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The Beast Month

December 15, 2009 12:20 PM

I'll start this article with a short presentation of myself. My name is Tommy Blom, I live just outside Gothenburg, Sweden. My daily work is teaching tactical strength to people in two ways through my company Tenacity ? Tactical Strength. As a Global Instructor with the International Krav Maga Federation I teach them to defend themselves, I teach regular students, professionals and new instructors for the IKMF in all fields (have been teaching KM since 1996 and been doing it professionally since 2002). I also teach Kettlebells in Gothenburg and travel around Sweden doing seminars and workshops to spread the RKC.

This article will be about a protocol that helped me a lot in increasing strength, work capacity, and general athletic ability, I feel that it has carryover to any sport that you can think of where you have to generate explosive power over time and need a good way to recover fast between bursts of power.


It all started about a year ago I did a lot of swings and snatches and decided to try a month of only swings, heavy swings. If you're involved in Kettlebell training you have probably heard about The Beast, the 48kg (106 Lb) kettlebell that is (almost) on top of the food chain. It is the one weight that is used for the Beast Challenge where one has to military press it, perform a pistol while holding it by the horns and do a tactical pull-up with this intimidating weight of cast iron in a belt. There is a reason they call it The Beast?

Well, let's just say that I'm not quite there yet (but some day...). The ballistics is my "talent" in the KB game so that's where my focus is - this article will explain why - for a lot of reasons.

Ok, back to the Beast month, it is a protocol with the duration of a month, very simple, very basic. It consists of one exercise, heavy? and lots of it? The Kettlebell swings - hard style - done with, that's it, The Beast.

First time I did the protocol I didn't calculate it very carefully, I just the Beast out in the back yard and did swings with it, mostly in the format of 5/5/5 but sometimes only two hand swings.

The main reason for choosing the Beast and not a lighter weight was that I wanted to force myself to keep a high tension in the body and the heavy load makes you do just that (relax for a second and you'll be eaten by the beast). The goal was to see what changes the heavy swings did to my body in all aspects of my physique, strength, as well as work capacity.

The second time around I decided to be a bit more scientific with the whole thing and did some tests before I started the protocol itself.

To measure strength of presses I did a test of pressing 40 kg. It was done with one 32kg kettlebell and one 8kg kettlebell held in one hand, I tried to press two times with each hand and the results was that I got about 50-60% of a full press on the right hand and a bit less on the left hand (from rack position until the hand passed the height of the eyes).

Work capacity was measured by counting the amount of reps/sets and the time it took to complete them. I experimented with the number of repetitions in each set and in each part of the set.

A set has 3 parts. Part I is weak hand swings, Part II is strong hand swings and Part III is 2-hand swings.

In the first set I tried 10/10/10, this number of repetitions was too high, already in Part II of the set I started to loose speed and the form of the swings got worse for each repetition. When I got to Part III of the set I had to struggle and the last 5 repetitions was not in the form I wanted them.

Because of the high load in each part of the set I decided that this would keep the sessions too short, it just wouldn't give the high number of reps I wanted/session.

Next set I went for 5/5/10, also this time my feeling was that I wouldn't reach the high numbers of repetitions I wanted/session.

In the end I decided that the format of the sets would be 5+5+5, this amount of repetitions/set was just right to be able to keep one set at around 30 seconds, this is a nice and even number if one wants to do intervals with a 1:1 work/rest ratio like in the VO2max sessions presented by Master RKC Kenneth Jay in his book Viking Warrior Conditioning (which is a must to read for any RKC taking his training to a higher level).

Actually the 5/5/5 protocol is perfect since you work with such a high load that you are almost doing a maximum lift. The heavy swings combine the ballistics and the grinds in a nice way and since it is close to a maximum lift we should keep the repetitions in each part of the set to a maximum of five?

My first session was the one with the tests where I found the right number of reps to use in the beast month, over all in this session I did a total of 200 swings in 19 min which is 10,5 swings/min (I didn't stress this session for time).

There will be a lot of numbers and presentation of the sessions below but that is just to show the progress and changes in what I did over the "month". The high load of swings and the pressure it created on the skin in my hands made me change the protocol a bit so a few sessions contained only two hand swings and in some sessions I added two hand swings after the 5/5/5-protocol. I also started to put in a 1/1 work/rest ratio to keep the intensity increasing and to keep it challenging when my levels we're going up (which happened pretty fast).

SessionSet 1 Set 2 Set 3 Set 4 Set 5
1 1 x 10/10/10 1 x 5/5/10 10 x 5/5/5 ??
2 10 x 5/5/5????
3 10 x 5/5/5????
4 10 x 5/5/5????
5 10 x 5/5/5????
6 10 x 5/5/5????
7 10 x 5/5/5????
8 10 x 5/5/5????
9 10 x 5/5/5 10 x 10 2hsw???
10 10 x 15 2hsw
@ 30/30
5 x 10 2hsw
@ 30/30
5 x 5 2hsw
@ 30/30
5 x 5 2hsw
@ 15/15
5 x 3 2hsw
@ 15/15
11 10 x 5/5/5
@ 30/30
5 x 10 2hsw
@ 30/30
12 5 x 15 2hsw
@ 30/30
5 x 10 2hsw
@ 20/20
5 x 5 2hsw
@ 10/10
13 10 x 5/5/5 ????

I started the Protocol on the 21/12 and I brought my Beast in the car when we went for a winter vacation over the new year holidays - when I told that I brought it for my holiday one of the guys who commented in my blog said "well, now that boundary was broken").

Here is how heavy swings affect the body. For me the benefits of the heavy swings was obvious, about 2 weeks into the test I tried to press a 40kg kettlebell and managed to get it up (not a strict press but way better than the 50-60% I managed to do before I started out), on the work capacity side of it I went from complete 150 swings by the 5/5/5 protocol in 15 min when I started the month to finishing them in 9 min and 30 sec in the end of the month. To me that is an awesome improvement that speaks for it self.

My whole body got a great boost of strength and explosive power, the restrictions I felt at the end of the sessions was the hands and lower back that got really tired from the pressure. It felt like the stretch load of the hamstrings and glutes worked it's way up the back and stopped in the connection between the pelvis and the muscles of the lower back. Another extremely strong sensation that surprised me when I did this the first time was the amount of work it put on my abdominal area and the front and sides of the mid section in general, I remember that I got more tired in that part than in the lower back that time (at least some of the sessions).

Of course this wasn't a scientific experiment with that type of standards but to me it showed what the heavy swings is doing for the over all health/work capacity/strength and what great carry over it has to over head pressing when you in fact doesn't raise the kettlebell over head at all.

To try out The Beast Month do this, take a kettlebell that really challenges you in a set of 5/5/5. Start by doing 5 sets of this with 1 min of rest between sets, work yourself up to ten sets with the same ratio between work/rest. When you have reached 10 sets at that pace then move back down to 5 sets again and do work/rest ratio 1/1 (if you work 20 sec, then you rest 20 sec).

Make sure to keep the swings hard style, if you can't do it in good form? then back off and start over with more rest between sets or a bell one size smaller.

If you choose to challenge yourself with a Beast month I'd be very surprised if you didn't share my fascination for it, as Pavel says, "It'll make you a better man."

Tommy Blom, RKCII is a professional instructor and coach, he has been traveling the world as a member of the Global Team of International Krav Maga Federation since 2002 teaching Krav Maga to civilians as well as professional elites. As a member of the GIT he is also responsible for part of the education of new instructors within the IKMF. Tommy Started training with Kettlebells in 2005 and certified as an RKC in 2006, since then the two parts (KM & KB) is constantly working together and feeding of each other. Tommy is today also working with sales of kettlebells to be able to teach seminars and spread the RKC hard style in Sweden.

The photo was taken by Markus Lindberg