BY PERFORMBETTER.COM/Jason C. Brown, CSCS, KBA
Most sporting events revolve around your ability to create explosive movements over an extended period of time. This athletic quality is known as power-endurance. Training for power-endurance can be absolutely grueling; however, the athlete that possesses the greatest amount of power-endurance usually goes home the winner.
Kettlebell training is relatively new in the world of sports performance enhancement. However, if there is one training tool for improving power-endurance, kettlebells are it.
Kettlebell training traditionally revolves around modified Olympic lifting variations performed for high repetitions. It's this combination of high repetitions and modified Olympic lifts that make kettlebell training ideal for creating incredible amounts of power-endurance.
What is it about this combination that makes kettlebell training so effective?
Olympic lifts and their variations, by their very design cannot be performed slowly. Snatches, Cleans and Jerks must be executed quickly or not at all. By combining this quick lifting protocol you essentially train your body to produce high rates of power for an extensive time period.
Kettlebell ClustersKettlebell Clusters involve performing 1 repetition every 20 seconds for a set period of time. To spice things up even further I often rotate the drills that are performed every rep. For example, on the first rep you Snatch, rest 20 seconds and then Clean, rest another 20 seconds and High-Pull.
A great way to work Kettlebell Clusters is by training with a partner. You each call out the drill that your partner is to perform for their next rep. This just adds some chaos and a lot of fun to the workout. It also becomes very competitive with each partner trying to outdo the other. Just make sure to pick drills that are explosive and performed quickly as well as within the skill set of your partner.
So, one minute of Kettlebell Clusters would look like this:
• 1 Kettlebell Snatch - 20 seconds rest
• 1 Kettlebell Clean and Jerk - 20 seconds rest
• 1 Kettlebell Push Press
Repeat for the desired amount of time.
Kettlebell Couplets involve alternating a full-body ballistic movement with a fundamental bodyweight drill that stresses different musculature or opposite movement patterns. This allows one set of muscles to recover while the others are working overtime.
Working in a descending rep scheme is a great way to train Kettlebell Couplets, simply because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and as you near the end of your set you'll be fired up and hasten your performance. It's a great idea to time yourself during some of your favorite Kettlebell Couplets and try to beat that time when you visit that workout again.
Here are a few Kettlebell Couplets that are guaranteed to improve your power output.
Alternate each exercise until all sets of each drill are complete. Keep rest periods short and work to improve your time when you perform this workout again.
• A1) Kettlebell Swing - 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
• A2) Pushups - 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
• B1) Kettlebell Snatch - 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
• B2) Dips - 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
• C1) Kettlebell Jerk - 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
• C2) Pull-ups - 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
One of the greatest features of kettlebell training is the ability to link and combine distinct movements into one continuous set. The unique shape of the kettlebell allows you to transfer from one ballistic drill into another without a hesitation.
Complete the prescribed repetitions of each drill before moving unto the next. Don't stop working until each drill is complete. As you fatigue, drop your repetitions to ensure fast, high quality movement.
• A1) Kettlebell Snatch - 5, 3, 1
• A2) Kettlebell Clean -5, 3, 1
• A3) Kettlebell Swing - 5, 3, 1
Complex # 2
• B1) Kettlebell Push-Press- 5, 3, 1
• B2) Kettlebell Jerk - 5, 3, 1
• B3) Thrusters - 5, 3, 1
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You have no doubt seen the clips all over the internet of elite athletes thundering away on conditioning drills with heavy ropes – slamming them in a fury and drowning in a pool of sweat, only to walk away looking stronger and leaner as a result. Battling Ropes were developed by John Brookfield and have since spawned a legion of imitators who have tried to capitalize on the amazing versatility and efficacy of these increasingly ubiquitous body-carving tools.
“I knew athletes had the potential to sustain high levels of power, strength and speed over longer durations of time,” says Brookfield. “I started to mimic the flow of water by creating a series of waves with long heavy ropes. I started out simply playing around with the ropes and quickly found out there was much more to this than meets the eye.”
Brookfield experimented with the ropes in secret for over a year before sharing the idea with anyone else. Ironic, considering how present they are in the repertoires of elite performance trainers and physique athletes.
So are the Battling Ropes just a gimmick? The short answer is no. But what results do they actually produce?
“The Battling Ropes will teach the user to sustain higher levels of intensity over greater durations of time,” Brookfield says.
There are plenty of ways to make the ropes work for you but there are a few that newbies should get initiated with.
“The alternating waves are probably the most versatile of all the basic movements because they teach the user to develop equal strength, power endurance, dexterity and muscle control on each side of the body.
This ability is a huge advantage because it transfers into any sport or tactical situation plus it also promotes a tremendous amount of injury prevention by the balance it creates.”
While the alternating waves offer plenty of athletic and injury prevention equity, the two-handed (or bilateral) slams are just plain dirty.
“The two-handed slams develop explosive power,” says Brookfield. “However, the user should strive to sustain the length of time doing the slams and also push themselves to keep a constant slamming motion with equal force thrusting up as slamming down.”
That means when you pick a time – say, 30 seconds – you should insist upon working for the entire time and using the same range of motion from start to finish. This will test you in a unique kinetic chain from your forearms, up through your shoulders and down into your core musculature as your resist the pull of the ropes and the sting of lactic acid buildup.
Despite the variation you choose, the ropes help you to build strength and muscular endurance and provides a unique metabolic challenge. The all-out bouts of work that the ropes call for supercharge your fat-burning furnace, helping you to nuke calories well after they are neatly coiled and stowed.
KEEPING YOU IN THE GAME
The Battling Ropes will help you trim up while staying as fierce as a belted middleweight fighter but there are other perks.
“The Batting Ropes are very easy on the joints and I have not heard of or seen even one small injury as of yet,” says Brookfield.
Because the ropes require a high degree of core engagement, you can expect to see a high degree of strengthening with your postural muscles, particularly those along your posterior chain. They are also easy on your shoulders, providing a gentle stretch throughout each torrid set while bolstering the vulnerable musculature around your shoulder capsules.
This provides a degree of insurance when it comes back to your heavy presses and squats.
If you find yourself in the company of some heavy ropes, try this sample starter routine to spice up your conditioning efforts.
Alternating Waves: 20 sec.
Two-Handed Slams: 20 sec.
Rest: 20 sec.
Repeat this mini-circuit for a total of 10 minutes.
If you are new to the ropes, try this routine on a non-lifting day. If you are a more experienced lifter and are looking to simply augment your existing routine, add this to the end of your normal bodypart work. If paired with high-intensity intervals, do this after your more demanding sprints.
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If running knocks the wind out of you, don't give up. You can increase your stamina, build your speed and pick up the pace by combining high-intensity interval training and endurance training. Before you hit the road, invest in a supportive pair of running shoes that provide ample shock absorption, then it's off to the races.
TRAINING TO THE MAX
Aerobic stamina is measured as your VO2 max, which is the maximal amount of oxygen you are able to use during vigorous exercise. VO2 max is determined by the efficiency of your cardiovascular system in delivering oxygen to your muscles, and by the capacity of your individual muscle cells to use oxygen to make ATP, the fundamental unit of energy that makes your muscles contract. Both your cardiovascular function and your cellular capacity are enhanced through training.
ENDURANCE GOES THE DISTANCE
Endurance training, also called continuous training, involves sustained rhythmic large muscle contractions performed over an extended duration of time at a consistent intensity. Running is typically performed at continuous intensities, ranging from 35 to 65 percent of your estimated maximal heart rate. According to exercise scientist Len Kravitz, PhD, endurance training improves your cardiovascular function in several ways, including increased heart muscle size and ventricular wall thickness, making your heart a stronger pump; increased stroke volume, which is the amount of oxygenated blood ejected with each beat by your left ventricle; and increased chamber volume and dilation of the left ventricle, which means more blood is available per stroke. Extending the duration of your runs will increase your cardiovascular endurance, or stamina.
INTERVALS UP THE ANTE
Interval training consists of bursts of maximal intensity activity interspersed between "rest" intervals of continuous exercise. A 2007 Norwegian study of healthy young men published in "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" compared physiological adaptations from continuous training to adaptations from interval training. They found that interval training had a more profound effect on improved VO2 max than continuous training. According to Kravitz, interval training can achieve similar and sometimes superior adaptations to endurance training in a shorter period of time. Adaptations from interval training include increased mitochondrial density in your muscle cells where aerobic energy is produced, increased fat metabolism, sparing of glucose and improved type l muscle fiber function.
MIX IT TO MAX IT
There are many ways to approach interval training. The Norwegian study set up two interval-training groups. One group ran all-out for 15 seconds, then ran at a "rest" pace for 15 seconds, repeating for 47 cycles. The other group performed four cycles alternating all-out effort for four minutes, with three-minute rest intervals. Each group averaged about 5.9 kilometers per training session, and did three sessions per week for eight weeks. Both groups saw significant improvements in VO2 max, with the group running longer intervals showing the greatest improvement. To develop your own interval program, begin with longer rest cycles and shorter high-intensity cycles. For instance, try two minutes of moderate-intensity running at your preferred pace, then sprint all-out for 30 seconds. As your stamina improves, lengthen your sprint intervals and shorten your rest intervals. To improve your stamina and go the distance, try alternating interval-training sessions with continuous endurance training.
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During the 2005 New York City Marathon, Benjamin Rapoport crashed hard—his legs were racked with pain and his stomach was a mess of cramps. His muscles had run out of fuel—glycogen—and were now burning fat alone. Technically speaking, he bonked. It’s a predictable phase of long-distance running. (In fact, even pro endurance athletes crash sometimes.) “You start to slip,” he says, “and then you’re gone.” Rapoport, who has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from MIT and an M.D. from Harvard, decided to study the phenomenon and made a few surprising discoveries. “No one had developed a mathematical way of determining—based on an individual’s biometric characteristics—how to optimize performance with respect to pacing and carb loading,” he says. So Rapoport created an online endurance calculator for doing just that. By entering things like age, weight, and resting heart rate, anyone can have access to these numbers. But Rapoport’s discoveries also offer a new way to approach endurance training in general. These are his tips for finishing strong.
CALORIES BEFORE, NOT DURING
Most training guides suggest that runners eat along the way in order to keep up their calories, but Rapoport says that what you eat 12 to 36 hours before your run is what really provides your fuel. That’s the time to glycogen-pack your muscles and liver.
The goal is to avoid eating during a marathon so your blood flow can stay focused on fueling your muscles, not operating your stomach. (One or two GU gels around the halfway point are OK.) Use simple starches that go down easily, like rice or pasta, and lots of fiber. (For Rapoport’s calorie calculator, check out endurancecalculator.com.)
Conventional wisdom tells you to replace the fluids you sweat out during a race, but Rapoport believes running on a bit of a deficit has benefits. “It can be safe and even advantageous to get slightly dehydrated during a race,” he says. “To an extent, a slight loss of water weight can enable your body to run with greater efficiency, as its metabolic engine is driving a lighter load.”
TRAIN LIKE YOU RACE
Dean of distance running Hal Higdon, whose training program is used by thousands of marathoners every year, advocates running anywhere from one to two minutes per mile slower than your actual race pace during long training runs.
Rapoport disagrees, arguing that you should try to maintain your marathon pace on at least one of your 20-plus-mile training runs. If you’re going to hit the wall, it will happen on a long run, so condition yourself against the bonk.
“I treat the long runs as a dress rehearsal, though I’m not as maniacal and calculated about everything as I am before a race,” Rapoport says. “The Friday before a Sunday run, I think about my diet. I make sure I eat foods that won’t give me trouble when I’m out for a run.”
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A collection of Competitive Athlete articles and selected content from various online sources to help you achieve your winning goals