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How to Make the CMS Rank in the Long Cycle

March 3, 2005 09:36 AM

The material in this article is excerpted from my soon-to-be-completed GS training manual.

On December 4th, 2004 I competed in a Girevoy Sport meet and became the first native-born American to achieve the rank of Candidate for Master of Sports, or CMS. I did this by completing 71 reps in the Long Cycle Clean and Jerk with two 24kg kettlebells in the 90kg + bodyweight category. In this article I would like to share some of the tools and strategies I have used for increasing numbers in GS.

When talking about GS, you are talking about technique. No matter how strong you are or how much stamina you have, if your technique is bad, you will not do well in GS. Technique is not just how to move the weight, it is also knowing how and when to rest, how to breathe and how to be efficient at energy management. Much has been written about good technique, but I would like to go over a few high points that apply to the jerk.
  • In the Rack position, the hips should be pushed forward and the upper arms in contact with the ribs. The kettlebells should be directly over the hips with the knees locked. Positioning the kettlebells like this allows the elbows to rest on the hip bones or on a belt if you choose to wear one. I recommend a belt, not for low back support, like in powerlifting, but as a place for the elbows to rest. This is a perfectly legal and widely used strategy.
  • You may rest in the rack for as long as you want. Practice resting in the rack for time. Once your numbers start to climb you will need it. Find the most comfortable position. Let the kettlebells rest in the "V" created by the forearm and the upper arm.
  • When executing the jerk, take a few shallow breaths and one bigger one as you bend the knees and drop into a high squat. This is followed by an explosive leg drive, which transfers energy from the legs to the hips and into the arms, launching the kettlebells upwards. The hips contact the elbows to complete the power transfer. Little or no arm strength is used until the arms are locked out. It may help to think of jumping up and back.
  • As the kettlebells reach maximum height, explosively dip into another quarter squat. Lean slightly forward as you do this so that your shoulders are slightly behind your head. Use the triceps only to lock the elbows. No pressing is involved at all in the movement. Lock the knees and hold the kettlebells in the lockout position.

These points apply to both the traditional and the long cycle jerk. Since long cycle involves cleaning the kettlebells for each rep, here are few points to help "clean up" your cleans.
  • Let the kettlebells swing far back between the legs and use a strong hip snap to get them moving. The more you use the glutes and hamstrings, the better. This will conserve energy in the quads which will be used for the jerk. Keep your back straight.
  • Keep the elbows close to the body throughout the clean. This will enable you to clean the bells to the chest and economize the motion, using less energy. It also reduces the impact as the weight makes contact with the body, which can take a lot out of you as the reps increase.
  • Get your hand around the kettlebell and make as soft a landing as possible. Practice this a lot. Try to land them in the exact position from which you will jerk. Less shuffling the weight around in the rack means more energy saved.

Training Strategies
I have experimented with several different approaches for planning my workouts. A very effective concept that I modified slightly is called density training. Ethan Reeve wrote an excellent article about it for Dragon Door. The basic concept behind density training is to decrease the amount of time it takes to perform a planned number of repetitions. In his article, Coach Reeve suggests doubling the volume of your target set and beginning with short sets, gradually increasing reps and decreasing sets over time. As you get closer to the target number of reps, you reduce the total volume while keeping the rest between sets at one minute.

In the beginning of a training cycle, this works very well for GS. Multiple short sets reinforce good technique without excessive fatigue and the volume of the workout improves conditioning significantly. I found, however, that as the sets got longer it became very difficult to recover from the first set in only one minute. My solution was to perform one long set of 60%-90% of rep maximum, then do several shorter sets with one minute rest periods until completing the total volume planned. For example, in one training session I did the following:

2x24kg Long Cycle
1 set of 45
3 sets of 15
3 sets of 7
One-minute rest between sets

My previous best was 51 reps and my target was 110.

GS has a very important mental element that is addressed with this approach. Doing short sets when highly fatigued keeps you "there" but doesn't tax you so much that you can't recover from set to set. This workout was a "mini-peak" within the cycle. The next several workouts were a lower total volume with shorter sets.

As competition time neared, I focused on doing my target number in ten minutes, with as little rest as possible.

The ladder method is a technique Pavel first introduced a few years ago as a method to increase numbers in exercises like pull-ups. It involves performing multiple sets of an increasing, but sub-maximal number of reps. For GS training, a ladder might look like this:


As you can see, each set is progressively more difficult, allowing you build volume without going to rep maximum.

The time ladderr is similar to the ladder, except instead of increasing a specific number of reps each set, each set is lasts longer. For example, you might do sets lasting two minutes, three minutes, and four minutes with the same amount of time between sets. When doing time ladders, if you cannot complete any more reps, you simply rest in one of the legal positions. Again, you can build up a lot of volume without going to rep maximum like this. Time ladders have been used by many competitive kettlebell lifters with great results.

Another fun thing to do (and by "fun"I mean painful and horrible) is what I call the "long rep." This is a long cycle-specific technique. Choose an amount of time, from as little as 15 seconds to as much as one minute, or even longer. Pick up a pair of kettlebells and hold them at your sides for the prescribed amount of time. Clean the bells and hold them in the rack for the same amount of time, then jerk them and hold them overhead for time. Lower and hold in the rack, then at the bottom again. Here you can either perform another long rep or hold the bells until they drop. If you choose one minute as your time for each part of the rep, you complete one rep in five minutes without putting down the weight. This trains all three positions of "rest" in the long cycle in one simple drill.

Sometimes I will combine the long rep with the time ladder, varying the rep pace. So, a set might look like this:

10 reps in one minute (fast pace)
One long rep lasting 30 seconds in each position (two-and-a-half minutes for one rep)
5 reps in one minute (slow pace)

This entire set would last four-and-a-half minutes and you would complete 16 reps.

The first time I competed I had no understanding of pacing. My strategy was "do as many as I can as fast as I can." This is not the smartest way to do things. I competed with 32kg kettlebells and did 14 reps in about a minute-and-a-half. Not bad for a complete beginner to GS competition, but I had done 18 in my basement the week before. I got in a hurry at the competition and blew myself up prematurely.

I decided to switch to 24kg for my next competition and adopted the "do as many reps as possible, rest when you need to and get done as fast as possible" strategy. This is better, but still not the most effective way because it leaves too much to chance. Watching Terry McCarthy compete at the 2004 US Nationals was a pivotal moment for me. Seeing him deliberately take rest breaks early in his set broke me of my "go hard and hope for the best" approach. I got a copy of the long cycle World Championships and began studying the elite.

My current definition of pacing is: "Do a planned number of reps per minute, with a planned total and planned rest periods." Even if, for some reason you need to change this once you are on the competition platform, nothing is left to chance. You have planned for everything. This is exactly what happened to me when I got my CMS ranking. My grip started to go in my left hand. I decided, during the set, to skip my last two rest breaks because of the fatigue in my hand. Instead of hitting 71 reps at the 9:30 mark like I planned, I hit it a few seconds after 9:00. So, I skipped two 15-second rest periods and kept the same pace. Had I kept the rest periods, I believe my grip would have given out and I would have dropped the bell. The lesson: Have a strategy, and know when to deviate from it.

Video taping
An invaluable tool for technique analysis is getting video of yourself. You may think you are doing everything correctly, but the tape tells you otherwise. Guess who is right? This is also helpful for rep counting during long sets. It is very easy to lose track of your count when you are sucking wind and hoping not to throw up.

This is may be the single most important piece of the puzzle. Once you have settled on a strategy visualize it over and over. For me this meant watching the clock and mentally going through an imaginary set at competition pace several times each day. By the time the actual competition arrived I had already done it countless times in my mind. All that was left was to physically perform the set.

I hope these tips help you in your GS training. See you on the platform!

David Whitley, RKC is a Russian Kettlebell instructor, strength coach and massage therapist in Nashville, TN. He earned his RKC at the June 2003 certification and was an assistant instructor at the April 2004 RKC. On December fourth 2004 he became the first American-born man to achieve the CMS rank in Girevoy Sport. He conducts Kettlebell workshops and trains clients privately in the Nashville area. He is also available for online personalized training and phone consultation. Contact him by email at and visit his website: