In his classic book Power, Dr. Fred Hatfield described an imaginary contest between a 154-pound marathon runner and a 210-pound bodybuilder. (Given the fact that Dr. Squat is a 1,000-pound record-breaking squatter, it is safe to assume the bodybuilder is not a pump artist but a power bodybuilder who trains according to Hatfield’s recommendations, such as 5×5 squats.)
- The first challenge is carrying twenty 100-pound beer kegs to the pub’s second floor as fast as possible. “That’s a real feat of endurance, if ever there was one,” exclaims Hatfield. Huffing and puffing and not particularly happy, the bodybuilder still wins hands down.
- The second event is carrying 50% of one’s bodyweight up the same stairs, for time. “It’d be a tossup, I reckon,” comments Hatfield, “depending on who was the most motivated by the prize… Even there, I’d put my beer money on the bodybuilder.”
Dr. Squat continues his mental experiment. “Try to picture what’d happen if the marathon runner had to wear a lead-filled vest to bring his bodyweight up to that of the bodybuilder. Who would win the marathon then? Hell, who’d even finish?”
The sports scientist sums up: “You can devise all sorts of devilish means of proving your own point, depending on who you’d like to see win. The point is, you’re still comparing apples and oranges.”
General vs. Special Conditioning
Dr. Squat’s “apples and oranges” comment refers to endurance specificity. Indeed, there are many types of endurance—and dozens of mechanisms responsible for expressing it: from will power to a max VO2 uptake. If you are serious about your sport, at the point when you are almost a contender you will need to work with your coach on developing your special or sport-specific endurance. Otherwise, a reliable general endurance program, like 100-200 heavy swings a few times a week, is all you need.
In Russian sports science and coaching practice, endurance is subdivided into general and special (sport-specific). “General endurance is the ability to perform for an extended period of time any work involving many muscle groups and placing high demands on the cardio-vascular, respiratory, and central nervous systems,” explains Prof. Nikolay Ozolin, one of the giants of the Soviet sports science. “General endurance is the basis for development of special endurance, which is confirmed by sport experience and research.”
Note that developing special endurance is the job of your sport coach, team leader, or sensei. Mine is to show you how to build a foundation of general endurance for that specialized work.
Foolproof Conditioning with Hard Style Kettlebell Training
There are many ways to develop general endurance. In my experience, kettlebell quick lifts are second to none and the most efficient. When Russians talk about “general” development, they imply a wide carryover to a great many applications: “…the ability… to perform any physical work more or less successfully.” (Ozolin) Time and time again, kettlebell ballistics have shown to improve one’s stamina in a great variety of contexts, from running a marathon to fighting full contact to surviving a twelve-hour long powerlifting meet.
Hard style kettlebell training is highly foolproof. Americans are notoriously poor at following instructions. And yet the Russian kettlebell delivers without fail. Like an AK-47, it tolerates any abuse and keeps doing its job.
Over the years, I received thousands of testimonials concerning the kettlebell’s “what the hell effect” on various types of endurance. The routines these folks did were all over the board: some followed programs written by me or my colleagues, others “improved” them, most cooked up some weird plans of their own that made very little sense to me. They ranged from beginners to elite athletes from a variety of sports. All of them improved, most of them—dramatically.