QnA: Training to Failure, More on Back Pain and TT KB DVDs

Q: Setting the hormonal benefits aside, would you also say that progress toward a goal and proper execution (i.e., safety) are reasons to NOT train to failure? -Jonathan S

A: Hi Jonathan, My answer to all my clients and the people that I give advice to is to NEVER TRAIN TO FAILURE.

You can achieve most (upwards of 90%) of the benefits of training by just leaving 1 or 2 reps “in the tank”.

If you take a look at Olympic Lifters and Powerlifters, those guys never train to failure and they’re absolutely HUGE. And in the case of lightweight Olympic Lifters, they’re also incredibly lean and athletic as well.

I’m a HUGE advocate of hard work – in training and in life – and so I would normally stop a client from completing reps when I see they get to a point of TECHNICAL FAILURE.  That is, killing (stopping) the set once I see their form start to deteriorate.

If you exercise on your own – unless you have incredible kinesthetic awareness – this may be one of the only times that I may say that you can use a mirror.  If you’re struggling to get a weight up and/or your body starts contorting out of alignment, stop  the set – that would be technical failure.

Just remember that anything worth having in life requires hard work, so don’t make the mistake of stopping your set because you didn’t want to work hard.  But, training to absolute failure where a training partner is helping you push some forced reps out is something highly DO NOT endorse.

Q: Like may of us older guys, we have back aches and pains that just comes with the age. Is it okay to work out (gradually of course) with back pains? If I wait till one pain goes away, another one starts somewhere else. Will working out with the KB help muscles get stronger to minimize back pains or will it aggavate them so that I can not get into steady routine ? -Dan

A:  Thanks for your question, Dan.  I recently received an email from my good friend, Master RKC Geoff Neupert, that sums a very interesting study up with regards to back pain and swinging a kettlebell (which is the foundational exercise of all kettlebell exercises).  Here’s what he had to say…

“In the study published in “The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,” (vol.26.1.Jan.2012), McGill and Marshall from the University of Waterloo, Canada, came up with some interesting conclusions.

They found that unlike traditional barbell lifting, kettlebell swings, the loads on the spines are “inverted.”

Because of the arc-like trajectory of the Swing, there is relatively high posterior shear forces* in relation to compressive forces.

*In “regular speak” shearing force is a force that can tear. Compressive force is just that – compressing material together until it explodes/ruptures.

In traditional barbell lifting, there are higher compressive forces compared to shear forces.

So what does that mean?

It means, according to the researchers that you should have sufficient spinal stability – and sufficiently more spinal stability to swing a kettlebell than lift a bar.

So what’s that mean for YOU?

1. Compressive forces are traditionally associated with back injuries – herniated discs.

Kettlebell Swings have low compression forces,therefore, when done correctly, they won’t hurt your lower back.

They’re more “forgiving” than barbell lifting.

And that means that you can do a lot of them to strengthen your back and keep yourself from getting injured.

This explains why so many people experience positive results from Swings.



2. Shearing forces can still cause back injury, so if you’re swinging your KB and have back pain, stop swinging!

Your pain most likely means that you either have insufficient spine stability and/or your technique is incorrect.

This means Swings actually ARE bad for your back in certain cases.

And this explains why there are some people who find that Swings and kettlebell ballistics in general hurt their lower backs.


3. If you even suspect you fall into category #2, you need to add in some spinal stability exercises and polish your technique.”

Thanks, Geoff.  One of the best places to get more information about kettlebell training and strength in general is to read Geoff’s Blog over at ChasingStrength.com.

Q: Anyway to get the actual DVDs for 2.0? -Michelle

A: Hi Michelle, Currently there aren’t any DVDs available.  All the video associated with The TT Kettlebell Revolution v2.0 are streamed online through the secret pages on this website (you get access to them through the manual).

However, after a few commitments this spring, I will be in full filming mode to get all the workouts in The TT Kettlebell Revolution manual filmed for everyone in a “follow-along” format and will make those available as soon as they are done.

Exciting, I know.

So please stay tuned and I’ll keep you updated.



  • Reply February 8, 2012

    Terry Jenkins

    Thanks! You always provide me with new information and ideas to take my workouts to a new level! Keep up the good work.

  • Reply February 8, 2012


    Hi Chris

    Enjoy your blog posts, thank you. I also love follow along workouts – the regular prompts for technique, not having to watch the clock for timed sections, and the added motivation – work well for me. Looking forward to those!


Leave a Reply