The kettlebell long cycle has been the focus of my training for the past 3 months, and what a ride it’s been. I’ve learnt so much more about technique, power production, energy conservation and breathing in the last 3 months than I have in years, and I’ve loved every minute of it!
I am by no means an expert in this field, but after a facebook conversation with Colin Outram of Bodywork Athletics and Crossfit Toronto, I feel I should share some tips and techniques I have picked up that have really made the biggest impact on my improvement over the last few months.
It’s hard to know where you’re headed if you don’t know where you’re starting from, so here’s my set from the 26th of April, my first 10 mins with the 16kg bells, for 89 reps:
The positives… At least I gutted out the 10 mins. 89 reps is a reasonable pace so I was working hard. Hard but not smart. Things to work on… My overhead position, my speed under the bells, my breathing.
So what did I do? This competition was the first time I met Paul White who you can see lifting alongside me. Paul is MS in both biathlon and long cycle. As I was hosting Paul for the weekend I was able to glean some useful tips and tricks off him to use in my quest for improved long cycle performance.
Tip One – Daily mobility work
Paul took us through his personal daily joint mobility routine and explained that his training focus is heavily on joint mobility. Videos you see on youtube of Paul’s GS work is only the tip of the iceberg. Mobility, mobility, mobility. And you can see it pays off, just look at his lockouts compared to mine in the above video. I confess, I don’t do this mobility work anywhere near as often as I should, but I definitely use it as part of my every warm up. The majority of this routine is from Pavel’s Super Joints.
Tip Two – Chest extension to lockout
Looking at the above video you can clearly see the differences in this technique. I am looking upward at the bells (another error, for me at least) and not getting the necessary thoracic extension required for an efficient lockout.
Mobility routine from Super Joints, or part thereof.
Mental focus on chest extension to lockout (thoracic extension).
With no other specific work, one week later:
Positives… Much better thoracic extension and lockout position. Remember, this was achieved purely through a change of focus and some thoracic extension mobility work over the course of one week. Things to work on… Getting under the bells faster (a more powerful second dip), breathing again, a ‘cleaner’ clean.
Tip Three – Incorporate some further mobility work to address the rack position as well as overhead
I will share with you my personal warm up routine that helps to improve these two aspects. Before every training session, after my joint mobility, I perform 2-3 rounds of the following:
Banded hip flexor stretch – Attach a band to the uprights of a squat rack. Facing away from the rack, step inside the band so that it is sitting around your pelvis. Step away from the rack and assume the standard kneeling hip flexor stretch position. The tension on the band will force you to contract the trailing side glute hard to hold the hips in place and by reciprocal inhibition create length in the hip flexors. For the first round I hold the stretch for 30-45 seconds, for further rounds I perform 15×2-3 second pulses, ala the RKC hip flexor stretch. You will be amazed at how much more upright you will feel and how much better the rack position becomes. Credit to Tim Barnes for showing me this move.
Rolling – There are many variations of rolling, from the single quadrant FMS rolls through to the ‘hard roll’. I use the version shown below by Steve Maxwell. Rolling resets very primitive postural reflexes and has an incredibly positive effect on your thoracic position. Try it, it may make you look silly in the gym, but if you’re like me you’ll value the outcome, not what people think. I roll left then roll right, for three each way, alternated with the banded hip flexor stretch.
Tip Four – Practice with some heavier bells to improve the power and speed of the first and second dip
This tip is crucial for me. Once I started incorporating the 24kg bells into my training it made the 20’s feel light. This one is all about mental focus. With heavier bells my first dip tends to become slow and I focus too much on the drive. What happens is I end up using too much back extension and the second dip becomes rubbish. The key here is to focus on the second dip. Drop fast into the first dip and without thinking too much ‘jump’ and stomp into that second dip as fast and powerful as you can. If you focus almost exclusively on getting under the bells, a solid stomp with the hips moving back, you will have far more success than if you just try to drive the heavy kettlebells higher. I believe this is the single most important technical aspect when moving on to heavier kettlebells.
Extra mobility/stability work, focussing on hip flexors for rack and thoracic mobility/stability for overhead position.
Mental focus on getting under the bells, not attempting to drive them higher.
On the 7th June:
This set of 61 reps felt solid. Certainly a huge improvement on the first video. There are still things to work on and as I venture into the 28kg bells all of these issues are magnified and require further focus and refinement to get it right.
There is one major tip that I felt best to leave to last, on it’s own, it’s that important. Breathing.
Tip Five – Breathing patterns for long cycle
Before I met Paul White: Bottom of clean, breathe out. Swing portion of clean, breathe in. Landing in rack, breathe out. Rack, as many breaths as needed. First dip, breathe out. Drive, breathe in. Stand to lockout, breathe out. Overhead, as many breaths as needed. Drop, breathe out. Repeat. Note the lack of breathing at the second dip. I was wrong.
After I met Paul White: Bottom of clean, breathe out. Swing portion of clean, breathe in. Landing in rack, breathe out. Rack, as many breaths as needed. First dip, breathe out. Second dip, breathe out. Stand to lockout, breathe in. Overhead, as many breaths as needed. Drop, breathe out. Repeat.
By breathing out on the second dip you will be far more powerful and get under the bells much more effectively. Don’t worry about the breath inwards between dips (on the drive) it will just happen naturally if it needs to. This for me was a game changer.
To your long cycle success!