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Kettlebells for Maxing Military Physical Fitness Tests

November 12, 2008 10:08 AM

I am a Technical Sergeant in the US Air Force and have been active duty for almost 9 years now and been deployed numerous times. I am currently stationed at Misawa Air Base, Japan. I received my RKC in October of 2007. I lifted weights (bodybuilding style) for 6 years (from 18-24) until I discovered kettlebells and have used kettlebells as my main training tool since June of 2005. I do utilize my drag sled, heavy sandbag, bodyweight drills, heavy bag work, and barbell work as well but, no matter what program I'm on, KBs take up at least 75% of my training time.

Best lifts:
SSST (snatches in 10 min with a 24kg KB) —242
UST (snatches in 10 min with a 32kg KB) —202
5:00 32kg Snatch- 114 reps (performed at Sep 2007 TSC in La Jolla)
Deadlift (no equipment, just chalk) —485

If you're in the military and are tired of continuously performing poorly on your PT test then I have the solution to your problem. I am a Technical Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. Once a year we are required to perform a physical fitness test consisting of 1 minute of pushups, 1 minute of sit-ups, and a mile and a half run. This test is designed to test cardiovascular endurance (run), muscular strength (pushups), and core strength (sit-ups). Supposedly, this test evaluates if a soldier is mission ready for combat operations. If an individual is able to perform well on these tests then he or she is theoretically ready for whatever may come their way during the heat of the battle. The Army, Navy, and the Marines have similar methods for testing their soldiers although the Marines are slowly beginning to realize the error of their ways.

I question the relevancy of these fitness standards adopted by our military. These tests are not a true measure of combat readiness. Being a good runner doesn't mean you will be able to drag your 190 pound friend 300 yards to safety. Being able to complete 60 pushups in a minute doesn't mean you will have the strength and endurance to offload 20 tons of ammunition while wearing 70 pounds of body armor in 120-degree sun. Sit-ups are about as useful as a hole in the head yet the military still deems it an appropriate means of testing its troops. That being said, the methods that people use to train for these tests are not preparing them for combat operations. The past few years have made it painfully obvious that the traditional type of training used by the majority of our armed forces is not adequate to prepare our forces for the dangers they must face.

Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have trouble meeting PT standards because their method of training is useless and sometimes even counterproductive. Since I began training with kettlebells I have easily maxed out every military PT test I have taken. I never train for the events specifically yet I easily outperform my fellow soldiers. The only times I run or do traditional pushups or sit-ups is during the PT tests yet I perform above my peers in all these categories while they train specifically for these events. The reason for this is not because I'm genetically gifted or that I have a better work ethic than my friends. The difference between me and them is simple......kettlebell training is superior to what they are doing and the proof is in the numbers. Let me explain.

No other single tool can provide the necessary training stimulus required for military personnel than the Russian kettlebell. For the first 6 years of my military career I trained the same way as all my peers. I would lift weights 5-6 days a week for at least an hour. I had my "chest and tris day", my "back and bis day", my "shoulders and calves day" and the eternally dreaded "leg day". I would do some "cardio" in the morning three times a week on the tread or elliptical machine for 30-45 minutes. I would also go for long runs about twice a week. On top of that I would do at least 20 minutes of "abs" at least 5 days a week. On any given week I would spend approximately 12 hours training. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Now that I have discovered kettlebells I train approximately 5 hours a week yet my PT scores are way better now than they were 5 years ago. It's not that I lacked motivation or had a poor work ethic either. I never missed a workout and trained with an intensity level that matched or exceeded most of the guys in the gym. The missing element was knowledge, which is what I hope to impart to those reading this article.

What is being evaluated during your PT test? It's not how fast you can run or how many pushups or crunches you can do although that's what the numbers say. Your ability to withstand short, intense bouts of energy is what is being evaluated during your PT tests. You don't have to be a good runner in order to record a fast time on the test but you must be well conditioned and be able to perform all out for 8-12 minutes. You can train with kettlebells in such a manner that is almost custom made for the PT test without ever performing any of the required drills. Core strength and muscular endurance are a byproduct of kettlebell training. There is no need to do abs multiple times a week, you will get massive amounts of core strength from proper KB training. If you're concerned with the pushup portion of the test, throw in some ballistic type crossover pushups towards the end of your workout and maybe some bottoms up pushups in order to teach your body how to create tension in the appropriate muscle groups. Most people have problems with the run because they can't breathe. They are unconditioned and doing "cardio" 4 times a week just doesn't work. Instead, multiple sets of swings or snatches with brief rest periods will do more your conditioning in 20 minutes than an hour on the stationary bike ever will.

Refer to the sample routine below, which you can adjust to your own fitness and strength levels. Monday and Thursday are for strength with Tuesday and Friday reserved for conditioning. Wednesday is set aside for recovery while Saturday is meant to be a fun day. You could do anything you desire on Saturday such as play basketball, go mountain climbing, surf and swim in the ocean all day, take your dog for a walk in the woods, whatever your heart desires. If you wish to hone your kettlebell skills and work on a movement you're not comfortable with (ex: bent press, renegade row), by all means go ahead, just don't go crazy. Wednesday and Saturday are meant for your body to recover so nothing excessive whatever you decide to do. None of these workouts should take you any longer than 45 minutes, hence the 5 hours weekly training.

If you can produce the type of a workload below I promise you will be among the elite in your chosen branch of service. This routine, or something similar, will provide you with strength and endurance that will put you head and shoulders above your peers and will leave you wondering why the military sets its PT standards so low. You should enjoy life. Spending 12+ hours a week in the gym seems kind of pointless when you could cut that training time down to 5 hours and still have time to do the things you enjoy while maintaining a level of unrivaled strength and fitness. Whether you're in the military trying to ace that test or a stay at home mom trying to keep up with your kids, kettlebells are the answer.

Sample Military PT Training Program

Monday- [Double 32kg LC C&P- 4 reps w/ Double Beast SLDL- 5 reps] x 5 [Double Bulldog Windmill- 5 reps (l,r) w/ Double 32kg Squat- 5 reps] x 5 Finish with Single 32kg Bottoms up Pushups- 10 reps x 5 sets

Tuesday- SSST- rest 1 minute Double 24kg Guard attack- 10 reps x 10 sets w/ :30 break 32kg DARC Swing- 50 reps x 10 sets w/ :30 break Finish with 24kg Crossover Pushup- 5-2cnt reps x 10

Wednesday- Juggle 16kg — 20kg kettlebell for 20-30 minutes

Thursday- [Double Bulldog Dead Clean- 5 reps w/ Bulldog Press- 3 reps (l, r)] x 5 [Bulldog TGU- 3 reps (l,r) w/ Double Bulldog Swings- 20 reps] x 5 Finish with Double 24kg Bottoms up Pushups- 10 reps x 5 sets

Friday- [24kg Snatch ladder (2,4,6,8,10) w/ Burpees- 25 reps] x 10 Double 32kg Jump Squat- 10 reps x 10 sets w/ :30 rest Finish with Clap Pushups- 10 reps x 10 sets

Saturday- Active Recovery Day

Sunday- Off

TSgt Philip Davis, RKC Misawa Air Base, Japan