For this article, I would like to dive into a few training observations I have made in my recent practice. Perhaps similar to Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey.
“If you are being chased by an angry bull, and then you notice you’re also being chased by a swarm of bees, it doesn’t really change things. Just keep on running.”
But less humorous—maybe.
After fifteen years of swinging kettlebells, I am still learning. And as professor and physical education expert Dr. Ed Thomas said, “I never went to the gym to work out. I went to learn and the ‘workout’ was incidental.”
Every rep is a chance to learn—this is the thought that has recently percolated for me.
The Difference Between the Reps
One of my favorite training sessions at the moment is Strength Aerobics. More on what that is and how I keep it interesting later, but for now the “thing” I have observed most in using Strength Aerobics is the “difference between the reps.” This ties into something known as movement variability.
From Feldenkrais professional and author Todd Hargrove’s blog:
“The ability to make small adjustments to a basic repetitive pattern like heart rate, brain waves, energy use and movement seems to be a good indicator of health and function. Experts who perform the same repetitive task (say hammering a nail) display more variability than novices…”
“Good movement is not just about harmonious interaction or coordination between the different parts of the body. It is most fundamentally about how the system interacts with the environment, particularly in response to unexpected changes. In other words, good movement implies a quality of adaptability and responsiveness to a changing environment.”
What I find in doing Strength Aerobics, or many of my other sessions, is a difference between the reps. One clean of the kettlebell will land “just so.” And then next will land “just not so.” This creates small variations in the angles and center of mass of the kettlebell for the press to follow.
One swing will pop and float to a certain level with a tug on my callouses due to being ever so slightly out of sync on that rep, while the next rep is perfectly in sync. One get-up will feel perfectly aligned and the next rep I have to take advantage of a pause to find the alignment.
Movement variability and the difference between the reps is not only to be expected it is a good thing.
Swings Do Not Equal Snatches
While the swing is the center of our universe, it does not equal snatches.
(I’ll give you a moment to recover.)
Where would I come up with such heresy? Well, in doing swings and snatches.
When I am doing a simple session like “every minute on the minute” work, I need to be doing one-arm swings with a 40kg or 44kg to get the same “cost” or impact as doing snatches with a 32kg. The difference in the total distance covered, horizontal versus vertical forces, eccentric loads when bringing the kettlebell down from overhead, and breathing create a very different “cost” between snatches and swings.
Note: Brandon Hetzler has written about this difference in distance traveled in his article “A Long Way to Press.” And he may even have some force plate info to add here.
This is not a this-or-that conversation. It is simply a reminder that swings and snatches belong in a program. Get the benefits of both. As I noted in another of my articles, heavy swings and lighter snatches might be the sweet spot.
Linear or Exponential
A programming observation is that adding a repetition to a set or sequence is not necessarily a linear increase, but can actually create an exponential increase.
The Richter Scale, which measures earthquake intensity, is a good foil here:
“Each number increase on the Richter scale indicates an intensity ten times stronger. For example, an earthquake of magnitude 6 is ten times stronger than an earthquake of magnitude 5. An earthquake of magnitude 7 is 10 x 10 = 100 times strong than an earthquake of magnitude 5. An earthquake of magnitude 8 is 10 x 10 x 10 = 1000 times stronger than an earthquake of magnitude 5.”
Going from a 5 to a 6 on the Richter Scale represents an exponential increase, not a simple linear increase. And adding one rep to some sets or sequences creates that same exponential increase.
For example, when I am doing 5 reps every 30 seconds for 5 minutes and I add one rep to get to 6 reps every 30 seconds, the impact is exponential not linear. When I add one rep to the usual 3 rep sequence of Strength Aerobics, I get the same exponential increase.
What do I mean by exponential impact? Heart rate increase, breathing increase, and increased need for rest to name a few things, and also increased recovery time needed before the next session.
You will all find your own linear versus exponential increase line, but the point is that when you are programming for yourself or a student, you need to keep in mind the next rep you add might be an exponential increase not a linear one.
Music and Excitation
There has been a lot of research on music and exercise performance. Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading authorities on music and exercise. “Music is like is a legal drug for athletes,” he has said. “It can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as fifteen percent.”
There are those who cannot train without their music. I am not one of those people. Silence is fine with me and even the most “chill” music in the world can be just fine for a session. I guess I am a bit of an oddity—but we kind of knew that already. The point is that the relationship between music and training is highly individual.
But perhaps the reason music becomes important to some is the level of excitation they perceive they need for a training session, like maybe a heavy squat day. To get “angry” or “in the zone,” they need their music to be loud and angry to get the excitation pumping.
Well, I’m Irish and, for me, angry is never more than a second away, but like Bruce Banner in the Avengers, I look at it as a good thing. Or you can look at it like Stallone in Over the Top, where the simple turning around of the ball cap flipped his switch to excitation.
In training, powerlifting expert Louie Simmons advises to approach “max effort” days with no excitation, no psyching up, because you want to save the adrenaline and excitation for when it matters in competition—and when it will give you a bump. If the only way you can lift is to “get angry” and you are burning your nitrous oxide (to use a car analogy) just to get out of the driveway, then you are missing out on the “zone,” which Professor X advised Magneto, “lies somewhere between rage and serenity.”
Drop the anger and excitation and find the point between where you develop your on-demand strength.
A super simple workout, Strength Aerobics is brilliant in my mind. But simple does not equal easy, and simple doesn’t always have to be the same. The original workout was a simple kettlebell workout of clean, plus military press, plus squat, then set down the kettlebell and shake it off before repeating on the other side, all the while keeping your heart rate and breathing in your aerobic zone. (That’s 180 minus your age for the Maffertone fans.)
I have built quite a few variations on this theme that have made Strength Aerobics a go-to programming choice for me.
For example, even just sticking with the classic clean + military press + squat format, you can do:
- One kettlebell
- Two kettlebell
- Weight ladder with one kettlebell
- Alternating sets with different weights with two kettlebells
You can also manipulate the rest periods. Performing a set every 30 seconds or resting a full 30 or more seconds between sets can apply to any variation of the workout.
You can also ladder the reps with one of the exercises and adjust rest between sets as needed:
- Clean x 1, Military Press x 1, Front Squat x 1
- Clean x 2, Military Press x 1, Front Squat x 1
- Clean x 3, Military Press x 1, Front Squat x 1
- Clean x 1, Military Press x 2, Front Squat x 1
- Clean x 1, Military Press x 3, Front Squat x 1
- Clean x 1, Military Press x 1, Front Squat x 2
And so on…
You can also add a ballistic to the end, making it clean, military press, squat, snatch. And then do it with one kettlebell, or two kettlebell, or—you get the picture.
Here are two recent examples from my training:
Prep: foam roller and GFM (Ground Force Method)
24kg Get-up + x 1+1
24kg Get-up x 5+5
Strength Aerobics—Alternating sets of:
Double 24kg (Clean + Military Press + Squat + Snatch)
Double 32kg (Clean + Military Press + Squat)
X 30 sets total (15 of each)
10 seconds on and 30 seconds rest
Prep: foam roller and GFM
24 kg Get-up + x 1+1
36 kg Get-up x 1+1 x 3
36 kg Strength Aerobics—10 seconds on/30 seconds off:
(Clean + Press + Front Squat) R + L
Then alternating R then L sets of:
(Clean + Press x 2 + Front Squat) x 16 sets
(Clean + Press + Front Squat + Snatch) x 16 sets
Total of 34 sets
Note: Having 4 reps per set of Strength Aerobics is not a linear increase, at least for me. The last 6-8 sets were a challenge.
Are times where I am pushed out of my aerobic zone? Yes. But my standard Strength Aerobics session has become:
- 36kg (Clean + Military Press + Squat) x 30 sets
- 10 seconds work with 30 seconds rest
And that is very much a 70% effort day.
Conclusion: My Training Observations
So, there you have it. My recent training observations on everything from movement variability to music and anger. (With lots of movie quotations.) Keep us posted on your training observations on the StrongFirst forum.
20 thoughts on “Training Observations: Every Rep Is a Chance to Learn”
Thanks Brett, this is simply brilliant!
Great article Brett! Can you elaborate on your warm up with gfm?
You can learn more about GFM here:
Thanks for posting this Brett. I’d picked up by reading your training log a while ago that Strength Aerobics might have some long-term programming potential… do you think the bodyweight version in the original post can be explored in the same way?
Yes – I think you can work the bodyweight version in a similar manner although I have not been practicing or working on that.
How should I read these? I do not know. Thank you
“24kg Get-up + x 1+1”
“24kg Get-up x 5+5”
“24 kg Get-up + x 1+1”
“36 kg Get-up x 1+1 x 3”
24 kg Get-up done for one set of one rep on each side
24kg GU x 1+1
24 kg Get-up done for one set of 5 reps on each side
24 kg GU x 5+5
five continuous reps on the right then switch to left for five reps
36 kg Get-up done for three sets of one rep on each side
36 kg GU x 1+1 x 3
Thank you Brett! As always your articles are very interesting and helpjul.
I have been using this type of training to combat the intense heat during the summer here in AZ. I also found it to be quite pleasurable vs high intensity burn out! As I have gotten older (late fifties) I have started thinking about the relationship between exercise and health. Great article as always Brett…
The best recovery strategy is good programming and the only place fitness comes before health is in the dictionary.
Heavy swings, light snatches, strength aerobics. I hope people are paying attention. The answer to long-term progress with ample variety is right here. Great stuff, Brett.
I hadn’t seen the ‘strength aerobics’ term before. But just today I worked a ‘swing-clean-press-snatch-rack squat’ sequence for 20 rounds. Takes just 15 seconds and can be done on the half minute. 10 sets of 10 1 hand swings to start with.
Wow this is solid GOLD!!!
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