Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review of Kenneth Jay's Viking Warrior Conditioning for Proper VO2max training

This post is a review of Kenneth Jay's Viking Warrior Conditioning (VWC) for "proper VO2max training" . The review goes over the book and includes notes from an interview with Kenneth Jay on some of the finer details behind the VO2max and lactic acid pushing protocols of Viking Warrior conditioning.

o Cut to the Chase overview/recommendation:
If you are an athlete who needs stamina, strenght and endurance - whether on the field or in the gym; in team or in solo sports, this is an excellent protocol for maximally efficient cardiovascular conditioning.
A few quick reasons:
  • it's efficient, making good use of what we know about interval-based training
  • it works the whole body
  • it uses one relatively inexpensive piece of equipment that can be used pretty much anywhere one has room to swing a cat
  • the book itself has sufficient explanations for someone to understand why they need to do what's prescribed as prescribed, and it provides case studies and real people reports to show how this protocol works for real people.
  • It's a complete package.
Kenneth Jay, by the way, is a Master RKC and is both a coach of university teams, and world record holding athletes. It is also a pleasure to watch Kenneth Jay shop for his lunch.

o What's in this Review
The following review goes over who Viking warrior conditioning is for, how the book is presented, why the protocols presented are effective, how that's demonstrated, and why this book would be a great asset for strength and conditioning coaches, team coaches and athletes across the sports board, from cyclists to power lifters.

Who's this book for? Anyone who needs strength, stamina and power. Despite the fact that this book focuses on the use of the kettlebell snatch for its protocols, this book is not just for people devoted to the kettlebell. The kettlebell, and in this case, the single move the kettlebell snatch, just happens to be terrific for cardiovascular (CV) conditioning.

If you're an athlete who needs strength to move, stamina to keep moving and power to move something as effectively as possible, VO2max conditioning is a good idea.

Consider an athlete on a team where the team can go and go with skill and strength - right until about the last crucial ten minutes of the match. It's those last ten minutes that may just make the difference between having the concentration and energy to win against the other team.

Remember Andy Rodick at the end of this year's Wimbleton? Neck and neck with Federer till the last few minutes. Was it talent and skill or more energy reserves at that point that put Federer ahead of such a tight battle?

And what about just having the energy to get through a long day, whether that day is moving furniture or working out details of a troublesome project. Enhancing our capacity to move oxygen through our blood stream, improving its efficiency at doing so, and being able to work harder, longer for effectively less effort are all great things. These effects are great in an of themselves, plus they have super side benefits for health, longevity and well being.

o Caveat Before Starting
The only thing VWC assumes is that you already have some level of conditioning. That is, this is not a protocol for someone who is going from complete sedentary level to VO2 conditioning. Why?

Snatch Speed. The protocols in this book demand both skill with the kettlebell snatch in order to maintain perfect form with the KB when moving it quickly and repeatedly in both the down strokes (overspeed eccentrics) and the up strokes (explosive force).
Interval Effort. As Lyle McDonald summarized in an overview of the role of intervals in fitness, they're best suited to someone who has some base level fitness already. If just starting a fitness program, get used to moving first. And if you'd like to start moving with a kettlebell, excellent idea. I'd strongly encourage you to consider Enter the Kettlebell (reviewed here) for fitness, and Precision Nutrition (reviewed here) as a great habit building approach to nutrition.

o The Organization of VWC - a book in 4 main movements
Before getting into a discussion of Kenneth Jay's protocols, it's worth considering what else is in the book. The book is presented as 10 chapters. That may sound like a lot, but some of the chapters are quite succinct, and they fit into what might be described as three related movements:
  • First movement: the motivation for and explanation of how VO2max conditioning Works
  • Second movement: the protocols
  • Third movement: the case study: the protocols applied
  • fourth movement: testimonials of experiences with the VO2max protocol
o First Movement: Motivation and How VO2max Works

The initial sections build up why working on VO2max conditioning is an important and effective component in overall strength and conditioning work. An overview of the viking warrior conditioning concept is presented, and followed by an overview of cardiovascular physiology - no mean feat - followed by a discussion of force, finished up with a few thoughts on how the kettlebell - in particular the kettlebell snatch - ties all these attributes together.

Essentially, fast snatching with perfect form enables one to develop two properties of the heart: eccentric hypertrophy - its elasticity to pump lots of blood - and concentric hypertrophy - some thickening of the walls of the heart to handle the pressure of heavy loads for powerful efforts.

Oxygen is critical to our survival. Blood carries oxygen to our muscles; the effort of muscles uses up that oxygen and needs to be replaced. The effectiveness with which fresh blood can be powered through our veins is related to how effectively our heart can pump: how strong the force it can genearte (and sustain) and how much of the blood it can take in, it can actually get out of the heart again. (For more detail, Related discussion on cardio, kb's and energy system integration here)

What these combined actions of pumping blood out of the heart and getting it into the hungry muscles, mean is that the heart can get more oxygen both into and out of the muscles faster and more efficiently, and it can get more blood especially out of the heart with each beat. Better blood flow, and more O2 reaching the muscles combines to mean less fatigue and more power, stamina and, effectively strength.

Two Strengths of the Heart. Usually, endurance athletics like running or swimming or cycling develop eccentric hypertrophy, while resistance training and sprinting develop more concentric hypertrophy. It's important to develop both. And Kenneth's snatch protocol attests to doing both.

There's only really one other activity beside the kb snatch it seems that has been shown to simulate this simultaneous double effect on the heart, and that's rowing. And if you're Stuart McGill, you're not crazy about rowing because your back is in flexion a great deal of the time. This is not the case with the snatch.

Jay goes into some detail on how the cardiovascular system of the heart and bloodflow works. Some folks may want to skip this part and get to the protocols, and that's fine: it's there for reference. But for those who do want to get at *why* the protocols that follow will enhance those two key components of cardiovascular strength, the explanations are very good. They make a few assumptions - for example the Krebs cycle is mentioned without explanation, and the roles of lactic acid and why we might want to push on that is also left more stated than explained. But there's sufficient information that is well-explained to get a handle on the process, and seek out other sources in an informed way if more info is sought.

+ Second Movement: The VWC protocols
Viking Warrior Conditioning presents 5 protocols for VO2max conditioning. Each are progressive and build upon the previous one.

36:36 The most discussed protocols in the RKC kettlebell scene is the protocol Kenneth Jay first introduced to the RKC II certification a couple years ago. The 36:36. Why 36 secs on/36 seconds off. Kenneth Jay explains this in the book as follows:

Thrity-Six seconds is 60% of 1 minute. Research has shown that doing intervals at 60% of the time spent at VO2max is far superior to 50% (the suggestion of 30-second sets) or 70% or even 40% and 80% when doing high volumne work (35 sets)
One may ask, how is 36:36 representative of 60%, when the interval is 1:1. Isn't that 50% of 1min 12 secs total for the set? Shouldn't it be 36:24?

And so i did ask Kenneth exactly this. To which he replies that the focus in not on the work to rest interval ratio, but on the max time for VO2max work in a minute:
First thing is to remember the 60% does NOT refer to W:R ratio or the protocol itself. the 60% is taken from the time spent at MVO2 during the cadence test. in order to elicit a MVO2 response several factors has to be present among others a gradual build up- henc the 5 min test. the 5th minute is all out which should be VO2max and in order to take the slow component of the VO2 kinetics into account a minimum of 1 minute has to be kept (this is necessary because the test estimates as opposed to direct meassurement) The 36:36 sec. protocol is therefore derived by saying that if we are working at VO2max levels for 1 min during the test and research show (like esfarjani & Laursen, 2007 ao) that interval duration should be 60% of the time you are able to keep your VO2max then I arrive at 36 sec. IF I had chosen to have the cadence test last 5 1/2 in. with the last 1 1/ min all out then the work interval duration would have to be 60% of 90 sec (54 sec.) this would have been just as accurate if it had not been for a serious drop in snatch performance after 1 min all out- this is based on no published observations during my study but if the protocol was meant for runnig it could have easily been done. prolonging the final all out time with snatches it a differnet animal and most people would get a worng result.

At this point the work duriation has been established (60% of 1 min of the cadence test) and since that equals 36 sec I decided the protocol should have a 1:1 W:R ratio. When the interval work duration is less that 1 min. this is advisable. also based on research (michalisk& Bangsbo) when the intervals gets longer- the rest also has to increase.

So in short. remember that the 60% is derived from the cadence test and nothing else!

For backup to the above, Kenneth references the following article in particular:

J Sci Med Sport. 2007 Feb;10(1):27-35. Epub 2006 Jul 28.Click here to read Links
Manipulating high-intensity interval training: effects on VO2max, the lactate threshold and 3000 m running performance in moderately trained males.
Esfarjani F, Laursen PB.

School of Science and Physical Education, Esfahan University, Esfahan, Iran.

The aim of this study was to compare the effects of two high-intensity interval training (HIT) programmes on maximal oxygen uptake (.VO(2max)), the lactate threshold (LT) and 3000 m running performance in moderately trained male runners. .VO(2max), the running speed associated with .VO(2max) (V.VO(2max)), the time for which V.VO(2max) can be maintained (T(max)), the running speed at LT (v(LT)) and 3000 m running time (3000 mTT) were determined before and following three different training programmes performed for 10 weeks. Following the pre-test, 17 moderately trained male runners (V O(2max)=51.6+/-2.7ml kg(-1)min(-1)) were divided into training groups based on their 3000 mTT (Group 1, G(1), N=6, 8 x 60% of T(max) at V.VO(2max), 1:1 work:recovery ratio [that should look familiar -mc]; Group 2, G(2), N=6, 12 x 30s at 130% V.VO(2max), 4.5 min recovery; control group, G(CON), N=5, 60 min at 75% V.VO(2max)). G(1) and G(2) performed two HIT sessions and two 60 min recovery run sessions (75% V.VO(2max)) each week. Control subjects performed four 60 min recovery run sessions (75% V.VO(2max)) each week. In G(1), significant improvements (p<0 .05=".05" p="0.07)." style="color: #663300;">HIT programmes in moderately trained runners, but that changes in performance and physiological variables may be more profound using prolonged HIT at intensities of V.VO(2max) with interval durations of 60% T(max).
It's also cool to note that the above study is based on "moderately" trained runners - so not super jocks. And since this is the level - moderately trained - of where most folks will begin with the VO2max protocol, then there's good reason to use the optimal protocol for this approach in the vo2max effort.

The other Protocols. Beyond 36:36 there is one preliminary/prepatory protocol before diving into 36:36, and then three other peaking and pushing protocols that focus on both pushing beyong VO2max and on lactic acid tolerance.

Indeed lactic acid is in the title of the three post 36:36 protocols, and its one concept that Viking Warrior Conditioning does not directly explicate. So i asked Kenneth if he could talk about that focus a bit more here. Here's what he said:
Basically production and tolerence of lactic acid is a great indicator of how well your anaerobic system is conditioned. A high production rate means that ATP is synthesized very quickly and a high tolerence rate means that just that- you can continue to work in a very acidic environment.
(For a quick overview of ATP, what it is, and why it's important, take a look at the middle-ish of this post on fat-as-fuel.)

Likewise, what about going over VO2max? How can we do something at MORE than 100%? If that more than 100% feels like Spinal Tap's amplifier ("it goes to 11"), then a couple things to remember. First we have more than one energy system we can draw on, each being categorized as aerobic (using oxygen) and anaerobic (not using oxygen). When the aerobic capacity gets tapped out - or we hold our breath for an intense effort - we're drawing on those anaerobic energy levels. I asked KJ if he could describe this beyond 100% V02max capacity, and he came back with the following analogies:
[Going over 100% is possible becuase] the body basically has two ways to make energy: those are aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic means "with oxygen" and anaerobic means "without oxygen" VO2 is the most acurate way to express how much the AEROBIC system is taxed.

When we reach 100% MVO2 we cant get more out of the aerobic system BUT we still have the ANAEROBIC system to push harder. Going above 100%MVO2 just means that you are doing something faster than what your aerobic system can handle alone.

Think about it is way: Ever seen the movie "the Fast and the Furious"? The guys in the film fine tune their cars to the limit. putting in all the right parts- the lightest, most durable stuff, the best turbos etc. that is the equivalent of the VO2max. The cars probably max out at a top speed of 160-170 mph (which we will call 100%) or something like that. BUT then they have the NOS. that injection will make the cars go close to 200 mph or +100%. The NOS = the anaerobic system. Of course that is a very simplified way of looking at it but it gets the idea through. (hopefully)
Going over 100% VO2max also pushed lactic acid production at a faster rate than a lower rate. So the two effects are strongly related.

How Long to Do Them All? Kenneth Jay's protocols, informed by recent research on best-tapping of energy production and tolerances for optimal work. If a person has the stamina to move through each protocol in succession, it will take approximately 30 -36weeks - in other words the better part of a year.

Of course, these protocols are the crown jewels of the book, but as a good coach, Kenneth doesn't simply say here's a bunch of nifty protocols; he provides a few contexts in how they can be applied. Thus the next sections of Viking Warrior Conditioning present how to put these strategies to work.

o Third Movement: Thorolf and Friends
The Protocol section closes with three strategies of how VWC might be adapted to co-exist within anyone's current training practice. This also includes KJ's own prefered approach. But the part of the book that is a particular asset is the case study that follows.

Here we see charted out exactly how one "moderately trained" 35 year old male, Throlof, did following the first four of the five Viking Warrior Conditioning protocols. Each protocol is mapped out on a per session /per week basis to see progression of volume.

We see the calculations for percentage over VO2max worked out to go with particular protocols. The only thing we do not see is Thorlof hooked up to a cart to validate that the calculated VO2max percentatges are validated in practice. Given that these calculations however are based on a lot of research that has been tested, and since we can see Thorlof's progress we can be pretty confident there is a strong progressive effect.

Kenneth Jay also stated in our exchanges that yes Thorolf really exists and yes these are his numbers.

Active Rest. Something also keen to note in the case study are the back off weeks in the program. Either Thorolf has great instincts or a great coach, but he kept himself sane by backing off for a bit and coming back stronger than before for a persistent, consistent linear progression of results over time.

Intervals vs other CV conditioning. Kenneth rounds off the Thorolf section with a nice discussion of the benefit of interval training vs. steady state. This chapter has the unfortunate title of "why the fat burning zone is a joke" but aside from that he makes the now well established case that in 2/3's the time of a steady state 75% Max heart Rate workout one is burning significantly more calories, and hence getting at more fat - so getting lean is good. The section also touches on why intervals like these have other benefits than steady state - and that may be the key thing, more than how many calories are burned or not.

What we know from increasing amounts of data is that, at a certain intensity of effort, things start happening at the DNA level of our responses to demands for fuel that have effects not just on our hearts but on our muscels, too. We touched on this a couple of weeks ago in this research review of the 6mins in 2weeks Efforts and its potential applications.

To complete the discussion on the benefits of Viking Warrior Condition, Kenneth concludes with a discussion on Conditioning and on Power, how they relate and how, not surprisingly, VWC helps develop each of the areas discussed. The discussion on general conditioning is particularly strong, discussing fatigue management, its relation to work capacity and the role of oxygen uptake - the latter being a big chunk of what VO2max work is about.

o Fourth Movement: Real People - well, RKC's and a Fighter- using VWC
What comes as a surprise in the book is the chapter that simply presents 3 RKC's of varrying levels writing about their experience with the VWC protocols. 2 of the 3 writers is a woman. That's cool. It's difficult in reading through these experiences not to see how they might be applicable to a range of athletes. To drive the point home, the section concludes with an interview of Mark O Madsen (also an RKC) who is a "world ranked Greco-Roman wrestler." The core take away from this interview is that the kettlebell is one of many tools the athlete uses regularly, with the 15:15 protocol being his main VWC protocol - from which he's getting a lot of mileage. The take home is this is a serious athlete "ranked 2nd in the world" - so if this approach wasn't working for him in a serious way, it would not be in his training.

o Coda
The book finishes with a review of the RKC hardstyle snatch. In an interview with Geoff Neupert, Kenneth Jay reiterated that he takes as a base level for this protocol someone who has gone through Pavel Tsatsouline's Enter the Kettlebell Program Minimum and Rite of Passage protocols for basic level comfort and control in kettlebell work.

Since this is such a snatch heavy program, seeing an RKC trainer to check snatch form is a Good Idea, too.

Kenneth in his Call to Action promises that Viking Warrior Condition will offer a transformative experience of conditioning like no other. After reading the book, you'll know not only how to make that happen but why these protocols will deliver that. And based on the the testimony of the people in the book, there's excellent support to show that the claims are not unwarranted.

A word for Rif. One other voice prefaces the book, Master RKC Mark Reifkind. He has not only written about his experience in the book's forward, but he's chronicled it as well on Rif's blog. His and Tracy Reifkind's progress with these protocols is perhaps kenneth's best testament to their efficacy. Every claim Rif makes in the forward is documented - frequently with video - for all to see.

o Other Athletes: Runners And Rugby Forwards.
Something i've started to investigate with some athletes is how VWC might be interleaved with their running practice to reduce hard miles on their bodies and up their performance. It's early days, but this has promise.

Another place some of us will be looking at in the fall is how VWC can improve the end-of-game stamina of a team's rugby forwards - complementing, not interupting, their pre and in-season training.

o Summary
VIking Warrior Condition is an intense program that promises to deliver persistent, consistent results.

The book may feel thin in the hands at 109 pages, but as such it's also a highly practical, efficient manual that anyone can wrap their heads around in a single sitting, and come back to as necessary when moving up the protocols.

If you're interested in tested practical applications of interval training for cardiovascular fitness, strength and stamina, for excellent conditioning, and would like to use a simple implement to achieve these ends, this is a book worth having, and approach worth practicing.

Let me know how go your results.

Kenneth Jay's Viking Warrior Conditioning, published by Dragon Door, 2008.

Related recommended resources
Enter the Kettlebell
Precision Nutrition
In the US: dragondoor kettlebells
In the UK: kettelbell Fever

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Chris said...

pose my question with respect to this book - which I do own and have read - is about specificity.

If I do Jay's might make me better at snatching a kettlebell, but how will it make me any better at anything else?

dr. m.c. said...

guess i need to revise this article :)

the point of VO2max work is for GPP - general physical preparedness, in particular to enhance work capacity.

Just like rowing sessions would be or hard time on a bike.

The difference between workouts on a bike i find with rower/kettlebell is that with more of the body involved in the movement there are more benefits in terms of kinds of strength.

But it is simply one way to build up work capacity and power/strength. As such the instrument used here makes it efficient and practical.

As for transference, this is why i'm using it with runners for vo2max training and rugby forwards for enhanced stamina, and better glycogen sparing for end of game pushes. i suppose rather literally there.

thanks for the question. hope that feels alright.

Also, just a note,
this is ONE part of a program, not a whole practice in an of itself.

Rich & Mi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Reifkind said...

incredibly in depth and insightful review as always MC, I feel like I am always furthering my education reading your posts. well done. and thanks for the props it is very appreciated. as you know, this protocol has made such huge differences in mine and Tracy's training it is almost incalculable. it literally brought my training "back to life"

Anonymous said...

Hi Mc, I'm a long time lurker of articles here on begin2dig but this is my first time posting a comment. I know this post is three years old by now, but I'd like to ask you an advice to understand better if viking warrior conditioning is what I need.

My only goal is to increase my ability to recover from workout to workout without having to take any supplements, so that I can in future increase the number of training days. Is VO2 Max in your opinion the right path to walk in order to be able to recover quickly from 2 MMA technique/sparring workouts plus 2 hard, total body calisthenics workout per week?

My goal is to perform hard calisthenics on Monday and wake up fresh for 3 hours of MMA on Tuesday. My two other workouts are MMA on Thursday and calisthenics again on Friday/Saturday.

I'm not exactly a beginner but still feel like recovery is my weak point.

Any suggestion would be highly appreciated, thanks for your work on begin2dig!

dr. m.c. said...

lapennadelgato -
thank you for writing -
you'd like to improve your recovery and you're doing four hard workouts a week? Is that right?

first) are you thinking of ADDING vwc to this list? or replacing it?

second, how are you sleeping?

Without doing a sit down to understand what your goals are, if you're feeling you're NOT recovered well from the work you're doing, you may want to
1) explore your sleep patterns - if they're not good uninterupted 7.5 hours a night or better, good place to start

assuming that's good:

2) how's your nutrition? how do you know? do you have some heuristics to assess the quality/amount for your health and what you're doing?

assuming that's good:

3) you may want to add some carbs to your pre/post workouts to make sure you're getting sufficient fuel to power your workouts

assuming that's good

4) you may just want to pull back - try only three intense workouts a week and do some lighter funner activity at alternate times.

assuming that's good and you want to give VwC a try - take a look at how kenneth puts together a use of the program for fighters. It can be very good for improving in the ring sustained levels of output - so more for anaerobic endurance than recovery, tho they're related.



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