Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Running the Bells - Intense Kettlebell Cardio "Hill" Workouts

When road biking, once a week, hill workouts were the mission. Strength to climb and endure the climb, when the angle is causing the heart to work harder is a great general workout too. Of course one of the great parts is coming down the other side for recovery.

Runners also use hill workouts to help develop speed (short fast steep climbs with lots of recovery) and longer hill climbs like cyclists for endurance/stamina.

It's possible to simulate the cardio aspects of hill workouts with kettlebells both for conditioning, endurance, and, of course, body composition/fat loss. Not sure if it will translate to the speed benefits, but i'd hypothesize there may be some carryover. But let's leave that question aside for the moment and focus on the endurance strength and cardio.

So, here's one way i've found to get a great endurance workout in, similar to my cycling hill workouts, and that may be more enjoyable or engaging than simply swinging for sets.

Running the Bells Set Up
Here's how running the bells works, and it's pretty simple. First, set the timer on 15 mins. Then, line up a set of bells, for me that's 8, 12, 16, 20, 24. I do 10 swings per bell going up, then come back down 10 each. The point is to keep swinging. That's different than most swing sets for time: it's not X swings then break, or swing for 2 mins then break. It's no break. The recovery is in the coming down the hill - the progressively lighter bells coming back down.

The no. of swings per bell can be varried too if you want to make the hills steeper or the flats longer. You could even line up bells this way if you wanted in a tour de france of varying sizes, eg 8, 12, 12, 16,12,20, 24, sudden drop to 12, 20, 12, 8, 8. Another alternative is to change the counts for the bells, do the number of swings of that size bell. etc.

It's (usually) about Time
What you may want to consider, though, is planning your route before you start. So set up either the bells or the rep scheme (or both) before starting so you have a strategy in mind, and progress you can monitor, and then adjust for the next time. And then keep going for time. You may want to give a run a test drive to see how it feels for you.

You may decide you don't want to work for time - that you say "i just want to run the course 3 times and just see how long that takes me"

For me, going for time may be a hang over from running/cycling, where time is about endurance, and you're looking at the distance covered in that time improving.

But also, when you're thinking about body comp goals, getting longer sets in is a good thing, so if you can do your hills non-stop for 15 mins (that 8 can come in really handy to be able to keep swinging non stop when forearms are no longer able to help hang onto the 24). When you're feeling really good, you can go for more sets. A typical hill workout on the bike was an hour. I'll tell ya, i have not done these hill workouts for that long with KB's. A couple 15 min sets has been it.

Variety, Endurance, Body Comp - and Grip
Running the bells is a way to bring some variety into my kettlebell practice, and let me focus on a different part of my conditioning - stamina/endurance - while burning a whole lot of calories, giving me a hybrid resistance/cardio workout, and hitting the backside and grip all at the same time.

Really - the grip work is not to be underestimated as part of an endurance workout. That just doesn't happen on a bike, and only partially on a rower. This grip work is just one of the many not so hidden benefits of kettlebells.

Let me know if you give Running the Bells a shot and how you find 'em.



Casey said...

A whole mess of great options Mc. This reminds me of a working out at the "Exorcist Stairs" in Washington DC. The very same gigantinc flight of stairs from the movie. Funny enough, someone constructed two pullup stations at the base of the stairs. Anyway, this kind of work is brutal, but the payoff in conditioning is awesome. I only wish I still had access to those bad boys. Keep the good stuff coming!

Jason said...


Running the bells.

I have neglected swings. Have been following the party line regards snatch test so plenty of snatches but swings have been sacrificed. Doh!
Read your post and set about trying it out. 8,12,16,20,16,12,8.
70 reps = 1 round = 920kg.

Timed myself on 1 round to get a feel 2:08. So 15mins = 7 rounds. No warm up straight in. Oh dear. Recovered.
Set target of twice through. Timed at 4:15.

Given my current snatch ability, I was shocked, dismayed and battered by this simple routine. Could not believe the lactic/fatigue I was feeling in my legs.

Jason re-evaluating.

More at www.jason-addison.blogspot.com

Matt Holder, M.S., C.S.C.S. said...

I have been doing swings for time, worked up to 5 min with out setting the bell down. Your right the grip gets smoked.
I wanted a different way to do lots of swings and I just found one.
I can't wait till wed. my big swing day. I will let you know how it goes.
If you want to add to the grip work wear gloves.
Due to the cold I started wearing my leather work gloves, the gloves force my forearms to work overtime.

Franz Snideman said...


Sounds like a brutal yet effective way to get conditioned. Will try in class!!

Hope you are well!



mc said...

Guys, thanks for your comments.

Casey, have you tried it yet? keen to hear how it compares to your stairs experience.

Jason, that's just awesome. Will be keen to hear how it goes - the first time i got to 15 i admit i felt a little queazy.

Matt - wow - gloves on top of it all. I just have the 12/16 where i am and have only been able to do what i'd call little hills, but i'll add gloves on wed to see how that goes. oy vey the grip!

wow, will you try this in your class? that would be awesome to hear how that goes. Please let me know, ok?

Thanks again guys, really inspiring.


donbdc said...

I will try this today, Thanks!


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