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2000 Non-Stop Swings and Foursome Tenants of Insanity

December 13, 2010 12:37 PM

Recently I've been on a kettlebell swing odyssey. A quest to max out the swing, take it boldly where no one has gone before and in doing so max myself both in effort to give and in building up physical ability.

Probably the most common comment is, "You're insane!" Well it might be crazy to work one of the most intense exercises on the planet incredibly hard. On the other hand I might argue that it could be crazy not to do it. Life is short and to me being super-bad-to-the-bone tough is far less crazy than sitting on the couch being soft and weak. Even if the effort is horrific and it costs buckets of sweat. To my mind that's a pretty fair trade off for health, vitality, massive body composition change (lost over 110lbs), scary strength and endurance and remaking yourself into a living piece of iron. Maybe you need some insanity in your life too.

So a recent personal record on this quest to take the swing as far as possible has brought on more of this insanity talk. Good, I'm relishing it. I was able to do 2,000 non-stop reps with the 24kg bell. Big jump up from the last PR there which was 1,375 non-stop and part of the big build up of the last two years. This has helped me define for myself what "maxing out," the swing will be and brought on some thoughts that will help you further down the road. It's funny how these training points are perfectly sane and logical, but when stacked together lead to insane performance. Oh well, read on if you're ready for this ride.

Open your mind

Okay before I take the metaphors too far and you think I've gone all hippie, "Just take this acid and you'll be enlightened," let me put your mind at ease. That's not the case and there's no bad red rope licorice being passed around at this party. Here's what I'm saying:

For most people, progress in training is limited by their mind. They simply don't believe that they can do what they want to do or they don't have a firm hold on what is possible and the fact that most of the time they are capable of doing it. Listen, genetics is nowhere near the big deal people make of it and almost everybody gets some good and bad in the hand they're dealt with it. I'm no exception. Good hand on strength, lousy on body composition. That is part of the reason I'm training like this.

This applies especially with kettlebell training. It might not be in the cards for you to deadlift 700lbs, (although with proper training, commitment and mindset I promise you can do more than you think), but anybody committed enough can build up to 1,000 swings. It may take time and effort but you can and should be progressing. The natural state of training is to produce progress and you don't need designer sweats or supplements to make it happen. Open your mind, believe that you can and trust that it will happen.

Realizing this is the key to upper level performance, because you now know that you can do it. It's also tough, because excuses fall by the wayside and you realize that you can do it. The question is will you?

Strength and Reverse Assistance

There are some people out there who by training or genetics are endurance monsters. This usually comes with a low maximum strength, but I believe this won't work for the average guy. Even guys who are gifted in that way will eventually limit their performance if they don't increase their maximum strength. That's why people like Lance Armstrong lift weights. You can probably stave off this limit by adding some strength, but why not get as strong as you can? It doesn't take more training, just a little better planning and effort. In the long run the higher your maximum strength the higher your reserve to draw endurance from.

That brings me to the second part of this point. Most people treat the swing as an assistance exercise for their other goals. There's nothing wrong with that, in fact it is one of the best for many exercises, sports, and athletic efforts (i.e. squats, deadlifts, football, vertical jumping, etc.) For our purposes here however, high level swing performance (and conversely high level everything else)… let's reverse engineer it.

What does that mean? It means taking some specific version of heavier exercises to use as ASSISTANCE for the swing. Now all the exercises that you would use the swing as assistance for have a reverse effect – i.e., getting better at deadlifting will make your swings better, just like getting better at swings will make your deadlift go up. There are however, some specific ones that I believe carry over best. This can and probably will be an entire separate article, but I'll tell you a couple of my favorite - The partial deadlift and the d-handled deadlift. See if you can figure out why until that article comes out.

Reverse Conjugate Training

Conjugate training refers to a recession lifting system, also used by Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell Powerlifting club. It is very popular now among powerlifters. I'm not using it in its strict application (nothing against them I just don't like strict percentages and don't find that regular level of heavy volume necessary. Different strokes… ) However what my training ends up as for the swing is a loose style of it. Its basic tenant is using all training variables managed within micro-cycles (fancy term for a training week) instead of splitting them up into longer blocks. So instead of four weeks each of repetition lifting, then speed training, then heavy lifting, you rotate each of those in weekly workouts. Other keys are consistent volume, "same but different," assistance exercises and greater than 100% loading with rotating exercises on a regular basis.

So how in the world does any of that match up with what I'm doing? Read on compadre. I'm using a pretty consistent volume in that every 7-14 days I get at least one 1,000 rep swing workout. This rotates up and down slightly by number of reps or weight of bell. Since it's already an explosive exercise in training speed, but every time I switch or do heavier swings with the same speed that's essentially our speed training. Each week when I lift heavier and/or do a heavier/harder interval workout (i.e., deadlifts, or my 12:12 Heavy 2-Handed Swing and Sprawl Challenge workout), that is greater than 100% loading, Both in weight and short term effort. Finally I rotate in several other exercises that are "same but different," but not from the usual perspective. For instance sledgehammer swinging (basically the mirror opposite movement of the swing), sled dragging, sprawls, heavy bag work and Battling Ropes (there's more, but you get the idea). Each of these is the same in that they're explosive, muscular cardio, and for this purpose I work them with the same kind of straight through duration style of work. They might now work the exact groove or muscles (although they're all whole body, so it's pretty close), but they work the same qualities while allowing me to stay fresh and not burn out the swing by working it at that volume too often. Plus they give me direct feedback on how the swing is carrying over to other training. So in any one week or training block I'm lifting heavy, training speed, hard intervals and consistent non-stop swings or a similar value exercise. Strength, speed, hard effort and non-stop duration all together playing into and benefitting each other for a higher level outcome.

Finally Courage

"Fatigue makes cowards of us all." Okay kettlebell training is not the equivalent of facing armed combat, (by the way a huge thanks to all the soldiers out there who are road testing real courage), but that statement is true. There is a reason the Russian army called their kettlebell areas, "Courage Corner." That is also probably the big reason everybody says this is crazy. It's just going to hurt, plain and simple. You're going to sweat like you're in the desert and lactic acid is going to flow like you're drowning in it. For most people that's an illogical, fearful thing to do. It hinges on how much you're willing to suffer and most people most of the time will quit before they physically have to because of that. This is training not just for the body, but to see how far you will go and to raise that boundary.

I said earlier that the PR I had helped me see the logical (for me) max out of the swing. For me right now that's one hour non-stop. I say that because for me right now with the 24kg bell in this workout format is becoming a "courage" game - A mental workout. I know that my body can keep going, can get that next rep (not like five rep sets of heavy lifts where you hit a definite physical point of failure) it's all a question now of whether the mind will force it to happen. It has become transcendent of the physical and into mental power training. In this way I know I'm close to maxing out this exercise (with this weight, anyway) because my body can keep going and my mind is the gauge of how far. Embrace this - The pain - The opportunity to remake your body and courage and will into iron.

Bud Jeffries is a professional performing strongman and former World Powerlifting Champion, World Record Holder, competitor in strongman competition, No-Holds Barred fighting, and more. He is the author of four books and ten training videos including a brand new book, Twisted Conditioning II – Advancing Concepts in Super Strength and Endurance Training, which is the next step in informational power to get you to the goals of world class strength, muscle and endurance. Look for more information or products at