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Kettlebell Pentathlon: Strength and Conditioning Test

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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Nordic Kettlebell Cup 2011 – light review

Happy swingers club

In years to come, those of us who were lucky enough to attend the inaugural Nordic Cup in Copenhagen will certainly have fond memories. Whether the event will get bigger or not remains to be seen, but judging by the enthusiasm of the participants, it will remain an event where like-minded kettlebell lovers will convene to share great friendships.

Kettlebell or Girevoy Sport (GS) is in its infancy in Europe, although the popularity of group training with kettlebells for fitness is certainly on the rise. Most participants in Copenhagen were involved in different training facilities, where kettlebells were frequently used, but getting newcomers to train for the competition lifts is not easy.

Sharing this frustration with others, I found people were unsure of what this type of training would “do” to the body!. I get the feeling some women compare it with bodybuilding, and guys with strongman lifting. You´d expect we would look like a freak show gathered to eat and lift stones, but in fact we all looked very nice and healthy!. And everyone typified the humbleness and open nature that characterizes the kettlebell scene. There seems to be a vibe that welcomes anyone interested in learning, but non-judgemental to other sports or other people´s goals.

Go the snatch!

For me this openness is a great attraction of kettlebell sport. As it is technically extremely sport specific (with similar biomechanics to olympic weightlifting) and almost as anonymous, GS doesn´t have traditional burdens of expectation attached to it, and this is even more pronounced in Europe. Small events like the Nordic Cup reflect ways to nurture a passion for few who are as keen on spreading the word to the wider public, as they are sharing friendships with like-minded followers.

With the use of local connections and popular media forms, over 20 competitors descended upon Urban Fitness in Copenhagen to compete in four distinct disciplines; Snatch, Long Cycle, Triathlon Sprint and an outdoors Strongman. Whilst not strictly adhering to competition GS rules and regulations, the aim was to attract as many newcomers as possible, and for this purpose, the organizers are to be commended. It meant some could perform in 5 minute sets with less than a years training.

Despite having my 6am flight cancelled, and missing the opening session, I used all necessary measures to turn up at lunch time and start snatching immediately. Not the ideal preparation, but then again, this was a fun event to test out lifting in front of more than the just mirror and odd looks from gym goers at home. I´d been working on the snatch over the summer after training with Steve Cotter, Ivan Denisov and Valery Ferorenko and felt it had progressed quite well, but never felt comfortable at more than 20rmp, so had predicted 100 reps, plus a couple of ugly finishers in last 20 seconds!. Well, I was about right, finishing with 106 (21, 20, 21, 22, 22). My triathlon set can be viewed here. Managed 70 reps and enjoyed the event a lot, but must admit I don´t feel too comfortable breaking out of strict lockouts to get the numbers up!.

I like the aesthetics of the snatch. It is a huge challenge, with so many elements at play, but is so satisfying when a set is strung together with fluidity. I guess it is for the “special interest” crowd. Maybe like my friend who tells me how it is to surf in barrels. He just knows, but I´ll take his word for it. When I saw Denisov in Rome snatch the 32kg for 103 reps with one hand, I wondered for a moment how it would feel to be transplanted into that role, and feel such synergy. I missed out on seeing the others snatch, as I was so late arriving, but was glad to see so many different styles of lifting, all with good intentions, and lots of training no doubt.

It was especially nice was to meet Thierry Sanchez, a guy with immense passion and knowledge about GS, world champion, and driving force behind the sport in Denmark. Like many others, I´ve read much of the advice Thierry has given on training methods and watched his videos, knowing that so much thought and preparation lies behind his progress. Many I spoke to over the course of the weekend acknowledged the inspirational role he has provided in their own personal development and that of the community in Denmark. I appreciated chatting to a very clued up and interesting guy, with a similar passion for GS and n=1 experimentation for performance and longevity!.

The long cycle and triathlon sprint events made way for the strongman event outside. By this time there were some tired bodies, but most were used to short intense metcon-style workouts and strength was certainly shown by all who took part!. Lasse took line honors almost cracking the 5 minute barrier!. After the prize giving ceremony (full results can be viewed here) and thorough cleanup leaving no evidence whatsoever of that weird bunch swinging those bells about (move those machines back in place!) we enjoyed some recuperation before convening in town for some catchup and (some would say) weekend highlights. Lars was the MC, leading the crew well through dinner to the Francis Pony, before things became blurred……and some of these things were attempted to varying success….


Lars Nielsen was another instrumental figure in the organizational side of the weekend, including housing myself and the Swedish contingent with such style and providing many laughs. Sif, Lene, Ole and others involved in making the weekend such a great experience are great ambassadors for the sport and community in Danmark, and all round nice people!. A big High5 to all the cool people I met, shared stories with and laughed with, and also to all those girls on bikes…

So the good people of Denmark have succeeded not only in the logistics of organizing a great event, with equal measure of challenge and fun, but also in showing their convivial and warm welcome to us newcomers and visitors. I like the fact that I have a new place to plan my weekend training getaways (as long as I make my flight). Plus, there is always the girl in the cafe by the Tivoli who insisted that I should try one of the special Danish pastries together with my 4th sunday coffee. I happily took the gluten hit, and would´ve found an excuse to head back and take another, except I saw a girl riding barefoot a fixed gear bike, and having it´s origin explained, I was sure I´d need to come back to enjoy meeting Copenhagen´s finest soon!.

Niklas the strong Swede!

Thierry Sanchez, Sif Skov Hansen, Lene Olsen

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Exercise, Kettlebells, Paleo, Thinking, Training

 

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Ivan Denisov – “Just let the Kettlebells fly!”

Great athletes make the hardest feats look easy. They achieve results seemingly impossible to conceptualize for the majority of us who have ever tried to run fast, lift heavy, hit further or jump higher. They succeed under an enormous range of pressures; yet often look so at ease, so focussed.  I had a chance recently in Rome to meet, and be coached by, one of the greatest kettlebell lifters ever, Ivan Denisov. Current holder of absolute world records in all three competition lifts (jerk, snatch, longcycle), Denisov was in Rome with another legendary lifter, Valery Federenko, founding head of the World Kettlebell Club (WKC).

I’ve had the privilege over the years of watching incredible athletes up close compete at the top of their game. I’ll never forget Miguel Indurain, legendary Tour de France champion or Gianfranco Zola, Chelsea’s greatest player. I’ve seen Nick Faldo make the game of golf look simple and the great Sachin Tendulkar, cricket’s all time record scorer. These, and other legendary athletes share a common denomenator: The ability to find an inner calm and dominate their surrounds with such ease. There is no rush, no huffing and puffing and no look of impending collapse. Ivan Denisov shares these qualities.

As a great champion, Denisov is perhaps on his way out of top competition and moving more into his role as a full-time coach, although he was coy about this when I asked him, and he still posts world class numbers. With limited, yet improving grasp of the English language, Federenko adopted the role of Denisov’s translator, and had a more sidelined role during the training camp. He took us through the small details of the GS competition lifts with continual emphasis on efficiency and easy of movement. While I was struggling to refine my technique with the 20kg bell, Denisov was snatching and jerking the 32 as if it were a toy. Try pressing or snatching a 32 and you’ll see it is certainly not a toy!.

During the breaks, I was interested to observe Denisov and was struck but his calmness and focus. He’d politely answer my questions about his training methods, his diet, his secrets to achieving such amazing numbers. There was certainly a presence about him, he was after all 190cm and almost 110kg, yet not in the imposing way I would imagine a heavyweight boxer or an American football linebacker. On day 2, Federenko informed me that Denisov would be demonstrating a snatch set after lunch. Stripping off into his competition suit and lifting shoes, Denisov made his way to a side room to the gym we were training in and began a breathing sequence, no doubt Russian “systema” technique. He found his solace, and prepared in the most relaxed way for a 5 minute set with the 32 using only his right hand. The set was almost perfectly timed at 20rpm, for a total of 102 reps. No fuss, no stress. The breathing and technique were even throughout, and there was no visible fatique afterwards. A simple 3264kg of lifting with one arm in 5 minutes.

Denisov later completed the WKC strength and conditioning test (5 sets of 6mins) with a maximum score using the 32. Strangely there were no heavier bells, as he had previously negotiated the 48 to set the highest ever score recorded in the test. Again, no stress, no panic. Time and time again during my attempts to nail the technical aspects of the snatch, Denisov commented that I need to relax more, breath and “let the bells fly”. I realized quickly that masters of their respective games are able to find a zone whereby their efficiency equates to power output at a level few others come close to achieving. I often wondered during my rugby career, and even as a footballer, why coaches seem to think that whipping players up into a frenzy of blood boiling tension is suppost to help performance. I never went along with that theory, even whilst I was in the changing room squeezed up against these sweating guys who seemed to have expended much of their energy before the match had begun!.

I’ve noticed professional athletes off the field too, are skilled at relaxation. They talk of sleep, of unwinding with movies, PlayStation, swims or walking. Maybe this is the way the best performers save their energy for the times it really counts. I have a sneaking suspicion the majority of amateur competitors, regardless of their sport, fail to see this connection. Performance is as much about the ability to turn up on the day and win the match, dominate your set or your opponent, as it is the ability to stay calm and relax. Too often I see the strain of tension intervening with correct and safe form during training or competition. Few people seem to think about the importance of breathing, or of mental focus and visualization.

This summer, I’ve had the pleasure of training with Steve Maxwell, Steve Cotter, Ivan Denisov and Valery Fedorenko. Different guys with different backgrounds. Each great coaches and champions in their own right. The commonality though is an important one, and one that I hope to install in my game as a coach and amateur competitor:

Performance comes through being able to master your body/mind connection. Most of us will never be world class athletes, but all of us have amazing potential to become so much better. Performance is not something we save for our thrice weekly visit to the gym. It is not something we turn off as we open the fridge and take out a packet of junk. It is not something apart from our daily life, Performance is our whole way of living, and the interconnectedness is lost on the majority. We must seize the opportunities that are in front of us on an everyday basis to improve our game, and not compartmentalize physical condition. Denisov told me of his love for family time, for games of basketball with friends and for reading. The ability to relax takes many forms, and is inextricably bound up in the ability to harness strength, mobility and power in athletic performance. I had this reinforced to me this summer by guys that know. Take your time, chill out, feel your performances grow.

 

 

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