High-rep kettlebell snatches

Photo by Taco Fleur on Pexels.com

Lockdowns over the last year have made kettlebell training a central element in my daily routine. I write this on a seaside holiday in the southeast of England, to which I brought a 24kg kettlebell in the car (no joke). Working from home means I risk spending all day sitting down with little reason for any meaningful movement, so I have a couple of kettlebells in my conservatory for quick access between meetings. I know that each day, with just 10 minutes, I can get 10×10 swings with a 40kg kettlebell or if I am swamped and only have 5 minutes, I can do 10×10 single hand swings with 24kg.

I think every household should build a collection of kettlebells as a home gym or a ‘Courage corner’ as the Russian Military calls it, according to Pavel in The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. Kettlebells are cheap, will outlast you, require no additional equipment, and the techniques are easy to learn from Youtube. 

Progression on Kettlebell swings

  1. Two-handed swing
  2. One-handed swing
  3. Clean
  4. Snatch

High rep kettlebell snatches are hard; they test your mental resilience, conditioning, grip strength, and shoulder strength and mobility. High rep kettlebell snatches will highlight and fix problems and asymmetries in your swing technique. As a ballistic movement, it is a great way to build a powerful hip snap that will carry over into other activities like running, and it will burn fat at the same time.

Before trying high rep or heavy kettlebell snatches, it is good to build solid technique on the push press and the more accessible swings. Once you start to train the snatch, think of it as a one-handed swing that goes all the way up and swing from the top – pauses with the kettlebell overhead and let your bell drop into the swing movement. 

Start with a 16kg Kettlebell (if you have one) and spend time learning the groove of the movement before you move to a 24kg kettlebell. Until you have mastered the movement, treat it as a practice rather than a workout, take your time building up the reps and weight. Use heavy swings, cleans, and presses for your strength and conditioning work until you feel confident with the snatch.  


The first big test is the StrongFirst snatch test that forms part of the entry-level certification. Dan Johns rep recommendations of 20/15/10/5 (per hand) starting with your weaker hand is a great way to approach the test. As Dan points out, by the end of the first set of 20, you can smile as you have completed the most challenging part.

  1. StrongFirst Certification Snatch Test: 100 snatches in 5 minutes with a 24kg kettlebell
  2. The US Secret Service 10-minute snatch test: 200 snatches in 10 minutes with a 24kg
  3. Tactical strength challenge: max snatches in 5 minutes with a 32kg kettlebell
  4. Girevoy national ranking: Snatch a 32Kg kettlebell 40 times with one arm, then 40 times with the other back to back 


High rep snatching with a kettlebell can be tough on your hands, and once the skin on your palms rips, it will take time without training to heal. Only snatch 2-3 times per week to avoid over breaking the skin and supplement with other types of swing and presses that are easier on the grip.

I like to use a combination of Pavel’s rite of passage method, including the clean and presses from Enter the Kettlebell and the progression ladder from Jason Marchall’s TSC prep plan.

Monday: 5-10 snatches per side on the minute every minute for 7 minutes with competition weight based on the milestone you are working towards.

Wednesday & Thursday: 3 sets of 1-10 snatches with the weight above your Monday workout weight followed by 3 sets of 5-10 heavy swings with 3 minutes rest between each set. 

Start with five snatches on each arm, and each week add a snatch on each arm until you get to 10 reps on each side, then start the ladder again but with a heavier kettlebell or add a minute (e.g. 5/5 for 8 minutes with 28kg). For the snatches on the mid-week workouts, start with three sets of one rep on each side and add a rep per side for each subsequent workout. Progress to a heavier kettlebell once you reach 10 per side for three sets.

So, if you haven’t already, buy at least a decent 24kg kettlebell (cheaper bells can have uneven and rough handles) and work through the progression of the swings, training most days based on feel. From there, get a 32kg and then a 40kg kettlebell and build your ‘Courage corner’. 

Running to Explore

Photo by Ben Mack on Pexels.com

For many of us, running is the best way to explore a new location. We take running shoes with us on holidays and business trips and make sure we pop out on our first day to navigate the local area. But how many people truly explore the roads and trails where they live?

In 2020 I set myself an ambitious annual mileage goal that significantly increased the frequency and distance I ran each week. When the first UK lockdown came in March 2020, we were stuck inside with only a single outside exercise session per day for liberation. Conveniently lockdown coincided with the release of the Routes function on Strava.

For Strava Premium members, the Routes function allows you to enter the distance you want to run, whether you want a flat or hilly route, and choose between a trail or road surface. An algorithm then calculates three routes from your starting point based on the most run paths by local runners. You can choose one of the routes or rerun the algorithm to get additional options. 

Once you have selected a route, save and star it to upload it to your Garmin GPS watch, and it will appear the next time you sync. You can load the course on your device and follow the audio instructions and map prompts for your run.

I used the Routes function for my runs each morning and discovered all the hidden trails in and around my local town. As the year went on and my routes got longer and longer, including a few 25-mile off-road test events, I began to rely on the Explore function to provide new exciting trails. During the summer, I got away for a break to the English south coast and another to Burgen, Norway and discovered some fantastic trails with the added benefit of not needing to carry a map. 

I use the Fenix 6X Pro Solar, and Strava Premium is around £70 per year, so it is not a cheap solution, but I bought the watch before the tool existed and signed up to Strava for other features, so it works for me. I have been told that Garmin has a similar function built into Garmin Connect, and there are much cheaper watches on the market if you need a more affordable option. 

Exploring the trails around my local area and running a different route most days allowed me to keep excited about running during the lockdowns and cancelled races. I guess a better option would be to join a club and learn the local trails and roads from other runnings in your area, but if you travel a lot and run at strange times (Strava had my average time at 7 am), this might be the perfect option.

Frequency training for running

I am a fan of frequency training; my body seems to respond to it. The best gains I have main in strength have been when I lift heavy often and playing with the volume to make sure I am recovered enough for the next day. The best example of frequency training is squatting every day, working up to a heavy single each day but never pushing it too hard. 

Frequency is how often you train, for example, three times a week. Frequency is increased by training a greater number of times each week. Intensity is how hard you train, for example faster, heavier, less recovery.


Frequency training is challenging, and your legs are heavy every day. Often, you don’t know how you will feel until you warm up when your body just responds. The key to this high-intensity weight training is never to go too hard, never having to get excited to lift and stressing the nervous system too much. You just get in, warm-up, work up to a heavy single and then get out. It works with strength training, but does it work for running?

Middle distance runners such as milers in the preparation and races stages of the season seem to run hard every day. This is particularly true for intermediate runners at the high school and college level, where they run on the track most days of the week, making sure that they never push so hard that they can’t complete training the next day. Greats like Herb Elliot and Emil Zatopek ran hard each day and built world record pace. Emil Zatopek training famously focused around 200, and 400-meter repeats up to 40 times each but paced off feel and never all out.   

Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast.

Emil Zatopek

I am going to do a block of running frequency training to get faster. I am taking the rough layout from an old Frank Horwill article of training for the mile.

The weekly layout will look like this:

  • Monday: 3k pace, 2 x (1 x 400m + 1 x 800m + 1 x 300m)
  • Tuesday: Tempo, half-marathon pace
  • Wednesday: 4x 400m at mile pace
  • Thursday: Intervals, 5k pace
  • Friday: Recovery
  • Saturday: maximal sprints, 1 x 350m, 1 x 300m, 1 x 250m, 1 x 200m, 1 x 150m, w/ 400m walking rests
  • Sunday: Tempo, marathon pace

The volume and intensity for each workout will be adjusted by feel using the weekly layout as a guide. If I am not doing so well, the training will be replaced by a 35-minute recovery jog or, if really bad, some light 200 and 400m strides to just get the legs moving.

I will let you know how it goes. 

Marathon Pace

When people talk about a steady run, I think about marathon pace. Marathon pace is aerobic, so you should be able to do your whole weekly long run at this speed. It is also faster than your easy pace and so more interesting for those of us who are not running swift times. 

Marathon pace

Variety: Steady run or long repeats (e.g. 2 x 4 miles at marathon pace)

Intensity: Generally in the range 75-84% of VO2max or 80-90% of your HRmax.

Purpose: Used to experience race pace conditions for those training for a marathon or simply as an alternative to Easy pace running for beginners on long run days.

The RUN SMART project

I have been reading the Frank Howitt archive on the Serpentine running club’s website; most of the pro-level training plans he suggests, from the mile to 10k, involve running 13 miles at a pace similar to an athletes marathon speed. Jack Daniel’s advises beginner runners could use this pace as an alternative on easy runs.

Pete Magill in ‘Fast 5K‘ says that the comfortably hard marathon pace is the slowest speed for a tempo run and recommends runners targetting the 5K build up to workouts of 25 to 30 continuous minutes. Pete advises initially breaking tempo runs into 5-10 minute blocks with 2-3 minute jogs as recovery to reduce the resulting fatigue and help you to auto-regulate the pace.

Fast 5K Marathon pace progression:

  • Beginner: 10min
  • Intermediate: 2 x 10 min w/ 3 min recovery jog
  • Advanced #1: 2 x 10 min + 5 min w/ 2 min recovery jog
  • Advanced #2: 3 x 10 min w/ 3 min recovery
  • Elite: 30min

Once comfortable performing 30 minutes of continuous marathon pace as part of your weekly 13-mile long run, you could pick up a marathon training plan for progression ideas. In Daniels’ running formula, Jack Daniels recommends 40-110 minutes and under 18 miles marathon pace per workout and between 15-20% of weekly mileage. Daniel’s says to use marathon pace when training for a marathon or building confidence in sustaining longer efforts.

Daniel’s running formula marathon pace workouts:

  1. 60 min E, 30 min M, 10 min E
  2. 60 min E, 40 min M, 10 min E
  3. 60 min E, 60 min M, 10 min E
  4. 30-40 min E, 80 min M, 10 min E
  5. 40-60 min E, 70 min M, 10 min E

Marathon pace is a fun, comfortably hard pace for steady runs to build stamina and confidence. The pace provides more muscle activation and physiological benefits than the traditional long-run easy pace but can be tougher on your body. Build up slowly to including more of the long run mileage at this speed until you can perform 13 miles at the pace. This approach will introduce enjoyment to the long miles, building a solid engine and strong legs to tackle any distance you choose to race. 


The following is taken from the author’s foreword of Middle Distance Running by Percy Cerutty published in 1964.

I teach:
It is not important that we merely compete: that it is important that we endeavour to excel. That means, we do with all our ‘heart and soul’ that which we find at hand to do.
That we leave ‘no stone unturn’d’: no page unread: nothing frustrates us – since with the difficulty is the means of overcoming – and this once we have resolved upon a course of action.
There are much more priceless things than winning especially, if the victories be ‘unearned’ or ‘cheap’.
It is the ‘training’: the ‘way’, that is valuable. That winning is only evidence of something and may be valuable, or not.
That ‘value’ is only ‘earned’ when there has been self-discipline: exhaustive effort and the development of intelligence through experience and thought.
That without these factors preceding ‘winning’ – winning itself, rather than be an advantageous experience, can stultify the personality – not add to it.

I hold:
That suffering and dedication is the only way to understanding, compassion and courage.
That these three add up to a lovable personality, true withal, and the most priceless of all – character.

Percy Cerutty

Have a plan to get lean, to get fast

Getting to a healthy race weight is a crucial part of performing well in endurance events. You need to have a target weight, a plan to get there, and then weigh yourself each day, adjusting the programme when required based on your weekly average weight. A simple strategy is to eat better and move more, but what if you need more guidance?

Researchers at the University of Oxford have created a list of 53 weight loss actions as part of their PREVAIL programme to help people make daily action plans. The weight loss actions are divided into seven categories:

  1. Eat in a structured way
  2. Avoiding or swapping specific foods
  3. Changing what you drink
  4. Creating a healthier diet
  5. Meal-time tactics
  6. Burn more calories
  7. Be more active as part of your daily life

The Oxford researchers carried out a study measuring the effectiveness of self-regulation on weight loss, allow individuals to weigh themselves daily in the morning and then create an action plan from the list for the day based on the result. At the end of the week, they evaluated the effectiveness of the actions chosen and their effect on weight change. Over an eight week study, participants, all starting with a BMI of over 30, lost an average of 4.18kg, 3.2kg less than the control group.

How to create a self-regulation intervention plan for weight loss

  1. Find your A: Weight yourself first thing in the morning
  2. Find your B: Set a target weight
  3. Weigh yourself first thing each morning
  4. Choose one or more actions from the list for the day
  5. Perform the planned action(s)
  6. Reflect on the effectiveness of the actions weekly
  7. Repeat until you reach your target weight

Aim for no more than 0.5kg per week, increase your protein intake, and do regular resistance training to avoid muscle loss. If you are continuing to train hard while losing weight, make sure you have a clear plan for fueling pre, during, and post workouts to ensure you have the energy to perform the planned activity and feed your body with what it needs to recover. This fueling plan should be differentiated for the various intensities and durations of your workout; fuel long and intense workouts but perhaps do some of the shorter, less intense workouts fasted.     

My plan

My current average weekly weight 83.7kg, according to my Withings Body+ scale weekly email. I have a target race weight this season of 78kg based on the Stillman height/weight ratio table and my current body fat percentage. I have signed up for the Maderia Skyrun, so I aim to hit my race weight for the 8th of October. This goal gives me just under 24 weeks to lose 5.7kg or 0.24kg per week. 

Each day this week, I will weigh myself immediately after waking up and pick at least one action from the PREVAIL study to focus on that day. My Witherings email summarising my weekly weight is sent on Mondays, so I will use that day to evaluate my progress. I prefer the positive actions where you add things rather than remove them. I will focus on these actions first, including burning more calories, drinking at least a litre of water a day or a pint of water before each meal, and using fruit and veg or a protein shake as snacks.

Leaner is faster

Men require around 6% body fat for a healthy functioning body; anything more will slow you down in endurance racing. The top endurance athletes in the world can get close to this number for a short period around key races in the year, but 10% is a more realistic target for the weeks around goal race for the most dedicated top-level amateur athletes. Reaching minimal body fat percentages requires extreme discipline but reaching it while maintaining muscle mass is where the performance gains are realised.

The simplest way to ensure a faster 5k is to run light. Weight loss of even five pounds can improve your 5k time by anywhere from 5 seconds to a minute.

Pete Magill

Healthy weight loss will increase your V02 max, reduce the impact on your muscles and joints, and improve your running economy. Combining these three improvements will make you faster, less prone to injury, and able to maintain high intensities for longer. 

The process of losing weight, particularly if you lose it too quickly, will have a temporary negative effect on performance as you have lower muscle glycogen stores to fuel exercise. If you do not eat enough protein while cutting back on food, you might be losing muscles and fat, making you slower. Many people struggle to lose weight initially, even when they reduce their calories and increase exercise. It takes time for the body and specifically the metabolism to adjust.

To minimise the risk of the adverse effects:

  1. always eat some carbs within 30 minutes of a workout to restock glycogen
  2. target a maximum of 0.5kg weight loss per week
  3. perform strength training workouts two to three times per week
  4. use high-intensity interval training to increase your metabolism
  5. train daily to keep your metabolism going 

If you are at the beginning of your endurance journey, then incrementally eating a healthier diet and gradually increasing your training volume is all you need to think about to move towards an optimum race weight. As your body adapts to regular training, becoming more efficient, and having your eating in a good place, you will have to become more thoughtful about reducing your excess fat.

Researchers at Oxford University suggest weighing yourself daily as feedback towards reducing body weight. The daily marker helps you self-regulate, letting you know if you are moving towards your goal weight or further away from it. With this information, you can constantly adjust your eating and training habits accordingly and then measure the effects of these changes, learning how your body reacts to different behaviours over time.

The effectiveness of self-monitoring is hypothesised to be based on a self-regulation process, whereby monitoring oneself allows for (1) the comparison of the current status to a previously set goal, thus providing (2) the opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of previous behaviour, and enabling (3) the formulation of an action plan to reach the goal, which is followed by (4) the performance of the planned action (Boutelle, 2006; Kanfer & Karoly, 1972; LaRose et al., 2009)

Kerstin Frie et al.

For most amateur runners, losing some body fat will make you run faster. Healthy weight loss for those without a medical condition is simple, eat better and move more. Try to keep weight loss to a maximum of half a kg per week. Keep your protein intake high and strength train to maintain muscle mass. To help you learn how your body responds to changes in your habits, weigh your self at the same time each day and reflect on how your behaviours affect your weight over time, then adjust these behaviours based on where you want your weight to be. 

The longer the distance you race, the more critical being lean becomes. Focus on shorter races at first and let yourself get leaner over time as you increase your training volume and experience. 

Mental toughness and sports psychology

Dr Graham Jones studies elite performance in both high archives in both sports and business. Jones’s work as a sports psychologist to British Olympic champions and later a business-performance consultant believes that there are significant parallels between achievement in both areas. Those that reach the top are made, not born. He believes that the main obstacle to success is a ‘self-limiting mindset’. Jones states in his 2008 Harvard Business Review article that the one defining trait both sets of performers share is mental toughness; they manage pressure, are goal-oriented, and self-driven. 

Elite performers in both arenas thrive on pressure; they excel when the heat is turned up. Their rise to the top is the result of very careful planning—of setting and hitting hundreds of small goals. Elite performers use competition to hone their skills, and they reinvent themselves continually to stay ahead of the pack. Finally, whenever they score big wins, top performers take time to celebrate their victories.

Dr Graham Jones

Behaviours of elite performers

  1. Love the pressure
  2. Fixate on the long term
  3. Use the competition
  4. Reinvent themselves
  5. Celebrate the Victories
  6. Will to win

High performers are comfortable with high-pressure situations as they are focused on their excellence and what they can control while compartmentalizing everything else; they can also switch off by having other focuses in their life. Meticulous short term planning is used to achieve long term goals in small steps, mapping out exactly what is needed in each area that affects performance and reach the ultimate goal. 

Elite performers seek out and train with others that push themselves and challenge others to new levels of effort and output. They require constant constructive feedback to assess where they are and where they need to improve their performance. 

High achieving individuals recognize the importance of celebrating their wins and spend significant time analyzing the positive and negative elements of their performance to build confidence and expertise, repeating what worked and adapting what did not. They have cultivated a deep desire to compete and win that drives them to pick themselves up after things don’t go to plan and get back to training.

How to develop mental toughness

  1. Set a big long-term goal, create an outline of how you will get there, and then meticulously plan the next steps.
  2. Have a firm answer as to what this goal is essential to you, and use this to develop a deep will to do what is needed to achieve it.
  3. Focus on self-improvement in the areas that will help you achieve the goal and keep your mental energy in these areas.
  4. Find ways of receiving constant feedback on your performance in the areas you identified as critical, spend extra effort on where you are falling short, and recognize and repeat what is working.
  5. Have a reward in mind for achieving the long-term goal as a symbol of the work and commitment put in to achieve it.

Peter Coe’s Diagnostic Tests

Peter Coe was the father of Seb Coe, and an engineer turned middle distance coach. He approached his son’s training scientifically and helped Seb achieve 13 World Records and countless trophies and medals. Coe wrote a book detailing his training methods, strength and conditioning approach, and running workouts to help other middle-distance runners win.  

There are runners who seem to be performing quite well but are often, quite unknown to themselves, not reaching their full potential because of a lack of specific or all-round strength.

Peter Coe

In his book, Winning Running; Successful 800m & 1500m Racing and Training, Coe lists a set of tests and standards to help runners identify gaps in their overall conditioning. Once the gaps are identified, the runner can create a programme to address them.

Balke TestRun as far as possible in 15 minutes. Divide the distance in meters by 15 to give the speed in meters per minute. Subtract 133 from this number, then multiply by 0.172, then add 34.4 to get oxygen intake in ml/kg/min.
Standard Broad JumpAthletes height plus 25%A standing long jump
Hopping Test10 hopsMark out a 25m track, one-legged hop the distance. Repeat on the other leg to identify imbalances 
50m Dash6.5 secondsAs the name suggests
Free Weights
– Curl50% body weight
– Press70% body weight
– Squat100% body weight
Sarjent Jump65 cmMeasure the maximum verticle jump
Harvard Step TestScore of 180Using a 20 inch (50cm) step and a metronome set to 120 bpm and perform 30 steps per minute (4 beats per step) for 5 minutes. Rest for 1 minute and count the beats for the next 30 seconds. Multiply the time in seconds by 100, divide it by the 30 second pulse count, and then multiply it by 5.5 to get your score. 
Height-weight Ratio10% less that the Dr Stillman formula result for your heightUsing Dr. Stillman’s formular  – give 50kg for the first 1.5 meters of height then add 2.5kg for each additional 2.5cm 
Percentage Body Fat8%
Muscular Endurance TestThe maximum number in a minute
– Press-ups50
– Squat thrusts50
– Sit-ups60
– Pull-ups20
Diagnostic tests for middle distance runners

Train all your running muscles

Running is a full-body activity, and the faster you run, the more of your body you use. There are close to 700 muscles in the human body, and you use most of them when running fast. If you do all of your training at a slow pace as many long-distance runners do, you do not train the majority of your muscles, and you miss the opportunity to get faster.

There are three types of muscle fibers; slow-twitch, Intermediate fast-twitch, and fast-twitch. At low intensities, you only use your slow-twitch, and as the workout gets more intense, you start to include your intermediate and then fast-twitch fibers. Pete Magill in Fast 5K suggests that you need to vary your runnings paces to train each type of muscle fibre and reach your maximum running potential. 

Jack Daniels suggests that you need to train using five specific paces relative to your V02Max. Daniels provides an online running calculator to work out these paces based on your most recent race performance.

Training intensitypercentage of V02MaxPace based on 1:35 1/2 marathon
Easy59-75%5:18-5:50 min/km
Marathon75-84%4:41 min/km
Threshold83-88%4:24 min/km
Interval95-100%4:03 min/km
Repetition100%+3:48 min/km
Running training paces

If you miss any of these five paces from running training, you leave gains in speed on the table. Start to build in all five paces into your running to get faster and wait till eight weeks before any race to start introducing specific workouts targeted at that event.