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How to Add a Minimalistic Conditioning Routine to Power to the People!

February 9, 2007 09:01 AM

If you want conditioning while on a strength-focused program like Pavel's Power To The People!, learn to swing a kettlebell for 1-2 minutes non-stop after your strength training and you may have all the conditioning you need. We'll assume Pavel's PTP program below ? two sets of five reps performed for each of two exercises, five days per week ? but the approach can work for any strength-based training program.

Many of us are already familiar with the Tabata Protocol and the research associated with it. Tabata usually means eight all-out sprints of 20 seconds in length, separated by 10-second rest periods. The entire thing takes three minutes and fifty seconds from start to finish, and the results are well documented. For most strength trainees, Tabata works as well or better than any traditional form of conditioning using longer durations at an easy pace (often known as "long slow distance" or training in the "fat-burning zone" of about 70% of maximum heart rate). Please note that when I say "as good as any traditional form of conditioning," I am not suggesting you will run a better marathon, only that you will achieve the kind of basic cardiovascular fitness necessary for good health, which is an appropriate goal for a strength trainee.

The kettlebell swing, properly performed, involves quickly turning on and off some serious muscle tension ? it is not like Tabata sprints at first glance, but 5-7 days a week of 1-2 minute kettlebell swings may provide a similar training effect. Note that consistency is important here ? if you are only doing an intense minute or two, you can and should do it nearly every day. If you wish to train your kettlebells less frequently, then you should do more of them to achieve the same effect. What we are after is "bang for the buck," training that will improve your aerobic and anaerobic fitness while not interfering with your strength training.

Please read Pavel's Enter The Kettlebell! for the best instructions going on how to properly perform the swing, and follow them to the letter. Be very sure to "hike" the kettlebell on the back swing as described in ETK if you are doing strength training that involves your elbows. A straight arm is key to allowing the force of the downswing to be properly directed through, instead of at, your elbow.

Find a weight you can swing non-stop for 1-2 minutes, switching hands in the 5-10 rep range, and switch hands without putting the kettlebell down, e.g., 3 to 5 sets of 5 reps using a 32 kilo kettlebell with each hand. Perform this after your strength training is done but before any ab work because your abs need to be fresh to protect your lower back during the swings.

You may use a lighter weight for longer sets, e.g., a 24 kilo kettlebell for 1 to 3 sets of 10-20 reps with each hand, again not setting the bell down until the session is complete.

I used to be a distance runner, bicyclist, and swimmer, with a resting pulse in the mid-40's. Since almost completely abandoning, as Pavel says, "the dishonor of dieting and aerobics" for strength training plus kettlebell swings, my resting pulse has gone down, not up. I will be the first one to admit I was surprised to see this happen, but it's been several years now and my morning pulse remains consistently at or below 40. Elite world-class endurance athletes often have resting pulses of 30 or below. Mine is not that, but it's much better than average, and resting pulse has long been considered a good indicator of cardiovascular fitness.

If you choose not to follow my advice and insist on running for your conditioning during your strength training, or simply need to run as practice for a PT test, I recommend you limit aerobic training to two days per week and lift heavy on four, e.g., PTP Mon/Tue, run Wed, PTP Thu/Fri, run Sat, off on Sunday. There are few things less pleasurable than trying to go for a hard run, especially a Tabata sprint, after deadlifting.

Train smart and get all the conditioning you need from a few minutes of intense kettlebell swings done with perfect form done near the end of your strength training sessions.

Steve Freides, current AAU Raw Deadlift world record holder in the M50-54, 148 lb class, served as an assistant instructor at the August, 2006 RKC. See for more information about Steve including his kettlebell classes at the Ridgewood, NJ YMCA.