For those that don’t know, part of passing the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) certification is being able to perform 100 kettlebell snatches with a 24 kg/ 52 lb. KB. This is a physically daunting task to say the least and when I took the certification a year ago I was not up to it. While I have some legitimate excuses (I got into the habit of falling onto and injuring my right wrist for the 3 months leading up to it, making it tough to train) at the end of the day I hadn’t done it and I wanted to be able to say that I could.

 However, there was a downside to accomplishing the goal and I ended up in a pretty sever state of overtraining a few weeks later.

After screwing around with trying to figure out how to accomplish it, I had the opportunity to work with Brett Jones via his online coaching service. Brett is a highly respected figure in both the RKC/ kettlebell and Functional Movements Systems worlds, making him someone who I greatly respect and I was excited to get another set of eyeballs on my training program and some direction on how to achieve the RKC snatch test standard.

While Brett and I worked on other things, the snatch test was a priority in the program. I wanted to see what it took physically and what the results on the trail would be once I had that level of strength endurance. My program included a lot of heavy TGUs, heavy snatches and heavy presses, all to get me used to much more than 24 kg over my head. This strategy made the top of the snatch feel like a “rest” since I was doing TGUs with up 93 pounds and snatches with 32 kg/ 70 lbs.

The other part of the strategy was a density training based workout program with the kettlebell snatch itself. While there was some preliminary stuff with a 16 kg and 20 kg KB, the heart of the program was when you started at 5+5 (5 snatches with each arm) for 10 X 1 minute rounds with a 24 kg KB, starting each round at the top of the minute. This means that you did 5 snatches on each arm with a 24 kg KB, parked the KB and waited/ rested for the rest of the minute (usually another 35 seconds or so), starting the next round of 5+5 when the next 1 minute round started. You repeated that sequence for all 10 rounds.

When that was “easy” you would add 1 rep per arm and subtract 1 round/ minute. This would have you doing 6+6 X 9 rounds, then 7+7 for 8 rounds, 8+8 for 7 rounds, 9+9 X 6 rounds and then finally 10+10 for 5 rounds/ minute.

10+10 X 5 rounds/ minutes = 100 reps in 5 minutes, the RKC snatch test standard. You would move up to the next level when the current level was easy, making it a very Easy Strength sort of way to achieve the goal. Brett wrote an article on this workout and I encourage anyone interested in either the RKC certification or in simply finding a killer strength-endurance workout to check it out.

With Brett’s help I was able to achieve my 100 reps in 5 minutes, and I was pretty stoked to say the least. A monkey that had been on my back for well over a year had been accomplished and I was happy to be able to say I had done it.

However, there was a downside to accomplishing the goal and I ended up in a pretty sever state of overtraining a few weeks later. My performance, both in the gym and on the trail, went into a tailspin that I struggled to pull out of. It took several weeks of reduced activity and backing way off in the gym to get back to feeling like I had some snap in my legs again and I learned a couple really valuable lessons throughout the experience.

First, I noticed something very interesting about the density based snatch workout I had been doing. Up until I hit the 8+8 X 7 rounds/ minutes, when I finished the workout I felt like my lungs/ cardio was the limiting factor – I was breathing very heavily but my muscles felt alright. At the 8+8 level, though, when I finished I wasn’t breathing nearly as heavily but I felt like my ability to keep firing those leg and pulling muscles was the limiting factor.

At some point the stress stopped being placed maximally on the cardio system and started being placed more on the muscular system, specifically the ability of the nervous system to continue to forcefully contract the muscles in the face of fatigue. This just underscored for me the difference between High Tension and Rhythmic Cardio and the importance of understanding and including both.

This also shifted more stress to the nervous system, which recovers much slower that the cardio system. I could feel that I was not recovering as well, which leads me to my second lesson which is to know and, more importantly, listen to the signs of overtraining. I could feel my tension producing capabilities starting to suffer but it took me not being able to stand up and pedal on the trail and having to dump a heavy TGU halfway through a rep that forced me to admit that I needed to back off.

I got caught up in trying to maintain a true peak – I had trained hard, heavy and often for 2-3 months and had seen my strength and strength-endurance improve dramatically and I didn’t want to back off and “lose” any of it. However, after a peak you can step off or fall off and I chose to fall off right onto my face, and like I tell my little girl you don’t want to lead with your face.

The last thing I learned is that you have to roll with the punches. Did it suck doing what I tell thousands of other riders not to do, end up overtrained and having to watch my strength and fitness suffer? Yeah, sure it did but I also knew that the best thing I could do is change my focus to recovering and get back up to speed ASAP. Training is never a linear line and being able to suffer the valleys is what allows you to enjoy the peaks and you can’t get discouraged when you find yourself in one.

So, to sum it all up –

1. Be aware of the difference between cardio and muscular stress and how to manage them both.

2. Listen to you body and don’t lead with your face falling off after a peak.

3. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging and just look for the fastest way out – any time spent worrying about anything else is time wasted.

Part of my mission with MTB Strength Training Systems is to help other riders out through the lessons I have learned along my personal journey into strength training and mountain biking and I hope that this manifesto of my recent journey into peaking hard and crashing harder can help you along your journey.

-James Wilson-

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