In part one of this article we identified the three main variables that need to be manipulated in the training plan: volume, cadence, and load.  If you missed part one, get caught up by reading it here.  In part two, we will now look at some options on how to use these concepts to create usable training programs for group kettlebell classes.

Before getting into any major details, it is important to remember some basic principles that apply to all types of training, one of the most important being “waving the load.”  Based on what type of training is being done, the principle of waving the load can take on many different looks.  For the purposes of this article and for kettlebell group training, it essentially means that a program which intentionally taxes the body differently from day-to-day, from week-to-week, and from month-to-month will deliver better results and will be more sustainable than a program that is pretty close to the same thing each day, each week, each month, and so on.  Just to clarify before moving on, the term “load” can be used both specifically and generally.  In the three initial variables (volume, cadence, load) the term “load” refers to a specific weight being lifted, such as 32 kg.  In the principle “waving the load” the term is used more broadly, and refers to the sum of the training stimuli and how taxing it is on the body.

As a coach, you need to lean on your experience and judgment to determine which days will be more or less taxing on your lifters.  There is no black & white answer for this, but some common sense combined with in-the-trenches experience will go a long way here.   As one example, let’s compare two sessions training KB snatches.  In session “A” the lifter does 24kg x 120 reps spread out over 12 minutes.  In session, “B” the same lifter does 24kg x 100 reps in 5 minutes (i.e. the snatch test).   Even though the volume is lower in B than in A (100 reps vs. 120 reps), obviously B has a higher training load because the cadence/density is substantially higher making it notably more taxing on the lifter.  This is just one example, obviously there is no way to cover every single scenario out there, so you will need to use your judgment as a coach on a case-by-case basis.

With that in mind, now it is time to start looking at the bigger picture of training cycles and building plans, while manipulating volume, cadence, and load (weight lifted) to create sessions that allow you to wave the training load.  For group classes I find it helpful to think of these changes/waves as being focused on either “accumulation” or on “development” – the former being where the majority of the training time is spent, and the later being used sparsely in comparison.  To me, the term “accumulation” represents the idea that we are using this training session (or a specific portion of a training session) to accumulate reps/practice … there is not necessarily a specific weight or fatigue index we are trying to hit.  Accumulation sessions could probably be compared to a golfer practicing his/her swing …  they won’t aim for some arbitrary number like 1,000 reps at all costs, they would simply focus on quality and stop when it was “enough” for the day, and usually will try to end on a high note.  In contrast, the “developmental” sessions (or portions of sessions) typically do have a measureable desired outcome that we are striving for, and it will typically be near the edge of the lifter’s abilities.

As discussed in part one of this article, volume is the most important variable when it comes to long term progress, so I would advise making volume the focus of developmental sessions.  If we refer back to the person who wants to swing 24kg x 10 reps / 10 sets in a 5 minute period, their developmental sessions working towards 200 reps might look like this:

Volume Development (Developing the ability to get 10 reps / 20 sets all with plenty of power)

  1. 24kg x 5 reps / 20 sets, each set performed at the top of the minute (TOTM)
  2. 24kg x 6 reps / 20 sets, TOTM
  3. 24kg x 7 reps / 14 sets, TOTM*
  4. 24kg x 7 reps / 18 sets, TOTM
  5. 24kg x 7 reps / 20 sets, TOTM
  6. 24kg x 8 reps / 12 sets, TOTM*
  7. 24kg x 8 reps / 16 sets, TOTM
  8. 24kg x 8 reps / 20 sets, TOTM
  9. 24kg x 9 reps / 10 sets, TOTM*
  10. 24kg x 9 reps / 14 sets, TOTM
  11. 24kg x 9 reps / 18 sets, TOTM
  12. 24kg x 9 reps / 20 sets, TOTM
  13. 24kg x 10 reps / 10 sets, TOTM*
  14. 24kg x 10 reps / 14 sets, TOTM
  15. 24 kg x 10 reps / 16 sets, TOTM
  16. 24kg x 10 reps / 20 sets, TOTM (goal achieved)

I would consider most of these sessions above to be “developmental” because they are taking the lifter right up to the edge of their abilities on that day, and we have the ability to measure and improve performance over time.  If the lifter is stopping short of 20 sets, it is because they are noticing a drop in power, inability to execute the desired technical proficiency, or possibly they will tear a callus if they keep going.   As the coach, it is important that you communicate this with your class before the start of each session, so that each lifter knows when to call it for the day.  Also, note that sessions 3, 6, 9, and 13 all have an asterisk, which is there to show that each of those sessions is a planned deload.  The sessions preceding these deload days were all PR’s in the sense that the lifter achieved all 20 sets for a given rep scheme, so after the PR we choose to step back before pushing forward again.  The deload sessions are recommended to be about 100 reps (give or take) – the examples above are 98, 96, 90, and 100 reps respectively.  Before anyone asks, the protocol above can be used for both one handed swings as well as snatches – just do not run the program for both lifts concurrently.

So now you have the most important part of the plan: how to develop your students’ volume up to 200 reps, which will prepare them to crush their 100 rep in 5 minute goal.  I would recommend doing the above protocol somewhere between once per week to once every three weeks depending on the preparedness of your lifters and how much variety you like to include in their training (a reality of group classes is that some people get bored doing the same thing too often).  Keep in mind, more frequent is not necessarily better here … if you space them out every three weeks, there is a good chance your students will be able to make big jumps in progress each session; compared to if you do it weekly then they will have to “nickel and dime” their way towards 200 reps by using smaller jumps.  Both ways can work, you just need to know your class and base your training off of that.  Spacing out the sessions more also means there is less need for as big of a deload after each 20-set PR, so keep that in mind when you plan it out.

The other variables discussed are cadence and load.  I typically use these in more of an “accumulation” fashion since it is both harder and less sustainable to program them in a “developmental” fashion like we do with volume.  Here are a few ideas for the person working towards one handed swings 24kg x 10/10 in 5 minutes.  Each of these sessions should leave your lifters feeling like they’ve had a workout, but also that they have more left in the tank should they be asked to do some more.

Cadence (Accumulating practice at 20 RPM)

  1. 16kg x 10 reps / 10-20 sets, each set starts on the 30 sec
  2. 20kg x 10 reps / 10 sets, each set starting on the 30 sec (this will be somewhat hard)
  3. 20kg or 24kg x 10 reps / 4-6 sets with each set starting on the 30 sec, rest 3-5 minutes, then repeat one or two more times

Load / Overload (Accumulating practice of one hand swings heavier/harder than 24kg for sets of 10)

  1. 28 kg x 8-10 reps / 6-10 sets with your students rotating in a 3-person rotation (abbreviated 3PR)
  2. 32 kg x 5+ reps x 10 sets in a 3PR
  3. 24 kg x 15 reps x 6-8 sets in a 3PR (even though 24 kg is the same weight as the test weight, by going up to sets of 15 it can help overload the grip endurance aspect for your lifter).

A note on the 3PR method used above – the way we usually do this is have partner A do left side, then B left side, then C left side, then back to A for right side, B right side, and C right side.  Also, a “set” is just the left side or just the right side … it takes two sets to get both L and R done, so you’ll always want to do an even number of sets.  Lastly, all examples above are for one-handed swings.  If you are new at programming in this style, staying consistent with just one exercise makes it easier to lay everything out.  However, once you have more experience you will be able to see how a wide array of other exercises can fit into these parameters and you can mix them in successfully – things like snatches, swing resets, two-handed swings, double swings, hand-to-hand swings, double cleans, and even more advanced exercises like double snatches and/or overspeed eccentric snatches.

As far as how to incorporate these into other aspects of training (namely grinds, or strength work) I would suggest doing the “load / overload” sessions before any strength work that is also planned for the same session, while conversely the cadence work goes best as the final thing in a given training session.  In either case, make sure the class knows what you are hoping they will get out of the training session – either getting accustomed to working at a 20 RPM pace, or they should be getting used to handling heavier weights so that their “test weight” will feel lighter in comparison.  The volume protocol outlined above can be done either before or after strength work, and I find it helpful to mix it up and sometimes do it before and sometimes do it after.  The strength work can be anything your students are familiar with and you want to program in:

  • Kettlebell MP (single or double)
  • Push press or jerks (depending on the experience level of the group)
  • Bent press (again, depending on the experience level of the group)
  • KB FS or goblet squat
  • TGU
  • Bodyweight strength (push ups, dips, pull ups, inverted rows, pistols, HLR, ab wheel roll outs, etc.)
  • Chains or complexes stringing multiple lifts together
  • Loaded carries
  • Bottoms up work

As far as putting everything together, I would advise AGAINST a traditional linear cycle for group classes.  We have tried that before at Industrial Strength, and while we had some success, we have had significantly more success with other periodization models.  There is nothing wrong with linear cycles for individuals, but for groups/classes where attendance is inconsistent, the linear format has fallen by the wayside for us since it is hard to miss time in the middle of the cycle an expect to pick back up again wherever the group is.  Instead, I recommend using either a block-style periodization scheme or a modified conjugate-style model.  When I say conjugate, I do not mean Westside Barbell verbatim, but rather rotating between training different qualities within a given week/microcycle and it is up to you as the coach to determine what those qualities are.  Of course, in our example we’ve identified volume, cadence, and load as the main three we are working on.

If you’d like to get started with this modified conjugate model, begin by creating an outline of what you want the rotation of days to be.  An example specifically for swings could be:

  1. Volume – developmental session (program outlined above)
  2. Accumulation
  3. Cadence
  4. Accumulation
  5. Volume – developmental session
  6. Accumulation
  7. Load/Overload
  8. Accumulation

Now, let’s say your class meets every Mon/Wed/Fri, the rotation could look like this:

  • Week 1
    • Mon = Volume (developmental)
    • Wed = Accumulation
    • Fri = Cadence
  • Week 2
    • Mon = Accumulation
    • Wed = Volume (developmental)
    • Fri = Accumulation
  • Week 3
    • Mon = Load/Overload
    • Wed = Accumulation
    • Fri = Start cycle over again with Volume (developmental)

Note, on the “accumulation” days shown above, there is no need to follow a specific protocol, just get some reps in without crushing the class to the point where it will have a negative impact on their next session.  This is where you can just create some “fun” workouts that will deliver the WTH effect of kettlebell training.  A few examples would be:

  • Two-handed-swings done I go, you go (IGYG) sets of 5 reps for 5 minutes
  • A swing ladder or pyramid done IGYG or 3PR such as 5, 10, 15, 20, 15, 10, 5
  • “Sandwich style” where you put swings in between sets of grinds. Ex: swings, MP, swings, goblet squat, swings, TGU, and so on.
  • Mix in different swing variations such as double bells, hand-to-hand, swing resets, walking swings, etc.
  • Include swings within different chains or complexes you put together

If you were to follow the outline above, then all that would be left would be to plug in strength work for each session.  If a student misses a class, or even an entire week or two, this model makes it easy for him/her to jump right back into class – they can return to the same spot they left off, or if they need to scale back a bit, they can reduce the reps, sets, or both, and then build back up from there.  Keep in mind that different students will be on different set/rep schemes for the Volume Development plan outlined – some may be doing sets of 6 while others are doing sets of 9 – but we still have used this with great success as long as everyone is clear as to what they should be focusing on, when they should call it quits for the day, and keeping track of their own progress.  It is important that the coach clearly communicates this to the students, so they understand this is not meant to be linear progress where everyone does the same sets/reps … for example when a new student joins class they’ll start at 5’s, whereas the people who have been with it for a while may be doing higher reps.  Each student needs to stick to their own plan, and not try to match or keep up with other lifters in class.

Hopefully this gives you enough information to get started, you will just need to tailor it to the demographics that participate in your classes.  I would also suggest having a test day every 1-3 months so that your students can see where they are and track their progress over time.  The more experienced the group the less often they’ll need to test.  We have used similar programs to what is outlined above with great success in our classes, and have even had four (4) individuals complete the “Sinister” challenge from Pavel’s book “Kettlebell Simple & Sinister” … and they have done so without any individualized plans, just following our group training program.

Thank you for reading!  As always, please feel free to share a link back to this article. .– Tony Gracia /  Head Coach and Co-Founder