Just last week I challenged myself to do an ungodly number of kettlebell swings for 8 straight days. Why on earth would I want to do that, and what would I learn? I don’t even think I was thinking about what I would learn. I was only wondering, ‘Can I do that?’
But I learned a LOT! I learned about my strength, how my body works, and also how a small shift in mindset can make a HUGE difference in my motivation.
It all started innocently enough, I guess. I was getting up from the kitchen table quickly. I wasn’t watching where I was moving, and I kicked the kitchen table with my little toe.
But I brushed it off – how many times have you jammed your toe into something without consequence? Not that I’m totally clumsy, but it happens, and it hurts, and I forget about it. But later in the day, when I tried to put my shoe on, it still really hurt!
The next day, I hobbled around, tried to go for a walk (only to get about 6 houses down & limp back home in defeat). Okay. Plan B.
What’s Plan B?
I don’t know.
BUT, here’s what I did know:
- In just over a week, I was going on vacation for 10 days.
- I was not going to be strength training while on vacation.
- Since I turned 45ish, I get really super sore after I resume strength training after a week off.
- Being really super sore is not appealing to me.
- I needed an exercise that I could do in bare feet or flip-flops.
- Most gyms discourage their customers from being around heavy weight equipment in bare feet or flip-flops.
- I have a few kettlebells and dumbbells at home
- I had read about a kettlebell challenge a few years ago, and had always been curious about doing it.
- I did have other options. I could have easily done another strength circuit. But my curiosity was peaked about this challenge. Did I have the mental strength to complete it?
The rules of the challenge are as follows:
- Do 10,000 kettlebell swings over the course of 10 days (I would be completing mine in 8).
- Any combination of 2 handed, 1 handed, or alternating swings is fine.
- Swings can be split apart in separate workouts within one day
- You do not have to do 1000 swings each day, however you’ll have to make that up later.
- I was supposed to use a 35lb kettlebell for all swings, however it was just a little too heavy for me for 1 handed swings, and so I opted to use the 30lb kettlebell for everything but the 2 handed swings. I still used the 35 lb kb for 2 handed swings.
I started out only attempting to do 1000 for each of the 8 days that I was home. But then, on day 3, when I did the math, I realized that I might be able to complete all the swings in the 8 day period. Why not try?
Here’s how it all broke down in days:
- 1000 – Alternated between 2 hand & 1 hand swings. I SUCK at counting! Most swing sets were 50 – 100 repetitions. Holy glute workout Batman! Ouch!
- 1000 – My hands are fatigued, and I’m noticing that when I’m in the back part of my swing, that my neck is sore! I must be holding on to some tension when I’m doing that part of the motion. I think I can add more.
- 1450 – My lower back is fatigued today. That indicates to me that I need to keep my core tighter, to support my lower back. BUT after starting the workout, everything is loosening up nicely & my lower back soreness could equally be due to sitting at my kitchen table blogging, instead of sitting in a proper chair. I’m doing fewer 2 handed swings, and more 1 handed /alternating hand sets. And my 1 handed sets are longer. More like 200 – 300 repetitions.
- 1400 – Since my sets are including more reps per set, and I’m still only resting about 1 minute per set, I’m finishing in a shorter amount of time. Where on day 1, it took 40 minutes to do all 1000, today it only took 43 minutes to do 1400. I think I can use the 35 lb bell for all reps.
- 1400 – I used the 35 bell for all reps today. It was heavy. It’s amazing how heavy 5 lbs is!
- 1100 – My hands are KILLING me today! This is exposing poor form. When I switch hands, I should be grabbing the kb just at the crooks of my fingers. Instead, I’m grabbing it higher up, and when I swing the weight back, it shifts. When I use the 30 lb kb, it doesn’t expose this , but using the heavier bell, it does. I also wonder about WHEN I did this workout. I typically workout first thing in the morning. THis was completed late morning. I think heat has a HUGE impact on my mindset & performance.
- 1650 – Back to the 30lb bell. Because I didn’t do as many reps yesterday, and I’m leaving ON day 8, I wanted to make up as much as I could. It took me about 50 minutes.
- 1000 – I did this in 4 sets — 150, 350, 300, 200. This tells me that I totally should have used a bigger bell. Next time I will.
What I learned:
You can’t focus on how much you have left
Its defeating. Only focus on how much you have done. This is especially true for the days that I intended to do 1400 or more. The difference between thinking, “I’ve completed 400!! Woohoo!” versus, “I have 1000 more to do. Ugh!” Is amazing! In fact, there were days that I had to intentionally reframe my thinking because I would WANT to know how many I had left, but couldn’t think of it that way.
This is the same concept when you’re trying to lose weight. You can’ think about how much more you have to do. It becomes overwhelming! Focus on how far you have come, compare your today-self with your just-starting-out-self, and it will encourage your momentum.
This shift in mindset that completely reframes how you are looking at your situation. You’re in the same place, but how you think about it is totally different.
Listen to your body – but only to a certain extent
There were days when my back hurt, or my hands hurt. But once I got going, things loosened up. If I had been fearful of hurting myself, I wouldn’t have worked through the discomfort, and found out that it was all going to be okay.
This is an important lesson in learning what your body is telling you. And quite frankly, it really is a delicate balance between knowing when to push and knowing when to back off. Again, our minds can get in the way of this decision making – especially if we’ve had an injury before.
For me, my back fatigue was a reminder that I needed to be extra mindful of keeping my core tight to support my lower back while performing the swings.
The mental aspect of this challenge was much harder than the physical
And isn’t that true of most things that are outside of our comfort zone? Our body is stronger than we give it credit for. Often times, we quit the mental game far before our body gives out. This accompanies the lesson that you can’t focus on how much you have left, but rather how far you’ve come. It’s all mental.
I typically strength train first thing in the morning (before I’ve woken up, and realize what the heck I’m doing! Ha!) Because of my schedule, there were days when I needed to fit the swings in later in the day. It seemed that the workout was more difficult, mentally, on the days when I did the workout later in the day versus first thing.
Is there a 70% I-want-to-quit rule?
In the article, the participants wanted to quit at 70%. 70% of the daily work, and also found day 7 to be the most challenging, mentally.
I think this goes deeper than just this experiment, and travels into many other areas in our life. Have you ever quit a project when it’s almost complete? I know that I have. If I had just stick it out, just a little more, I would have finished. And yet, that last little bit – that last push – seems so difficult. There’s something about wanting to quit at 70%. I haven’t found any research on it, but I think I’m on to something.
What would I do if I had to do it over again:
One of the reasons that kettlebells are an awesome tool, is that they provide cardiovascular conditioning AND strength training at the same time. They’re very efficient from an exercise standpoint. As a result, EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption, aka: the boost in metabolism that you get from exercise) is pretty high.
The article mentioned that all of the participants felt hungrier, some even starting as soon as day 2. I don’t know why I thought I would be impervious to this. As a result, I didn’t prepare enough food, and I ended up eating more Quest bars than ideal.
I was rushing the process. I knew that I only had 8 days to complete this challenge. I was also pissed that I broke my toe. In addition to rushing the total duration, I was also rushing the individual workouts.
When I do this challenge again, I will use the heavier 35 lb kettlebell for all swings, only do 1000 repetitions per day, and take the full 10 days.
In the 8 days of the challenge, I definitely felt stronger on the last day than on the first. In fact, looking at my tally cards for each of the days, I can clearly see that my sets got longer as the challenge progressed.
But in this challenge, the most profound thing that I learned from this process was my need to stay mindful, and present. What I mean by that, is when my mind started wandering, Oh! And wander it did! All sorts of crazy things would start happening: I would lose my place counting, or I’d start thinking about how much my hands hurt, or how out of breath I was becoming.
If I focused on staying present, being aware of the moment I was in, all of that went away. It was like a meditation. I could focus on the rhythm of the swings, and although time was passing, being present in my body and focusing on my breath allowed me to clear my mind, and for that workout time didn’t matter.
** After reading this, if you’re considering doing this challenge, I discourage anyone from doing any kettlebell work if they haven’t worked with a fitness pro who knows what they’re doing. Since kettlebells use momentum, which is contrary to traditional strength training, it’s a very different movement pattern. One that you cannot replicate through reading a book, blog, or watching YouTube videos.
Once you have that movement down, then you will quickly gain strength & be able to move up in bell size.