High-rep kettlebell snatches

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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.  

Milestones

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 

Training

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’. 

A 30 day time block scheduling challenge

Working from home has been good for my productivity. I am fitter and healthier than ever before, my work output has increased significantly, and I have been able to publish a daily blog. Work has moved on from the project-based approach used to manage to move a whole university online, and so the way I work needs to evolve too.

Removing the commute has given me an hour and a half of extra time each day, and working from home has given me more freedom around my working hours to focus on output rather than time in the office. I have used this time to train twice per day for the last year consistently; some cardio at 7 am each morning, some strength training or recovery work in the afternoon for 45 minutes to an hour between 16:00 and 18:00, and four-minute movement breaks where they fit throughout the day. The output so far has been a 1:35 half marathon, a 308w FTP on the bike, a 120kg Squat, a 100kg bench press, and a 142.5kg Deadlift, while weighing around 82kg and at 6ft tall.

I have written over 100 daily blog posts so far by finding around an hour each evening after dinner, between 19:00 and 20:00, to do some research, write, and publish it. I loosely aim to write somewhere in the region of 500 words to keep within the time and force myself to be concise. We consume so much content these days between articles on our phones, youtube videos, and reading for work, that I write about whatever I think about or consuming that day. I have found many of the posts useful for work; I have reused some of the content for work when the topic has been raised, sometimes weeks later.

My morning and evening routines outside of work are highly structured, but my working hours have to be more reactive. Universities have moved all, or most, of their teaching online, and so those of us in online learning has never been busier. This week I stopped my teams daily stand-ups. Our work is moving from project-based to a new normal, the daily meetings had become more social events than supporting productivity, so it is time to reassess how I use my working hours to have more of an impact. I want to be more deliberate with my time during work in a similar way to my strength and conditioning training and writing practice.

Time blocking

The first step of any productivity system is to spend five minutes writing a task list at the start of the day. Most people stop at this stage and then start with the first item or might prioritise the list and start with the most important. This approach presents two issues; the first is that tasks tend to expand to fill the time available, known as Parkinson’s law. The second is that we are not good at estimating the time something will take to block out space in our calendar. To solve these issues, we need to track how long tasks take consistently, and then we need to use this knowledge to block out that a suitable amount of time to complete the task efficiently.

Schedule every minute of your working day

For the next thirty days, I will follow a time blocking routine to be more deliberate in the use of my time and focus on the work that is going to impact students’ experience in the new academic year.

The practice:

  1. Write down what you want to do at the start of the day.
  2. Estimate how long each of these items will take.
  3. Schedule these blocks of time in 30-minute chunks around your existing commitments.
  4. Follow your schedule; at any point you deviate from it, update the plan for the rest of the day by moving the unfinished blocks as required.
  5. Make a note of how long each task took next to your estimate and assess why you were wrong – use this knowledge to help you schedule similar tasks in the future.

Let me know on Twitter if you want to try time blocking your workday too. A remember, the aim is to take control of your day and learn to plan your time better, not to be fixed to a schedule.

Is your health worth 1% of your day?

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Arnold Schwarzenegger ran a campaign in 2012 called ‘Come with me if you want to lift.’ The campaign aimed to get as many people as possible, spending an hour per day working on their health and fitness. When listing the rules for success in his book, Arnold wrote that taking one hour to focus on your health is just 4% of your day. Spending this time each day will compound and lead to exponential improvements in your quality of life over time. Most people cannot find an additional hour in their day straight away, so he suggests to start with just 15 minutes or 1% of your day and as you progress, the amount of time you can devote to your fitness will go up.

Whenever you hear someone you care about complain about time, ask them if a longer, better life is worth 1%.

Arnold

Percy Cerutty had a similar idea in his 1967 book Be fit or be damned. Percy lists the three most essential areas for health; Pedestrianism, a strong core, and regularly picking up heavy things. For pedestrianism (walking and running), Percy suggested running just 15 minutes per day on most days, starting with walking, then progressing to run/walks, with a long term goal of running 2 miles in this time (7:30 minute miles). He also suggested doing one longer run per week that you build up to 10 miles. For core strength, Percy suggested doing ten sit-ups as soon as you get out of bed and working towards a goal of 100 in a single set with a second set in the evening before bed. The deadlift is the king of exercises, and Percy believed that everyone should do it regularly. He wrote that you should start with half your body weight on the bar and have an eventual goal for health of lifting your bodyweight 5-10 times off the floor.  

Dead-lifting, that is, heaving heavy articles whatever their nature may be off the earth, must be considered a primary physical function of homo sapiens.

In a society where most members can afford to have all or most of the modern amenities, the barbell should be considered an integral part of healthy living.

Percy Cerutty

Commit to spending just 15 minutes per day, every day on your health.

When asked by family and friends what they should do to get fit, I usually give two suggestions;

  1. Couch to 5k
  2. Andy Bolton’s kettlebell swing ladder.

The couch to 5k programmes, such as the free one provided by the National Health Service, progressively takes someone from not running at all to running five kilometres without walking in nine weeks. The kettlebell swings ladder starts with 5 minutes of exercise and builds up to 10 minutes, giving you some time to warm up with some air squats and glute bridges. Doing the couch to 5k run/walks three days per week, the kettlebell swings on the three other days, some sit-ups each morning, and a day off should give you a good start towards health. 

For January this year, I am giving the Yoga 15 challenge a go. If you are struggling to get a Kettlebell and it is too cold for you to start running, why not join me?

Once you are in a routine, have a go at some four minute movement breaks throughout your day to get you moving and deadhang from a bar for shoulder health. If you get a kettlebell and are doing the swings, add some overhead presses too. After completing your first 5k, have a look at what is next on your distance running progression.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter if you have any questions and let me know if you are committing to 1% of your day for your health.   

New Year’s health and fitness tests and goals

No party last night means I am fresh to test myself and set some health and fitness targets for the coming year.

The 1-2-3-4 assessments

In his book ‘Can you go,’ Dan John provides a simple 1-2-3-4 assessment he uses with all his clients. As I have just finished one fitness challenge, I thought it would be the perfect time to check in with these to see how I am doing and what I need to focus on for health and longevity. The book is excellent, and the kindle version is currently £3.99 so pick up a copy to learn the details for the assessments and what to do with the results. 

Assessment 1: Stand on one foot

A simple test, stand on one foot for up to 30 seconds. Scoring above 30 seconds is the goal, holding for less than 10 seconds is a sign to visit a doctor for a check-up. 

Result: I achieved 30 seconds on both legs without issue.

Assessment 2: Measurements

Next are two simple body measurements, the first is weight, with over 300lbs being a signal to visit the doctor and dentist for a check-up. The second measurement is the ratio between height and waistline with the target being the waistline at least half the size of height, if not, then body composition is the focus until it is.

  • Measurement 1 – weight: 82.5kg (182lb)
  • Measurement 2 – height and waistline: h: 183cm, w: 91 cm

Assessment 3: Questions

Question one is related to mobility, with being able to sleep with one pillow being the target. Question two and three are to help understand the results of the other assessments.

  • Question 1 – How many pillows does it take for you to be comfortable at night?: One 
  • Question 2 – Do I eat colourful vegetables? I eat a lot of vegetables and a wide variety. I also eat a lot of everything else, particularly sugary treats which explains why I am not leaner. 
  • Question 3 – Do you exercise for a least half an hour each day? I exercise for at least 30 minutes almost every day, for the last year I have run 5-6 days per week and then done mobility and strength on top of this. I choose to have a day off each week for recovery.

Assessment 4: Four tests

The final part of the 1-2-3-4 assessment is four tests. The first is a two-minute plank, with anything less signalling a weak core. The second is based on Claudio Gil Araujo’s sitting-rising test where you attempt to go from standing to sitting on the ground to standing again with no assistance from a hand or knee. The last two are the standing long jump, and a farmers walk. The broad jump’s expected standard is to jump as long as you are tall, so 183cm in my case, but then find your sport’s standards as an additional measure. Brian Mac has published some athletics standards on his website that I will use as a guide. Dan john suggests that you should carry half bodyweight in each hand for the farmer’s walk.

  • Test 1 – Plank: 2 minutes (only just)
  • Test 2 – To the floor and back up again: One knee assisted getting back up (9 out of 10)
  • Test 3 – Standing long jump: 175cm (I think I am limited by technique more than power – I will practice and retest)
  • Test 4 – Farmers walk: 160 meters with 2x 24 kg Kettlebells.

The strength tests

Next is a check-in with Dan John’s strength standards from his book Interventions. I will not list the steps or details in this post but look at them on Dan’s Strength Standards…Sleepless in Seattle post, to learn more, purchase the Intervention book currently £4.99 on kindle. The audiobook is £3.99, and as with all his books, Dan reads it himself.

The standards:

  • Squat movement: Level 5
    • Front squat: 82.5kg (01/01/21)
    • Squat: 100kg (01/01/21) 
  • Press movement: Level 4
    • Bench press: 100kg (01/12/20)
    • One arm overhead press: 32kg Kettlebell (25/12/20)
  • Hip hinge movement Level 4
    • Deadlift: 142.5kg (13/12/20)
  • Pull movement: Level 5
    • Pullups: 13 (10/20)

Sport Specific test

I will split my year in half for endurance racing. I will use the first five months to raise my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) as high as possible in Project 4W/kg. I will use remaining seven months to get faster as a runner, with as much volume as possible to prepare for the Tromso Skyrun in early August and then targeting a fast 10k as the next step on my distance runners journey to end the year. These two goals will be the foundation for attempts at a sub 10-hour Ironman in 2022. 

Tests

  • Bike – FTP via Ramp test: 242 watts at 82.5kg (28/12/20)
  • Run – Half Marathon: 1:35:09 (20/12/20)
  • Body composition (01/01/21)
    • Weight: 82.5kg (01/01/21)
    • BMI: 24.9
    • Digital scales body fat: 17.9%

What to work on

  1. Eat much less sugar to get down to a bodyweight of 80kg or lower. My height to waist ratio from the measurements section of the 1-2-3-4 assessments is close to the recommended maximum. Making sure that it does not get larger is essential, and reducing my waistline is suggested. I train a reasonable amount, so I know this is all about diet and reducing the sugar I consume. Getting my body fat down to reduce my weight will also help with all my other fitness goals. I was down to 80kgs during my most intense training period this year, so I know it is very achievable. 
  2. Work on a stronger core by completing the Gymfit level one planking series, ten daily ab wheel rollouts, and proper bracing during all lifts. I was not committed to my ab work during my running training this year. Regular ab work is something I need to commit to if I want to be a faster runner. I barely managed to reach two minutes on the plank test I am falling far short of Jon Albon’s five-minute goal from my running this year.
  3. Practice my standing long jump a minimum of once per week until I can achieve a minimum jump of 216cm. I will be doing many power cleans, squats, and deadlifts over the next six months to help with my power on the bike. With an improvement in strength and power, weight loss, and regular practise to improve technique; I will aim to increase my standing long jump to the mark for an average athlete in the Brain Mac tables.
  4. Purchase 2x 40 kg Kettlebells and work up to a 100m farmer walk with both, a one-arm overhead press with one, and ten double-handed swings every minute for ten minutes. I was limited on the farmer’s walk test by my available weight. Two other challenges I want to achieve this year require a 40kg kettlebell and a future challenge will need two, so I will get two now rather than any other alternative for farmer’s walks. Perhaps the money I save on all that sugar will cover it?  
  5. Squat 120kg for a single, 82.5kg of fifteen reps, Front squat 100kg for a single, and complete level two of the Gymfit single leg squat progression. My strategy to achieving a four Watts per Kilogram Functional Threshold Power this year is to get strong, then powerful, then work on holding power for a longer duration. The front squat target is to bring it in line with my bench press, and the Gymfit goal is as much for the mobility progressions and knee and hip health as it is for balancing the strength of each leg.  
  6. Achieve a double bodyweight deadlift. The second half of the year will be focused on running, and so the strength focus will move from squatting to the deadlift. To make this target, I will continue to work up Andy Bolton’s ladder of heavy kettlebell swings and bring my power clean up to 100kg in line with my bench press. I will also use farmer’s walks and upper back work, such as elevated feet ring rows and weighted pullups to support this goal.
  7. Complete a Ramp test with a calculated FTP of 4 watts per kilogram. I detailed this in a recent post.
  8. Complete a 10k race with a target time of sub 40 minutes. This is the next step in my distance running progression.

Some thoughts

Eight fitness goals is a lot, and some of them are challenging but not out of reach. Some targets will support others, such as getting a strong squat and deadlift will form a solid base to be fast on the bike and run. The year is in two halves, each with their own goals. The first six months focused on the squat and bike FTP and the second half focused on a double bodyweight deadlift and a sub 40 minute 10k run. 

Am I too ambitious? If I achieve all eight targets by this time next year, I will know I did not set the bar high enough for myself. At 37, I am currently a fitter, more rounded, and smarter athlete than I have ever been, and I have used 2020 to achieve a level of strength and endurance that I am proud of. 2021 is a chance to build on this fitness and see what I can do.

Ready, set, go.

Change through challenge: the university course in running a marathon

Bobby Maximus, a strength coach and author, says it takes 130 hours to build a base level of fitness. He developed this idea through training high-performance individuals to achieve impressive feats of strength and conditioning. In his book, The Maximus body, he provides two examples of how one hundred thirty hours can be completed; through one meaningful hour per day, five days per week for six months or over twelve weeks, two hours per day Monday to Friday and one hour on Saturday. The vital part is 130 meaningful hours of training, and some attention paid to quality nutrition and recovery. Budget your time, set your schedule, and do the work. 

A college business module learning to run a marathon

Andrew Johnston, a GRIT and Business faculty member at RRCC and marathon runner, developed a similar idea but with a different target audience. Johnston created Change through Challenge, a 22 Week course for students that had never run before, with a final exam of running the Arizona Rock n Roll marathon. With a classroom session, a group run, and three individual runs per week; the training commitment probably came close to 130 hours. 

In Johnson’s introduction to business class, his students asked local business owners for their keys to success; the most frequent answer was developing character and life-skills including a passion for work, work ethic, persistence, determination, and grit. According to Angela Duckworth, who wrote the book by the same name, grit is passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals. As a keen distance runner, Johnston decided that his students’ best way to develop grit was to train for and then complete a Marathon, a challenge that, if you do not put in the necessary work and training, you are not going to finish. 

Starting a business is a big goal that often requires the creation of a detailed, written, and time-denominated business plan that breaks it down into small weekly tasks to achieve the goal… That’s identical to a marathon-training plan.

Andrew Johnston

Each of the 22 weeks has a Monday classroom seminar, a Saturday morning group trail run, and three runs per week that students do independently to achieve the weeks running goal. The Monday night seminar covers three elements; Diet, training, and the discipline of the week. The twenty-two disciplines include goal setting, the power of consistency, and dealing with setbacks. Each is then related to the students’ schoolwork, business, and life. The Premiss of the course; all the life-skills needed to succeed in education and business can be acquired and mastered through training for a marathon.

My Change through challenge module

These two examples of time-based courses have me thinking about my next challenge. Can I package a physical challenge into a module? In my work, we typically package modules into 200 hours of learning, and I like the idea of going beyond the base level that 130 hours suggests and achieving something more significant. As I will be teaching myself, it makes sense to make this a problem-based learning module where I start with an open-ended problem and work through a series of steps, with other people to solve it. As an endurance athlete, I will set myself a training target of at least 10 hours per week, giving me around 20 weeks to complete the challenge I set myself—more on this to come.

You can learn more about Change through challenge through Andrew Johnston’s Tedx talk. Let me know on Twitter if you want to start your 200-hour Change through challenge module, and we can all create a group.

How not to get fat

The great thing about physical training is that if you show up consistently and do the work, you get stronger. Today was the first test day for my deadlift in years. I was successful with my target of 142.5kgs, the total amount of weight I currently have in my gym. This is not the heaviest I have ever lifted, but probably one of the most satisfying. I am older, lighter by at least 12kgs, and running higher mileage than ever but still able to move a ‘reasonable’ amount of weight. I am stronger in the bench and pull-ups than ever before too. More importantly, my body feels good. 

At the start of the year, I set myself a challenge to take my training seriously. I do not have kids or other heavy commitments outside of work other than being a responsible adult and husband. I have taken advantage of working from home and no commute to train two times per day for much of the year, adding rest where needed. I have used this time to work on ticking off some strength standards as well as running faster. These include 100kg bench press, 13 strict pull-ups, I can perform solid reps of dips, press double 24kg kettlebells overhead for ten reps, and many others.

Despite two good training sessions per day, usually a 6+ mile run, in the morning or since the weather turned, at lunch, and a strength and mobility session in the evening, I have looked fit and healthy but not great. Part of this is my insanely sweet tooth, lack of discipline in my eating, and ready access to my kitchen at all times. Still, part of it is something most people working from home since march will be familiar with, I spend the rest of the day sitting down. About six weeks ago, I wanted to make some changes to what I do outside of this 60-90 minutes per day of exercise to try and look as good as I feel.

James A Levine defines Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) as ‘the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise.’ NEAT is your general level of activity; the walking from your car to the office, taking stairs over the lift, and walking to someone’s desk instead of sending an email. If you are a knowledge worker and have been working from home for the last nine months, your NEAT has probably taken a swan dive, and your body has suffered for it.

I have been artificially adding back into my life this general activity. I started with an idea from Percy Cerutty; set of 10 sit-ups or more when I first wake up and then 5 minutes of activity to get my heart rate up after sleep. This 5 minute has been anything from some push-ups and squats to light kettlebell work, some stretches, or my latest choice of a few upper body movements with an exercise band.

Next, I started hanging from a pull-up bar for 30 seconds three times during the day. Once these were habit, I took an idea from the Gymfit newsletter and started to add short 4-minute movement breaks between meetings or after a couple of hours of intense work. The movements might be a few stretches, some bodyweight movements like 20 press-ups, some planks, or even a little sing and dance to Hey Jude by the Beatles. GymFit suggests setting a timer every 45 minutes and adding one of these breaks, but I have started to put my meetings to 50 minutes instead of an hour and use the few minutes between to do some movement.

Tomorrow, wake up and do a set of 10 sit-ups. Repeat every day for 200 days. After the first few days add one 30-60 second plank after your shower and before you work. Commit to adding movement breaks randomly and without planning. Your body will thank you.

Let me know how it goes on Twitter