Friday, August 7, 2009

Enter The Kettlebell!: The Program Minimum

Last Sunday I restarted Enter The Kettlebell! using 16 kg as my default weight. Yikes! At the risk of stating the obvious, 16 kg is much heavier than 12 kg. Thirty-three percent heavier, in fact. That's a big jump in weight. Not only that, but the 16 kg kettlebell is much larger than what I'm used to, and the handle is much thicker. It's okay, though. I just need to work with the heavier weight a little at a time until I'm comfortable with it.

Fortunately the first four weeks of the Enter The Kettlebell! program are meant to provide exactly the type of initial conditioning I need. This phase of ETK! is called the Program Minimum, and consists of four prescribed workouts a week. After warming up with joint mobility work for the hips and shoulders, you do either swings for a prescribed number of repetitions, with a minute's active recovery between sets, for 12 minutes, or Turkish get-up singles for 5 minutes. It may not sound like much, but 5 minutes of TGUs gets very unpleasant very fast when you're holding 16kg overhead. I like the challenge of it, though. If the stabilizing muscles of my upper back are not fully engaged, I will fail. Therefore, I must be fully engaged. This is very good for me and will help me considerably when I'm ready to begin snatching the 16 kg for repetitions.

I'm not there yet, though. Not even close. I realized that the first time I tried doing some one-arm swings with the 16 kg. The bell pulled me forward onto the balls of my feet because I wasn't grounding sufficiently through my heels and I didn't have my shoulderblade fully retracted and depressed. I was letting the kettlebell control me instead of the other way around. Classic beginner stuff. Fortunately I knew what I needed to do to correct the problem, but even so it was disturbing to me that I let it happen even once. I think I've gotten lazy using the 12 kg for swings for so long. But hopefully four weeks on the ETK! Program Minimum will re-educate my muscles.

Because the prescribed workouts are so short, I'm going to have to supplement with other training in order to achieve my fat loss goals and maintain my overall level of conditioning. Today, for instance, I'm going to do a deck of cards drill. If you don't know the protocol for this, it's as follows:

Each suit in the deck represents a different exercise. I like to pick two upper-body-focused exercises (usually a push and a pull) and two lower-body focused exercises, but really it can be anything you like (or better yet, anything you don't like). Today, for instance, hearts are pushups, diamonds are pull-ups, spades are kettlebell goblet squats and clubs are kettlebell hand to hand swings. Each time you draw a card, the number on the card tells you how many reps to do. Today, for instance, if I draw a 4 of hearts it means I have to do 4 pushups. Face cards can be whatever number you want. Today, though, they're 10. When you've dealt out every card in the deck, you're done. It's kind of fun because you don't know in advance exactly what your workout is going to look like.

Edited to add: Good choice of workout! I've really been neglecting my pushups, and it shows. The goblet squats were great for practicing my "prys." Check out Dr. Mark Cheng's blog ( if you don't know what those are. Even if you're not into kettlebells they're great "preventive medicine" for knee, back and shoulder problems. I used my 16 kg kettlebell and it was hard to keep my shoulders back and chest up! I also used 16 kg for the hand to hand swings, and since I decided to count a swing with each arm as one rep I ended up doing 170 1-arm swings total. So it ended up being a 400-plus rep workout, although at the time it certainly seemed more like a 4000-rep workout and I was quite convinced I was using a marked deck with an abnormal number of 10s and face cards even though I do not own such a thing.