The last several years, I’ve found the best way to set the tone for my New Year is to complete the infamous 10,000 Kettle Bell Swing Workout by Coach Dan John (side note- who is one of the absolute best coaches in the fitness industry, and I highly encourage you to look up his books and articles). I want to take this opportunity to explain some aspects of this challenge that I feel anyone can apply to their own training. I will touch on: why I choose to push myself outside my comfort zone, the timing for when I do this workout, and the physical and mental benefits I gain that carry over throughout the year.
Before I dive into the specifics though, there are a few important disclaimers about this workout. First, I have been training with Kettle Bells for 10 years now. The first time I did this workout, I had been using them for 5 years and had been taught proper technique from some very high quality coaches. In other words, by the time I did this workout for the first time I was well-versed with the proper technique for a Kettle Bell Swing. Therefore, if anything you read in this article peaks your interest- but you’ve never trained with a Kettle Bell- I highly suggest you first work tirelessly on perfecting your Kettle Bell Swing. This needs to happen long before you even begin to think about attempting this challenge.
Second, this workout very well may not be right for you and your goals- which is totally fine. I’ve never once recommended any client of mine to do this just because of the physical and mental toll it will take on your body. I’ve explained countless times what it is, and the benefits of the workout, but I would never make a client do this workout because the risk and reward don’t align for me as a fitness professional. This workout is a challenge, and it will take you well outside of your comfort zone to a place that not many people are comfortable being.
My goal in writing about my yearly experience with this 10,000 Swing challenge is not to necessarily motivate you to pick up a Kettle Bell and start acting like Pavel. Instead I hope to motivate you to find a way to get outside your own individual comfort zone in 2020. Whether that is signing up for a 5k, committing to a new style of training, or simply taking that class that’s always intimidated you- have the courage to push yourself beyond what’s comfortable this year to spark both mental and physical change.
Just as an FYI, What Is the 10,000 Swing Challenge?
Here is the original article by Coach Dan John with the nitty-gritty specifics of the workout laid out:
The cliff note version is this:
You train either 4 or 5 days per week (depending on your time frame), and each day you perform 500 Kettle Bell Swings. When it’s all said and done you will perform 20 workouts that total 10,000 Swings. On 4 of the 5 days you have a corresponding strength move mixed in with the swings (with the 5th day being just swings). The way the article is originally laid out in 2013, Coach Dan John suggests doing 5 clusters with the reps of swings as follows:
10, 15, 25, 50 (which equals 100 swings, that you would repeat 5 times- in between the first 3 clusters, you would hit your strength move for the day- those are explained in the T-Nation article above as well)
I’ve completed the 10,000 Swing challenge multiple times in this manner, however, Coach Dan has since revised the rep scheme to a much more manageable style of:
15, 35, 15, 35 (still equaling 100 swings that you would repeat 5 times with your strength moves still mixed in after the first 3 sets) This is much more manageable because by the end of 50 Swings with a 24 KG Bell, your form is questionable at best. With this “new” rep scheme, you still get all the great benefits this workout has to offer, just the quality of reps are ultimately significantly better.
Why Do I Complete This Workout Every Year?
#1 Competitive Spirit
I am a former collegiate athlete, but I consider myself a lifelong athlete. I don’t play in alumni games or adult sports leagues, therefore, I need to find other outlets to channel my competitive nature- which is the main reason I perform this workout. The completion of 10,000 swings in a month is only one aspect of the challenge though. The other, more gratifying aspect, is the fact that I time myself every workout; meaning I’m competing against myself and a stopwatch the entire month.
The body adapts quickly to this style of workout, so you naturally get quicker and need lest rest time, however it’s fun to see how much you can improve your time over the course of a month. For example, my first session this year I finished in 41:35. My 20th session I finished yesterday was in 18:30. (To further put these numbers in perspective, the first time I ever did this challenge 5 years ago, my time was 1:05:22!)
Competing against myself and the clock is something that I embrace every workout. It adds intensity to an already grueling physical and mental challenge. I’ve found that having the ability to compete against myself is one of the best ways to promote absolute personal growth.
#2 Reset Button
While much is made of New Year’s Resolutions- and a lot of gym regulars scoff at them- January is a time for me to hit the reset button as well. It’s not that I get completely out of my routine from Thanksgiving to Christmas, or put on large amounts of weight; but rather, my workouts tend to get a little stale, and with family parties resulting in seemingly constant travel, I tend to get thrown off my daily routine a bit. This ultimately results in training at irregular times or even locations. So, while the workouts still take place, they may not be the highest quality of the year.
Accordingly, I look at the 10,000 Swing Challenge as an opportunity to hit the reset button, and squash any questionable tendencies I got into (regarding either training or nutrition) over the last month or two of the previous year. This workout generally serves as a fresh start for my training and reignites my good training habits.
#3 Physical Challenge
Completing 500 Swings, combined with a strength move in a single workout, is a physical challenge that speaks for itself. This is something that is certainly challenging for me physically. The key is though, it is realistically challenging for me. The best way for me to describe the workout is: it is uncomfortable rather than impossible.
There are plenty of ‘crazy’ workout challenges out there that would push me outside my comfort zone- but not all of them are safe, or right for me and my goals. The key is finding something that aligns with your goals, but also won’t hurt you in the process. It is a very fine line to walk, especially with a workout such as this- like I said in the open, if you’ve never done a Kettle Bell Swing or you don’t have proper form, this 10,000 Swing Challenge will physically wreck you.
Therefore, it is imperative to have prudence when you chose to challenge yourself physically. Be sure to weigh the pro’s and con’s of what you’ll get out of the workout. If you’re unsure of how to safely push yourself outside your comfort zone, my best recommendation would be to hire yourself a good coach. Someone that can correct your form when it starts to break down, but will also safely push you beyond your self-imposed limits.
Over the course of these 20 workouts I see vast improvements in my overall strength levels. In particular my legs (glutes and hamstrings in particular), core, shoulder stabilizers and grip all get significantly stronger. I generally lean out, but not to the point where muscle mass is lost- any weight I lose is body fat. Even though I go a full 4 weeks without performing any type of resisted horizontal press, deadlift or row, I do not lose strength in any of these movements. The overall physical strength gained from this challenge directly carries over to every basic strength move.
#4 Mental Challenge
Training to increase mental fortitude is one of the most underrated values of vigorous exercise. Completing these 10,000 swings challenges my mental strength because I am doing the same exact move 500 times per day. In order to successfully complete this workout, you must have the famous Wim Hof ability of “mind over matter.” Being able to “turn your mind off” and go somewhere else, yet still focus on the quality of reps you are performing, is a skill set that is developed as you go through these 20 workouts.
By completing this type of challenge each January, I feel that it gives me an added mental edge. My mindset gets hungrier for more challenges and I also have renewed confidence that I can get through any obstacle that may come my way in the coming year- in or out of the gym. The benefits of conquering a challenge that pushes your limits is ultimately the main reason I highly encourage you to find your equivalent to the 10,000 Swing workout- in addition to the physical gains you will reap, the mental growth will benefit you time and again over the course of the year.
At the end of a month’s worth of Kettle Bell swings, physically my body feels strong and lean. Mentally, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment by completing a workout that not many people have the patience or diligence to do on their own. My reset button is completely hit and I feel invigorated with my training moving forward in the New Year. My competitive fire is also temporarily quelled, and I feel the same satisfaction that I used to feel after I beat an opponent as an athlete.
In order to feel these positive emotions, I highly encourage you to take the time and find an aspect of your fitness journey that you can safely get yourself “uncomfortable.” As famous strength coach Tim Grover says, the key to physical and mental growth is getting “comfortable being uncomfortable.” If you want your body and mindset to change for the better, make sure you’re giving yourself a reason to change.
Keep in mind though, as much as it’d be exhilarating to do challenges like these all year round, it is most certainly not in your best health interest to do so. You must strategically implement these types of challenging workouts throughout the year. Understand that you will still make tremendous gains toward your fitness goals, even if every single workout is not at peak intensity, like in a challenge.
Find your own individual way to challenge your mental and physical capacity in 2020 and give yourself a true reason for growth!
Yours in Fitness and Health,
Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.