Each summer as the weather gets hot and the training gets brutal, I find it important for myself and my athletes to get outside the "four walls" of the gym, away from the high-intensity pounding of sprinting, jumping, throwing and heavy lifting. We all know the importance of training hard and heavy, but if my short 10 years of coaching experience have taught me anything:
If you want to stay healthy and continue to make progress, for every hard day in the gym an easy day outside the gym should follow.
Now that does not mean that the easy day should consist of sitting poolside drinking margaritas, but the training session should have a different set of goals than strength and power development.
Typically, those goals for hard-training ladies and gents are low-intensity conditioning, mobility, movement skill practice, and overall recovery.
Now first let's make everyone aware that the word "easy" is a relative term here. I am simply referring to the training session being markedly different from exercises with a higher intensity with the potential to cause significant CNS fatigue. Things like plyometrics, sprinting, and of course heavy strength training. But I wouldn't classify these recovery sessions as easy — just a different focus, particularly more a cardiovascular and "movement"-based focus.
Enter The Kettlebell
I love when certain training elements fit together nicely. The kettlebell, because of its versatility, works with just about everything. You can use heavy kettlebell swings for power development, goblet squats for technique, and kettlebell front squats for hypertrophy. In the case of a recovery/low intensity conditioning training session: a combination of kettlebell work and tempo running.
Tempo running is basically sprinting at about 75%. It's not a jog, and not an all-out sprint. You know, it's somewhere in-between. Like a stride where the athlete can coast, stay relaxed, and focus on correct running mechanics.
Far too many human beings have fallen into the "cardio" trap thinking the long slow distance as the path to physical excellence only to find years later an injured body capable of only moving at one speed.
One day I decided to experiment with a kettlebell prior to my field running session. By luck, I stumbled upon a simple training session that made a huge difference in how my athletes and I moved. It involved the Turkish Getup, 1 Arm Kettlebell Snatch and tempo runs.
The simple but effective combination was used twice per week and looked like this:
- 1 TGU: at the top position perform 5 Kettlebell Snatches then return to the ground.
- Repeat on the other side.
- A short rest of fast and loose.
- Tempo run of 200 yards (down and back the length of a football field). During the Tempo run, the focus should be on tall running posture, relaxed hands and face, and long deliberate strides — focus on sprinting technique.
- Rest a few minutes
- Repeat 4-6 rounds
Following the get-ups and snatches, our athletes reported an immediate smoothness and rhythm to their running strides. Such seemingly-unrelated results are what Pavel and Dan John refer to in Easy Strength as the "what the hell effect". Hips felt loose and arms moved effortlessly. I felt that I was running faster and with much less effort, like I was bounding down the field.
Perhaps most importantly, the training session did not deplete the energy reserves required for the following day's heavy lifting. If anything, the circulatory effect of the movements seemed to allow for a faster recovery time.
My theory is that the TGU makes everything more efficient. It is a highly-coordinated movement consisting of dynamic balance, movement adequacy, synchronization of movement and spacial awareness. It drives total body mobility using the arms and legs in a coordinated sequence and stability through the trunk and shoulders to hold it all together. In my mind, it's the ultimate activity to turn everything on and prepare the body to move. Running, therefore — which should be a completely natural movement — gets enhanced dramatically in the process. For those with less than optimal running form, practicing and perfecting the get-up prior to running and sprinting may provide great benefit.
The kettlebell snatch is just the icing on the top. The explosive hip snap on each rep more than likely potentiates the musculature of the lower body during the hip extension action of each running stride. The hips are primed and activated. I believe it may be very similar to Verkhoshansky's experiment with heavy squats followed by light explosive squat jumps. Also consider the nature of the snatch — which consists of pushing the feet forcefully through the ground, alternating flexion and extension of the legs and hips, as well as the punch-through with the arm overhead: It is a total body movement similar to sprinting. My experiment next summer will be to do heavy low rep swings and snatches prior to training acceleration and top end speed work on the track. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see positive results.
Training athletes for sports requires more than "just" strength. Often times the best player on the field is the one who can move the most efficiently. This movement efficiency is a unique blend of strength, mobility and coordination. My job is to find that unique blend and constantly search for new ways to improve it. And here again, the kettlebell with its incredible versatility proves itself king.
1. John, Dan, and Pavel Tsatsouline. Easy Strength: How to Get a Lot Stronger than Your Competition – and Dominate in Your Sport. New York, NY: Dragon Door Publications, 2011. Print.
2. Francis, Charlie, and Paul Patterson. The Charlie Francis Training System. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: TBLI Publications, 1992. Print.
3. Kurz, Thomas. Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance. Island Pond, VT: Stadion, 2001. Print.
4. Verkhoshansky, Yuri Vitalievitch., and Mel Cunningham. Siff.Supertraining. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky, 2009. Print.
Originally published on StrongFirst.com