Welcome back! Hopefully you have been making improvements with your SLDL’s, Pull-Ups, Presses, and Overhead Carries. Now it’s time to look into some ballistics.
The Snatches, KB Complexes (and Cleans too) can be improved with two different drills. Variations of heavy swings and the Snatch :15/:15 VO2 Max pattern. They are ridiculously simple in their designs, the only hard part is following the programs all the way to completion.
When training KB ballistic movements, there are three variables: Weight, rep density, and time density. Rep density has two variables of its own, as you can either increase the reps per set or you can increase the total number of sets. Time also has its own variables, as you can increase total workout time, or reduce rest intervals between work sets. So, technically there are 5 variables to KB ballistics, within 3 categories.
There are also three main challenges to training KB ballistics: Grip, Power, and Oxygen. Maintaining a strong grip throughout a set can make or break a workout, because a breakdown in grip causes a breakdown in form as the body starts to compensate. A struggling grip also results in blisters and tears of the skin as the KB handle now starts to pull on the hands differently than normal. Similar to grip is power. Sustaining a powerful hip snap throughout the entire work set is key to prevent compensatory muscles from becoming primary movers when the primary movers become fatigued. Lastly but most importantly is oxygen. Air is the fuel which allows us to stay fresh and keep our heart rate under control.
Heavy swings will improve your grip and power, and are best manipulated via weight and rep density. Two hand swings keep the hips and legs working together, simultaneously and equally firing. The focus can be on exploding the power through the hips, without worrying too much about trunk rotation or grip. Single arm swings challenge the grip and trunk rotation, but you need to be able to trust that your primary extensors are doing their job correctly.
When training heavy swings, the rest to work ratio should be equal to or greater than the time spent performing the movement. Meaning, you should rest longer than it takes to perform the reps. The focus here is on strength, not conditioning. Sets and reps should be planned as they would be during a traditional weightlifting session, i.e. on the lower end of the spectrum for kettlebell work.
Here is one of my favorites, each set performed every :30:
- Heavy Swing x 5 reps
- Heavy Single Arm Swing Right x 5 reps
- Heavy Single Arm Swing Left x 5 reps
- Repeat x 5 rounds (7:30 total time)
Use two different size KB’s. The two hand Swing KB should be approximately 30% larger than the single arm KB. Each week, increase the rep count by 1, until 10 reps are being completed every set. At this point, increase the weight of each KB, and start the reps over again at 5.
The Snatch :15/:15 VO2 Max protocol, originally designed by Kenneth Jay in his book “Viking Warrior Conditioning,” is an extremely simple yet brutal workout. But once mastered, it leaves the user in superb physical conditioning. It focuses on rep density and time density, improving the speed of your power and the efficiency of your use of Oxygen. (hence the VO2 Max in the title)
It’s design is simple: every :15 seconds a set of snatches is completed, followed by :15 rest. Alternate hands each set, so that each hand works once each minute. Reps are performed for the full :15, and 7-8 reps are the goal. If more reps can be completed then the weight is too light, if fewer are completed then the weight is too heavy.
The very first time someone attempts this workout, only 5:00, or ten total sets, is needed. Each week, or every other week, add a minute or two (two to four sets), until eventually 20:00 (40 sets) are completed. Throughout this entire process, the same size KB is used. Once 20:00 is achieved, two choices are possible: first, one can continue adding time until 40:00 (80 sets) is achieved. Second, one can increase the weight of the KB, and start over at 10:00 (or less time if needed). Here is a suggestion for choosing which direction to go – if you have “in-betweener” KB sizes, meaning increments of 2kg, then increasing weight after 20:00 is completed should be doable. If the KB increments are 4kg or larger, then more time should be spent with the given size before increasing the weight and starting the protocol over.
The emphasis during the :15/:15 is speed and conditioning. The reps should be fast and easy, and the heart rate should stay controlled during both the work and the rest. With the sheer number of accumulated reps, the grip will be worked as well, but from an endurance and toughening aspect.
Each one of these drills can be performed once a week. If you are able to recover and sustain progress, more frequently programming is possible. The main goal here is to make the KB “float” in your fingertips, and never feel as though you are out of breath. You will begin to notice that your other conditioning challenges will come to feel much easier, the more you keep these drills up.
There is nothing fancy or special about any of these drills designed to help improve your Pull-Ups, Carries, SLDLs, Presses, or KB work. The common element is consistency and hard work. It takes a long time to get to Level 7, quite a bit longer than it took you to get to Levels 1, 2, and 3 combined.
Put in the work, and you will be rewarded.
Tim Peterson, Chief FitRanX® Instructor