An Unconventional Way To Get Stronger

This is almost too easy.

Mastering overhead pressing with a kettlebell has ALWAYS been my Everest.

I can blame bad muscle-building or strength genetics, but really, is that the reason? Most people cop out and say that they're not where they want to be because of this or that outside cause and never look within themselves.

The sad part is that by making excuses and blaming outside circumstance, you also are saying that you're reliquishing control.

I take a different approach…and from this day forth, I think you should too.

It's waaay to easy for us to place the blame elsewhere and to not take responsibility for our lives.

I'm going through some personal struggles right now and as a result, I'm struggling internally as well.

But the one thing that I've come to realize is that everything that I'm going through is a result of what I did (or did not do) – either directly or indirectly. I put myself in this situation and in the end, I'm the only one who can pull myself out.

Nobody else can “make” me react the way I do. I'm responsible for my reactions and my actions.

OK, so what does that all have to do with pressing a kettlebell over your head?

Well for years, I blamed my lack of pressing strength to the fact that I played sports all my life that involved the overhead throwing motion – I was a baseball pitcher up until my junior year in highschool and I played volleyball for most of my life.

And because of poor throwing mechanics or pattern overload (doing the same thing over and over again), I developed some overuse injuries. Even today, as much as I'm trying to correct my right shoulder, I still stand with it slightly rotated inward.

So when I started to really try to increase the weight of my press, I had a lot of trouble.

I was using old methods of too high volume and impatiently progressing to heavier weights too soon. The result would be finding myself on a rehab table again with my chiropractor's thumb in my shoulder joint trying to strip out an aggravated supraspinatus (a rotator cuff muscle).

Enter the ladder.

After being so aggravated with my lack of progress, I started to re-read a lot of the basic materials that I had studied about kettlebell training, specifically Enter the Kettlebell.

I wanted to see if I started using a very submaximal weight, if I could progress slowly and steadily and not gas myself out after a few weeks. You know, being the “tortoise” instead of the “hare”.

So I revisited using ladders to get stronger.

What happened next amazed me.

I started with a very light weight – 20kg to be exact – which was 1 kettlebell less than my “snatch-sized bell”. (In the RKC, when we talk about using weight, we normally do it in relation to which kettlebell you would perform your RKC snatch test with.)

Slowly working from 3 ladders of 1, 2 & 3 and training 3 days per week where I was alternating Medium Intensity, High Intensity and Low Intensity days, I gradually worked my way up to 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. My plan over the weeks on my HIGH intensity days looked like this…

Week 1 – 3 ladders of 1, 2, 3
Week 2 – 4 ladders of 1, 2, 3
Week 3 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3
Week 4 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4
Week 5 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

The difficulty that I had with this plan was that it felt TOO easy. It felt like I wasn't really doing anything. But, if you take a look at the volume that I was doing in total reps per workout, I was in fact, progressing nicely…I just wasn't “feeling it”…

Week 1 – 3 ladders of 1, 2, 3 = 18 total reps
Week 2 – 4 ladders of 1, 2, 3 = 24 total reps
Week 3 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3 = 30 total reps
Week 4 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4 = 50 total reps
Week 5 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 = 75 total reps

In week 5 I was doing more than 4 times the volume than I was in week 1. Now that's progress.

Master RKC Dan John calls this concept of practicing with a submaximal weight “Easy Strength”. And after the 5 weeks of doing these pressing ladders, I tested myself with pressing a 32kg kettlebell (the most that I've ever pressed). That probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but I still have a lot of “dumb jock” left in me, I guess.

Can you guess what happended?

After a thorough warm-up, that bell went up and I pressed it with my “bad” shoulder.

The take home message here is that there is something to be said for patience and adaptation. Even though I was using a weight that I could press easily, the accumulation of volume and steady progression was enough to help me get stronger.

If you're having trouble with your press, or any exercise for that matter, I suggest you take a step back, look honestly at your program, and adopt the mentality of “PRACTICE and NOT working out”.

It's a different mentality and a tough concept to grasp especially if you've been brought up to recognize your training as being some form of torture. But if you're struggling to progress and are frustrated with your lack of results, isn't it time for a different approach?

Chris Lopez, RKC

P.S. Tomorrow I'll have a video for you on how I structured my pressing workouts and how I supersetted the pressed with one of the best supporting exercises for the press.

P.P.S. One of the bi-products of training like this was that my body lost a ton of fat…without even trying.  For a pretty good fat loss program, check out the TT Kettlebell Revolution HERE



  • Reply June 27, 2012


    Chris-I tried ETK but I think I used the wrong size bell.Would you start with a bell that you can press 6 to 8 reps?More importantly, if you have a healthy family eveything else can be fixed down the road.take it from an “old guy”

    • Reply July 3, 2012

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      Hey Ralph

      thanks for the encouraging words.

      I would actually start with a bell that you could press 8-10 times and work your way up from there. When I started ladders, I was using a 16kg.


  • Reply June 27, 2012


    Chris, this is helpful for me now to revisit the ladder method. I have no fat to lose (yay!) but want to get stronger so this should help. My sports injuries from high school mostly are from running. Only jammed fingers from volleyball thankfully, so I have no excuses! Look forward to the vid tomorrow.

  • Reply June 27, 2012


    Hi Chris, first time wrting but have followed you for quite a while. I hate to be the “dumb guy” but, I don’t clearly understand the ladder theory. Could you explain it more clearly, if possible? I appreciate your help and guidence

    • Reply July 3, 2012

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      Hey Daniel

      first, thanks so much for writing in! I look forward to hearing from you more often!

      Second, there are no “dumb” questions. Chances are someone else is wondering the same thing, so you’re the smart one for having the stones to even ask the question!

      Third, check out the next post and video where I fully explain the ladder concept.

      Hope that helps,

  • Reply June 27, 2012


    I just started this program on monday, I am pressing the 24kg but am having trouble pressing it with my left side in the later rounds starting at about the 10th rep or so, I can only getting up half way…should i go down in weight or continue to press on, my right side goes up nice and steady an obviously with some effort in the later rounds but can still get it up with good form and locking out.

    • Reply July 3, 2012

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      Hey Sergio

      I would keep on working with the current weight and focus on making slow and steady progression with your weaker arm. Start your ladders with your weaker arm and “match” the reps with your stronger arm.

      For example, if you can only get 3 x 1,2,3,4 and 2 x 1,2,3 with your left, I would do the same amount of work on your right until you’re able to work up to 5 sets of 1,2,3,4. Once you’re there, work up to 5 sets of 1,2,3,4,5.


  • Reply June 27, 2012

    Nelly (Holland)

    Hi Chris, my kettlebell workouts are not that difficult as yours but I really enjoy it. When I started I had a injured shoulder. Despite of that I did easy workouts. And guess what my shoulder healed much faster than before. I didn’t need the fysio anymore. I’ve only one bell of 5 kg. Soon I will buy a bell of more weigth.

    • Reply July 3, 2012

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      Ahh, the power of the KB, Nelly! Since I started training with KBs full time, my shoulders are better as well.

  • Reply June 27, 2012

    Jeff Clark

    I enjoy reading your info keep up the interesting kettlebell info !!!!!!!!!!!

    • Reply July 3, 2012

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      Thanks so much, Jeff. Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.

  • Reply June 28, 2012


    Hi Chris,

    I took your advice and purchased the fuzion 4 week programme.
    However i only got to week 3 and had to go on a holiday that i had booked.
    Should i go right back to week 1 and start again or could i start week 4.
    I was on holiday for 1 week.
    Also once i complete the 4 weeks will it be no longer of any use to me:?

  • Reply June 29, 2012


    This looks a brilliant idea.
    Last week I did two kettlebell blast classes.
    We used ladders with a mixture of swings, presses and push presses.
    I really started to understand the importance of the negative portion of the press,
    and if you use too heavy a bell, you don’t the the strength benefit of that portion.
    of the press. Your reduced weights allow the negative portion to do it’s work.

    I am definatley going to give your 5 week program a try.

    • Reply July 3, 2012

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      Great point, Peter.

      One thing I would do is vary the intensity of your workouts so that you don’t experience too much soreness. That is one of the downsides to focusing on the negative phase (lowering phase) of an exercise.

      Make sure you have a day of rest in between workouts and/or make sure you’re not going HARD every single workout.


  • Reply July 3, 2012


    Great post Chris. I have used ladders in the past to avoid fatigue and increase volume with squats and Dl will try this to rehab my shoulder!

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  • Reply July 13, 2012


    Hi Chris,

    Please excuse me if I haven’t got this quite understood (and I love Enter the Kettlebell) but when you talk about the reps, it is PER ARM, so when you add in the 2 arm equation, you get:

    Week 1 – 3 ladders of 1, 2, 3 = 18 total reps x each arm = 36 reps
    Week 2 – 4 ladders of 1, 2, 3 = 24 total reps x each arm = 48 reps
    Week 3 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3 = 30 total reps x each arm = 60 reps
    Week 4 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4 = 50 total reps x each arm = 100 reps
    Week 5 – 5 ladders of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 = 75 total reps x each arm = 150 reps

    Or are you supposed just to use one arm per day, the ladders I have been doing over the last few months have been both arms 3 – 4 days a week?

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