[Review] How I Trained And Passed The Strength Matters Kettlebell Certification
A little about me, I’ve been working in the industry for about 10 years now.
I have done a lot of continuing education including certifications, workshops, seminars, conferences, etc… Of these, there’s only been two where I’ve had to complete a physical requirement, RKC & SMK.
I think having a physical requirement is important so that everyone shows up with a pretty good understanding already and we can get to work very quickly. I hooked up with the Strength Matters community through a mutual friend of ours, Dr. Perry Nickeltson.
On Facebook I saw Dr. Perry was going to present at a 3 day summit out in Chicago. When I looked at the roster, I knew that I had to be there.
When I went I took a lots of notes and implemented a few key ideas into my practice immediately. Some of it even helped with my training towards the Strength Matters Kettlebell Certification instructor course. In fact, I still refer to those notebooks frequently.
I loved the process of training I went through for this certification. In the past a key component, a purpose even, felt missing in my kettlebell training.
While training for the SMK realized that it was strength endurance.
My first exposure to strength endurance was through the writings of Steve Justa. He would describe working up to 30 or 40 sets of maybe 2-3 reps of a fixed weight. When he mastered that work volume at a certain weight, he would then move up to the next weight.
It’s one of the most outlandish but sustainable methods of training I’ve ever run across. Why I didn’t implement it to kettlebells sooner, I don’t know.
My first exposure to power endurance with kettlebells was when I went through the RKC kettlebell certification in 2009 through various protocols, particularly the V02max snatch.
The Strength Matters Kettlebell certification is a perfect blend of both strength endurance (what I was missing) and power endurance.
A month of strength training followed by one month of strength endurance training followed by one month of power endurance training repeated over and over again, sprinkled with multi-planar movement may be all the programming you’ll ever need.
There are two main testing requirements I needed to pass during my certification weekend. The toughest one was the swing test.
It breaks down to 10 swings in one arm for 15 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds, switch arms for another 10 swings in 15 seconds, and again rest for 15 seconds, repeat that for 9 more minutes and you total 200 one arm swings, 100 in each arm.
The second is the snatch test requiring 15 seconds of 7 snatches followed by 15 seconds of rest, switch hands and repeat the 7 snatches in 15 seconds followed by 15 seconds off. When you complete the first minute, do it for another 19 minutes.
My weight class required me to use the 32kg and 16kg kettlebell respectively. Both of these can prove to be overwhelming at first glance but if you take the time to prepare you can complete them. They will always be challenging, but obtainable.
Swinging and snatching bells for 10-20 minutes straight requires a conditioned aerobic system.
Mine was “less than optimal”.
I never really trained aerobically in my 30s, which was a big mistake. In my 20s I could just blow through most conditioning challenges, but in my 30s I couldn’t run up the stairs without huffing and puffing.
Luckily, the aerobic system can come back quickly. About 10 weeks out from the certification weekend I started adding 3 days per week of 20-40 minutes of low heart rate training. I used Maffetone’s heart rate equation, 180 minus age, plus some other factors depending on your health and training age.
For me that was around 135 beats per minute. Switching between jogging, rowing, and the airdyne, I would keep my heart rate in a range of 133-138 beats per minute. The biggest impact that aerobic training had on me was the fact that I recovered from my barbell and kettlebell sessions faster and resistance training seemed to just suck less in general.
If barbell and kettlebell training just seem too rough and tough on your body and not somewhat enjoyable, you may want to try increasing your overall conditioning with aerobic training. I only did aerobic training on my off days from barbell and kettlebell training as part of a work/rest cycle of the program.
About the same time that I started aerobic training I also tried to see how far I could get in the actual swing test. First time through I achieved 4 rounds or 80 one hand swings with the 32kg kettlebell.
Keep in mind the test is 10 rounds.
Knowing that I could do 4 rounds I decided to practice with a few block of 2 rounds (50% of what I could do). I started at 3 blocks of 2 rounds and worked myself up to 5 blocks of 2 rounds (120-200 swings) for 1-2 weeks.
Next I practiced with 2-3 blocks of 3 rounds (120-180 swings) over the following 1-2 weeks. Once that felt good it was on to 2 blocks of 4 rounds (160 swings), then 3 blocks of 4 rounds (240 swings). Keep in mind that the rest in between blocks was up to how I was feeling; the rest in between rounds is strict to the swing test requirements.
At this point I was starting to get up there in volume and scaled back my barbell work, performed only 2 days of aerobic training, and one day dedicated just to swinging. It looked like this: 3 days of barbell training scaled back with swinging right after or later that day, 2 days of aerobic training, 1 day of just warm ups, cool downs, and one arm swings.
At this point I was about 5 weeks out and noticed considerable improvements in conditioning. It was time to make my training look more like the actual testing conditions. I divided my kettlebell training into 2 days; grip, gut, & glutes day, and a wind day.
The grip, gut, and glutes day was swinging the 32kg with 1 arm for 10 rounds and increasing the reps over time. The heavier bell tends to fire up these big 3 “G’s”. I started with 10 rounds of 5 reps (100 swings) and increased the rounds by 1 rep each week. After I completed 5 reps for 10 rounds the next week I did 6 reps for 10 rounds. For 2 more weeks I did 7 reps for 10 rounds and finally 8 reps for 10 rounds. This program is straight from Mark Reifkind.
The wind day is the full swing test with a 24kg kettlebell. I wanted to get my “wind” (aka conditioning) used to the length of the test. I did this for 2 weeks, and the next 2 weeks I alternated between the 32kg and the 24kg for the full 10 minutes. The final 2 weeks out I alternated the 24kg, 32kg, and 40kg. Only a 40kg was available to me so I had to use it but ended up cutting the reps down to 5 or 6. I’d recommend the 36kg if you have one. The 40kg kettlebell was tough!
The last week before I went I did one run through of the swing test with a 32kg for 7 rounds. It felt good and I wanted to keep going but I stopped it there. I have the frame of mind where I know if I complete a bunch of work from 50-80% of a test, I will be able to complete that test. I don’t need to prove to myself by walking in having done all 10 rounds. You may be different and I’d suggest trying all 10 rounds with a 32kg 3 to 4 weeks out. Don’t beat yourself up though if you don’t make it. I followed the 7 rounds up with some light strength training and took the final 2 days off before the swing test on Friday at the certification weekend.
Another factor you’ll want to consider is ‘testing’ anxiety. Most days I start swinging with my heart rate at 100bpm after a light warm up. That Friday of the test I felt like it was in the 120-130bpm range before starting. I made sure not to be the first one swinging and I actually sat down and did some breathing exercises to try and relax. I ended up testing in the second round which allowed me time to relax and prep.
What about the snatches!?
About 4 weeks out I decided to start grooving in my snatch technique. Turns out that I was so conditioned from the aerobic work and heavy 1 arm swings that I completed the V02max snatch challenge on the spot. Swinging a 32kg with one arm makes the 16kg kettlebell float.
If you have trouble snatching I would add in some low weight, medium volume technique work at least 4-6 weeks out. One of the brilliant ways this instructor course is organized is that the one arm swing is in the snatch progression family, not the swing progression family. It couldn’t be more on the money. If you’re really new to snatching I would make sure to practice before then.
That’s it for training!
I hope you had as much fun reading about it as I did doing it.
Remember to back off in certain aspects of your training to accommodate the higher volume of kettlebell work you’re about to do. If you’re flying in; drink lots of water and get up to move around frequently during your flight. Arrive early enough to get some rest and familiarize yourself with the area. Bring adequate food during the weekend for before and after your workouts. Most of all focus on having fun, making a ton of new friends and learning some really awesome stuff!