From “Simple” to Serious Endurance

Over a year has passed, and you’ve reached the “simple” goal of Simple & Sinister (S&S). You are a man or woman, who did not just survive <16min of swings and get-ups with your 32kg, (or 24kg and 16kg) kettlebell, but thrived on it. You have some training options now. You can:

  • Go from simple to sinister
  • Get barbell strong
  • Get serious about your endurance

S&S provided your trout without asking you to weave your own net, but if you were paying attention while waiting for supper, you may have picked up on the process. Pavel is going to release a plan soon that maps out the first option: From Simple to Sinister. It will teach you how to fish — an “easy endurance” approach toward owning the beast (or the 32 and 24 for females).

There are many resources to get barbell strong, such as StrongFirst’s Barbell Course.

In this article, I will offer you a road map toward option three: serious endurance. It is based on the idea of improving your level of conditioning by using short but powerful bouts of work, coupled with sufficient recovery periods, for an extended overall duration.

From Simple to Serious Endurance

Using Pavel’s easy-to-understand diagram (below), the idea is to target the small, supercharged fuel system to supply the gas for the actual swing sets, and to use the large, migratory fuel system to constantly “top off” the little tank between sets.

Simple to Serious Endurance ProgramIt has been suggested both by science and clinical observation (the latter from the perspective of health in later life), that it is a good idea to avoid overusing the medium fuel system during training, saving it for the actual competition. The glycolytic fuel system is the original cellular source of fuel for all life (single-celled creatures use it), and its output seems to be maintained with little-no training.

Without getting too far into the science of it, our tool is the kettlebell and our activity is the one-hand swing.

If you’re going to have an honest go at this routine, I ask you do no other training, do not change your lifestyle or diet, and please record your observations. One caveat to the above is that you may do up to ten total get-ups prior to only three of the conditioning sessions. If you choose to do the get-ups, please add them to your records and rest at least ten minutes before you begin your swings. Load your three get-up sessions as such: moderate / light / heavy.

Getting Started: Setting Your Baseline

First, let’s establish a baseline: have an honest go at the five-minute snatch test. That is, don’t game it, push through. Find a balance between running all out when the gun fires and conserving too much energy. You know, “tricks” such as pausing too long after each rep, putting the bell down after a number of reps, and starting again at the top of the minute, etc. Do not try to recover during the event, but go with your known rep scheme and see where it takes you. Put the bell down only when your accumulated workload truly forces you to.

I will also ask for your 1.5 mile run. I know it may not be great weather outside, but I don’t care for your treadmill performances. If you can’t do the run outside on a track or the like, then simply forego it. Rest 48 hours between these two assessments. If I had to choose between assessments, I would rather your run than your snatch test. If you cannot do either, choose a five-to-twelve minute event of your choosing that you can replicate at the end of the program. Any data is better then a “I feel the work is easier” type of report.

Next, let’s find your working bell. Do this either before or after your baseline assessments, but recover for 48 hours on either side as well. This may take a few sessions if you’re finding this without regularly performing one-hand swings.

Make sure that you are fresh, choose a bell, and do ten one-hand swings on the top of every minute for ten minutes. Do not try to conserve energy. Perform 100 explosive swings. Assess your fatigue. Did you have to push through the later reps to complete the ten minutes? Meaning, were you ready go when the clock said so, and, were all ten swings powerful? Was your hundredth swing as explosive as your first?

  • Yes? Try again with the next heavier bell, and reassess.
  • No? Try again with the next lighter bell, and reassess.

You are looking for the heaviest bell that allows you to complete this ten-minute session feeling ready to go at the start of each minute. Take no more than three sessions to figure this out, and recover for 48 hours before you begin the program. Do the best you can to avoid estimating your bell size for this program. The assessments, exploratory sessions, and requested recovery should take you eight to ten days. Plan this around your program start day.

The Serious Endurance Plan

  • 4 sessions per week you will do sets of 10 one-hand swings at the top of each minute
  • Alternate arms each minute
  • The set will take near 20 seconds, so you will have 40 seconds rest, on average
  • Do not try to “save” energy; each swing must be crisp, sharp, and explosive
  • Breathe and recover between sets
  • Warm-up however you like, but do no other work (aside from the optional get ups)
  • Take good care of your hands
  • The routine will play out like so:

Simple to Serious Endurance Program

  • Only perform two sessions on consecutive days per week. Example: Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat or, Mon, Tue, Thur, Sat. It does not have to be the same two sessions that are consecutive each week, just no more than two in each week.
  • If your power fades during your session (especially the initial sessions), then quit for the day and rethink your choice of bell size. You likely chose too heavy.

After at least 48 hours following your last session, reassess using the same events you set your baseline with prior to the program. Replicate them as closely as possible, i.e. do not increase the bell size in your snatch test, even if you feel stronger; do not run in heavy winds, etc.

Please send your records in PowerPoint or Word document to berto.ciampa@gmail.com with “Swing Routine” in the subject line of the email. I plan to produce a follow-up based on our results.

Al Ciampa
SFG I
Al Ciampa has been a barbell athlete for 25+ years. A former powerlifter and bench press specialist, he has a raw bench press of 605lbs in training and 585lbs in competition, at the time, setting an IPA record. He served in the US Army first as a LRS-D team member, then as director of the Army’s hand-to-hand combat program in the South Korea: Modern Army Combatives Program.

After his service, Al co-opened and led training for a fitness and health and wellness center that served military units and the local public, where he specialized in strength and conditioning and nutrition. Feeling a desire to support the military again, he now works as an exercise physiologist and health educator for the US Air Force, specializing in rehabilitation, strength and conditioning, nutrition, and instructor development.

Al has an MS in sports and health science, is an SFG Level I, and is certified through the FMS, ACSM, and USAW. He has been recognized for excellence by the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Chuck Hagel.

47 thoughts on “From “Simple” to Serious Endurance

  • Hi Al,

    Once the five weeks are complete, what next?! Should I run it again with a heavier bell? Rinse and repeat to maintain? Or do you recommend moving to something else?

  • Al, this looks great though I do have a couple of concerns.

    I’m a rock climber so generally use fingers, upper body and core where hips and legs are almost dead weight (footwork/flexibility is important but big strong legs are just more weight on your arms).
    As an endurance workout I assume this will not add significant mass to my lower body?

    Also I have posterior instability in my shoulders and although I do a lot of stability and proprioceptive work on re-centering the humerous, they are always going to be a concern.
    Do you have any particular considerations I should have in mind with this plan?

    Thanks!

  • Al,

    This is great. I was hoping it would work for me to use this in preparation for a marathon relay (I’m running a 6.5 mile leg). I’ve NEVER run more than a mile but am in good shape (24yo, ~54 RHR, 2.25x BW deadlift, etc…). Are there any tweaks I should make given that I haven’t completed the “Simple” part of S&S? Regardless of what’s best, I promise I’ll stick to it and track everything if you’re interested in my results. I have exactly 5 weeks for this.

    Appreciate the help,
    Jordan

  • This looks interesting! I’m looking forward to trying it after reaching the Simple goal (Only started about a month ago and while I’m progressing okay, getting to 24kg swings seems a bit of a way off… although I should have the 16kg getups within a month as I’ve started integrating a couple of sets into my 12kg getups and can still do the lot well within 10 minutes). Endurance is definitely something I need to work on!

  • hi Al,
    I’m a 47 yo male and i’m looking to rebuild my strength and muscle and feel great again.

    i played competitive sports for many years and after 2 knee reconstructions I’ve lost so much muscle,strength and flexibility in my legs and of course now have related calf pain and general leg soreness which is now so uncomfortable, that i must do all i can to rebuild my body for the future…

    re kettlebells, they seem like an awesome way to help in my rebuild and not only my legs…i look forward to rebuilding my whole body from head to toe..

    do you have any extra tips now that you know my leg issues and i cannot go running?….i used to love running..

    i look forward to your reply and appreciate you and your wonderful advice for everyone….thank you

  • Al-
    Is your working hypothesis that the run time will improve without running? If so, how “significantly” are you thinking?
    I have not reached the Simple goal yet but am taking a USMC PFT in May and would much prefer to do this protocol of swings if I can avoid running.
    Thanks for your time. Great article.
    -Al S.

    • Al,

      No, but this is what I usually observe. The significance of the impact seems to be relative to your current running ability.

      Your run is a 5K… if you have a successful run under your belt doing swings only, then you’re probably fine. If not, then do not completely abstain from running in your PT test prep. Have you tested a 5k time with swings only? May is a long time away..

      Don’t do only 1-h swings if you’re concerned about your run… do, 10 x 2-h, 10 x R, 10 x L, for the desired time or total. Use a heavier bell for the 2-h, but it should allow you to be explosive. Run once per week, 1-3 mi; not all out, but at a pretty good clip.

      For the combat PT test, you are covered.

      Thank you for your service.

      • Don’t do only 1-h swings if you’re concerned about your run… do, 10 x 2-h, 10 x R, 10 x L, for the desired time or total. Use a heavier bell for the 2-h, but it should allow you to be explosive. Run once per week, 1-3 mi; not all out, but at a pretty good clip.

        Al – Can you elaborate more on this? Why is the 2H swing important here for a run focus?

  • Al, I’m thinking of giving this a go as I have an injury that’s going to force me into no snatches, getups or presses for several weeks. However, I plan to continue to do bodyweight practice on off days. I notice you said “no other trainijng”, so would you still be interested in the results? Thanks, Michael

  • What type of endurance is this training geared for? Would it be a good program for training for a multi-day strenuous hike in the mountains?

    • Andrei,

      Endrance is endurance… increase it through extended movement: running, biking, swimming, hiking etc. We think that increasing it through high-volume swings in this protocol, however, offers greater advantage for general-preparedness. For example, in your specific case, you will need to do some specific hiking/climbing work; but using swings as opposed to say jogging in your train-up to your event (or season) would leave you closer to event condition.

      With the swing protocol, you are training the oxidative system, increasing the capacity of the alactic system, and improving movement quality and increasing strength – “chassis reinforcement”. You don’t get the latter two benefits from any of the usual endurance programs.

      If you try it, report back your observations.

  • Great article Al! I finished my simple goal and I will give this plan a try.I think it will surve well for my sport.Just one quick offtopic quetion-if you do squat and hip hinge strength work and only hip hinge endurance work,like swings, do you need to train squating endurance or the WTH effect will take care of it? Thanks!

    • Carl,

      What do you need “squat endurance” for? I can’t predict a WTH effect in advance. Let us know, if you try it.

      • I’m deck officer kadet and also a cyclist.I will have 4 monts periods where i will not have opportunity to ride bike.My goal is to maintain my fitness level at some level.The most relevant movement to cycling,I think,is the squat or the spit squat.They both target the quad.But I don’t feel it to work hard enough on the swing.
        I will try your plan and I will let you know what are the results.Thank you!

  • In the five week sample table, the workouts are taking from 12 to 42 minutes. Are the times including varying warmups or the 10/10 optional getups?

    So far this month, I’ve been doing 10X10 swings on the half minute. Just up to full sets of one handers. Just a 1 pood ‘bell but hell, I’m 58. I’ve been wondering what to do to progress and this looks like a really logical step. I’ve got a 1½ pood, which is probably on the light side.

  • another great article not to the simple stanards yet still swingin away at the 24kg i look forward to trying this after i get the 32kg down pat. im very interest in the level of endurance i can achieve also i saw in the comments you mentioned rucking again hope you still plan on writing about that really intrested in what you got in store. thanks for all the great info

  • Al,

    This makes too much sense. The simplicity is what welds it together for me. Btw, I mentor a young man who started swinging a 24. Out of respect for me he stayed the course for a few months. Now he’s a poster child;) He leaves for
    SC and Basic Training 24 January. Keep up the great work!!

  • Great Article Al. Quick question: How does a protocol like this affect heart rate/heart health? I’m interested in your thoughts on articles like the following by Mike Robertson ( http://robertsontrainingsystems.com/blog/long-duration-low-intensity-cardio/ ) about the need for long, slow cardio to build the aerobic system and his distinction between concentric and eccentric hypertrophy of the heart. My guess is that 30 minutes of alactacid training with aerobic recovery could be a way around long, slow cardio for cardio vascular health but I’m not sure how elevated the heart rate stays during a workout. I’ll have to give this a try.

    • David,

      To be fair, I skimmed that article, but I agree with this premise:

      “I’m sorry, but there’s no one, universal type of conditioning that covers all the bases.”

      To my knowledge, science does not tell us enough about heart adaptation with a distinction between pure LSD, pure HITT/metcon, and something like this protocol with a lot of recovery between bouts very short, high-power output.

      Though your HR spikes following each set of swings, there is enough recovery that it drops down significantly before the next set, making your average HR for the session right smack in the middle of what Robertson prescribes for LSD. If it does not, your bell is too heavy, or you are in a poor(er) state of conditioning to begin with. In other words, you are one of those glycolytic junkies that he mentioned, and you run on mostly sugar for the session… the fix? Rest 4-10 minutes between sets of 10 swings (not a typo). So, not this protocol until you get in better shape, i.e., make better use of fatty acids and the oxidative fuel system.

      That said, you might know that I am a huge advocate of rucking for LSD. I believe that a once per week LSD session of 60-120min + this protocol is great mix for complete (and possibly unknowns) physiological adaptation. Practice to reach top walking speed, then adjust load to target the same HR range he discussed (I like it even lower than his top end… just be able to conversate).

      THAT said, adding LSD to this protocol is, “not this program” ;]

      • David, Mike makes some good points.

        It is interesting that the current thinking in Russia is, only long distance endurance athletes need to bother stretching their heart walls. A bicyclist might go for an 8 hour ride at a certain intensity. Other athletes and non-athletes supposedly do not need to. The explanation given: if you are breathing too hard and your heart is beating too hard, your problem is not cardio-pulmonary; you just do not have enough mitochondria and thus are producing too muc h non-metabolic carbon dioxide that needs to be breathed out. In other words, you need to train to use the arriving oxygen better, not keep pumping in more.

        Aerobic training in moderation is healthy, etc., like Mike has pointed out. See Easy Strength for some details.

        • Thank you Pavel and Al. The Joel Jamieson book that Mike Robertson references contains workouts similar to both alactic training and long, slow cardio. He believes that each build a different function of cardio. While alactic training helps fast twitch fibers recover faster/use oxygen better, the long, slow training “builds a bigger engine” to feed ATP to the muscles through the eccentric hypertrophy of the heart.

          Pavel, your comment that most people do not need the eccentric hypertrophy of the heart is interesting. Joel’s view is that heart rates above 60bpm and especially above 70bpm benefit from a bigger engine. Once you get to the mid-50’s in heart rate, there are diminishing returns.

          By long and slow he simply means keeping the heart rate below 150. “Once your heart rate goes above a certain threshold, typically around 150bpm or so, the contractions become too fast for their there to be enough time for the chambers of the heart to fill full of blood. The result is that you don’t get the same eccentric overload stimulus and resulting adaptions. Lower intensity methods also stimulate your vascular network to develop as well and thus increase oxygen transport to the working muscles.”

          I think his view is in synch with your comments in Easy Strength (pg 22-23) and the comments from Victor. My question is whether 40 yr old guys looking to be healthy still need to do the long, slow cardio. Given Pavel’s point, maybe not. My current thought is that if you have a high resting heart rate, you will benefit from slow cardio until you get into the mid-50’s beats per minute.

          I may continue to do alactic traning/S&S and add a 60-90 minute Heavy Hands walk once or twice a week, depending on my resting heart rate. In other words, a long hike as Al recommends in “Hardening the Soldier for Combat.”

          I’m fairly active and a few times a year get pulled into long hikes or mountain biking trips. I did a mountainous 10-hour hike one day this year that left me pretty exhausted.

  • Great article, Al!

    A question: S&S (later in the program) as well as your article call for sets of ten with all ten reps done with one hand.
    Is there any reason why sets of 10 with 5 left 5 right wouldn`t work as well?
    With the 32kg grip becomes the limiting factor for me, and 24kg is too light.
    Is there any downfall to the 5 left/ 5 right format?

    Thank you all very much!

    Christopher

    • Christopher,

      5+5 does not equal 10 in this conditioning routine. If the 24 is too light, than it will simply fly quick and high… stay connected to the bell at the top and you will receive the same conditioning effect sought after, with the 24.

      Your grip will not improve if you try to circumvent it. There will always be a weak link in the chain (and it tends to change over time)… when folks say things to me (not saying this is you) like, “I am strong, it’s just my grip”; I wonder what alternate universe they live in ;]

      Put another way… once upon a time, when crushed by a 12kg bell in the get up, a musclehead responded to me, “I am strong, this is just stupid”; no doubt in an attempt to crazy-glue a shattered ego (as if this is easier than a get up).

      I’m off track… an option for you: do a few initial sets with the 32, switching to the 24 for the remainder of the session “before” your grip fades. Its not exactly the program, but who exactly does any program? ;] Heavy, heavy farmer’s carry for dessert…

  • Another great article Al. I can see how this could really help me get conditioned to put up some good numbers in the snatch portion of the TSC, one of the areas I really need to work on. Thanks.

  • Ladies and gents, I strongly encourage you to try Al’s protocol. (Alactic effort + aerobic recovery) is the next frontier in endurance training for a variety of applications.

  • Great article Al. I am really looking forward to giving this program a shot after I finish a barbell cycle I am currently on. I am stationed at Fort Bragg as a Battlefield Airman and have unit PT five days a week. These sessions involve runs up to six miles along with frequent ruck marches. I know you mentioned doing no other work…will my PT impact the results?

    • Nick,

      Of course… but if you’d like to take a run at it, record your unit sessions in your journal and send them to me with your results. I might assume that any change in your performance is related to what is new in your routine.

      You might also recommend to your CC to try this out as a flight/section for 5 weeks and see how it compares to more traditional PT. Leave the rucks in your training, however.

      • Al,

        Sounds great. I’ll pitch the idea to leadership and see how they feel about it. We have a room full of kettlebells so I don’t see why there would be an issue. I’ll look to begin the program at the start of the new year. I’ll send results.

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