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Kettlebell Pentathlon: Strength and Conditioning Test

10 Oct

Recently, whilst attending the WKC Sport Camp in Rome, I was introduced to the World Kettlebell Club Strength and Conditioning Quotient. This is an interesting test which, as it says, tests S&C, but allows for ANYONE to participate and gain a score. From there, and with a little experience with the actual test and the lifts involved, one can gain a decent appraisal of further improvements. I´ll explain how the test functions, and hope that it encourages you to give it a go. So far I´ve had 5 attempts, which I´ll tell you about later. I´ll also touch on the limitations of the test, and some suggestions for improvements.

From Valery Fedorenko, Head Coach WKC

“The philosophy of the WKC S&C test evaluates not just the general physical capacity of the athletes or personnel, but is also a test of all fitness components and a wide range of athleticism. It may be used to assess base strength and conditioning levels and then further used to test progress and other forms of strength and conditioning training”

How the test works

The test consists of 5 different batteries of exercises. Each is a 6 minute set followed by a 5 minute recovery period. Total time is 50 minutes (30 minutes lifting/20 minutes rest period). Each set has a MAXIMUM reps per minute (RPM) which cannot be exceeded (or if exceeded, will not factor in your score). Each set allows the lifter to select the weight s/he feels capable of completing the set. The lifter cannot set the kettlebell down during the set, or else the score is 0. Multiple hand shifts are allowed. So the idea is to choose a weight for each set that you feel capable of scoring the maximum points with. This is the strategy you need to use based on your condition. For some of the lifts, you may want a heavier kettlebell, or a lighter one if the lift is not your strongest.

Scoring

Each kettlebell has a quotient score which you multiple with your total number of lifts to get a final score. All 5 sets are added together for your final score. Here are the quotients:

8kg: 1

12kg: 1.5

16kg: 2

20kg: 2.5

24kg: 3

28kg: 3.5

32kg: 4

36kg: 4.5

40kg: 5

44kg: 5.5

48kg: 6

The Exercises

1. One arm clean (max. 20rpm)

2. One arm long cycle press (max. 10rpm)

3. One arm jerk (max. 20rpm)

4. One arm half snatch (max. 18rpm)

5. One arm push press (max. 20rpm)

Here is a nice video explaining the lifts with Fedorenko and the legendary Ivan Denisov, who has the world record score of an incredible 2500! (After you try this you´ll realize getting half this is some achievement!).

My first attempt, during the training camp in Rome, was rather on the conservative side, but I was mostly concerned with selecting weights which would give me the maximum score. I didn´t see the point of not aiming for the maximum number of reps, albeit with a heavier kettlebell. You can do the sums and see how this equates (higher weight=higher quotient but lower reps) or (lower weight= lower quotient but higher reps).

My first attempt: July 2011

1. Clean 20kg 121 reps (Q2.5)

2. LC Press 16kg 60 reps (Q2)

3. Jerk 20kg 112 reps (Q2.5)

4. Half snatch 16kg 112 reps (Q2)

5. Push press 24kg 110 reps (Q3)

Total score: 1246

3 further “training” attempts in August 2011, but just using a 16kg and only 1 minute rest between sets. Maximum total reps achieved each time. More pure conditioning, that S&C.

In September 2011, I tried the test with a 20kg, and again managed to gain the maximum score with that quotient, with 3 minutes rest between sets. Score 1310. Still felt like more conditioning, not really needing the full 5 minutes of rest.

Then last week, October 2011, I tried with the 24kg in lifts 1 & 5, and the 20kg in lifts 2, 3 & 4. I decided to use the full 5 minutes rest between sets as I wanted to simulate the test properly for harder things to come. I managed reasonably well, with maximum reps, albeit a few ugly left arm push presses at the end. Total score of 1430.

Having seen a few others do this test, and also on the interweb, some similar speed tests using kettlebells, I notice a lot of crappy reps and techniques, all for the sake of getting a high score. I have always been competitive, and extremely determined to improve on my performance no matter what activity I engage in, but one thing I find rather meaningless, is letting form go out the window just to hit a score, or beat the clock. Some may disagree, but that´s the way I guess things roll when you get older and performance and style seem more interesting that “busting a gut” to impress. So, I try to be sincere to my technique at least that way I have my OWN benchmark, and I guess that is what counts at the end of the day.

I have only done the test a few times, but see from the grading system that I must be doing something right, and indeed part of the fun of the test is deciding how far to push yourself before you are unable to get the max reps. I may try for a higher weight with, say, an aim of getting 80% of the reps. Maybe I can reach 1450+?

UPDATE: February 2013 Managed 1455, whilst aiming for 1550. Basically, I set a goal to complete ALL reps with respectively 28kg, 20kg, 20kg, 20kg, 28kg. I missed the first set by 10 reps, stopping at 110 reps, moved easily through the 20s but decided to take the 24kg on the last push presses. 28kg seemed an unlikely proposition about then, especially as my aim is usually to take the maximum reps.

UPDATE: March 2013 Having had a year away from consistent girevoy sport training (mostly bodyweight and KB assistance work) I decided on testing some heavier sets, including the 32s on the cleans and long cycle press, and the 28s on the half snatch, jerk and push press. Surprisingly, they felt good, which I put down to consistent pull-up and grip work, but these were isolated sets, not strung together like the pentathlon test. That is the real challenge of this test, a real test of mental fortitude, as well as key physical attributes like speed from the floor and fast, strong fixations. I always like to look at Ivan´s videos to see how much concentration and correct breathing is needed to be so good, not to mention his super powers! I´d like to try the test again using just 24s and 28s, and maybe allow myself to miss a few reps, in order to bust through towards.. 1600 ?? more ??

UPDATE: May 2013 Ahead of a local event aimed at introducing this test to those interested in kettlebell sport and training, I managed a spontaneous set, due (oddly I know) to a fatigued wrist from all the towel pullups of late (my go2 exercise numero uno) which were scheduled for the day. The aim was 24s for the entire test, save either the half-snatch or pushpress, where I figured 20 would allow me to complete the reps. It went well. I maxed the rep count, wisely snatching 20kg to save some juice for the last set. Total: 1530 easily my best score without too much prep or difficulty. Some quick calculations taking 28 on the cleans and 24 for the other 4 rounds would give me 1644. The next marker. I’m not one for overt quantifiable markers as my training motivations, instead tracking how I feel at different stages of my training, and overall mind/body strength development. Move well, breathe well, feel strong, in control –  this test is a good one, it’s not easy, but who wants ease in life?

S&C Grading system

Men:

Less than 720 : Low

721-900 : Average

901-1080 : Good

1081-1260 : High

1261-1440 : Extreme

More than 1441 : Superhuman (Denisov et. al)

Women:

Less than 360 : Low

361-540 : Average

541-720 : Good

721-900 : High

901-1080 : Extreme

More than 1081 : Superhuman

Summary

For a start, the WKC has separate certification programs for both FITNESS and SPORT. This test is aimed at the general public who may have not had training and experience in traditional girevoy sport (GS). For the purists (yes, there are the odd few!), such components as multiple hand shifts, ability to choose non-competition weight kettlebells, the half snatch (where you come down from lockout to the rack position between each rep), and indeed the selection of lifts may cause the heart to bleed, but hold your horses!. GS is very specific as a sport, and not so accessible to most people mildly interested in using kettlebells as part of their training arsenal. Few GS hardliners would be interested in such a “test” of their prowess, as they would use 2 kettlebells for a specified timed set, with a RPM goal together with weight. The test involves measured strength and conditioning, with a certain degree of endurance and power needed to finish off each set strongly. There is no real way to hide weaknesses, should you aim for a high score. There are plenty of other tests available, such at the RKC Tactical Strength Challenge, but life is so intent on convincing us we need the “ultimate” measure of success, that we are too quick to criticize.

The WKC test is by no means perfect, but what is?. It may seem little complicated at first, and even a little easy for those more experienced with kettlebell training, especially with one arm lifts. But when I heard Denisov had completed the test using the 40kg, 48kg and even 56kg bell, I cannot understand why people have overlooked this as a great means of ascertaining S&C levels, for newcomers and old-timers. The test is for kettlebell fitness, and could be combined with certain bodyweight exercises such as the strict dead-hang pullup or push up. Maybe even throw in a couple of 1max-rep barbell compound lifts to make it more of an “all-round” test?. But hey, why get even more complicated?. Why the endless search for the “ultimate in everything” dude or dude-ess?. That was Superman or Captain Avenger, or Wonder Woman. They don´t exist anymore, we are all getting slightly softer in modern times and use these kinds of efforts to be “awesome all the time” which are just signs of a sad dispersal of cognitive dissonance which resonates all the way to the gym.

Enjoy improving your performance at whatever you are interested in. Do it with style and learn from those who have put in years of effort before you in dedicated training and thought to finding out just how to get good results using sensible methods. And your performance is only as good as your recovery. You can be a star in the gym, but it helps little if you´re crap in bed. If anyone wants to try this test, and lives near me, I´d be happy to keep score, and make sure your form is spot on!.

Good Luck!

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19 responses to “Kettlebell Pentathlon: Strength and Conditioning Test

  1. Tim Day

    October 17, 2011 at 02:00

    So, a question…if one gets to the 20 rep max in less than a minute in the first minute of the one arm clean, what do they do? (aside from next time getting a heavier bell 🙂 )

     
    • primalmovers

      October 17, 2011 at 11:20

      Hi Tim!. The idea is to learn how to pace yourself for 20 RPM for clean, push press, jerk, or 10RPM for clean and jerk, 18 RPM for half snatch. If you are done with 20 after, say 50seconds, then you just stay in the rack position (wasted energy really), or go up a weight next time. Practice with a timer getting 10reps in 30 secs, then 20 in 60 and you’ll be fine. I usually push the last 2 reps a bit quicker so I spare a couple of seconds to shift hands.
      Another thing is to work consistently with both hands, say each minute or each 30 secs. You’ll find most will have a stronger side, and do more reps, but that will hurt you at the end of the test.
      good luck, let me know how it goes,
      cheers, Tom

       
  2. Tim Day

    October 17, 2011 at 21:21

    Thanks, Tom…

    That’s more or less what I thought! All about the pacing.

    t

     
  3. Tim Day

    October 17, 2011 at 21:21

    Thanks, Tom…

    That’s more or less what I thought! All about the pacing.

    t

     
  4. Andrew Robinson (@AndruRobinson)

    November 8, 2011 at 05:39

    I’m adding this to my monthly training! I want to have my trainees do it too. Great results, BTW.

     
    • primalmovers

      November 25, 2011 at 14:38

      Great Andrew! It’s a fun and interesting test. If anything, it gets you thinking about multiple facets of kettlebell training, which is important as it can be rather monotonous if you are training purely for GS competitions. Any small challenges to freshen up your workouts are worthwhile thinking about, and pentathalon will never be too easy. I just saw Denisov last month smash his own world record, an amazing score close to 3000 I think!.
      good luck with your training bro!, cheers, Tom

       
  5. Jari Vayrynen

    November 10, 2011 at 23:16

    I have practised KBs a couple of years. Have you good ideas how to train for pentathlon?

     
    • primalmovers

      November 25, 2011 at 14:51

      Hi Jari!
      If you split the test into the separate components and train specifically for each trying to achieve an even number of reps per arm with even time changes per hand. For example, if you choose a lighter weight than you would normally be comfortable with for a 5min long cycle set. Say a 16kg instead of a 20kg. Try to work 30secs per arm at a set cadence that matches the test. So in the case of the jerk, it would be 20RPM, so learn to pace at 10RPM per hand/per minute. For the Clean and jerk, learn to pace at 10RPM and so on. It’s very important to understand pacing, and adapt your rest positioning of the bell so you don’t expend extra unnecessary energy.
      If you work out the pacing (10/18/20 RPM for the 5 lifts) then try to achieve the maximum score with a light weight and even hand changes. Once you can achieve, say 120 cleans in 6minutes using the lower weight, 60 clean and jerks, 108 half snatches etc, then try to do a full set with the 5min break in between. If you struggle to maintain a 50/50 left/right hand ratio with lower weight, you will need more time on your conditioning before moving up weight.
      Once you can achieve the maximum score for the test with a lower weight, then work on shortening your rest period in between sets to improve conditioning. I usually do the the test with the 16kg with 1 or 2 min rest for the maximum score when I am looking for a conditioning workout.
      After you get this, you can go back to working with a higher weight and trying to get 80-100% of the reps with even hand shifts. And then follow the same progression: 80-100% even handed reps, each lift, place them together, reduce rest period and so on.
      You may feel comfortable with different weights for different lifts. This is ok too. But remember you will pay dearly by blasting out too hard, then fatiguing later in the test. It’s a mental thing as much as a physical thing.
      But overall, get your technique and mobility sorted out first. Then conditioning, then strength. Don’t skip stages, note down your work as reference, be patient and set small targets.
      Best of luck with your training bro!
      cheers Tom

       
  6. Jari Vayrynen

    November 26, 2011 at 23:33

    Tom,
    this is an excellent comment and I learned really a lot. It gave me a good idea how to train and progress in this challenge while I have trained previously more on a focus for power and have done only Viking Warrior with 16kg. However, I feel this is a right task for me and I start practising with your advices. I am aiming high and that eans different bells for different drills. I am better in cleans and snatches but there is not big diiference in my jerk and push press because of my poor jerk technigue.
    Thank you for your answer and all the best to you and everybody else in the field of kettlebell challenges.
    Best, Jari

     

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