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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) Review: Part II

“We’ve been smart enough to be naïve enough to not know what we can’t accomplish.”

-Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour

Part I if you missed it.

Getting to the RKC was not a smooth ride by any means.  Along the way I made two $300 donations to Dragon Door to withdraw from two courses last year for various reasons (one death in the family and one health reason).

Having committed to USA Track and Field Club Cross Country Nationals in December 2011 and the Houston Marathon in January 2012, I then refocused on running during the fall and winter.  Kettlebell training consisted mostly of partial getups and low rep pressing for a few months.  Returned to serious kettlebell training mid spring, but collided with a new set of life challenges ranging from flood, school, Olympic Trials, and several others…

In total from April through August, I probably spent more time in hotels than in our own house.  Then two weeks before the certification, Augusta State University in Georgia offered Katherine an assistant coaching position in the cross country and track and field programs. 

One week before the certification, I drove across the country in two days from Tucson to Augusta, Georgia transporting Katherine’s car (thanks to RKC TL Delaine Ross in Atlanta for a workout!).  This only a few days after moving back into our house after having spent most of the summer in the nearby Embassy Suites.  So much for a nice relaxed taper….

Master RKC Dan John describes three readiness states:

  • a)      Green light: Life is chill and the body is in a position to absorb the demands of hard training.  
  • b)      Yellow light: You can still train hard
  • c)       Red light: injury, illness, extremely high life stress

Throughout the process this year, I lingered in a yellowish-red haze.  Not an ideal training state.  That said, you can still legally drive through a yellow light, but if you’re not careful you might get slammed or get a ticket by running through a red…. 

Upon resuming kettlebell training in February, I followed a 4-5 workout cycle while working out 3-5 days per week.  This progression began as just a four day cycle from February thru April, but transitioned to five with the introduction of snatches in late April. (yes, I did virtually zero snatching for months…).  I had used this cycle last summer in preparing under Danny’s direction, so I simply hopped back into the cycle and began my rebuild with an eye on San Diego.

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Essentially this was the program from February through June.

Day 1

  • 2-3 x 5 double press (started with 20kg, moved up to 24kg, but to make the transition broke them into sets of one)
  • 2-3 x 5 double cleans (started with 20kg, moved to 24kg)
  • 2-3 x 5 double squats (started with 20kgs, introduced some double 24kg, but tended to keep the squat load lower so my legs would not be completely thrashed for running)
  • 5-10 x 5-10 double swings with 20 or 24kg

Day 2

  • 3-5 times through (3-5 x swing, clean, press, squat).  Started with double 20kg, progressed to double 24kg
  • Single swings 10 x 10L/10R on 1:00

Day 3

  • Single presses with the 24kg bell (usually 10-15 sets anywhere from one to four reps)
  • Double swings (same as day 1)

Day 4

  • Snatch (note: did not start snatching until late April, unless you count the day in early April where I did snatches for the first time and got a nice shiny blister…more on the snatch and hand care in Part III…)

Day 5

  • 2-3 time through…
  • 5-4-3-2-1 double press (mostly with double 20s, gradually introduced double 24s at lower reps before working up to entire set)
  • 1-2-3-4-5 pull ups (eventually I integrated weighted pull ups, but if I was not near a pull up bar would either do rows with TRX or simply renegade planks)
  • 1 x 5-8 squat after each round
  • After the above…
  • 5 x 20L/20R single swings one time through

A few general observations from this cycle:

  • Day 2 workout was by far the hardest.  I learned to back off slightly this spring and do fewer sets or fewer cycles if necessary.   
  • I generally used Turkish getups as the warmup.  In retrospect, I may have done more variety in getups rather than plowing away with full getups with the snatch sized bell every workout.
  • This plan seemed to benefit pressing far more than snatching.  I think part of the reason (which turned out correct) was that snatching seemed to have a sharper learning curve once I focused on it.  My cardio (for lack of a better term) was strong enough that I “only” had to worry about getting comfortable with the 24kg bell.  Yes, easier said than done, but of the two evils, snatching seemed the lesser compared to pressing.      
  • Spending more time with a heavier bell for single swings might have helped grip strength for snatching (24kg was the heaviest I had at home).
  • I wish I had appreciated the technicality of the press more last year.  In retrospect, putting off the course until this year gave me a great appreciation of nuances not only in the press but throughout the system. 
  • I should have gotten less greedy with the single press day.  Good to go challenge oneself, but I missed too many presses trying to add an extra rep.  This may have helped in helping teach the difference between good reps and bad reps, but I could have stuck to the “easy strength” philosophy and just stick to quality reps throughout

 

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After reconnecting with Danny in late June, he transitioned me to the Brett Jones program doing mostly single bell work, since the RKC now tests with single bells.   In general, I went through each set twice, though would sometimes modify a few details (See below).   I found the squat day fairly modest, while I was fortunate if I could get through press day without dropping to three reps per set in round 2.      

Brett calls for the three main days to run Friday through Sunday consecutively with snatching days during the week.  These are not commandments, however.  Typically, I would do the VO2max snatches the same day as the swing or squat emphasis workouts (Day 1 and Day 3 in the cycle), since I had midweek sessions with Danny and the VO2 max snatches didn’t fit neatly elsewhere.  

Subjectively, it seemed the base from doing five months of double bells (along with several months last year) served me well.  I don’t claim the timing is ideal in taking most of the winter off, but getting used to handling 88 or 106 pounds of bells must have had some benefit for single bell work.  RKC weekend is more about swinging bells close to snatch sized with speed rather than grinding with heavier bells (though I did do one set of 15-14-13-12…1 two armed swings with a 32kg bell).

Every RKC course is a little different but it should be little surprise that the Jones protocol made the workouts feel quite similar to what I had experienced prior to the course.  Remember though, there’s a lot of activity throughout the weekend beyond the workouts themselves (skill practice, shuttling bells).  None of the workouts at the RKC are gut busters in isolation, but the cumulative stress is high.  

One modification we made to the program was including my weekly session with Danny for the six weeks prior to the course.  During this session we cleaned up technique worked on heavy low rep work, particularly with the 28kg bell.  Just the feel of snatching and pressing this bell was priceless.  Personally, I think the real key here was to exploit the neuromuscular gains of handling the heavier bells without working so hard that any lingering stress would impair the potential adaptations from the program’s foundation.   Maybe snatching and pressing this bell are not phenomenal feats of strength, but RKC I is not about pressing the Beast, it’s more a test of “How good is your 70-90%” (as Dan John often discusses “making your 80% better.”)

25 July

2 x thru.  5 reps each w/ 24kg except swings and snatch

  • Swing
  • Clean and Press
  • Swing
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Swing
  • Get-up
  • Swing
  • Snatch (8/8)
  • Swing

VO2max snatches (15/15 for 15 min w 16kg)

27 July

5 reps each but 3 x presses on second round

  • Clean and Press
  • Get-up
  • Clean and Press
  • Swing
  • Clean and Press
  • Clean and F/S
  • Clean and Press
  • Swing
  • Clean and Press

28 July

2x through.  Five reps each.

  • Clean and Front Squat (goblet)
  • Swing (10)
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Clean and Press
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Get-up
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Swing
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Snatch (8/8 round one, 5/5 round two)
  • Clean and Front Squat

29 July

  • Snatch 9/9 x 4, 8/8 x 1, 5/5 x 1 on 1:00
  • 10 x 10/10 swing on 1:00

31 July

Heavier session w/ Danny

1 Aug

2 x thru.  5 reps each w/ 24kg except swings and snatch

  • Swing
  • Clean and Press
  • Swing
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Swing
  • Get-up
  • Swing
  • Snatch (8/8)
  • Swing

VO2max snatches (15/15 for 15 min w 16kg)

3 Aug

2x thru

  • Clean and Press
  • Get-up
  • Clean and Press
  • Swing
  • Clean and Press
  • Clean and F/S
  • Clean and Press
  • Swing
  • Clean and Press

4 Aug

2x

  • Clean and Front Squat (goblet)
  • Swing (10)
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Clean and Press
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Get-up
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Swing
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Snatch (8/8 round one, 5/5 round two)
  • Clean and Front Squat (goblet second time thru)

5 Aug

  • Snatch (10/10, 10/10, 9/9, 8/8, 8/8, 5/5) on 1:00
  • Swing (5 x 20/20)

9 Aug

Session w/ Danny

  • Pressing 28kg
  • 8 x 5/5 snatch w/ 28 Untimed. (actually used a little chalk here)

10 Aug

3x thru.  5 reps each w/ 24kg except swings (10)

  • Swing (two hand)
  • Clean and Press
  • Swing
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Swing
  • Get-up
  • Swing
  • Swing (two hand 3.)

12 Aug

  • Snatch 10/10 x 5 on 1:00; 1 x 8/8
  • Swing 10/10 x 10 on 1:00

13 August 2012

1x through

  • Clean and Front Squat (goblet)
  • Swing (10)
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Clean and Press
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Get-up
  • Clean and Front Squat
  • Swing
  • Clean and Front Squat

Stay tuned for Part III where we discuss everyone's favorite, the snatch test....

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