Pavel said I might be crazy... A kettlebell swing odyssey that helped me lose 100+ pounds of fat, but no strength.

December 31, 2009 06:57 AM

Well that was his jovial response when we spoke recently and told him about a new swing personal record and how I'd trained them the last year. I take that as high praise from a fellow master of dispensing pain to those in need of high level performance. It all started just over a year ago when I went off the grid for a while.

I'd been doing a lot of the same things for a long time. Too long. We had been in the info business for a few years with some successful books and videos on training but it just never fit my life very well. I'm a trainer, a writer and an experimenter in finding human strength and endurance training and potential, but the nuts and bolts of selling that hard won information is something I hate. So some of our shipping and fulfillment and computer work (which I don't pretend to understand), got screwed up. So rather than doing that job badly and pissing people off, we stepped away until we could find the right situation to reload and re-attack. Sometimes things are hard and they don't go right. So what? You just don't quit. You regroup, revise and re-conquer. (So we found the right new situation… see the new Strongerman.com website… ). While we've done that now in business I spent the last year plus doing it with the kettlebell swing and ended up going somewhere with it I never thought possible.

A little more background to help understand why this is coming out so cool, especially if you don't already know me:

I've been a big guy all my life. Now I'll admit I was fat but I don't suggest you poke a growling bear about things like that if you're standing within paw's distance. I've been fat since I was six years old. I had a car accident at five, was in an immobilizing body cast for months, had to learn to walk again and during that time gained a great deal of weight that never came off.

Add this to a couple more factors: I have great strength genetics, but the world's worst when it comes to fat loss. Every body in my family is big stretching back a hundred years or more. Now that doesn't mean coach potato big, there's lots of muscle and ability that went along with this. (I had a cousin who once punched out a dairy cow that kicked him… Don't ask). That however might actually make cutting fat worse. Let me "splain. If you get fat because you sat around and ate too many Doritos it's generally not that tough to get thin if you get active and put the Doritos down. However if you got or stay fat even when you're active and in shape it really takes something to drop it.

I was in shape and fit from a cardiovascular/endurance standpoint before I ever started dropping weight. In fact the combination of being huge and strong AND having mind numbing endurance is my specialty. I can (and have) regularly done thousands of reps of bodyweight exercises and all kinds of conditioning work along with lots of super heavy lifting. I competed in powerlifting (30+ state, regional, national and world records and Raw Drug-Free World Champion), strongman (Florida Champion), Highland Games (Cassleberry "B" Division Champion , moved up to "A" division). No-holds Barred fighting (1-1), Toughman (1-1), Highland Wrestling (Champ at Port St. Lucie and Culloden), Kettlebell Sport (Florida Champ) and worked professionally as a speaker and performing old time style strongman. I was doing feats like bending spikes, pressing grown men overhead with one hand and backlifting 10 or more people. Even with all that I could never really get lean.

So when I decided to change directions in training I was no amateur, but all the training and experimenting had lead me to think that even though I had already found paths to and proven that you can have fantastic strength, muscle and endurance all together that there was more. I felt that this was really the start of opening a new door on human performance. (At least for me and maybe for you too).

You see that's another reason I never got lean. I really don't care much about how you or I look. I want to know what you can DO. For me it meant nothing to be lean if you're not strong and I know plenty of guys who are leaner than me but I'm more fit (by a great deal) than them. Add that to the fact that I spent the first 16 years of my training life pursuing a 1,000lb Squat (a feat you don't do without drugs and powerlifting suits and wraps without being massive) gaining massive amounts of muscle and bodyweight. Also I'm from the deep South where even the air has more calories in it than other places and from a family of farmers and gifted cooks. You could make a case that it's just too many calories and you'd be pretty accurate, but even when I purposely cut weight and dieted it wasn't the really effective way I was looking for.

So in this new direction I began to believe that I could. I could have not just great endurance but super human endurance and be extremely strong at the same time. I began to think of training and eating to force my body to a new level of hardness. Of resistance to fatigue and an ability and vitality that was on a whole new level. Hold on… some of how I trained is coming. (I know it's getting long, just a few more prepping comments).

Now it wouldn't be truthful of fair to say I didn't change the way I ate. I did. However I wasn't a big Doritos muncher in the first place. A big eater, yes, and still am at times. I began to think of making the body the most efficient that it can be with both training and food, not just mindlessly throwing more fuel to the tank. At the same time I don't believe in being deprived (on a long term basis), or that any particular food is evil in its natural state. That is the important part and the biggest change I made. I ate basically anything I wanted with the stipulation that it must be from natural sources, in its natural way of existence. (Example: I eat bread, but it's homemade and truly whole wheat and has like four total ingredients versus packaged bread which is "fake" wheat and has like 50 ingredients). I'll share more about this in future articles, but now on to training.

The swing is probably the best for kettlebell training and certainly the most important base exercise to start with. It is also one of my favorite exercises. In fact if you read some of my other articles you'll see I was already training it, often mixing it with other exercises. I also have nothing against the snatch and jerks, etc. I also train them, but I believe the swing gets too quickly passed through as a gateway to other things. I found it is a mountain to climb in and of itself and can give you a mountain's worth of strength, endurance and fat loss if you take it there. That I think is the real key to a new level of strength and endurance and for most people the only real way they'll burn off fat if they're anything like me and have difficulty with it. It's not just training the exercise, its truly building and improving your performing ability with it that gets you results.

My general pattern of training during this time has been three-four sessions per week. Generally one or two devoted to heavy lifting (often mixed with conditioning in an interval). One interval style conditioning workout and one devoted exclusively to the swing. Because I train lots of different physical abilities simultaneously and because of the effort and load of the swing workouts I found it best to keep them to about once a week. (Two times if the other session is part of the intervals or strength work and less volume). I had been doing 100-300 swings as part of other workouts and I decided to up this to 500 straight swings. I started with the 24kg (53lb) bell and used this as a period of base building. Its from here I began to realize the mountain you can climb and the new room of performance you can enter with the swing. I was using the one-hand swing and switching hands in the air every ten reps. My goal was to push my muscles and cardiovascular system as far as I could without stopping and let my grip endurance which was my weakness catch up.

I usually trained this in a "sprint" style which means I went as far as I could without putting the bell down then rested as little as plausible, picked it up and kept going and repeating until I finished the prescribed number of reps as fast as possible. Then next time through I tried to do more reps unbroken and finish the total reps faster. I began to see that 500 reps with the 24kg was just the jumping off point. It became clear that you could incrementally increase your weight or working load and number of unbroken reps and total number of reps and decrease your times until you had literally doubled or tripled or exponentially increased your work capacity. As my reps went up and times went down I then began to start cycling the kettlebells I used and my progress shot through the roof.

After a stabilizing base building period with the 24kg/53lb I then went to the 32kg/70lb for the same 500 reps, then the 88lb/40kg again for 500 reps. I spent a week or two with each bell then immediately went back to the 53 and suddenly massively beat both my time for total reps and number of unbroken reps. In fact at this time the workout went so well that I went to 750 reps total. Every time this happened my idea of the possible and potential new progress also went way up.

My goals became more clearly defined. First it was 300 reps unbroken, then 400 reps in 10 minutes or unbroken, then 500 reps in 15 minutes or unbroken. Then 1000 reps total. Then the most reps I could do in one hour. Then the fastest time through for 1000 reps. Every time it was cycling the goals through all the bells: 53, 70, 88, 106 and then I added a loadable handle to go to 125lbs for one-hand swings. I found that the heaver bells immediately made me PR with the lighter bells for unbroken reps, total number of possible reps, and rep times. I kept track of each then I also got the same PR's every time I went back up to the heavier bell from the lighter bell because even though it was heavier my total unbroken time under had gone up with the lighter bell. The heaver bell then made the lighter bell feel like a toy and I PR'd the next workout with it. A double ended pay off to every cycle.

Then my "swing universe" began to expand even more. I experimented with different ways to do these cycles coming up with 18 variations so far. Next 2000 reps became a goal. Then 1000 reps unbroken became a goal. Then 2000 reps in under one hour. Then 3000 reps and I'm still cycling through them. My posterior chain became like steel and the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and next one-to-three day fatigue became almost non-existent. My strength stayed high, my grip strength and endurance went way up. My overall endurance which was already good went crazy and I was able to apply it across many mediums with incredible success. (Grappling, strongman, bodyweight, heavy bag, sledgehammers, intervals, stairs, etc.) My forearms started showing veins and weight just fell off. That is the craziest thing- even though I was in great shape before this took me to a whole new world and burned fat off infinitely better and faster than any thing else ever has.

So how much did I actually progress empirically during this time? Well, from my all time highest bodyweight of 385 pounds I'm down to 275. (Was 360-ish starting this particular style of training. That's 110lbs total. I've lost 15 inches off my waist and am wearing pants smaller than when I was in high school. I can still one arm shoulder-press and snatch a 150lb dumbbell, one arm row 300lbs, do 15 rep sit ups with 500lbs on my torso, bend spikes, pull 700lbs from below the knee and 1,000 from above as well as do partials with over 1,000lbs. The first time I did 1000 swings with a 53lb/24kg bell it took 45 minutes. Since then here are my best:

24kg/53lb – 3000 reps in 1:39:00

32kg/70lb – 1000 reps unbroken in :24:00

32kg/70lb – 2000 reps in :59:00

40kg/88lb – 500 reps in :14:00

40kg/88lb – 1000 reps in :32:15

40kg/88lb – 2000 reps in 1:27:00

48kg/106lb – 1000 reps in :45:00

57kg/126lb – 500 reps in :35:00

80kg/176lb – (two-hand swing w/ t-handle – part of another cycle we'll talk about soon) 500 reps in :44:00

As you can see I've doubled the workload in half the time. Is there more to go? Absolutely. If you want real progress to super ability you gotta do what no one else is willing to do. You can. When is the last time you climbed your own mountain?

Visit Bud's newly revamped site www.strongerman.com