Lifting weights isn’t hard. It requires physical energy, but it isn’t hard. What’s hard is making it a habit, and learning to lift in the first place. How we learn to lift can often determine our level of comfort, or discomfort, in the gym.
I often teach the introductory “Ninja Baptism” classes at Mark Fisher Fitness, and as a starting place, we recommend that to deadlift or power swing, ladies use an 18-28kg ‘bell while men use a 20-32kg ‘bell, and to swing or goblet squat, ladies use an 8-10kg ‘bell while men use a 14-16 kg ‘bell. It’s not uncommon for a Ninja to be surprised about our recommended starting weights, thinking, “I’m just a beginner, I can’t start that heavy.”
You’re a beginner, so you should start that heavy.
While lifting weights that are heavier than you’re accustomed to can feel uncomfortable, in the case of the kettlebell swing, it actually makes it easier. The swing is a nuanced exercise that focuses on explosive hip power, and it’s difficult to practice that explosiveness if you’re not holding something that’s explodable! Seriously, what the hell is this glorified door stop supposed to do for you?
Recently I hopped on the phone with my friend Michael Easter at Men’s Health, and we started talking about this very predicament. Sometimes we pick great exercises in the gym, but we don’t train them as hard as they could be trained. In my opinion, the Kettlebell Swing, the Inverted Row, and most single leg work is not trained to full potential. Michael was so excited, that he wrote up this great article for Men’s Health:
The three exercises discussed are ones that benefit from heavier-than-normal external loads. For the swing, a heavier weight prevents you from compensating with the shoulders and arms. A weight that you’re able to front raise isn’t going to cut it. If it’s too heavy to raise, you’re hips will be more active, and that’s the goal. Using your hips, not your arms. Here’s an example:
In the swing, the only thing that your arms are doing is holding on for the ride. That’s different from the inverted row, when they do the lion’s share of the work. Typically an inverted row is done in a less-than-inverted fashion:
Rowing at this 45˚ angle is fine, but it’s not called the “45˚ angle row,” is it? It’s called the inverted row. We can slide those feet even lower, elevate them, and even add a weight vest to up the ante on this challenge.
After you’ve attacked that upper body row, let’s head back down to the legs. Single leg work is an essential part of strength & conditioning programs, and while we’re hearing about it more in general fitness training, it’s easy to forget about the strength part of things in favor of the body weight work. Yes, your body weight split squats are great. Yes, those high-rep reverse lunges burn. No, you’re not going to get that much stronger doing bodyweight work forever. Let’s not be scared of pushing ourselves for heavier loads:
I’m more impressed with a single-leg exercise done with bodyweight than I am with a bilateral exercise done with double body weight. Train your single leg work aggressively, and everything else gets better as well.
Exercise selection is a big part of making up a workout or building a program. Exercise intention is just as important. We’ll often train at an intensity that matches those around us, so if you’re peers in the weight room aren’t getting after these important lifts, it’s likely that you’re not either. Now you can!
Regularly attacking your swing, inverted row, and single leg exercises means consistent progress and increase in load, and these exercises are prime for progressive overload. Grab a heavier weight than last time and let me know how it goes!