Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Return of the Kettlebell Workout: Working Double Time Pre/Review

Have you started your Return of the Kettlebell practice yet? What made you decide to give it a go?

Return of the Kettlebell is the latest kettlebell DVD/book from Pavel Tsatsouline. Return of the Kettlebell focussing on double kettlebell work. It also features some new moves up from Enter the Kettlebell(ETK)'s excellent Program Minium and Rite of Passage programs (described in this review) that have become standard in Hard Style kettlebell practice.

The main difference between ETK and RTK on a very basic level is the number of kettlebells used: ETK uses 1; RTK uses 2. Where ETK is an introduction and introductory program to kettlebell work for any level athlete, RTK assumes that people coming to RTK have already practiced and succeeded with both ETK programs: it assumes folks are very comfortable with hardstyle kettlebell cleans, presses, snatches, squats and deadlifts. RTK also introduces what may be new moves to people not familiar with GS Sport kettlebelling - putting a hardstyle spin on that practice - with both the Clean and Jerk (part of the trad GS Long Cycle) and the addition of a movement developed by Kenneth Jay of VO2Max training (review), Viking Warrior Conditioning fame. This new move is the Viking Push Press. Indeed, Kenneth Jay is featured throughout the RTK DVD as the main demonstrator of the moves for men; RKC Missy Beaver demos some particular variants for women.

SO why do double kettlebell work? Mike Mahler with his Aggressive Strength Training approach has already made a reputation for his crusade to demonstrate that (a) heavy double kettlebell work is an efficient and effective way to muscle gain and (b) this can be achieved on a vegan diet, too. His approach has largely been to marry heavy double kb work with Staley's escalating density training approach (more on EDT).

The promo material for Return of the Kettlebell promises at least similar results. It's a "program for explosive muscle gain." The approach is different, though.

It's clear from the protocols that they are designed to combine the best of what we know about hypertrophy and skill training to develop muscle mass (assuming one is eating to support that effort) based on reps, load, recovery (and overspeed eccentrics).

But underneath that focus on hypertrophy is a program that seems designed as well to support some power and endurance, too. How be all things to all people? Well, that would be the special sauce of how the training blocks are combined. If you're familiar with ETK, you'll see some familiar parts to RTK. There are some new twists here, though, in blending blocks of kinds of programs. This is not an upper/lower body split approach; this is a one type and another type approach, alternating.

On paper, (and on DVD) the program looks compelling. After a phase of working with it, believe me it feels compelling.

My reason for doing the program is really an exploration:
i've done Mahler's style of EDT with kettlebells (i love EDT), largely playing it quite safe with lower weights on presses (5 reps of 10RM as prescribed in EDT), swings, renegade rows, floor presses - that sort of thing - usually alternating sides on the low stuff and occasionally doing double presses.

With RTK, the focus is on 5RM pressing weights for doubles work, getting the volume up, getting the time down, and combining some demanding combinations and some intriguing blocks. So the exploration is with this rather controlled push - to make double kb work as a skill practical. And practicable. If does feel different to focus on this more intense kind of doubles work. And so far, i like the routines.

And also with RTK, i'm very glad to have I-Phase z-health in particular to apply the template approach to do Z-Health mobility moves mirroring the RTK actions between reps. This movement work has helped keep focus and movement precisions as consistent as possible, towards that perfect rep. In my experience this kind of attention can mean the difference between effortful, form challenged, and more effortless, efficient lifts.

With EDT (i said i love this, right?) the focus is on what work one can get done in 15 min. blocks. Upping reps each time. In RTK as with ETK the rep count is set; can you get the time down? the weight up?

The long cycle (clean and jerk) has become a core part of the RTK plan as well - intriguingly, it is approached quite differently than it seems to be in GS circles. Imagine if you applied ETK to the Clean and Jerk. Something like that.

Right now, as said, doing RTK is very much an exploration: what does this mean for a gal in particular? In ETK, Pavel makes a clear distinction between women's press requirements and men's to say we've completed the final ETK program. That distinction (purposefully or not) has not been made in RTK's program. Likewise, in GS circles, as far as i know, women do one arm C&J long cycles. Here there's no such distinction. It seems to be doubles all the way for all.
I'm not sure about the end point described in RTK: being able to do a strict clean and press with double kb's adding up to your weight. If this program delivers that, i will be moved: either i will be a whole lot stronger or i'll have lost a whole lot of weight.

In the meantime, i'm taking this one double press at a time. It focuses the mind. Really. Double snatches, double presses - they focus the mind. I'll be keen to see how it develops strength, too.

If you're comfortable with hardstyle kb's, are happy with Pavel's training patterns, RTK is well worth exploring.


Mark Reifkind said...

man I wish I was symmetrical enough to tolerate double kb work. I can only imagine how much fun it would be and how much muscle it would build.'course, it would help if my legs were a bit longer, anything more than the 20 kg make sit tough for me with double bells, lol.

Erik Blekeberg said...

After listening to Pavel make the comment about putting excess pressure on the breast tissue, it makes sense why women do the 1 arm in the GS style of Long Cycle. The clean rack position for GS is built on efficiency and putting the weight on the skeleton as opposed to wearing the muscles out.

I have to look into the hard style clean and jerk because I learned it from a GS perspective. There is a place for everything.

Nice review, I'll also have to bust out my old Muscle Logic book by Statley.

mc said...

Mark, thank you for stopping by. you and i (and steve c is another i think) are both of the little people it seems :). Fun is not the word i'm using at the moment. Tho i look forward to getting there. Fear? it's kind of intimidating for me as i get used to doing this. the double snatch in particular. Perhaps you could invent your own style? beside the body rather than between for the swing with big bells?

Erik, me too that's how i learned the long cycle, but learning the hard style approach is interesting.

Thanks for dropping by so soon - much obliged.

Voodoo Alien said...

Hi mc,

I haven't moved on to RTK, but I am practising the new moves on my ETK variety days.

Variety day one is the long cycle, I love that lift! Used to do it before ETK came out, but gave it a rest until I had clear hard style instructions on how to do the lift and a plan to follow. Biggest difference I have found is in the catch.

Variety day two is double snatches, and yes I know what you mean about focusing the mind.

Are you doing the version of RTK described on p.122 ?

I heard that Pavel is going to publish a version of the RTK program that will allow a second athletic focus in Dec's Milo. I can't imagine doing anything else after all those FSQs! I think I will stick to ETK until then.

All the best,



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