintain your focus, you maintain your desire, and most importantly, you manage your stress levels and ensure that you can constantly make progress.

And yes, it is exactly the opposite of what most of us tend to do.

Why does this work? / Why will this work?

Probably the biggest reason these types of workouts produce results is –

They bring hormonal balance through increased recovery. As your body starts to de-stress, your body starts to re-optimize your stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Because you’re no longer killing yourself in your workouts, you won’t risk over-training. Your sleep patterns will improve. And from there your body composition will start to change.

Plus, density training has been shown to increase testosterone levels, which makes it easier to grow muscle and improve strength, which in turn decreases estrogen levels, which can add fat to the body – especially lower body fat and the unmentionable – manboobs. Testosterone in turn has been shown to improve moods which promotes an increased overall sense of well-being, which in turn is a natural way to fight stress, and therefore decrease elevated cortisol levels.

It’s a little more complicated than this, but that’s the 30,000 foot view.

Pretty cool, huh?

I think so.

What To Do Next

Hopefully you identified yourself and your needs in one of those three templates.

I encourage you to put one of them to use – now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now.

In my next post, I’ll actually post a video of what I think is the all-time best short-term stress-busting, time-efficient workout template of all-time ever. It covers all aspects of stress-relief – psychological, hormonal, and emotional.

Mild exaggeration?


You’ll just have to wait and see. 😉

Regardless, you’ll definitely recognize the benefits of this particular template and how it will apply to certain periods in your life.

In the meantime, leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

10 comments… add one
  • Pensguys Nov 11, 2011 @ 20:55

    You sure know how to leave a girl hankering for more!! 🙂 Love the post!

    • GEOFFN Nov 14, 2011 @ 8:29

      Pensguys – thanks.

  • Larry Peterson Nov 12, 2011 @ 19:16

    Dear Geoff : Despite the fooling around, I do follow what you say and try to do as you suggest-well, sort of. Got back from the Cardiologist yesterday, and he said that I was doing a lot better, and that I dropped 5lbs. The blood pressure that at one time 205/129 is now 131/70 and I guess that is progress. I know that it is progress-I can feel it. I couldn’t have done it without you and Mike. Trust that your making up for lost time. Hug everybody-follow my suggestion-you can’t go wrong with those either. Thank you my friend.>Best>Larry

    • GEOFFN Nov 14, 2011 @ 8:30

      Larry – yup – that is progress! Nice job! Keep it up. Lots of hugging and play time this past weekend. 🙂

  • Greg Nov 12, 2011 @ 19:17

    Iam not RKC or anything. I a former old school powerlifter but presently into studiing and teaching martial arts, TKD and Tai Chi. I love your articles but have one question. Have you ever tried starting your lift from a dead stop? Place the bell centered in front of you, with legs normal width as in your swings. Grab the bell and throw it up into a snatch, return to starting place and release, grab with opposite hand and throw into a snatch. Continue until set is complete. It produces alot of snap and power in my kicks. Waddya think?

    • GEOFFN Nov 14, 2011 @ 8:33

      Hey Greg – yeah, I have. A lot. In fact, at my last “Kettlebell Muscle” seminar and at Hardstyle Ventura, this is how I had most of the attendees work on their doubles exercises. It works great for resetting each rep and really getting a feel for where the body is supposed to be aligned in relation to the KB. I think you should keep doing these. But also mix in repetition work to cement the technique transfer. Talk soon.

  • ralph Nov 14, 2011 @ 10:17

    One workout I borrowed from Dan John is on the minute
    12 swings+6 push ups up to 12 minutes

  • Billy Meyer Nov 15, 2011 @ 17:39

    Awesome article. Can’t wait to read the next.

  • Mark Nov 13, 2013 @ 12:37

    Excellent blog post as allways geoff, i still tend to do to much at times, because of the different training tools i own (sandbag, tractor tire, battlerope, sled dragging), but my focus has deffinetly changed over the past 6 months, to “less is more”

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