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The Whats, Whys and Hows of Successful Programming, Part V

Two Sizes Kettlebell Swing Setup

This is the fifth and final article in a series about successful programming by Master RKC Dan John. Click here to read the first article of the series.

Progression or Regression—Adjusting the Weight

Bryan Mann from the University of Missouri did an interesting study on using the DeLorme and Watkins protocol. The previous workout was based on their insights of training the 10-5-10 for the strength movements. His insight on a standardized progression was very helpful. He also proved that the old school methods still work. You can use the following general template to adjust the load for future training sessions.

Based on the number of reps completed for set number three, reduce, maintain or increase the weight lifted as follows:
4–5 reps: Reduce the weight by 5 to 10 pounds next time
6–8 reps: Maintain weight or reduce by 5 pounds next time
8–12 reps: Maintain weight next time
12–15 reps: Increase the weight by 5 to 10 pounds next time
15+ reps: Increase the weight by 10 to 15 pounds next time

If your client only gets to 0–3 reps on the heavy set, you either overshot the weight estimate, or something else is an issue. When the numbers for each of the third sets put the client in different categories (for example, 7, 9, 12, and 15), you may need to make an educated estimate for the next session.
Dan John Workout Program Chart

This program ties in well with the volume/intensity recommendations above. Warm ups are not mentioned but generally I recommend a few minutes of TGUs and basic mobility work. Cool downs would be the same, but done in the opposite order: basic mobility work followed by TGUs. Program E, the mobility workout, is a fun day to see how mobility training helps "smooth out" the TGU work.

The devil is in the details with programs and programming. I would argue that FLEXIBILITY is key. And I don’t mean touching your toes, but flexibility as the understanding that things change, life happens, and perfection is a touch goal. I strive for "pretty good" when it comes to programs and programming with a hint of "that’s not bad" tossed in for luck. You will adapt and learn and relearn. Billy Graham once said, "If you find the perfect church, by all means join it! Then, it won’t be perfect any more!"

If you find the perfect program, by all means DO IT!

The Humane Burpee Family

General advice for rep ranges in "the Humane Burpee": Kettlebell swings tend to be done for ten or fifteen reps, goblet squats NEVER more than ten and usually five reps, and the same is true for push-ups (never more than ten and usually five reps).

One of my favorite workouts is "the Humane Burpee". Dan Martin gave it this name and I can’t think of a better term. You can certainly make it harder or easier, but just do the basic example first. Be sure to follow the advice about reps for the goblet squats and push-ups, we want the reps to descend as we move through "the Humane Burpee", hence the name "Humane."

So, here it is:

15 Swings
5 Goblet Squats
5 Push Ups

15 Swings
4 Goblet Squats
4 Push Ups

15 Swings
3 Goblet Squats
3 Push Ups

15 Swings
2 Goblet Squats
2 Push Ups

15 Swings
1 Goblet Squat
1 Push Up

The complete sequence has a total of 75 swings, 15 goblet squats and 15 push ups. The real exercise seems to be popping up and down for the push ups. Most of us don’t rest at all through the workout, but feel free to stop when you need to rest.

To make it harder, just slide the goblet squat and push up reps up to ten. 10-8-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 gives you 55 total reps and that is plenty of work for a single day—in many cases it’s too much.

Here are three more variations:

I’m not sure why this is called "Slurpees":
  • 10 or 15 Swings
  • 5 Goblet Squats
  • 10 Mountain Climbers (count a rep every time the left foot hits)
Let the goblet squats descend (5-4-3-2-1). The workout will give you 50-75 swings, 15 goblet squats and a lot of heart pounding.

"Hornees" include loaded carries. A horn walk is simply walking around holding the kettlebell by the horns as it rests on your chest. It keeps the tension high.
  • 10 or 15 Swings
  • 5 Goblet Squats
  • Horn Walk for an appropriate distance.
Again, let the goblet squats descend (5-4-3-2-1). That gives you 50-75 swings, 15 goblet squats and an interesting feeling in all of the muscles that squeeze things together.

"Bearpees" are great in groups.
  • 10 or 15 Swings
  • 5 Goblet Squats
  • Bear Crawl
Again, descend with the goblet squat reps (5-4-3-2-1). In groups, you can have two people about 60 feet apart while they share the same kettlebell. You will see a lot of racing, and the participants will quickly learn that they underestimate bear crawls.

Once we are moving with horn walks and bear crawls, it is time to add loaded carries to our basic work.
Assisted Kettlebell Press

I name loaded carry workouts after the birds of the Raptor family. It started off as a joke about how we are picking up things and moving them, but we soon found that the names became a nice way to organize the workouts.

This workout is the "Sparrow Hawk" or "Sparhawk"

This workout includes goblet squats and suitcase carries. Suitcase carries are like farmer walks, but you only load one side—as though you are carrying a single suitcase.

It’s simple:
  • 8 Goblet Squats, then march away with the kettlebell in the left hand about 60 feet (gym length is best).
  • 7 Goblet Squats, then return to the original position with the kettlebell in the right hand.
  • 6 Goblet Squats, left hand suitcase walk.
  • 5 Goblet Squats, right hand walk.
  • 4 Goblet Squats, left hand walk.
  • 3 Goblet Squats, right hand walk.
  • 2 Goblet Squats, left hand walk.
  • 1 Goblet Squat, finished.
The workout includes a total of 36 goblet squats, but you are also under load for about three minutes. Your anti-rotation muscles will be working overtime with the asymmetrical walking. Then they will have to still join in to support the goblet squats. You get the benefits of squatting including the mobility and flexibility work plus the additional boon of three minutes of time under tension.

Dan John thumbnailMaster RKC, Dan John is the author of numerous fitness titles including the best selling Never Let Go and Easy Strength. Dan has spent his life with one foot in the world of lifting and throwing, and the other foot in academia. An All-American discus thrower, Dan has also competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting, Highland Games and the Weight Pentathlon, an event in which he holds the American record.

Dan spends his work life blending weekly workshops and lectures with full-time writing, and is also an online religious studies instructor for Columbia College of Missouri. As a Fulbright Scholar, he toured the Middle East exploring the foundations of religious education systems. For more information visit