It’s been a while. After sharing the suspension training program that I designed, well, I ran it for a while. Two months or so. But already a month in, I was facing the reality that suspension training, while having its good points (portability, easy to do, etc) was never going to be like pushing myself against some iron. So, a little over a month in I staked out many, many websites looking for an adjustable kettlebell. At the end of August, I found one for “only” $40 over MSRP. So the next question was: what the hell do I do with it?
After a fair amount of searching, and a false start with another program, I settled into Dan John’s 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Workout. While this program didn’t get me into a lot of the different kettlebell movements available out there, turns out the bell I purchased isn’t really made for much outside of swings, so this was the best choice.
I’ll measure progress on this the same way I’ve done with suspension training: a handful of body measurements. I haven’t done any squats, bench, overhead or deadlifts in over half a year now, so who knows what my 1RMs are this point.
- Body weight: 188 lbs -> 189 lbs
- Arms: ~16 inches -> ~15.5 inches
- Legs: ~26 inches -> ~25.5 inches
Numbers results aren’t too surprising. This thing has almost no upper arm work, so a slight decrease in arm size is to be expected. But with this loss of size in both arms and legs came basically no change in weight. My jeans are fitting about the same as ever, so I would assume this mostly went to muscle elsewhere in the posterior chain that I don’t record like the glutes, erectors, traps and/or delts. This program doesn’t push itself as a kingmaker in aesthetics, so I won’t hold it to that standard.
But numbers can’t speak to the mental benefits of this training, which for me were immense. There is just something very satisfying about resistance training, as opposed to calisthenics, that flips a switch in my brain. While it’s not quite loading up hundreds of pounds on my back for squats, it’s definitely a different type of physical challenge that took all the piss and vinegar out of me. Highly recommended in that regard.
What Is The 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Workout?
The 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Workout is both a program and a dare. Over the course four or five weeks, depending on how you run it, you are asked to do 10,000 kettlebell swings.
Why? As designer Dan John puts it:
Without challenges, the human body will soften. We thrive when we push our boundaries, reach goals, and blast personal records. We perform better, we look better, and we feel alive.
John originally seems to have envisioned his challenge as something for lifters to do as a change of pace. With most of us either forced out of gyms, or choosing to be out of gyms, during the covid-19 pandemic, we have been forced into that change of pace. So, it seems like a good time to do something like this program.
How you get to 10,000 swings is to do 500 a day. You do this in 5 blocks of 100 swings, with up to three minutes of rest between each block. Each block is divided up further with a sort of bonus movement in between swings. Go from swings, to alternate movement, 30–60 seconds rest, then back to swings. This is very much a cardio activity just as much as a strength building activity.
The blocks progress in a ladder fashion. 10 swings, 1 rep of alternative lift, 15 swings, 2 reps, 25 swings, 3 reps and so forth.
For me, the alternate movements were kettlebell overhead press on day 1, bench dips on day 2, goblet squats on day 3 and kettlebell curls (I should have done rows here, but completely brain farted on them existing) on day 4. I ran all of these movements using the 2–3–5 rep scheme John prescribes for just the dips because why not? With how easy those bench dips felt, I added even more reps and went up to a 3–5–8 rep scheme. We’re doing a challenge, let’s crank up the volume.
I did the swings at 40 lbs, the heaviest my kettlebell went. The goblet squats were also run at 40 lbs, while I ran the overhead press at 35 lbs and the curls at 25 lbs. This is not quite as intense as John recommends running it, he thinks you should swing 53 lbs as a male lifter, but I had to use what I had available to me. Toward the end of the program (7,000 swings in), I got a 44 lbs kettlebell and so I did the last leg of the program with that one instead.
I also ran the five week version rather than the four week one. It’s tough for me to get in workouts on the weekend due to family obligations. I’ve managed to carve out Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Fridays as workout days very well, but asking me to regularly get a weekend in is tough.
I also ran it slightly incorrect for the first two weeks: I only did one minute of rest between the blocks of 100 due to misreading the program at first. And absolutely no rest inside those blocks. This was way more intense than the multiple one minute rests inside of each block and then three minutes after each block that the program actually has in the design. I was very thankful to have re-read the program for fun and saw I was wrong.
My Lifting Background Up to This Point
I have been program lifting for over five years. First six months were Stronglifts 5x5, then a year of Greyskull LP (during which I injured my back and spent months in recovery, losing a lot of deadlift and squat progress). I started 5/3/1 in February of 2017, switching to Forever style 5/3/1 in February of 2018. Then in 2019 I started various powerbuilding programs. 2020 was originally going to be a year of “extreme” programing, Deep Water being the first, but the covid-19 pandemic closed down and gyms and encouraged social distancing. So, I had to improvise. First with suspension training and now with the kettlebell.
Before all that, I had been on fuckarounditis for two years of varying intensity and absolutely no progression plan in an apartment building gym similar to a hotel level gym. I spent my 20s largely an out of shape obese guy after being an athletic teenager.
Work Outside of Kettlebell Training
During this program, I continued to take a daily creatine supplement of 5g, D3 5,000 IU vitamin supplement and Fish Oil for Omega-3 1000 mg. I do also supplement about 1/3 of my daily protein from a shake.
Kettlebell training practically is a cardio workout. Which is good, because my cardio outside of that continues to be way down due to shelter-in-place orders. My biking has gone from 2.5 miles a week to 0 miles a week. I conintued to walk 1.5–2.5 miles a day. On days off from kettlebell training, I took walks (weighted vest stayed in the closet most days, just too hot) and even occasionally did some suspension training.
I don’t do cardio much more demanding than this because I suffer from asthma.
One thing I added in was a lot of concentration curls done throughout the day at random. I left my adjustable kettlebell sitting around a high traffic area of my home and basically whenever I found myself waiting for something (food to cook, email to come in, you name it) and I walked past it, I did some concentration curls. Started at 12 lbs for 12 reps every set and just increased it as I felt good about it to 20 lbs for 14 reps every set by the time this program was finished. Why? Well, I want bigger biceps! Don’t we all?
Diet-wise, I’ve been sticking with a low-carb diet that I developed when doing Deep Water. Still doing one to three cheat meals a week (usually some pizza). But otherwise it’s poultry, some fruits, lots of vegetables and a little bit of legumes and fat free yogurt.
The Poor Design of the Bowflex Adjustable Kettlebell
This explanation exploded on me. I made it a whole section, so those who don’t need it can skip it. If you’re thinking about buying a Bowflex Adjustable Kettlebell, here’s a mini-review with its biggest problem.
As I mentioned above, I tried running another program before I settled in on the 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge. This program ran virtually every major kettlebell movement. I ran into a big problem early on with my wrists being sore and it must have come from letting my hands go too far back when holding the kettlebell and hyper extending my wrist. This came from the Bowflex adjustable kettlebell and its very bad design.
To save space and money, I went with this modern marvel of engineering; 6 kettlebells in 1! It doesn’t take up all the space! Plus it’s cheaper by about $150 than buying all the individual pieces.
The downside might be too much though, and I wish I had known: the design on the bell means that you must jam a corner into your forearm order to have a straight wrist (proper form) on a lot of movements like the clean, the snatch and the overhead press. This digs into the arm big time and caused me quite a bit of pain and bruising. Eventually I started, without realizing it, letting my wrist go back to get more surface area for all the weight. Traditional kettlebells have a much larger surface area of contact, meaning all the weight is distributed over a larger area.
Here’s a picture to see how it looks versus a traditional kettlebell:
This is a word of caution if you’re considering the Bowflex. It’s great for swings of all kinds, deadlifts, bottoms up cleans, goblet squats and what not. Plus, the engineering is very cool to get you 6 kettlebells in one. But it will hurt your arm on snatches and even tradition cleans and press because of the small surface area by which it sits on your arm.
If I had it to do all over again, I’d probably just get a 35 lbs, and a 44 lbs tradtional kettlebell and call it a day. Though I will say my four year old is really into the adustable kettlebell and likes it when I set it to a weight he can handle, so maybe some day it’ll be his kettlebell and he’ll need those lower weights. Plus I have been using the 12 lb and 20 lb settings to randomly get in the above mentioned concentration curls, which has been nice too. But I’d rather have a fully functional bell than these fringe benefits.
Impressions of the Program
I swung a kettlebell 10,000 times.
This is as much a workout for your brain as it is for your body. There’s so many reps and swings are not exactly fast reps compared to a curl or press. The result is you have a lot of time in your head just swinging and swinging and swinging. All the while, your lungs are screaming at you to give it a rest. My heart rate would regularly spike around 170 bpm and I burned insane calories on this compared to Suspension Training. Usually, I’d burn about 7 calories for every minute in suspension training, in this it was 11 or so.
John mentions that the workouts should be going faster as you go, but I found the opposite to be true, at first. But then I re-read the design and saw that I was giving myself about a fifth of the rest time John has in the program. This is MUCH more satisfying with the rest actually done properly. It also meant my form didn’t go to shit quite as much. The big thing that goes for me after getting tired swinging is to let gravity do a lot of the work on bringing the kettlebell back down after it gets to the top position. When I did it as designed, I kept tight and more in control.
End result: I went from about 40 minutes (when doing proper rest times) to about 33 minutes per workout. Now when I wasn’t doing proper rest, I was getting one in 31 minutes, but that felt absolutely awful. Still, this can be done in less than a half in hour if you’d like.
All of that said, after about 5,500 swings I found myself sort of dialed into to what this program was doing to me. A switch flipped and it didn’t feel like I was torturing myself.
But, make no mistake, while this is a nominally a strength activity, really it’s cardio. This is why it’s not too surprising to hear John say that every athlete he tested on this increased in conditioning, gained lean muscle mass and lost some fat (well, went down in pants size and ab visibility improved, which is a good indicator for most people). This shreds through calories, as I mentioned. Though I didn’t really see this, it’s possible I was eating more calories without really realizing it and that’s why I stayed about the same weight. I’m not counting specifically at all these days.
Though I will say aesthetically I did notice my arms looking a little smaller, but measurements show it’s a pretty insignificant amount. Given that I noticed it based on how my favorite shirt was fitting different, I think it’s very possible I got some good back growth out of this, which would line up with doing this many swings and everything else.
John also mentions that every athlete came back and shattered personal records lifting. It’s tough to say how much of this is the actual program versus just taking a 4–5 week break from, say, powerlifting, while staying active, and then coming back. But results are results. I wasn’t able to test my PRs, but this selling point doesn’t sound far fetched to me.
To close out on aesthetics: the lack of chest work in this program is really the only glaring problem. Even the alternative movements don’t touch the chest, which is pretty important aesthetically these days. But, as I said above, this program isn’t trying to make you into a bodybuilder, so it may be unfair to hold this too much against it.
The design of the challenge makes it go much easier than it sounds from the outside. 10,000 seems like a rather large number of swings (and, well, it is). But the ladder scheme makes getting in 500 swings a day seem to go by relatively fast. By putting all these swings into small, bite sized, amounts, you can keep going. Once I did this with the proper amount of rest time, I honestly found myself feeling like I could do a lot more than 500 a day. Part of this is having only a 40 lbs kettlebell to work with versus the prescribed 53 lbs. John mentions in the design that if you don’t feel completely defeated after finishing, you probably don’t have a heavy enough bell.
I also probably got in more than 10,000 swings. On some runs through the ladder I found myself doing 15, 20, even 25 once, on that first set of 10. At first I balanced this out by giving myself a break on other sets (usually subtracted from the big 50 rep top rung), but after week 1 or so this seemed like more mental energy than it was worth. So, I just did extra swings, the horror. At only 40 lbs (later 44 lbs) rather than 53 lbs as written, this is more than fine.
While I got the expected work on my posterior chain with this being a hinge exercise and all, the unexpected benefit was my grip. My forearms and hands definitely got tired doing this and felt like one of my potential points of failure should I have done these to failure. So while this isn’t deadlifts, it sure feels like a way to basically get in the same work that deadlifts give without needing the access to a barbell and all those weights.
And that’s a big reason why I invested in a traditional kettlebell about a month into this program. I personally won’t feel comfortable stepping into a gym until I have a vaccine for COVID-19. So, until that time, I need a way to get in training that’s easily done at home. My home is less than 800 square feet and I share it with my family. I have no garage. I have no yard. There’s no room here for a home gym. There’s barely room for me to store what little fitness equipment I have when I’m not using it. But, it does seem like a great, full body, strength workout is possible with just a kettlebell and the space to swing it. It feels very soccer to me. All you really need is an open field and a ball to play one of the most engaging and popular sports in the world. All you need to get some good resistance work in is a cannonball with a handle welded on and a space to swing it.
While this probably wasn’t a super great introduction to the kettlebell, we do what we can with the tools we have (or unwisely purchased). I did still feel the push of this challenge to try to get in all 500 swings a day as quickly as possible. I started skipping some of that rest time to see if I could handle it. And this was a fantastic introduction to ladder program design for me. And it convinced me to become more a kettlebell guy.
Goals-wise, this really didn’t help me out aesthetically. But it didn’t hurt either. And the mental gains were more than enough to make up for just a little bit of spinning the wheels there for a month. The satisfaction of hitting that 10,000 swing cannot be overstated.
While I feel good that I got this challenge done, in the back of mind I know I really didn’t. I did this with only a 40 lbs bell for much of it (44 for the rest), when the recommended weight is 53 lbs. I think I may revisit this one, once I have a reason to own a 53 lbs kettlebell.
Where to next? Well, I have a traditional kettlebell now and am ready to try out the Russia Kettlebell Challenge Rite of Passage as described by Pavel Tsatsouline in Enter the Kettlebell. Pavel seems good at two things: marketing and teaching people how to use the kettlebell. So while it was a bit of a slog getting through the former as I read his book, I’m looking forward to getting into the latter now that I’ve finished off 10,000 swings. While I don’t know if I’m going to become a girevik, right now kettlebells seem like the best way for me to get in resistance training while I cannot go to the gym.