Category: strength training

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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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