Strength: Become the MASTER of Your Domain

One of the things it took a while for me to wrap my head around was figuring out how I was supposed to get stronger only using kettlebells if kettlebells only came in certain sizes.

For years experts have been saying that you should always be “adding weight to the bar”.

That you should always strive to put on a little bit more each and every time you lift so that you are constantly progressing.

But it you’re trying to press a kettlebell, going from a 32kg to a 36kg is a pretty big jump – about 9lbs. Nine pounds is not an incremental jump like what “they” say you should be increasing the weight by.

And a 9 pound increase in weight is a big jump for anybody.

I’m sure, though, that old-school lifters in the 1900s like Eugene Sandow or Sig Klein didn’t grab their magnetic 1.25lb “Plate Mate” and snap it on their kettlebell to get stronger.

“So, how are we supposed to get stronger using only kettlebells if the weight jumps 9lbs every time?”

The answer came to me in the middle of the night in a dream that I had when I was fighting a Shaolin Monk in a tree.

Just kidding, wrong dream.

The answer to this question actually came to me while I was lying down on the beach in Jamaica a couple of weeks ago while listening to an interview with Renegade Strength Coach, Jason Ferruggia. He said something to the effect of…

Renegade Strength Coach, Jason Ferruggia

“I’ve thrown out all my little weight plates in the gym now. 2.5, 5, 10lbs plates are all gone. Now we only have the standard 25, 35, & 45lb plates. This forces my clients and athletes to MASTER a weight before they make the next big jump. So in order for them to even try to squat 135lbs (2 x 45lb plates on a standard Olympic bar that weighs 45lbs as well), they have to make darn sure they can handle 115. They have to MASTER that weight which usually means that they can do 5 sets of 10 reps at that weight before they move on. Months earlier, they may have started at 5 sets of 2 reps at 115, but staying at that weight is the safest and most effective way to gain lost lasting muscle & strength. MASTERING the weight is key.”

The point is that kettlebell training is all about PRACTICE and MASTERY – especially when it comes to strength.

The problem with lifters today – myself included – is that we’re impatient.

If it’s a 90-day challenge, we want to do it in 45.

If our buddy can press a 36kg kettlebell with ease, we want to be there NEXT WEEK even though the most we’ve ever pressed was a 24kg.

Applying patience to our training practice will ensure that we are getting lasting gains in our strength.

It’s all about MASTERING the weight and becoming an expert at the weight we’re at BEFORE we make the jump.

So if we can only press 24kg over our head right now, then let’s focus on making that 24kg seem as easy as possible before going to a 28kg or a 32kg.

So what’s a practical approach to getting stronger with kettlebells?

Let’s say that your goal by the end of the year is to press a 36kg kettlebell cleanly over your head without any assistance or momentum (so not a jerk or a push press, but a clean Standing Military Press). But the heaviest you’ve ever pressed was 24kg.

Well, I’d start with a 20kg and make sure that I could press it with ease for 5 x 5 (5 sets by 5 reps). By “ease”, I mean not fatigueing myself and not struggling through the last rep.

We are trying to perform multiple sub-maximal sets to allow our nervous system to adapt to the weight that we are lifting.

My program would look something like this…

Week 1 – 5 x 1 @ 20kg
Week 2 – 5 x 2 @ 20kg
Week 3 – 5 x 3 @ 20kg
Week 4 – 5 x 4 @ 20kg
Week 5 – 5 x 5 @ 20kg
Week 6 – Deload Week

After I’ve mastered the 20kg and know that it’s a weight that I can handle easily, then I’d start the above protocol again, but with a 24kg.

Patience, Grasshopper. PRACTICE, do not “workout”.

I know you’re spending 6 weeks only using ONE weight, but again, this is about making LASTING GAINS in strength. If that bores you, then maybe you turn on a re-run episode of Seinfeld to be entertained because this is training and it works.

And if we do the math correctly, you’d be pressing a 36kg kettlebell in about 30 weeks (which is less than a year).

Pavel calls this method “Greasing the Groove” or GTG. That is, performing your sets in the freshest state, while you have enough rest and if possible, doing it throughout the day and treating it like practice.

You’re not “working out” throughout the day, you’re practicing a skill.

This approach can be used with chin-ups – every time I walk past a chin-up bar, I’ll do a set of 8 chins with perfect form. I’m rested and I don’t have to do a 25-minute extended warm-up. Eight chin-ups is a number I know I can handle easily without getting tired.

You can use this approach with Pistols as well. Just find some kind of “trigger” and every time you see that “trigger” drop down and do a pistol – it’s kind of like a drinking game, but a lot healthier.

The bottom line is this…

STRENGTH is a skill and needs to be practiced.

You’ve got to MASTER a weight before you move on to something heavier.

PATIENCE is what will create lasting strength gains.

Chris Lopez, RKC

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14 Comments

  • Reply January 24, 2012

    Ron Lobb

    awesome approach, patience goes hand in hand with proper rest, I tell the young guys on our PL team constantly, you cant go heavy all day everyday , be patient.

  • Reply January 24, 2012

    Richard Freeman

    Excellent!

  • Reply January 24, 2012

    lisa blevins

    How many days a week are you performing the 5 sets? 3? Or, everyday?

    • Reply January 24, 2012

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      I’d suggest 3 days and maybe do 1 or 2 reps of practice on your off days. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. Just make sure that you’re not going into fatigue.

  • Reply January 24, 2012

    Justine

    Agree! i have KB’s in my lounge, office, and garden and just pick them up thru the day to do some reps. I have stopped running recently and was worried but finding your workouts are enabling me to mix it up and get amazing results still from home. More butt muscles for sure!
    Finally changed weight for my TGU this morning and it felt good.

    Thanks for your info!

    • Reply January 24, 2012

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      Great stuff, Justine! Congrats on breaking through that TGU plateau!

  • Reply January 24, 2012

    Trevor Rackley

    As they say “practice make Perfect” and the same applies to training. Great article that enforces the need to perfect the technique before progessing in weight.
    Patience is the key with safe progression.
    Thanks again for the reminder
    Trevor

  • Reply January 24, 2012

    George Pazin

    Excellent article, I only wish I had read it before my struggles going from the 28 to 32 in the ROP. Looking back, I realize the struggles were mostly because, while I had completed the 5 x 5 ladders with the 28, I didn’t really master it.

  • Reply January 24, 2012

    Kylie

    If anyone is struggling with the concept of “only” using one weight for 6 *whole* weeks, consider this:
    Week 1 – 5 x 1 = 5 reps
    Week 2 – 5 x 2 = 10 reps
    Week 3 – 5 x 3 = 15 reps
    Week 4 – 5 x 4 = 20 reps
    Week 5 – 5 x 5 = 25 reps (phew!)

    Weight is only one training variable, but quintupling your Volume in 5 weeks is also pretty effective…

  • Reply January 25, 2012

    Graham Simpson

    As a slight variation on a theme, I’d like to suggest something for anyone out there who wants to master a weight, but also would like to test going up a notch in weight at the same time without going too far. This method is something I’ve found has worked out really well for me over the past 8 months of kettlebell training.

    So, to use the mechanic suggested by Chris using for example, both 20kg and 24kg KBs

    Week 1 (20kg) 5 x 1, (24kg) 1 x 1

    Week 2 (20kg) 5 x 2, (24kg) 1 x 2

    Week 3 (20kg) 5 x 3, (24kg) 1 x 3

    Week 4 (20kg) 5 x 4, (24kg) 1 x 4

    Week 5 (20kg) 5 x 5, (24kg) 1 x 5

    Over the course of the 5 weeks, by using the 20kg KB followed by the 24kg KB then going back to the 20kg KB for each subsequent set, the brain sends out a message that you are now using a lower weight and it should feel a little easier to use and as such should be easier to master over the 5 weeks.

    Also, as there’s a limited usage of the higher weighted KB, there’s less of a danger of pushing yourself too far, too quickly and risking injury.

  • Reply January 25, 2012

    Joseph DeMateo

    Forgive my ignorance,but what’s a “pistol”?

    • Reply January 25, 2012

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      Hi Joseph

      thanks for the question. A pistol is a one-legged squat. It’s one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises you can do.

      Chris

  • Reply January 29, 2012

    John Bohlig

    I appreciate the advice. I’ve been impatient at times, and I now know better. Thanks for putting it in black and white.

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