Category: strength training

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While many of our tribe members swing mainly Indian clubs to stay fit and healthy, many more also use kettlebells.

Be it Girevoy sport, kettlebell marathon or just good old fashioned strength training, kettlebells, like Indian clubs, share many similarities and advantages for people who like to train at home.
Both pieces of equipment are complementary for well rounded fitness and sustainable training.

As you may be aware, I have a diploma in strength training and I used to compete in kettlebell sport. My knowledge and experience allowed me to successfully coach many people online from 2010-2017. While kettlebell sport made up a large part of my business, many of my customers wanted simply to become stronger, leaner and fitter without having to go to a gym.

The idea of kettlebell complex became popular for my clients not competing in kettlebell sport. Complexes are time efficient and fun, and you can still track progress. When well designed and programmed, kettlebell complexes offer results, compliance and maybe a little hatred from clients…

So what’s a complex anyway?

Simply put, a kettlebell complex a series of exercises done back to back after one another without putting the kettlebell(s) down.

The variety possibilities are endless.

Complexes in themselves are nothing new. Before kettlebells were rediscovered at the end of the 90’s, complexes were performed with dumbbells and barbells.

Javorek, a Romanian coach, is credited with the use and popularity of this method in the 1960’s.

The original complex consisted of 5 exercises done for 6 reps each:

  • upright rows
  • high pull snatch
  • squat to push press
  • bent over rows
  • high pull snatch

That is a lot of time under tension and volume with a decent weight! Complexes usually work the whole body and cardiovascular system at the same time.

The general idea of complexes is that one exercise must flow directly into the next, which is perfectly suited to kettlebells or Indian clubs!

You can find tons of kettlebell complexes on the internet, with some more or less suited to your goals.

Here are 2. One has a strength focus, the other targets mobility, stability & coordination.

Complexes for strength and mass?

If aiming for strength and muscle mass, the programming parameters of load (think repetition range) and volume (number of repetitions x number of sets x load) must reflect that.

Before you get scared away by the thought of adding too muscle mass to your frame, let’s keep things real! We are not talking about competing in bodybuilding or anything like that. 

Your actual bodyweight might not change much on such a program, but your body composition (how you look) will improve. 
Also, keep in mind that our muscle mass diminishes as we get older, it is called sarcopenia, which in turn impacts negatively your metabolic heath.  

Gaining muscle mass means a better hormonal profile, a better metabolism, stronger bones, and a whole list of other benefits.

The only downside is that your clothes will feel tighter, and you might need a larger size T shirt or start wearing loose fit pants.

Back to our kettlebell complex… One thing you should realize straight away when using the same weight across all exercises, is that we are stronger on some exercises than others. Usually, the weakest exercise will limit the amount of weight you can use in a complex.

While there are faster ways about how to build strength and muscle, but we’re doing it in a way that will increase your muscular endurance and cardiovascular system at the same time.
Because it’s fun and challenging, it means you are probably more likely to stick to it and get results though.

How Indian clubs complement kettlebells

When picking exercises and designing a kettlebell complex for strength and mass, you will be able to handle most weight on exercises that stay in the sagittal plane of motion.
This is where we use the Indian clubs to complement kettlebells, as most Indian club exercises happen in the frontal and transverse planes.

Indian clubs are successfully used around the world by physiotherapists and athletes to increase mobility and performance.

1. Better mobility in the shoulder girdle and thoracic spine helps the overhead shoulder position. Optimal range of motion and stability is key for safe kettlebell training.

2. Swinging clubs is an effective way to decompress the joints and balance the hard and soft aspects of physical training.

3. And finally, the full body and brain integration involved in swinging clubs smoothly and fluidly improves coordination, timing, agility, and body awareness. Building new neural pathways also goes a long way to look after your brain health!

Heavy and light, strength and mobility, yin and yang, stimulus and recovery. You get it, right?

A fail-proof program

To make the most out of both training tools, and solve programming issues, I created the Rising Tsar program.

It is a 12 week kettlebells and Indian clubs program where complexes and other training methods are used to increase strength, muscle mass, cardio and mobility.

Elements of variability, progressive overload and autoregulation are built in the program. This is what makes it sustainable for longer periods of time.

You can train 2-4 times a week on this program. Actual training time for each session, not including warm up, varies from 20 to 40 minutes.

Kettlebell exercises include: Turkish get up, swing, clean, jerk, half snatch, bent over row, squat, jump squat and loaded carries.

Indian club exercises include both British style (open style) club swinging, and Persian meel type (closed style) club swinging.

All in all, you’re in for a treat!

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We have been getting a few inquiries lately about how to combine club swinging with other strength training modalities, such as barbells and kettlebells.

Since we have different club swinging programs available (including the latest Hanuman workout volume 5), here is some practical advice.

Prioritize your training goals

What do you want to achieve? What is most important for you? A bigger deadlift? 100 reps unbroken meel swings with heavy clubs? Learning new complex exercises? Better cardio?

Have a good think about it all, and put your goals in a numeric order, with #1 being the most important one for now.
Once you have your list, time to plan for the goals you chose. For the next 8-12 weeks, focus on #1 and #2, including them in your program each time you train.
Add goals #3-5 here and there on occasion, when you feel you have time and energy.
Disregard anything over #5.
That’s it, keep at it for 8-12 weeks. After that, you may write a new list, or carry on.

Depending on how many days you can train, and how much time you have each session, you could structure your week in many ways. Here are 2 simple ways.

Option 1 | Training 3 times a week

Use the classical heavy, light, medium day approach mentionned in Bill Starr’s book ”The strong shall survive”.

Kettlebell/ barbell strength training x20-30 min. Pick 3-5 lifts.

Follow up with:
Club
swinging x10-15 minutes (Meels 101 on heavy day, light clubs on light day, Hanuman workout series on medium day)

Option 2 | Training 5 days a week

Day 1, 3: Hanuman program, using the variability table included in the program.

Day 2, 4: Strength training with barbell/ kettlebells x20-30 min followed by some of the exercises in Meels 101 for 5-10 min.

Day 5: Kettlebells/ bodyweight training x15-20 min, followed by light double club swinging x5-10 min

Is it the perfect solution or program?

Don’t overthink it too much. Get going first, and tweak the program along the way. Too many people want the perfect program, without having a perfect lifestyle to begin with. Take the first step!

How you pick exercises and rep scheme depends on your personal goals, and equipment available.
Heavy weights are lifted for a low reps (3-5), while lighter weights are lifted for higher reps (6-10 or 10-20)

One of the principles I follow most of the time is not to train to fatigue, as the old texts mention. If you have read some books by Pavel, you’ll be familiar with the concept too.

Examples of how I personally combine things

Since the lockdown, I stopped training for kettlebell marathon competition. Therefore my training does not have to be 100% focused as earlier. I want to feel good, and have energy to do the things I have to do , play with my kids and so on.

I aim to get as much movement variation as possible on a daily basis.
By that, I mean I push, pull in different directions, raise my center of gravity, rotate, move laterally and backwards, crawl on all four, make use of uneven terrain, i
nclude single leg exercises etc…

Here are 6 examples for inspiration.

Option #1

EMM circuit: Every minute on the minute. Perform the exercises, and rest the remainder of the minute. Set a time limit to the circuit, 20-30 minutes is usually plenty.

  • min 1: 20x jump rope cross over, 2x kettlebell jump squats, x1/1 one arm push up, x1 ring pull up
  • min 2: 20x full swing with thick grip club (left hand)
  • min 3: 20x jump rope cross over, 2x kettlebell jump squats, x1/1 one arm push up, x1 ring pull up
  • min 4: 20x full swing with thick grip club (left hand)
  • etc… until the time is up

Option #2

Strength circuit: use the correct weight to stay within the desired rep range.

  • Turkish get up x1/1
  • Sumo Deadlift x6
    1 arm row with thick grip x6-10/6-10
  • Single seated calf raise x12-15/12-15
  • Neurogrip push ups x6-10
  • Light clubs x1 min
  • Rest as needed, do 3-5 work sets.

Finish with ab roller, and static lunge holds

Option #3

AMRAP: As Many Rounds As Possible within a defined time limit, 20-30 minutes.

  • Push up complex
  • Meels complex
  • Kettlebell get up 

Repeat the sequence for time, resting as needed.

 

Option #4

Pavel’s ”Simple and sinister” (kettlebell swings and Turkish get ups), using a single heavy club for 5-15 min at the end

Option #5

Pavel’s ”The quick and the dead” (kettlebell swings/ snatch and explosive push ups), using 2 light clubs as active recovery between exercises.

Option #6

Contrast intervals: One hard interval followed by an easy one to provide active recovery, targeting different movement patterns.

  • Fast pace kettlebell snatch or 1 arm long cycle x4 minutes
  • Slow/ easy paced circuit with bodyweight and clubs x3 min
  • Repeat 4 times

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Do you know the zercher squat? If you’re into strength, health and longevity, at one point or another, you might want to consider adding loaded squats to your club swinging routine.

Research shows that using the legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy neural cells.

According to studies from King’s College of London, there’s a specific link between strong legs and a strong mind. The conclusions show that subjects with the greater leg power  experienced less cognitive decline over a 10-year period, and overall aged better cognitively.

A little historical perspective…

Historians have found references to feats of strength and weight lifting competitions dating as far back as the 3600 BC. Strength was not merely an object of vanity but instead something of considerable societal importance.

Military recruits in ancient China were required to pass specific strength tests before they were allowed to join.

As mentioned in previous blog posts, no warrior or athlete swung Indian clubs exclusively.

Tamil, Hindu and Persian club swingers also lifted weights in one form or another, and worked on all around strength and fitness, as their physical training system was martial in nature. Wrestling and fighting was just part of their daily life.

The legendary wrestler known as the great Gama, performed thousands of squats daily with stone neck rings (Gar-nal), and pushed all his might against trees, in an effort to uproot them.

Even in Europe, back in the 1800’s, Indian clubs were a complimentary discipline to gymnastics, weight training, boxing and fencing. 

Squat progressions

All leg exercises are great, and in our videos we show you many ways to integrate the lower body with Indian clubs. But usually the loading parameters fall more into the endurance spectrum of strength, rather than pure strength.

The good thing is that any type of squatting is better than no squatting, and will improve your hip mobility, which is so important for ageing well.

When it comes to strength, you need a load  heavy enough to provide the right stimulus. Bodyweight squats are a great way to start and practice form, but when you can easily do 15-25 reps non stop, you need to start adding weight.

How heavy?

As a general rule, if you can’t do 6 reps, the weight is too heavy, but if you can do more than 12, the weight is too light. Rest 1-2 minutes and perform a few sets. 

I do not advocate you to start becoming a squat specialist and think you need to squat double bodyweight  or as heavy as possible to get the benefits of loaded squats.  

If you’re over 40, and are not looking at setting any records, focus on form over load. One “heavy” squat session a week is enough, but keep squatting and lunging the other days, using light weight. Basically do it often with a light  weight, not so often with a heavy weight.

The next step after bodyweight squats are Goblet squats. For these, you will need either a dumbbell or kettlebell, and watch our tutorial.

As you get stronger, you might need something heavier, like a barbell or a sandbag. We show you how cheap and easy it is to make your own sandbags further down!

Doing heavy squats with a barbell typically requires you to either:

  • have a squat rack
  • know how to clean the barbell off the ground and perform front squats

This is where the Zercher squat comes in

The Zercher squat is an exercise named after St. Louis strongman Ed Zercher. Back in these days (1930-40), not many gyms had a squat rack. You could call it the kettlebell goblet squat’s grandfather or strong uncle…

The video below shows you how to safely perform it.

I recommend wearing some elbow sleeves, and stance of course, is a matter of personal preference. I demonstrate the zercher squat with a wide stance. Some people might favor a narrow stance with elbow outside the knees.

For the fans of physical culture history, the Zercher lift had become a sanctioned USAWA lift in the 1960s. At 156 lbs bodyweight, some of Ed Zercher lifts included:

  • One Hand Snatch 120 lbs.
  • One Hand Clean & Jerk 130 lbs.
  • Two Hand Military Press 170 lbs.
  • Two Hand Snatch 145 lbs.
  • Two Hand Clean & Jerk 200 lbs.

Picking up something heavy from the floor and standing up with it is fantastic to strengthen your whole body.
Squatting with the load in front on the body rather than on the shoulders has some hidden benefits too. Many people struggle with balance (often falling back) and squat depth. 

In the Goblet and Zercher squats, the weight being in front of the body helps you maintain balance over your stance. At the same time, they also challenge the lower back to remain upright and prevent the torso from falling forward. 

From experience, this allows people to squat deeper with better form, especially if you follow our tips on increasing ankle mobility.

The barbell Zercher squat is one of the exercise from “Kettlebell Strong” our 12 week kettlebell and barbell program for the intermediate lifter.

Protect your back

When lifting heavy weight, we have to create a virtual corset that braces and protects our spine.

This is radically different to the type of breathing we use when swinging Indian clubs.

In the video, I explain as clearly and simply as possible the concepts of rich anchoring and virtual corset.

The rib anchor helps prevent the lower back from arching, and putting stress on the spine. The virtual corset protects the back from compression — weight-bearing, impact, and vibration, as well as any distortion in shape like arching, rounding, or twisting. 

Make your own sandbag and learn how to lift it

Not everyone has access to a barbell. Sandbags are great, and the beauty is you do not need anything fancy to be effective! 
Oh, and they cost next to nothing to make…

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