The Supercross Kettlebell Challenge
With Anaheim 3 this weekend, the 2014 supercross season is in full force. Though supercross only exists as a competitive venue at the professional level, it’s safe to say riders of all backgrounds & abilities wouldn’t mind having the skills and conditioning to do 20 laps with names like Villopoto, Stewart, Reed, Dungey, Tomac & Roczen.
Conditioning routines built around preparation for supercross have come from many different backgrounds and often carry a uniqueness based on the rider, coach, or trainer employing them. Frequent readers of Layman’s Strength understand that I generally prefer a minimalist approach to training for the sake of efficiency, recovery, and the wherewithal of the athlete.
Enter the Kettlebell
At this point, I would like to introduce you to one piece of equipment that can greatly help your efforts in riding & life: the kettlebell.
I’m sure most of you reading this are familiar with kettlebells, and may even be using them currently. You may also be familiar with names like Pavel Tsatsouline & The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. In light of Pavel’s sense of humor, “comrade,” allow me to introduce you to The Supecross Kettlebell Challenge.
The SKC is “simple, but sinister“. The initial goal is to achieve 100 reps of the two-hand kettlebell swing with an appropriately sized bell in under 10 minutes. (An “appropriate sized kettlebell” would be defined as the heaviest you can properly snatch. I would refer the reader to organizations such as the RKC or StrongFirst for further help in this area.).
For most men, an appropriate starting weight will be 16kg (35lbs.) while most women will do well with 8-12kg (18-26lbs.). This may not sound like a lot, but if you’ve never taken kettlebell training seriously before, you’re in for a surprise. These weights are also still light enough to allow you to learn proper technique without being overwhelmed by the bell.
There’s not really a set/rep scheme that needs to be strictly adhered to for the SKC, however a guiding principle should be that if you feel the quality of your reps declining, stop that set and take a brief rest. Repeated high-quality exertions are more valuable in this context than just grinding endurance. This helps to keep you safe and mitigates the onset of bad habits.
With these considerations in mind, as well as the overall work and time allotted, a convenient way to organize an SKC workout is 10 sets x 10 reps on the minute for 10 minutes. In other words, start a timer of 1 minute as soon as you begin your first set of 10 repetitions. Once the set is completed, rest the remainder of that minute. When the timer goes off on the next minute, perform your second set and repeat that cycle until you’ve completed all 10 sets.
Organizing your SKC workout as such also easily allows you to account for progression over time. As you get better, strive to complete the SKC faster by taking shorter rest intervals. If you can get 100 reps in less than 7:30, you’re in pretty good shape (probably better than most you’ll be on the gate with at your local track any given weekend). If you can do it in 5 minutes or less, you’re a stud.
As your fitness improves or if you get bored with the traditional SKC, here’s some ways you can introduce progression into your sessions…
•One-Hand Swings (switch hands as often as necessary, but try not to work one side more than another)
•Hand-to-Hand Swings (switch hands each rep)
•Double Swings (2 kettlebells)
•Snatches (same rules as one-hand swings; for the experts)
•Double Snatches (Snatching 2 kettlebells; for the psychopaths)
•Active Rest Periods (doing another exercise during your rest intervals)
•Expand The Reps (i.e. 150 in 10 minutes, 200 in 10 minutes)
•Compress The Time (100 reps in 8, 7, 6, or 5 minutes)
•Expand The Time (12, 15, etc. minute sessions)
Or you can go with my preferred choice…
•Get A Heavier Bell
Change only one variable at a time, and don’t make changes too frequently (doing so will interfere with your ability to measure progress).
For an average in-shape adult man, a good goal to strive for is to complete the basic SKC (10×10 in 10:00) with a 24kg (53lb.) kettlebell. For reference, at the time of this writing my best time is 6:16 with a 24kg bell (6’1″, ~160lbs.). The average woman can aim for a similar feat with a 16kg (35lb.) bell.
If you’re in really good shape and you want to experience the full sensation of racing a supercross main event, set your timer for 20 minutes and get as many reps as you can while resting 30 seconds or less between sets. (Not recommended outside of the supervision of a good kettlebell coach).
Benefits Of The SKC
The most obvious benefit is the conditioning that this type of training develops. Specific to the motocross athlete, one component that stands out from other forms of cardio training is that you are constantly having to balance & exert force against an external object (not too different from balancing & exerting force on the bike). This introduces a strength-endurance component that can be neglected by traditional methods such as running, cycling, or rowing. Due to the ballistic nature of the kettlebell swing (and related KB exercises), you also develop power/speed endurance that is hard to account for with somewhat similar methods such as circuit training.
A proper kettlebell (i.e. not a cheap one you can get at the department store) is a chunk of iron fastened with an over-sized handle (over-sized when compared to the traditional handles of barbells, dumbbells, & other exercise equipment). The larger-diameter handle makes the kettlebell more taxing on the forearms & grip than the traditional implements already mentioned. In addition, proper execution of the kettlbell swing (or the snatch should you choose to go there) teaches the athlete a grip style that’s sufficient to hold onto the bell without dropping it for extended periods of time. The texture of the iron is also good for conditioning the hands & palms against wear and tear.
Perhaps the most prolific benefit of kettlebell training for the motocross athlete is that it can serve to replicate many of the fundamental mechanics of riding a motorcycle. I’ve written about this at length elsewhere (see here & here). Without belaboring the point, kettlebell drills are excellent tools to help teach you how to properly use your hips in all types of movement, but especially so on the track, helping you to ride more efficiently which allows you to ride faster with more control.
Kettlebell training is convenient. You can have a brutal workout in an 8×8 elevator with a single bell. This makes it a great choice for those who like to train at home, people who don’t have time to get to a gym regularly, or individuals who can’t cater to other equipment for outside reasons (living in an apartment for example). Kettlebells are also portable: bring one with you to the track and you can warmup with swings, windmills, halos, & goblet squats before you go ride.
Recommended Prerequisites To The SKC
For everything I’ve said so far, there’s some things you can do to get more out of the SKC than just jumping in without having done anything else prior. For the optimal effect of the SKC, I recommend the individual increase their deadlift past the novice stage of strength (this varies from person to person; a good guideline to shoot for is a double-bodyweight pull for men, 1.5 x bodyweight for women. Even better would be those numbers with a double-overhand grip or for a set of 5 with a mixed-grip)
The squat would also be a viable option, although the deadlift more closely mimics the mechanics of the kettlebell swing. Doing this will allow the trainee to utilize heavier weights in the SKC than they would be able to otherwise, therefore making the sessions more effective.
If you have never trained with kettlebells before, seek out a reputable coach and learn how to do these exercises properly. Many people misunderstand the use of kettlebells and the execution of their moves (including trainers in commercial gyms). A complete tutorial of the swing is beyond the parameters of this article, however here’s some important things to remember:
•The swing IS NOT a squat (hinge from the hips to swing the bell; don’t squat down)
•Finish with the glutes (pop the hips thru fully at the top)
•Maintain a neutral spine (don’t use your lower back to swing the weight)
•If your lower back is sore you did it wrong; if your butt/hamstrings are sore, you did it right
Don’t be surprised if you can’t complete 10×10 in 10:00 the first time you try it. Start with just a few sets and gradually work your way up with time. I would opt for more sets of less reps vs. less sets of more reps while you’re still learning the exercise (ex. 8 sets of 3 vs. 3 sets of 8).
Twice a week with as close to an equal number of days between workouts as possible should be sufficient for a beginner (Mon/Thur, Tue/Fri, Wed/Sat, etc.), while 3 times a week on non-consecutive days should get the job done for most people (Mon/Wed/Fri, Tue/Thur/Sat, etc.). I like to use it as a finisher to my strength training sessions (beware of the days where you’ve trained your back, legs, shoulders, and/or core hard first; you’re in for a treat).
Though I don’t recommend the SKC being your only type of training, if you are unable to do other forms of training for whatever reason, you could build up to doing these sessions 4 times a week (ex. Mon/Tue/Thur/Sat, Sat/Mon/Wed/Fri, etc.) in which case I would be more inclined to introduce some variety once the athlete has the basics covered.
As always, make sure you’ve warmed up well before you start. I like to go for a 1 mile walk afterward to let the heart rate come down gradually and to relax (you can get some residual fat-burning this way too).
“Welcome to the Supercross Kettlebell Challenge.“
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.