We are proud to officially present Kettlebell Simple & Sinister: Revised and Updated Edition, or simply S&S 2.0.
Time is a man’s best friend if he makes good use of it and a man’s worst enemy if he lets it run him. Most people who live by the clock are miserable sorts of critters. But living by the sun, that is something different.
—Clifford Simak, Out of Their Minds
Glycolysis is the sugar burning that supplies faddish “high intensity interval training” and “metcons.” This highly inefficient process pollutes your body with lactic acid, ammonia, and free radicals and messes with your hormones if you tap into it too much or too often.
Anti-glycolytic training, in contrast, relies on the clean burning “rocket fuel” of creatine phosphate (CP) to power high intensity efforts and an equally clean aerobic system to replenish the CP. One way to ensure the anti-glycolytic nature of your training is the “talk test.”
Before World War II, Oxford professor John Grayson taught mountaineers to “climb no faster than you can talk.” This rule of thumb would eventually come to be known as the talk test.
Failing the talk test—not being able to speak in short sentences—means lactic acid is accumulating faster than the body can dispose of it. You are relying more on burning sugar without oxygen: anaerobic glycolysis. It is counterproductive to both ends of the S&S goal spectrum of power and conditioning.
Passing the talk test before the next set serves both of these seemingly contradictory goals.
For power, enough CP has been replenished aerobically to enable your fast twitch fibers to contract explosively. A failed talk test indicates that the creatine phosphate tanks have not been adequately refilled and the next set will rely heavily on glycolysis. Beloved by “Tabata” junkies, glycolysis is 1.5–2 times weaker than the CP system. So much for power.
Listen to Master SFG Mark Reifkind:
I come from a gymnastics and powerlifting background, and I like my rest. I prefer to start my next set when my heart rate has come down a bit and I can put my all into the next set…I don’t want to rob the next set of intensity by starting out of breath. The talk test is solid.
Passing the talk test indicates that lactate is not accumulating out of control and the metabolic environment is optimal for stimulating endurance adaptations. Endurance specialists know that these conditions—just a little acid to keep the aerobic metabolism humming but not enough to overwhelm it—are the key to developing championship stamina. Contrary to the HIIT propaganda, running at a speed that allows talking—just below the lactic threshold—is the most crucial component of serious endurance athletes’ training.
Per Verkhoshansky, the above applies to repeated high-power efforts just as much as it does to lower intensity steady-state exercise.
What would happen if you rested more or less than allowed by the talk test?
If you rest more, you will slightly gain on the power side and lose some endurance benefits, not to mention time.
If you rest less—sucking wind and letting your muscles burn—you will give your conditioning and body composition a short-term boost because your system perceives intense glycolysis as an emergency. But it must be done very sparingly—and only after building an aerobic base with talk-test restrained training. Overdo glycolytic work and there will be hell to pay.
In summary, the sweet spot of just passing the talk test is optimal for meeting the wide range of S&S goals, but if in doubt, it is better to rest more than less.
For American readers, a proven passage to recite for the talk test is the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
My way of training the swing is looking at the volume and intensity and not worrying so much about the rest intervals. These will naturally diminish as work capacity and fitness improves.
As you get into a better aerobic condition, your rest periods will decrease organically over a long haul, while fluctuating from day to day. Without apps and gadgets, the low-tech, high-concept talk test listens to your body and adjusts the rest periods in response to stress, fatigue, and everything else going on in your life.
Obey the talk test and do not forcefully cut your rest periods!
I know, I said it before. And I will say it again; it is that critical.
You probably would like to know how you stack against other gireviks. How long are you “supposed to” rest before passing the talk test?
There is no cut and dry answer. On one hand, the better your aerobic conditioning, the faster your recovery. On the other, the greater power you generate with each rep, the more CP fuel you burn, necessitating more rest. It is not unusual for a very powerful athlete to take half an hour to complete 10×10 max power swings guided by the talk test.
Even the Sinister finishers do not offer any numbers to shoot for in your daily S&S practice. When they have completed their 100 swings in five minutes, their power was high—but not maximal, as their day-to-day talk test regulated training.
Let Master SFG Pavel Macek, who has met the Sinister swing golden standard—10×10 with 48kg within five minutes—at a bodyweight less than 150 pounds, put your mind at ease about longer rests:
During my regular S&S practice, I always give myself plenty of rest—more than I feel I need. A relatively long rest period allows me to do an absolutely explosive set of 10 hard style swings with a “one punch, one kill” mentality. I only time my rest periods during the test days, and I don’t ‘try’ to hit the standard (100 hard style swings in five minutes). I am 100% sure I can do it, so I just do it.
The results of this strategy? In addition to the desired conditioning effect, I experience more strength and power and less soreness. On my 40th birthday, exactly one year after I started S&S, I did 40 consecutive one-arm swings with the Beast. The session looked like this: 20 with my left, switch, 20 with my right, set down, celebration dance.
To sum up, there is no rest period to qualify you as a stud or studette. Do not look at the clock at all. Doing so could only provoke wrong decisions. Listen to your body and your breath—not your watch or phone.