Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Learn, Practice, Train and Test...the differences

One question I'm often asked is how many swings should I do?  How many swings one should do depends on where you are in your phase of learning, practicing, and training.....and here I've added "testing" because if you have read or tried some of my advanced workouts before your skill and practice is ready to, then this post will explain when it is appropriate for you to incorporate some more advanced training.

Learn.  Obviously learning the skill of the swing can start before you put your hands on a bell!  Going through the correct positioning, feeling the motion and movement by putting your body in positions similar to the actual swing by using what we in the RKC call "drills".  Mark was teaching at a Cert one year and he asked me what I thought was the most important part to emphasize to candidates that would help them get the most out of the weekend and, of course, pass the Certification.  My answer was to "focus on the drills that teach the skills".  This happened to rhyme also, lol, and it has stuck as part of the way I teach, and a phrase I use often.

Besides the benefit of learning the swing, the drills in themselves can be a workout too!  Getting in and out of the correct position will work up quite a sweat, and these motions are what inspired me to design the first workout in our DVD, "Mastering the Hardstyle Kettlebell Swing"....which brings us to the next phase.

Practice. Practice focuses on technique and the parts of the movement without regard to intensity or load. Things like the weight or size of the bell, rep count, interval times are less important.  Although in some cases you may need to go heavier to get correct feedback from the kettlebell.  For instance, if you use a weight you can "lift" with your arms you will not learn to use your hips, and by practicing with a weight you know you cannot "front raise" can help this.

This is the reason why Pavel recommends making large jumps in weight, passing on intermediate increases.  When you make a large jump you must do it using proper technique, otherwise you will not be successful in moving the weight properly, if at all.  Intermediate weights may let you "cheat" some movements by allowing other smaller muscles or muscle groups to compensate.  He often uses the example of being able to do a movement properly with a ridiculously light weight!  When you have become advanced at the skill of the swing movement, your heaviest training bell should look no different from the lightest bell.

Training.  Once you have mastered the techniques it is at this time the loads, volume, and intensity become the focus.  Training is all about progressions.  You don't pass the first two phases before you get to this one.  Training respects the cyclic nature of progressions, it's not a straight line.  You don't continue to go heavier and heavier, longer and longer, faster and faster, etc....if you could them we would all be lifting thousands of pounds and running marathons in a matter of minutes!  When you train a skill, or a sport, you go up, you come down, you go up, you come down.  You play with loads, which are volume, weight, and intensity.  You plan how much work you do in a certain amount of time using progression to meet certain goals.

Different effects are created by using different loading.  Training one effect, whether it's strength, speed, distance, etc is not better or worse, just different.  Unless you are training for a specific sport (obviously) all of these effects benefit our physical conditioning.  This is why I consider myself a kettlebell athlete.  I'm not committed to only absolute strength, I can also play with cardio strength and endurance, both of which makes me stronger overall.

Testing.  What is your best?  What is your maximum weight, distance, effort?  I love it when Mark described that one cannot perform a "max" effort in every workout explaining that that alone proves it is not a "max" effort!  A true "max" effort is one that you can only test a few times a year. If you design and plan a sound training program you actually can't make progress more than every 12 weeks.  And in fact, the best athletes only test a couple of times a year because the more experienced you are the longer time you need to make progress.  People like me (and you) get to test our limits more often because we have so much progress yet to achieve!

This last phase was really the motivation for writing this blog post.

I've been training kettlebells, specifically the ballistics for over 6 years now, it's no wonder I can train thousands of swing and snatch repetitions a week!  That doesn't mean you can or should.  I'm an Instructor and this is what I do.  I try and post routines and workouts that can be scaled for a less experienced KB athlete, but I didn't start my blog as a "teaching" blog, it's original intention was to share what my own training was about.

But here I find myself, and happily, if I must say so, in a position to teach, train, and demonstrate to a larger and wider audience!  As often as I try and remind those of you reading and watching that training kettlebells is the best way customize your own personal workouts, I know some of you may try and "test" too much.  My training is hard work! Hard work that I've earned through years of practicing and purposely design in a progressive way to arrive at these workloads.  I'm not trying to discourage you from trying more advanced workouts, I'm simply reminding you that there is no hurry, there is no finish line.

How many swings do you have to do?  It depends.  What is the effect you want?  If the effect is to improve your strength, level of fitness, muscle tone and strength in you physical appearance on a small level then a small amount of training is necessary, and it is my opinion and belief, based on my experience, and the experience teaching and training others, that the KB swing will get you there faster and safer than any other type of "exercise".  If you want to make bigger and larger improvements then more or different may be necessary.  But do not pass "GO" until you "learn, practice, train"....and then test!

I'm lucky to have a Master Instructor and former competitive athlete at my disposal, and I'm even luckier to have lived with him for the past 25 years watching, hearing, and picking up training information, philosophies and strategies without really knowing it.  You may be lucky and find it easy to design your own progressive training.  But never be afraid or intimidated to ask questions from people that you know have answers, or remember that there are plenty of professionals whose job it is to help you...hire one!  (There are a number of new RKC's from this past weekends St Paul Cert waiting to be called to duty!)

At the end of the day show up and do the work and you body will follow.  But be smart and keep the motivation strong by training for success, your own success, not comparing it to any one else's training or ability.  Changing your physical body, whether it's for performance or just plain 'ole you want to look good naked (or at least feel good naked!) takes consistent commitment to change and change will happen quickly with consistency.  Don't give up, you can do it!


Casey said...

I love "show up and do the work and your body will follow."

spuetz3 said...

just the inspiration I needed for today!

Concetta said...

Question from "The Swing". OTM #4-start with 12, add 2 for 9 sets, end up with 29 swings? Then 10-15 sets @20? Have I got that right? Wonderful book, helped so much with my breathing. Thanks so much.

Tracy Reifkind said...


Sorry I haven't had a chance to get back to all the comments yet...I promise to get to yours 1st thing when I get home this afternoon....

Anonymous said...

Its funny that you wrote this. I just have made the commitment to get back into the game, after a year off rehabing my severe broken wrist and joint. (I have been a silent reader for quite some time.) I just got your book as I am going to focus on the movements and muscle awareness. I realized that I am in no big hurry to advance to do double snatches, yet :), just to get the 70lbs off. I will reach my fitness goals, 1 of them being to complete Geoff's Kettlebell Muscle with 2 12kg's. It is my turn now, I almost can't believe it is possible. Funny, I too was 245lb and I am approaching 41. Thanks so very very much for leaving your other blog up, it has been valuble to me as I design my own workouts as well as keeping me motivated throughout this pass year of not training.

Tracy Reifkind said...


It has to!

Tracy Reifkind said...


nice! I'm glad I got it out! I'm trying not to be such a long "storyteller" but I have so much to say and write about!

Tracy Reifkind said...


Ah, I see the confusion. The idea is to increase 1 and 2 reps at your own level but never going past 20 reps. Some sets will stay the same rep count, as the idea is to incrementally make bigger jumps but you may hold your increases for more than 1 set. Sorry for any confusion.


12, 13, 14, 14, 16, 16, 18, 19, 20, etc. OR 12, 13, 15, 17, 15, 17, 15, 16, 17, 19, etc.

BUT as I write in this blog post, if you want to take your rep count past 20 reps and then back down, it's your workout, test it! At some point you can try it and see where your new level will take you!

Tracy Reifkind said...

Watkins wife,

well thank you for commenting! If it makes any difference I rarely double snatch and even more rare dbl sn the 12's.

You are wanting to lose 70lbs, but are also wanting to train a muscle building program? Did you miss the part where Geoff says to eat, eat and eat more?

Thank you for appreciating my former blog posts as I also think there is great value in may of the subjects I wrote about.

all the best and keep commenting!

Pat Carroll said...

Great post, Tracy ... we've settled in at 500 swings or so, moving up and down with 12, 16 and 20kg. Hard workouts but not killer, thanks to you.

Tracy Reifkind said...


I love 500! It's a theme I started a few months ago and I'll be going back to it as I've written numerous swing routines that add up to exactly, you guessed it, 500!

Concetta said...

Tracy-Thank you for the explanation. I read very literally and added two swings till I got to 29. Not much rest. I see your method now. I did OTM #4 with a 20kg, next is 24kg. Don't have a heavier KB at the gym. On to OTM #5 if I can swing the 24kg. Thanks again for a great book.