There is a lot of information available on programming kettlebell training both for strength goals as well as for endurance events; however most of what is available is focused on training an individual who has high compliance to a personalized program, and there is much less information available on creating usable and result-producing programs for group classes. This is a bit ironic, because training with kettlebells in a group/class setting is widely available and is only trending towards becoming even more popular. There is no doubt that personalized instruction is the most sure-fire way to deliver outstanding results, however the reality is that it can be cost-prohibitive to some people. Nonetheless, many of those same people see the value of instruction and guidance towards their goals, and group classes can be a nice compromise as a way to get some instruction, while also being considerate of financial realities. At Industrial Strength we have developed a highly successful curriculum for our group kettlebell classes, and we would like to shed some light on how we go about this – we hope other coaches who teach group classes will find this helpful, and this article will be primarily tailored towards them.
First off, the focus of this article will be on training for goals centered around high-rep kettlebell ballistics, such as the 5-minute snatch test or tackling various benchmarks in Pavel Tsatsouline’s book titled “Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.” With that in mind, step one is to actually SET A GOAL, or if you are looking at this from a coach’s perspective, then help your students set a goal if they do not already have one. As the saying goes, “if you don’t know where you are going, then any road will take you there.” If you are unsure of where to start, then my suggestion would be to help your student pick a weight to attempt 10 reps / 10 sets of one-arm swings, done using 30-second intervals and obviously completed in a 5 minute period (again, see Pavel’s Kettlebell Simple & Sinister which is available for purchase through StrongFirst.com). To clarify, the goal will look like this:
- Clock starts = 10 swings left arm, then park it and rest until the next set
- 30 seconds = 10 swings right arm, then park it and rest until the next set
- 1 minute = 10 swings left arm
- 1 min 30 sec = 10 swings right arm
- 2 minutes = 10 swings left arm
- 2 min 30 sec = 10 swings right arm
- 3 minutes = 10 swings left arm
- 3 min 30 sec = 10 swings right arm
- 4 minutes = 10 swings left arm
- 4 min 30 sec = 10 swings right arm, then you are done!
Again, the above is just one example of a goal, but this approach has also been used with high success on the 5-minute snatch test, and could easily be tailored to work for many different goals. With that in mind, there are three main variables that you’ll need to address in designing training sessions for your classes:
- Volume (or more accurately, total number of reps)
- Cadence (how many reps per minute are required to hit the goal)
- Load (how heavy is the weight your student will be “testing” with)
As an example, if the student has a goal to do the swing protocol outlined above with a 24kg kettlebell, then the volume is 100 reps, the cadence is 20 RPM, and the load is of course 24kg. You should design training sessions to help increase your student’s abilities in each of these areas.
The first and most important consideration is volume. Just as with strength training, volume is king and will almost always trump intensity, especially over the long term. It is also the most simple variable to manipulate, and can even be done if for some reason you only have access to one kettlebell. One of our time-tested guidelines that will undoubtedly lead you and your students to success is to take the volume of your test (in this example above, 100 reps) and double it (200 reps) and that is now your goal for the volume portion of your training – to be done with the same weight you are testing with. Obviously, in order to do this, your students’ cadence will drop, and will probably do so significantly. My suggestion is to cut the cadence by 50%, so in other words do only 10 reps per minute (10RPM). From there, have your students start at 10RPM x 10 sets (100 total reps) and work towards being able to sustain a strong 10RPM for 20 sets in order to achieve 200 reps. Again, from my experience this is the absolute most important aspect of training for these goals, so do not cut corners here. This volume is necessary in order to build the foundation for everything else, including often overlooked things like proper skin adaptations on your students’ hands so they do not tear calluses, and connective tissue adaptations in the joints so they will hold up for them year after year.
The second variable to address is cadence. If the required cadence for the goal is 20RPM, then I recommend at least some training needs to happen at (or above) that mark. Doing at least a little bit of this training will give your students some experience working at that pace, so that when it comes time for testing they are familiar with what it feels like. When doing these sessions, scale back in other areas (most likely load) to allow for the quality of work to stay high. For example, if using the example of the 24kg swing test above, you may have your student to 20kg x 20RPM / 5 minutes or even 16kg x 20RPM / 10 minutes. Neither of these should feel like a max-effort to your student, but neither should be a walk in the park either. Of course, there are quite a few other ways to manipulate and train for cadence, but this should give you a general starting point.
The third major variable to program is load, or essentially how much weight you have your students lifting. If your student wants to test at 24kg, then I highly recommend they spend at least a little time training above that weight, with a 28kg or better yet 32kg. These sessions, which at Industrial Strength we creatively call “overload” days, will help your students build more strength & power, will increase their confidence at their test weight, and will also help bring awareness to technique errors and/or strength deficiencies that were not apparent at lighter weights. I would also recommend that both volume and cadence be reduced dramatically when approaching near-limit loads. The whole point of these days is to get your students feeling confident at these heavier weights, not to utterly smoke them or to leave them doubting their abilities to handle those weights – plan your volume and cadence accordingly.
Now that you have a grasp of the three major variables to manipulate in your class curriculum, you can get started on piecing it all together. Check back for Part 2 of this article coming soon, which will outline ideas on how to combine everything into a usable plan for your classes.
Thank you for taking the time and please feel free to share.– Tony Gracia / Head Coach and Co-Founder