McAfee Secure sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams
Share Print

You have not viewed any products recently.




Russian Kettlebell Training 102

January 3, 2003 04:28 PM

This article is intended to help advanced beginners and intermediates continue in the wonderful ways of Girevoy sport. In academic courses, there is almost always an introductory course for freshmen (the '101' course) followed by the second semester course for those who survived the first semester (the '102' course). Hopefully, this is the equivalent of that second semester, and will give you some ideas of what to do after those cast iron monsters show up at your door and you've learned the basic drills.

For raw beginners, male or female, I recommend Pavel's From Russia With Tough Love book. FRWTL features a highly detailed and fool proof 'start up' program, which concentrates on box squats, power crunches, and swings the first several weeks, alternating tough and easy days - on the hard days you do two sets of maximum repetitions, and the easy days you do half that. You work almost every day to 'grease the groove' and keep the muscles in 'active recovery' even when you are not pushing hard.

Even intermediate gireviks will find much of use in FRWTL. It should be part of every Girevik's training curriculum.

If you can't get hold of FRWTL, a good sample program for a month long 'break in' period, might be:

1) 5-10 sets of (5L+5R) 1 arm swings. Rest a full minute between each set. Keep the form super tight; don't worry about swinging the bell above the

2) 2-3 sets of box squats - hold the bell by the horns in front of you, same feeling as 'reaching back with your butt to sit on a bench'. The bench should be at a comfortable height, lower it over the weeks as you get more flexible and balanced until you are practically sitting on the floor. At that point you are ready for 'deck squats' or "Good Morning" stretches with kettlebells, 3-4 reps.

3) Overhead (Military) press - 2-3 sets of 3-4 on each side.
4) Windmills 2-3 sets of 3 on each side.
5) Power crunches or 'rollback' sit-ups to taste.

Start out learning the first 2 exercises and introduce a new exercise every week or so (unless you are impatient to proceed). Alternate hard and easy days, try to lift 4-6 times a week for 10-30 minutes to keep your muscles and nervous system in 'grease the groove' mode. But be conservative in your starting numbers, pay attention to how your joints (especially elbows) feel - back off if they start to hurt (i.e., burn instead ache with DOMS).

All right, let's assume that a month or so has gone by and you can comfortably swing, snatch, press, and clean your kettlebells for several repetitions. You want to move up to the next level. How should a budding girevik proceed? My experiences with Kettlebells leads me to believe that the advanced beginner (and trainees trying to rehabilitate) should concentrate on workouts with high numbers of sets with low reps for the ballistic drills and a 'singles and doubles' approach to the grind drills. My thinking in this regard has been heavily influenced by Coach Ethan Reeve's 'Density Training' protocol and Matthew Wiggins' 'Singles and Doubles' protocol. Several of the forum's senior members and RKC instructors have also gravitated toward this approach, and will vouch for its

There are compelling reasons for an advanced beginner or intermediate to
train this way:

1) Splitting training volumes into high sets of low reps helps the trainee stay focused and pay proper attention to form. Bad form is one of the primary causes of injury in resistance training.

2) It allows the trainee to feel almost as fresh at the end of the exercise as at the beginning. This follows Party principles of training as often as possible while staying as fresh as possible.

3) It has much the same cardiovascular benefits as HIIT or Tabata protocols if the rest periods are kept short; in the later stages of a cycle, the trainee's pulse rate may immediately leap above to the 120's or higher (even at the end of a supposed rest period) and stay there for the entire set.

4) The demands on the body's energy systems mimics the demands of many sports, including martial arts, football, and racket sports - explode, work like mad for several seconds, then rest for a short period. The body has to train to become accustomed to this mode of effort ? it requires different metabolic pathways than straight long sets.

5) Setting the weight down every few repetitions helps the trainee avoid some of the risks of joint strain and overuse syndromes that can be caused by extended loading periods on unprepared joints.

6) It changes the mental experience of the advanced beginner as the training volumes increase. Instead of a strained 'death march', the trainee looks forward to a manageable series of discrete, short efforts. Thus it is much easier to begin when your energy is low or you are having a bad day. Maybe you can't face the idea of 60 snatches in a row, but you CAN face the prospect of performing 5 snatches, resting a bit, then doing 5 more, etc. This leads to fewer missed workouts ? and consistency is a key factor to success.

Here is one way to go about it:

Pick a ballistic drill you want to excel in and pick a number of total reps that seems very challenging (if not unreachable) to you -for instance, 100 reps of 1 arm swings with a kettlebell (100 left+100 right). Then break the goal number up into a high number of low rep sets and start with half that number total ? i.e. start with 10 sets of (5L+5R) and build up 20 sets (5l+5r) of 1 arm swings over several weeks.

Keep the rest periods very brief, under a minute if you can. As your wind and stamina improve, you can start a new set each minute. If you are performing one-handed drills, stand up, take a breath or two, and 'reset' your form while switching from one hand to the other. As you get stronger and build up endurance, you may add a few reps to each set, but I would place more emphasis on shortening the rest periods and adding more sets.

To avoid burn out or systemic overtraining, only practice this way with one or two exercises at a time in a 2-4 week cycle. As the number of sets climbs, you may find you can only effectively train one exercise this way per session, although I find I can normally do two if time permits. Also, don't be afraid to have days where you deliberately back off on the number of sets by 30-50%; you may find that inserting an easy day or two allows you to return refreshed to a higher level than before.

Once you reach your goal of number of sets, you have two options:

1) Begin a 'density training' style protocol to increase your consecutive number of reps per set until you can do 100 straight. However there is no real need to for a beginner or intermediate to do this except as a test of mental toughness.

2) Pick another ballistic exercise and put the original on the 'back burner' for a while, just doing enough to keep the 'feel' of the exercise. This is the approach I would recommend. For instance, the Kettlebell Clean and Press is different enough from a Swing to challenge the girevik, keep his training fresh and give the lower back less stress, but at the same time engages many of the same motor patterns. The snatch requires more focus and effort than either the swing or the C&P and might be done for lower totals such as 15-20 x (5L+5R). Improving in any of these drills will improve performance in all
of them. At the same time 'overspecializing' for a time on an exercise will drill it into your nervous system, permanently improving your performance in it when you go back to it.

For grind drills, I like a similar method Matthew Wiggins describes in his book Singles and Doubles. His training methods are centered around heavy sandbags and awkward objects, but he uses an extraordinarily flexible protocol that can be applied to other exercises such as Kettlebell grinds, Clubbell casts and presses, Evil Wheel rollouts, high intensity bodyweight exercises or even strenuous yoga asanas such as the Full Locust and Wheel poses.

Again the idea is to perform multiple sets (10-20) of very low repetitions (1-2 or maybe 3 depending on the exercise) with very brief rest periods. A typical Kettlebell application would be to perform 1-2 repetitions of the Good Morning stretch with a 1.5 or 2 pood kettlebell at the beginning of each minute until you've completed a maximum number of 20-40 reps over the course of 20 minutes. Set the Kettlebell down between repetitions during the rest periods. Depending on your energy levels, you could then perform
alternate Military Presses (1L+1R) with a kettlebell you normally could only press for 2-3 reps at a time, executing 20 sets in 20 minutes and setting the bell down in between sets.

Again, the trainer should strictly limit the number of exercises he performs this way during a given 2-4 week cycle, rotating to new exercises each cycle to keep things fresh.

This approach let me perform 30 Liberty Torch presses with 2 15 lb Clubbells, when my previous comfortable limit was 3 sets of 6. It also allowed me to reduce the 'choke' on the Clubbell handles by several inches over a month of training, greatly increasing the leverage and grip strengthdemands of this exercise and giving even more benefits. If you want to learn more, check out Wiggy's book at

There may be a time, after a year or more of training with Kettlebells when the trainee decides to go for the extended 'Death March' sets required of girevoy competitors and would-be Masters of Sport. However, this approach, with its emphasis on 'greasing the groove' and 'staying fresh' will serve many trainees well for their entire career, or as a fall back when they want to regroup and recharge.