Getting Fitter and Stronger the Easy Way

IMG_8186I don’t always lead the way in our strength programs. Giving clients the option to choose their strength movements gives ownership to that move, to making it their move.

In our latest program we chose two main lifts, an upper body strength move and a lower body movement.

We developed these over 8 weeks without straining and stressing and supported the program with other exercises. We simply expanded our comfort zones – no maxing out, crying or vomiting!

‘This was perhaps one of the most relaxed, chilled out programs we’ve ever done.’

Below I’ll demonstrate some of our key chosen movements (not instructional) and then talk briefly about how they were trained and how they tested out this week.


Elevated Rock

Kettlebell Press

Rocking Push Up


The key component of each target movement and indeed, the other movements employed in a training sessions was NOT to max out, not to strain, stress and grind out the reps. This was perhaps one of the most relaxed, chilled out programs we’ve ever done. We put faith in a fresh understanding of high intensity training that I talked about here.

At the start of the program, session one was used to identify baselines for the two main movements. What weights were considered light, medium and heavy for the swing, how many push ups / elevated rocks were considered moderate and what was considered a medium weight to press.

This was all based on trialling sets with progressive intensity until medium was felt. I’ll not go into details about how we conducted this as it’s not the purpose of the post but needless to say, we identified medium.

From here we backed off to 70-75% of medium on the pressing movements and gradually waved the volume of the sets from just 1 rep to ladder of 1,2,3,4,5 over the 6 weeks and the swings and elevated rocks we kept at 10 seconds per minute for 10 minutes per session. We gradually used heavier kettlebells in the swings. Really quite simple stuff.

Anyway, the good stuff – the results.

The Swing was tested with the 100 swings test – the goal, to swing 100 times in under 5 minutes. Even though we never encountered 100 swings in that kind of intensity (the most we would do over 5 minutes was 35 swings) everyone has tested out with 100 swings in well under 5 minutes and interestedly, finished fresh and not huffing and puffing! We have carried out swing tests like this in the past, but for everyone, they used much bigger weights.

The elevated rock goal was maximum reps in 5 minutes. Probably tougher than the swing 100.

The elevated rock tested out with a total of 70 in 5 minutes. This is quite a feat – I dare you to try this one!

Pressing. On testing the single arm press, everyone finished with a personal record weight for reps.

The overarching goal of the program was to demonstrate how we can indeed increase our work capacity or fitness if you want to call it that and increase strength too but without ever working ‘hard’. Maybe it also demonstrates that you could still accomplish training goals when feeling kind of tired some days. If all you have to do is turn up, do the stuff and go home.

Turn Up, do the ‘Stuff’, go home, repeat. Simple!

My Slowest Quickest Snatch Test

Time is a curious thing, set in stone in terms of actual rate of passing but, at times seemingly controllable at a mental level anyway.

The RKC / SFG snatch test is 5 minutes in length, in which time you must snatch a 24kg (for men) 100 times with great technique. Failing to lock out the arm, failing to reach a vertical arm position or demonstrating unsafe practice will result in a no count, of which you will only receive three!

Prior to the RKC certification weekend, snatch training had been a planned process, one snatch at a time and mostly for less than 10 at a time per arm before taking a planned rest.

Every snatch training session followed a planned, laid out progression to ready me for my assessment and the weekend training itself.

overhead kettlebell

Initially I trained a humble 5 L/R per minute for 5 minutes, then progressed up from there for a maximum of only 8 minutes of snatching at 10 L/R per minute.

In the 10 weeks prior to the RKC weekend, every snatch training session I snatched the kettlebell. Read that again, I ‘snatched’ the Kettlebell! That’s all I did in training on snatch day, snatch the kettlebell. I thought only of snatching the kettlebell. “Cool”, you say, “that is the objective, stop repeating it”.

In most learning circumstances we start with a cognitive approach, with focus and attention to the detail, to mistakes and fixing them, before the learned skill becomes automatic and habitual. This is much like jumping into your car and just driving to your destination without thought for how to drive, you still drive. Naturally I assume you are a competent driver! But, whilst in the learning stage of an exercise or activity, cognition is of utmost importance. If you end up practicing sub-perfect reps you are only getting better than practicing sub-perfect reps.

By the time the RKC weekend was upon me I had accumulated many, many hours of snatching. Apart from the prior 10 weeks plan I had of course spent time snatching during other routines for a couple of years. I had earned the right to just snatch automatically, without much thought as it was pretty simple… not always easy, but a simple move I felt competent at.

But, here’s the thing (that I’ve been winding myself towards in this post), a somewhat weird thing that happened on test day that deludes me today, a year later and an experience that I’ve not since experienced. The tests for those who don’t know, start off with all of the candidates lined up in teams with our assessors, and each of us takes our turn at the test Turkish Get Up, Swing, Clean, Squat, Press and finally the 5 minute Snatch test.

My Snatch test started off rather cool. In fact I snatched out a comfortable 20 L/R to get rolling then I found myself in an odd place. As I started to get comfortable with the discomfort of snatching I began to spend time on every snatch planning each movement component of the snatch. From the top as I inhaled sharply I simultaneously goosenecked my wrist, pulled the bell down, hinging my hips, reaching far behind me before recoiling, extending my knees and hips with a simultaneous sharp exhale, seeing the bell float up in front of me before punching out the lock out and all with a seemingly slow progression, like time was going slowly enough for me comprehend and focus on each and every movement.

This might all read rather silly… unless you’ve ever experienced such focus that time does indeed seem to pass more slowly. The big picture of this particular event is of course to always think about what you are doing in an exercise, to focus intently and not to become complacent or automatic. Oh, and I passed my 100 snatch test in under 4:20!

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.

Alexander Graham Bell

Peace Y’all



Why I moved to StrongFirst from the RKC

A lot of my clients and friends know from my incessant chatter, that I discovered kettlebells 4 years ago for shoulder rehab only to find they had much, much more to offer. After moving to Australia in 2011 I committed myself to RKC certification after appreciating the books and teachings of Pavel and all the other trainers that made up the RKC community. In this bunch of strength and conditioning legends and practitioners I really found myself, much like I had with the powerlifting crew in Northern Ireland, but more so… I really felt comfortable sharing and discussing the things that we work for, train for and share with our clients and friends.
Generally speaking, I feel very out of place and often misunderstood in the general fitness world and not just because of my northern irish accent! Whilst most continue to do what they’ve always done, most continue to fail themselves…. Been there, done that and threw away the t-shirt many years ago.

I dearly aspire to continue to teach what I teach, to a larger community to help share that there are other very smart ways to train compared to the standard in the industry. To do this successfully I feel I need to work with other like-minded trainers, in a strong community where we can do this together.

Last year many in the RKC were devastated, a little confused and torn by the split in the RKC leadership which saw Pavel and many of the for mentioned trainers sever from the RKC to form StrongFirst.

Similar to a divorce, many were initially torn between mum and dad splitting up and who to support and live with.
Ultimately, the RKC and StrongFirst is Hardstyle. The training remains the same perhaps with a slight shift on the emphasis on certain training qualities.

I have finally chosen to move onto the StrongFirst school of strength for a variety of reasons that I will go onto in a moment, but these in part do include to continue to follow those I have always followed and looked to for inspiration and education over the years and to work locally with like minded people. The new school is the old school just with a new name. The game remains the same.

I have always chosen to make moves and to join professional groups based on my feelings, what I want to experience and the paths they may lead to.
In 2011 we upped and left Northern Ireland to start a new life in Australia.
We didn’t do it to make money, we didn’t do it for the sun, we didn’t do it for cheaper wine, we didn’t do to leave family and friends.

***We moved our lives 16000km away to improve our quality of life and that of our daughter and because we had a gut feeling it was the right thing to do and in a corny way, that it was meant to be.***

I am not going to enter into discussion with anyone over my decision to move to StrongFirst, just accept it.

I still respect the RKC and people who remain happily with the RKC and I respectfully honour it’s masters, leaders and trainers with the credit they deserve for the great training they provide.

My move; it’s just a personal decision based largely on my deeper thoughts, a feeling in my gut and a close attachment to my former and present principles.

End of story.

strong first certified instructor