Bottom Line Up Front: I did 10,000 kettlebell swings in 30 days. Here is why I did it, how I did it, and what I learned.
I have been using kettlebells (KBs) in my exercise program since 2000. At that time, I was a trainer at a local gym, and my boss went to a seminar by this guy named Pavel Tsatsouline. The owner was always looking to add new things to his kitbag. He bought KBs from 10 lbs to 100 lbs. He showed me the things he learned at his weekend clinic. We applied these tools immediately to our clients and ourselves. I used kettlebell swings as a staple to prepare me for the Army. I still love using kettlebells today.
What Sparked the Challenge
I had been getting a little aggravated with my meticulous and semi-complicated exercise program. While effective, I am always seeking to gain simplicity and minimalism in everything I do. I have done a good job of this in life, but after I wrote a few thousand words explaining my programming methodology, I realized if I couldn’t explain it in less words, it may be too complicated.
Then I heard Pavel on the Tim Ferriss podcast (link below) and it got me all energized about KBs and simplicity. Pavel is very blunt. It was scratching me right where I itched – simple and difficult. He book is, in fact, called Simple and Sinister (S&S)! Bought the book and I got started the next day. I already owned the right KBs for the program.
I did the program for two weeks and loved it. However, as hardcore as it is, it was still too easy. The program basically calls for 10 sets of 10 one-handed swings plus 10 Turkish Get-Ups (TGU – done as single reps, 5 each arm) each workout for EVERY WORKOUT EVERY DAY!!! Talk about the opposite of my programming template… The warm-up is a rotation of three exercises and the cool-down is two static stretches. Very easy to do.
Pavel says you are doing really really well when you (as a man) can do 100 swings with a 32kg/70lb KB in 5 minutes, then 10 TGUs in ten minutes. I could do this my first day, but I persisted for a few weeks to improve my form and enjoy the practice of these two great movements. I decided I loved the simplicity and the movements, but this workout was too easy for me. While I could make it physically harder with a heavier KB (which I didn’t have), I think it was too simple. So I wanted to integrate what I learned from this experience into a more complicated but not too complicated program.
On some of the kettlebell sub-reddits, I heard people talking about this 10,000 swing challenge. Now this sounded interesting. 5 times the volume of S&S plus Dan John, the author, had other exercises being done in between sets.
Original article link is below, but the bottom line with the 10k challenge is 500 swings per day for 5 days per week for 4 weeks. It isn’t meant to be done forever because it is boring and potentially too difficult to maintain over a long time. In the primary article he uses a 10/15/25/50 rep scheme meaning sets of 10, then 15, then 25, then 50 repeated 5 times. He prescribes some kind of other exercise like squats or presses to be done between the sets.
How I Did It
I took the program recommendations initially and did the first 10 workouts in the 10/15/25/50 with the 24kg/53lb bell. Instead of doing the 1,2,3 rep strength moves in between, I substituted bodyweight or kettlebell movements to keep it simple. After a few workouts, I just added in the same rep scheme for one movement in between every set. For example, 10 swings, then 3 handstand push-ups, then 15 swings, then 3 handstand push-ups, etc. I rotated through various push, pull, and squat movements like weighted box step-ups, weighted pull-ups, toes-to-bar, sandbag front squats, etc. for every workout thereafter.
I found this was pretty easy to do at 24kg for me except for some forearm pain at the end of the set of 50. I didn’t like the idea of ascending (going up) pyramids because it builds the pain in the forearms, which I found a major limiting factor. I decided to try the same rep scheme in reverse – 50/25/15/10. With this, I was able to move much faster and the same work done at a higher rate. Once I got through the 50, I could get right back to the 25, 15, and 10 with minimal rest. I would rest longer after the set of 10 so my forearms were good to go for the 50 reps coming up. I liked this rep scheme much better. I felt while easier on the grip, I put my body through more intense workouts systemically. I was using a clock to keep me on track and doing 100 reps in a 7-minute round. It would take about 5-6 minutes to get 100 done then I would rest until the 7-minute mark. This is about a 35-minute workout, about an hour with warm-up and cool-down.
In doing more research, I read a post on Dan John’s blog about the 10k challenge that he wrote after the original article that talked about using sets of 35 and 15. I gave that a try for the last four workouts. This scheme allows for faster workouts, but the intensity was even higher. You never get to the 50 reps, but each set is harder because you are going back to 35 reps every other set. I used a 3-minute round for the sets of 50. Finish in under 30 minutes.
I did a workout for two days straight then took one day off of swings the whole time. I didn’t miss a day. On off days from swings, I did at least 10 Turkish Get-ups plus some support work like weighted carries and handstands.
Overall, I really enjoyed it. There is something very satisfying about only needing your body, one piece of equipment, and a 4′ x 4′ space to workout. Here are some specifics:
- I did not find it too boring, even at the end.
- I got very minor rubbing on one finger (left ring) for the first 10 sessions. Not enough to make a blister even. No overuse hand injuries.
- Forearms and biceps definitely got bigger. I didn’t realize how much involvement the biceps had in swings until I did a few thousand in a short time.
- I lost weight (assuming it is fat). Only a few pounds. I didn’t control my diet so maybe I ate better too or less. I didn’t consciously change anything so I could attribute it to the training plan.
- I was surprised how good I felt the whole time. I thought by the end it would be a mental game, but it wasn’t. In fact, my body adapted well and I got less sore at the end. I finished number 10,000 yesterday and have no soreness anywhere. I had lingering forearms, biceps, and hamstring soreness for the first few weeks. I have no overuse-type pains/injuries right now.
- I didn’t do any before or after testing like to see if my squat went up, down, or stayed the same. I would say the volume and intensity of the swings kept the engine the same or better (cardio/capacity).
The Way Ahead
I am devising a new program today that will take the lessons learned from Simple & Sinister, the 10k challenge, and the last 20 years into account. I am going for something very simple. It will involve kettlebell swings and TGUs as staples. I will post the template and results when I am done.
If you are new to KB training, try Simple & Sinister. It is a great basic program. Even if you aren’t new, try it. It is a good learning experience. The same can be said for the 10k challenge. It is a worthy experience. You could tweak the weight or the volume to get it into something you can do if it sounds like too much. 500 swings 5 times per week is a somewhat magical construct though. You can do a lot with the added work in between sets too.
If you like this article, you may enjoy a few more posts:
- The 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge in 15 days
- The Framework Exercise Program
- This post looks at the concept of developing a basic outline from which to form an exercise program.
- How To Develop Your Own Strength and Conditioning Program
- This goes over how to construct your own program. You can tailor it to a KB focus, endurance focus, or all around general physical preparedness focus
- Training Cycle Review, Aug-Sep 2015
- This discusses a 30-day program I wrote for myself. Lot of KB work. May be something you find interesting and can adapt for your own goals.
You may also want to keep up with the blog via email. If you subscribe to the SITREP newsletter you can expect a once a week email with site news and useful articles I read each week.
Finally, please share this post with other people who may find it interesting. Getting more people to swing kettlebells and challenge themselves is a good thing!
As always, let me know if you need any help/advice. More than happy to answer questions or review a program.
QUESTION: Have you done the challenge? Have you tried Simple & Sinister or any of Pavel’s other programs? Post thoughts to comments.
References & Further Reading