The REAL Kettlebell Workouts Strength Cycle – The Details

Let me just clear the air here – if I had to do Swings and Get Ups for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t.

Although it is chic to do “just” those two exercises, there are so many more exercises you can do and should do.

Yes, the Swing and the Get Up form the foundation for the RKC system of kettlebell training, which obviously, I’m a big believer in. And yes, I think we should all practice them, and yes, they are hugely important. But if they are the only thing you spend your time doing and focused on, you are missing out in a big, big way.

I’ve recently started Snatching again with my kettlebell after a long, long absence. And what a fantastic exercise that is! When done for higher reps and heavier weight, you feel literally every muscle in your body the next day, especially all the muscles on the backside of your body.

Of course, you need the pre-requisites – shoulder stability, hip mobility, lumbar spine (core) stability in order to fix that bell overhead safely. (That’s where a season of Swings and Get Ups comes in.)

Sure, you can just jump right in and do anything you want anytime you want but you’ve gotta know up front that if you haven’t done the pre-req’s yet, you will pay for it somewhere down the line.

That’s why in my last post I suggested the following model to use in order to make constant progress:

  1. Structural
  2. Strength
  3. Fat Loss
  4. Hypertrophy
  5. Strength

Yes, I know, sounds complicated and kettlebell workouts are intended to uncomplicate/decomplicate ¬†workouts. But this really isn’t that hard to do – just put one point on a finger on each hand – 5 fingers, 5 points (and one that repeats itself). Not that hard.

Let’s take a closer look today.

1. Structural.

This one is the one that no one, including myself, ever wants to do. I just want to skip ahead and do the “strength” portion. But if we really think about this one – it is a strength workout. In fact, it may be a harder, more challenging strength program than anything you’ve done in a long, long time.

You’re looking for, discovering, and fortifying your weaknesses with the whole intent on bringing your whole body as a system up.

For example, let’s say you want to improve your Pressing strength. Yes, you could do all kinds of fancy isometric work, attach bands to your kettlebell, do “stacked” Presses, and the such – and they’re all good things, in and of themselves, but have you checked your foundation? If your hips are immobile, you’re not going to be able to root to the ground as much as you should, and your ability to generate force and transmit that across your middle up into your arm to press the weight isn’t going to be as strong as it could be, so why not start there?

Here’s a good little sequence that will help you out:

Perform some Presses first, not too heavy, not too light, then perform the following:

1. Hip flexor stretch

2. RKC Plank

3. Tall kneeling Press

4. Press again. Check and see how the movement feels compared to the earlier sets of Presses.

There are a ton of sequences you can use, based on your own current limitations, and you should find them. The point here is to do them with the expectation that you are investing in your own “strength portfolio” and that you will reap the results in the near future.

What kind of results can you expect from using this type of programming? I don’t know for sure because I don’t know your situation. But I recently had a client crush his old PR in the Press after 6 weeks of not pressing and training 2x per week. He struggled to Press the 32kg, barely getting it up on his left and now easily banged out 3 reps with the 32kg on his left and could’ve gone to 5 reps on the right if I had let him. We focused on a program very similar to this.

2. Strength.

There are so many good program designs for this – pick one. Do it for 4, 6, 8 or 12 weeks. This is where you really focus in on cementing in all the constructive work you did in the previous phase. Simple enough, right? The key for some of us will be actually sticking to a program long enough to make substantive, measurable progress.

3. Fat Loss.

Believe it or not, getting leaner will actually help your strength levels. Considerably.

The science is now clear, the leaner you are, the leaner you can stay, and the stronger you can get, both absolutely and relatively speaking. Want your 1RM to go up? Get leaner. Want to do more Pull-ups? Get leaner. There’s a direct correlation between all of it.

Leanness is the external manifestation that most of your internal processes are functioning correctly. Hormonal processes are for the most part balanced. For example, your body is now able to regulate the production of insulin – the very powerful hormone for building muscle and packing on fat – which shuttles glucose into the muscle cells. It’s also now better able to regulate your testosterone levels, helping you get stronger, and pack on more lean muscle tissue.

I could write a whole article on why you should get leaner to help your strength levels and maybe I will some time, but for now, just do yourself a favor and drop some body fat if you haven’t already. Guys should get down to under 15% and women should get down to under 22%.

It’s easy with a little commitment and the right program.

4. Hypertrophy.

Muscle gain. I wrote a whole book outlining the reasons why you should focus on gaining muscle and how to do it with your kettlebells. The bottom line is this – and here’s another area where the science is clear: Increase lean muscle mass increases your absolute or maximum strength potential.

Want to get seriously strong? Gain muscle.

There’s good reason that the absolute strongest men in the world are the biggest. Extra muscle helps you get extra strong.

You don’t have to focus on gaining 25lbs of muscle or convert to being a bodybuilder and spend 2 hours a day in the gym doing body part splits or any of that. Kettlebells lend themselves nicely to packing on slabs of functional muscle when you program them correctly. Just eat a lot and do more work in the same amount of time. Or more work in less time. Simple.

Think of a hypertrophy cycle as yet another investment in your long term strength portfolio.

5. Strength.

And now we’re back to strength again. You just spent some time packing on some new muscle, now let’s integrate it into the strength plan. Because really, it’s all about strength. And really, these 5 cycles are part of one big cycle – the Strength Cycle.

At this point, I suggest you really focus in on some neural training. Keep your reps low and your sets low: 2-3 sets of 2-3. Frequently too. 2-4 times per week. Rest a lot. Making the transition from the hypertrophy cycle, you’ll also experience a rebound effect and see a little extra muscle growth as you drop the volume and density work.

How do you get started on this cycle?

Simple. Decide where you want to go, and analyze where you are now. Then jump into the appropriate phase of training. Just be honest with yourself. If you have a nagging shoulder injury, you should make fixing that your first priority, because it will affect everything else.

What am I doing?

I’m making the transition from Phase 3 to 4 – from fat loss to hypertrophy: Maintaining fat loss and exploring some new ways to pack on some muscle.

Give this 5 step cycle a shot and let me know how you get on.

Feel free to leave your comments below.

4 comments… add one
  • Randy Mar 21, 2011 @ 10:33

    Really good post!

  • Billy Meyer Mar 21, 2011 @ 12:49

    My thoughts exactly. Very thoughtful and insightful.

  • Rob DuBoux Mar 21, 2011 @ 13:57

    Thanks for the great advice. I guess I fell into this cycle by accident. I first started with the Program Minimum, ETK, Kettlebell Burn, and I just finished Kettlebell Muscle. With your advice, I am going to focus on the strength phase (#5). I am interested to see how the strength phase goes after completing the Hypertrophy phase.

    Thanks again for a great post.

  • Billy Meyer Mar 21, 2011 @ 17:57

    I was referring to Randy’s post when I said “my thoughts exactly” haha. This article is far beyond my thinking.

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