Tempo Runs + Kettlebells = Your Next “Recovery” Day

Each summer as the weather gets hot and the training gets brutal, I find it important for myself and my athletes to get outside the four walls of the gym, away from the high-intensity pounding of sprinting, jumping, throwing and heavy lifting. We all know the importance of training hard and heavy, but if my short ten years of coaching experience has taught me anything:

If you want to stay healthy and continue to make progress, for every hard day in the gym an easy day outside the gym should follow.

Now, that does not mean the easy day should consist of sitting poolside drinking margaritas, but the training session should have a different set of goals than strength and power development.

Typically, those goals for hard-training ladies and gents are low-intensity conditioning, mobility, movement skill practice, and overall recovery.

First, let’s make everyone aware the word “easy” is a relative term here. I am simply referring to the training session being markedly different from exercises with a higher intensity with the potential to cause significant CNS fatigue. Things like plyometrics, sprinting, and, of course, heavy strength training. But I wouldn’t classify these recovery sessions as easy — just a different focus, particularly more a cardiovascular and movement-based focus.

Enter the Kettlebell and Tempo Runs

I love when certain training elements fit together nicely. The kettlebell, because of its versatility, works with just about everything. You can use heavy kettlebell swings for power development, goblet squats for technique, and kettlebell front squats for hypertrophy. In the case of a recovery/low-intensity conditioning training session: use a combination of kettlebell work and tempo running.

Tempo running is basically sprinting at about 75%. It’s not a jog, and not an all-out sprint. You know, it’s somewhere in-between. Like a stride where the athlete can coast, stay relaxed, and focus on correct running mechanics.

Far too many human beings have fallen into the “cardio” trap, thinking of long slow distance as the path to physical excellence only to find years later they have an injured body capable of moving only at one speed.

Kettlebell training and tempo runs

My Kettlebell and Tempo Run Workout

One day, I decided to experiment with a kettlebell prior to my field running session. By luck, I stumbled upon a simple training session that made a huge difference in how my athletes and I moved. It involved the get-up, snatch, and tempo runs.

The simple but effective combination was used twice per week and looked like this:

    • 1 get-up — at the top position perform 5 snatches then return to the ground
    • Repeat on the other side
    • Short rest — do fast and loose
    • Tempo run 200 yards (down and back the length of a football field) — during the run, the focus should be on tall running posture, relaxed hands and face, and long deliberate strides — focus on sprinting technique
    • Rest a few minutes
    • Repeat 4-6 rounds

Following the get-ups and snatches, our athletes reported an immediate smoothness and rhythm to their running strides. Such seemingly-unrelated results are what Pavel and Dan John refer to in Easy Strength as the “what the hell effect.” Hips felt loose and arms moved effortlessly. I felt I was running faster and with much less effort, like I was bounding down the field.

Perhaps most importantly, the training session did not deplete the energy reserves required for the following day’s heavy lifting. If anything, the circulatory effect of the movements seemed to allow for a faster recovery time.

The Magic Is in the Get-Up

My theory is that the get-up makes everything more efficient. It is a highly-coordinated movement consisting of dynamic balance, movement adequacy, synchronization of movement,and spacial awareness. It drives total body mobility using the arms and legs in a coordinated sequence and stability through the trunk and shoulders to hold it all together. In my mind, it’s the ultimate activity to turn everything on and prepare the body to move. Running, therefore — which should be a completely natural movement — gets enhanced dramatically. For those with less than optimal running form, practicing and perfecting the get-up prior to running and sprinting may provide great benefit.

The kettlebell snatch is the icing on the top. The explosive hip snap on each rep more than likely potentiates the musculature of the lower body during the hip extension action of each running stride. The hips are primed and activated.  I believe it may be similar to Verkhoshansky’s experiment with heavy squats followed by light explosive squat jumps. Also consider the nature of the snatch — which consists of pushing the feet forcefully through the ground and alternating flexion and extension of the legs and hips, as well as the punch-through with the arm overhead. It is a total body movement similar to sprinting.

My experiment next summer will be to do heavy low rep swings and snatches prior to training acceleration and top end speed work on the track. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see positive results.

Training athletes for sports requires more than “just” strength. Often, the best player on the field is the one who can move the most efficiently. This movement efficiency is a unique blend of strength, mobility, and coordination. My job is to find that unique blend and constantly search for new ways to improve it. And here again, the kettlebell with its incredible versatility proves itself king.

References:
1. John, Dan, and Pavel Tsatsouline. Easy Strength: How to Get a Lot Stronger than Your Competition – and Dominate in Your Sport. New York, NY: Dragon Door Publications, 2011. Print.
2. Francis, Charlie, and Paul Patterson. The Charlie Francis Training System. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: TBLI Publications, 1992. Print.
3. Kurz, Thomas. Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance. Island Pond, VT: Stadion, 2001. Print.
4. Verkhoshansky, Yuri Vitalievitch., and Mel Cunningham. Siff.Supertraining. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky, 2009. Print.

SPEND AN ENTIRE DAY LEARNING STRONGFIRST KETTLEBELL TRAINING

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Jeremy Frisch
Jeremy Frisch is the owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Massachusetts, and Strength and Conditioning coach for the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester. He is the former assistant strength and conditioning coach for the College of the Holy Cross athletic department. While there, he worked directly with the Crusader men's basketball team, in addition to serving as the strength coach for the Holy Cross men's soccer, men's and women's lacrosse, baseball, softball, field hockey, tennis, and women's track and field squads. Prior to joining Holy Cross, Frisch served as the sports performance director at Teamworks Sports Center in Acton, where he was responsible for the design and implementation of all strength and conditioning programs. in 2004, he did a strength and conditioning internship at Stanford University.

Frisch is a 2007 graduate of Worcester State College with a bachelor's degree in health science and physical education. He was a member of the football and track teams during his days at Worcester State and Assumption College.

21 thoughts on “Tempo Runs + Kettlebells = Your Next “Recovery” Day

  • Jeremy- Awesome article. I’m on vacation this week without my normal training gear. But I can do this while on the road. I don’t run much, but 200 meter lengths at 70% with a focus on sprinting form sounds excellent!

  • Love seeing kettlebell snatches incorporated into a work out. This one is definately on my list and I will be looking forward to do. Thanks for posting awesome workouts and looking forward to seeing more.

  • Jeremy, nice artilce. My twin brother Keats and I have recommended Tempo running for years and routinely do something similar. We will run 100 yards on a football field and then in the end zones do a bodyweight exercise such as: Mountain Climbers, Jumping Jacks, Crawling, rolling, Medicine ball throws, KB swings, Get ups, etc. An excellent way to improve sprint GPP and overall stamina for LIFE. As a Sprinter I also preach the benefit of TEMPO sprints rather than logging in super slow running for miles. Really enjoyed the article!

  • Jeremy – well it was on my to do list but no longer as I gave it a shot today. What a tonic. I know it is designed as a light recovery day but it does more than that for me – 3 birds with one stone if you like. After reaching the simple goal I’m doing ROP so this was a nice practice for the snatches, which I haven’t done a lot of recently. I’ve been off running due to a knee injury, so this is a light intro back into it and it is a recovery too. All round winner. I was feeling a bit washed out earlier too, so it has been a bit of a pick me up – A kettlebell elixir! Again, thanks for putting this out there, really enjoyed it and it has been added to my current weekly template.

    • Alistair,
      So great to hear. Love the feeback and so glad this has helped you. This series has also been very much a magic elixir for me aas well. Its become my go to training session for me. Its difficult enough to create a stimulus but not so difficult I cant recover from it. Nothing better for me right now while we still have good weather to get outside and move. Thanks again for the kid words.

      Jeremy

  • Jeremy – This looks great, keen to try it. I have been following S&S for about 3 months and had dropped my weekly sprint session to focus on it. This looks like a perfect way to blend the two. I have 2 questions though: What weight KB would you recommend, and what do you mean by fast & loose? For reference, my S&S progress so far is swinging the 32KG with 2 hands and slowly introducing a few single handed swings, follwed by 24KG getups, although I have managed 1 set each side with a 32. Grateful for any clatrity you can give. Many thanks.

    • Marcus,
      I typically use a 24kg bell for my Get-ups and snatches. The weight you choose should feel fairly easy and relaxed, almost like active recovery. Some of my high school guys will use a 20kg bell fairly easy.

      Fast and Loose was a term I learned from Pavel at SFG, basically light shaking the arms and logs, light hops up and down between sets. Basically try to stay loose and relaxed between sets.

      Hope that helps
      Jeremy

      • Jeremy – Thanks for your reply. I tried this the other day with a 16 KG bell. I am not that proficient in snatches yet, but this was a good intro. The get ups however were a bit too easy. I will aim to build up to 24 KG over the next few weeks. Thanks for the tips.

  • I did this today and it felt really good, despite focusing on running technique I shaved off 30secs off my 5K pace. Thank you!

  • Excellent post! One would not normally think that sprinting and a slow-speed,strength-coordination movement like the TGU would be synergistic. But…WTH!

  • Great write up! Your point about the get up making everything more efficient is dead on. I love using kettlebell work and running variations with my athletes. Heavy swing to sprint for explosiveness. Sprint to swing to teach deceleration. But the TGU and tempo run combo is one of the best I’ve come around, especially for my soccer players. An additional benefit I’ve found is that having the athlete perform a get up in a fatigued state forces the athlete to slow down and focus the system, control their breath and negotiate fatigue more effectively.
    Great stuff!!

    • Peter
      Exactly…sometimes for myself the Get-up is my active recovery. I may start the movement out of breath but as I concentrate on each position of the movement and of course make sure to give attnetion breathing and relaxing i finish the movement recovered and ready for the next round! Good stuff

  • Awesome post!! I experienced this exact thing this week, I performed ten minutes of snatches, 5L-5R, then ran tempo runs, 1/4 mile run-1/4 walk for a total of two miles. 1/4 runs seemed effortless compared to just hammering out two miles straight, and at 6 1/2 to 7 min mile pace it felt like I was flying compared to my normal 9-10 min mile pace. Definately a WTH effect!! Good stuff!

  • Jeremy – thank you for posting. That’s another fantastic strongfirst programme to add to my ‘to do’ list. Cheers

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