Volume – up or down?

It is said by those who know about these thngs that if you did nothing more than kettlebell swings for the rest of your life you’d stay stronger and in better shape than most of your peers, who will be tottering around on A-frames, or terrorising the pavements on their mobility scooters.

If this is true – and I suspect it is – the question of volume raises its sculpted head. How many swings, and how often, will keep me ahead of all my buddies? Do we go for high volume or low volume?

For most situations, a higher volume of swings is better. The kettlebell lends itself perfectly to high-rep ballistic work, and you’ll get a good combination of strength, strength-endurance and aerobic conditioning from doing high volumes of work. Variables include the weight of the bell, duration of individual sets, and whether the swings are done two-handed or one-handed.

Low volume is appropriate when your needs are specifically related to developing explosive strength, for which kettlebell swings are also a good tool. Heavy kettlebells, short sets and a strong focus on making every single swing as maximal an effort as possible will reap great results.

Back to high volume, and here’s a great example. Dan John, a truly superb coach and writer, who wears his immense erudition lightly, gives us the ‘10,000 kettlebell swings challenge.’ So that’s 10,000 swings in a month. Minimum 333 swings a day, if you carry them out every day, and up to 500 a day if you take days off. I know these things are a little arbitrary, numbers always are – you could do 11,000 swings in 29 days etc etc – but we like an element of neatness, and when you think that it equates to maybe 20 minutes of fairly hard work each day, that ticks a lot of boxes.

Dan John’s format is: five sets of 100 swings, divided into 10, 15, 25, 50 reps, with a few seconds between efforts within the set, and a couple of minutes between sets; five sessions a week, which comes to 20 sessions in the month. He also recommends doing  a very small number of reps of another exercise, like dips or pull-ups, between efforts. As it stands, that format might be quite daunting, especially with a heavier bell. However, the 30-day format gives you loads of room to build into it, both with weight of bell and how concentrated you make the efforts and sets. So the more daunted could start off with a 20kg bell, and do 100 swings in sets of 10, for example, three or four times spread out over the day. You can do that, can’t you? After a few days you might progress to 5 x 100 in the day, then put two or three of them together until you can do 5 x 100 straight off. And within that you might use a 24kg bell for some of your shorter sets. There are plenty of ways to tailor it as you fitness improves during the month. And at the end of the month, according to Dan John’s test group of around 20 athletes, you get leaner, with more visible abs, greater grip strength, greater aerobic capacity,  stronger glutes and even gains in basic lifts such as squat and bench press.

Even if you commit to ‘a lot of swings six days a week’ you will still see the above benefits and gains. You might end up buying slimmer jeans and fatter kettlebells.


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