Swings & Conditioning

5 Tips for a Conditioning/Swing PR

Kettlebell Double Swing

Kettlebell Double Swing

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or have never read this site nor all the sites dedicated to lifting the kettlebell, you’ve probably heard that the kettlebell kicks butt. Many people in the hardcore strength world like to slam it and say, “oh it’s just for lightweights,” or whatever idiotic criticism they can come up with.

But I’m here to tell you as someone who has lived and played in almost all the heavy strength worlds and regularly lifts insanely heavy stuff – the kettlebell is for real.

The base kettlebell exercises and in my opinion one of the best base exercises anywhere in the world for strength and athletics is the swing. Master the swing and you’ve mastered the base for almost all the kettlebell movements. It is a whole body conditioning exercise that thoroughly spreads the stress through out the whole body driving cardio response sky high. It uniquely focuses on the posterior chain allowing you to use a relatively light weight yet still get strength PR’s.

On of the few instances that I believe this actually happens. Most of the time in strength training what you get is a straight forward pay off. If you train strength your strength gets better, in you train endurance your endurance gets better. Yet this particular movement and tool will often allow you to get better at strength even while training high rep conditioning. All that’s nice, but I probably don’t need to convince you of anything else. If you actually need more convincing then get out there and actually try it.

Another thing that excites me about the kettlebell is that it fits in with my philosophy on empirical performance. Measurable progress. Even with the high rep conditioning in my opinion this is the key. So in my own training I’ve begun to dedicate serious time to training the swing. I’ve recently hit some pretty good PR’s and here are some thoughts on how to better your performance.

Number 1 – Build a Base. You’ve got to get comfortable with the movement and dial in the form if you’re really going to get good at it. Spend some time experimenting with how you wan to work the sets with the major emphasis on the swing.

Number 2 – Once you’re comfortable with the movement itself and have a selective target of repetitions in a selective time period with a particular weight and have consistently worked with that so you know where you are in achieving that goal, do some of your workouts with heavier bells. Let me give you an example here:

One of my immediate goals with the kettlebell swing was to do 400 reps in 10 minutes with a 24 kg or 53lb bell. After training with this for a while and making several progressions toward that goal, I then took a couple sessions with the 32kg kettlebell. Same exercise just not as many reps in the specified time. But by doing that my overall effect was a lighter feeling to the 24kg bell and a faster pace per minute when I re-tested.

Number 3 – Warm up with a heavy bell. Now because this is a light conditioning workout, let me rephrase that – the weight itself is not heavy, but the conditioning is very intense. It doesn’t really require a warm up. In fact I often use 50 or so reps of this particular movement with the particular weight as a warm up for heavier things. However this is a nice trick to fool your body into a higher level of performance.

To warm up for this particular session I used a 140lb T-handle kettlebell. (Well – at least that’s what it is mimicking for lack of a better way to describe this actual implement). It’s actually just a t-handle piece of pipe that you can load weights on for heavy two-handed swings. Simple to make – costs about $6 and fits me better to do heavy swings with than using a pair of kettlebells. My legs are too big to swing a pair of kettlebells between.

So as a warm up I grab this bell and do 5 reps of two handed swings. Then two reps each arm of one handed swings. What’s the point here? This is exactly the same biological principle as doing a heavy partial or heavy support lift for a full range max. It’s just applied in an endurance situation. You prime your body and nerves for a heavier effort with a heavy warm up when you go to the actual even the kettlebell feels like a feather.

Number 4 – Over prep your conditioning. Now I’m not advocating an insane amount of conditioning for its own sake without a specific point to it on a regular basis. Here’s what I’m saying. If you’re PR test is supposed to be 10 minutes long you should pretty regularly be doing conditioning workouts of some sort for at least 15 minutes and sometimes a bit more. If you’re taking a 10 minute long test, but have built the physical ability and confidence to go for longer than your normal specified time you’re much more likely to perform well in that 10 minute time period.

Number 5 – Be well recovered. Now I don’t mean that in the sense of bodybuilder’s or power lifter’s idea of recovery. I.e. “No I can’t walk to the mailbox today I have to squat later.” What I’m saying is that as is convenient when you pay attention to how your body is recovered when you’re about to test yourself. There is also something to be said for testing yourself under absolutely adverse conditions – something I also believe in but that’s for another time.

Just be smart. If you’ve done swings every day for a month you might take a day or two off of the exercise before re-testing it. One of the most incredible things that I think about the swing is that for the most part spreads the stress out very evenly. But everybody may have a particular body part that seems to catch more than its fair share. For instance for me when I began doing these swings for this particular goal my grip would stop before my cardio or my posterior chain gave out.

The more I have done this, the more these things have equalized, but it still is smart to let your hands rest the day before testing this.

Remember that all these tips can apply to other forms of conditioning as well. Even though this particular slant is on using them for a PR performance in the swing you can simply adapt them to whatever conditioning workout you want. However I do suggest you put some serious work in with the swing and see if you can beat my PR. This is an excellent way to build a solid conditioning base to move up on and has paid big dividends for me both in strength and cardiovascular even though I was already in great shape.

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