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Climbing Mountains and Lifting Kettlebells in Chile

September 13, 2004 09:05 AM

I just made my first Kettlebells!!! 1, 1.5, and 2 poods. But I will come to this point later. First I will share how I came to this extreme training. Like everything, life is a process.
I have been always a sports fanatic. I started with Kung Fu for 7 years and with weightlifting. When I was 21 I took up rock climbing and mountaineering. At the same time I was studying Physics at the University of Chile. I did my Ms Science after 8 years and suddenly something was happening: I felt unmotivated by to work as a physicist. After 9 years of studies!!! I decided then to move outside the city (Santiago de Chile, a very polluted and crowded city) and go live in a beautiful area. It is called San Pedro at the Atacama at the foothills of the Andes mountains in the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world (we have an average of 5% humidity). It is a small oasis with trees surrounded by desert. I started working as a mountain guide and one year later I started my own climbing company.

The village is at 8,000 feet of elevation and is surrounded by 18,000 feet high volcanoes. The population of 1000 people is mostly Indian. With a friend, we built a climbing wall to train and we made also our own barbells and dumbbells. We trained really hard 5-6 days a week. And I was all the time looking for new routines. This is the year 1998. The same year we began bolting a beautiful canyon with over 100 climbing routes. The place was amazing! I even married 2 years later and now I have a sweet daughter.

One day while travelling I read Muscle Media and came across Pavel. I ran to the computer and checked the web site. This was exactly what I was looking for!
I started with Power to the People! My barbell did not have enough plates so I cut plates from an old machine with the help of my father. The Barbell can be loaded with 300 kg. I srated with Deadlifts and Side Presses. I was amazed after the first time I deadlifted how I was putting all my muscles in to work! This resembled rock climbing so much -complete tension. Since that day I quit all my training routines and trained exclusively with deadlifts, side presses, running, and climbing. The progress showed itself in a few weeks. I was more aware of the muscles I was using, my back and forearms felt stronger, and even my grip was solid as a rock.

I travel a lot on long, three-week, trips to Bolivia. I also climb Aconcagua and other peaks so the barbell was not an option to bring with me. Then I saw The Naked Warrior. I ordered it and was captivated by the simplicity of it and the strength gains. In 2 weeks I could do one-arm pushups and pistols. These are part of my training routines now. During the camps I always find the time to do these exercises. With pistols my legs got much stronger than with running; I was feeling that my legs would not quit when I need them. And believe me, at 20,000 feet nothing works!

Usually I have a low season period from March to July so I ordered the Russian Kettlebell Challenge and began training with dumbbells. At the same time I was trying to figure out how to made kettlebells. With my father who is a lifelong sportsman we found balls made of Styropor. Children in schools use them to make animal figures, to draw the continents, etc. We calculated the diameter they must have to have the right weights (9 years of physics helped!!) and then we put liquid iron in them. The handle was made by heating a bar and bending it. So after 1 month I had six bells in front of me. This was another breakthrough in my training.

I train exclusively outside. The weather is very nice: 90% of blue sky! With the help of the video I corrected my postures, especially in the bent press. So I highly recommend the video if you have no access to instructors. Now I cycle KBs with PTP in a 4 weeks cycle of RKC and 2 weeks of PTP. After 8 months of no rock climbing because of my job, my little daughter, and the lack of climbing partners in this part of the world I finally went to climb again. I was amazed: of course I lacked the endurance, which is specific to rock climbing, but I could climb the same hard routes of the past. Thanks also to the high repetition snatches and C&Js,I was never breathless (the climbing crag is at 12,000 feet). My grip was strong. I went to a mountaineering trip and again: my endurance was excellent, my legs felt very strong under backpacks of 60-70 pounds, and my back was OK.

I usually train between 40 and 50 min 5 days a week. Here is my actual routine.

Swings (20-40 reps, warm up)
MP (3 sets of 2-4 reps)
BP (3 sets of 2-4 reps)
Pistols (weighted and only bodyweight)
C&J (6-8 sets with 1 or 2 KB)
All the above done in circuit with 2 min rest
Evil Wheel (4 sets of 4)

Swings (20-40 reps, warm up)
MP (2-3 sets)
C&J (2 KBs, 10 sets)
Snatches (6-8 sets, 15-20 reps)
Under the leg passes (3 sets of 30)
Evil Wheel (3 sets of 4)

Swings (20-40 reps, warm up)
BP (4 sets 2-4)
OAPU (4 sets of 3 reps)
Pullups (ladder)
Pistols (weighted, 4 sets)
All done in circuit
C&J with a heavy KB (one arm, 3 sets)


Swings (20-40 reps, warm up)
C&J (2 arm, 5-6 sets)
Snatches (3 sets of 15)
Evil Wheel

Swings (20 -40 reps, warm up)


All of this is varied from week to week; this is just one example. If I feel tired one day i will cut off the sets or reps. But at the time I had great gains and did not overtrain. After 3-4 weeks I take 4-5 days off. I eat as much as I want and i go to bed very early (9 pm). This is because I live outdoors I have no neighbours and there is no noise, so we are like farmers -we keep with the sun. So rest is fundamental. Very important also is to stay hydrated. I always train with a big water bottle.

I bring the kettlebells along on my trips and with the NW I can keep working out everywhere. Sometimes I camp at 14,000 feet, so working with the bells at altitude is another challenge!

With this article I want to point out that the subject of training is an individual process that has to be walked step by step in total awareness. There are no magical shortcuts. But I assure you with patience and the deep and simple concepts that Pavel gives us you will be able to reach your goals wherever you are!

Power to you!

Kenneth Lein is a recovering physicist, a mountain man, and a partner in Southern Cross Adventure in Chile. Contact him at