Dan John’s 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge – Review

Picture of hands
The price of progress...

So its done. Well actually, it was done a few weeks ago. As you can see, I got massively bored about blogging on it every day. That's because, well, it got quite boring. However, it may well have been Dan John, or some other sensible S&C coach once said:

"Never get bored of the basics"

So I didn't. I pushed on, finished the challenge, and here is what I learned.

The body adapts fast

After the first few sessions my back was in pieces and my hands were falling apart. But soon I adapted, metabolically and neurally. My grip strength vastly improved, real fast. The rest time came down and down. One workout, I hardly broke a sweat.

The timetable I followed for the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge
The timetable I followed for the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge

Even with life getting in the way and a couple of trips away I still managed to get the sessions in, in a 5 week time frame. You can either do the challenge as 4 or 5 sessions a week. But I just saw it as a number to complete.  Something to get done. Yes its arbitrary, but I think thats the point. It was certainly pretty dull. Fortunately it only got REALLY boring once I was at least half way. Not wanting to 'waste' the hard work until that point, kept me in the game.

I now swing a 40kg kettlebell without any problem, and no tape required for my now reptilian hands. This certainly falls into the range of 'super-compensation', as I was genuinely worried at the start of risking injury, I was on the edge. I was amazed at how the body bounced back. The second session, I genuinely thought I'd picked up the wrong kettlebell, it just felt way too heavy. Looking back, I don't even know what I was worried about.

You can see from the graph below which details the arbitrary internal load of each session (AVG HR x mins) how much difference there was in effort level over the challenge. There are a couple of outliers here (Session 4 of squats,) as my HR didn't log properly. Each session felt easier than the last. Towards the end, I took longer than I probably needed, as I would often get drawn into conversation, extending the session length longer than it needed to be. The challenge had become physically quite easy.

Global internal load of the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge
Global internal load of the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge

Metabolic costs

Some exercises are more costly than others. Front squats require you to move and coordinate a lot more muscle mass than the other exercises in this challenge.  I wasn't front squatting body-weight for this challenge, which meant that the load of the dips session was actually higher. If you'll remember the dips session also employs a 2,3,5 rep loading as opposed to a 1,2,3 for the other lifts - which also adds volume. Taking the legs out of the exercise however really made a difference. Despite the dips session offering the highest loading. Generally the squats, overhead press, pull ups then dips would be the order of session difficulty for me.

External load of each session in the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge
External load of each session in the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge

There is real value in seeing things through

I'll be honest. I got some stick about the challenge. Since I primarily train (although definitely don't compete!) in a strongman gym, parallels were jokingly drawn with the crossfit-like nature of the workout. Whether misinformed, deliberately light-hearted, or downright flippant, these comments did not phase me. But they really brought home how easy it is to judge a programme from afar. Its something I've done in the past, and is easy to do. But it doesn't mean its right. You can never assess something properly until you have all the facts. I didn't know what I was going to find from this challenge until the end. And that's the point. You've got to GET to the end first. You can say its stupid, you can question its value, but truth is, you'll never really know until you start it, live it, and finish it! Then you can pass judgement, evaluate, and act on that feedback. Until this challenge, I'm not sure when the last training plan I started and saw through until the death was. I know when the next one will be though.

At times it felt like a waste of time, and was frustrating to do - I wanted to be doing other lifts. But it really greased the groove of the movement. 10,000 repetitions of ANYTHING will make you better at it. Kettlebell swings are now something I've added to my workouts, and I can truly appreciate. The sheer volume highlighted some areas of weakness which have now been addressed. I never thought that at my most bored phase of the challenge I would have ever thought to incorporate MORE swings into my training. But I have. If I'd stopped at the end of the second week with an 'ok I get how this goes now, I don't need to do anymore' I might never have made that change. My deadlift has improved for it, and I feel much more robust.

Finally, the lack of variety in the routine has made more motivated to train now. I'm hitting every session with renewed vigour and motivation. At my most stale point, this was hard to envisage. Sometimes you've got to ride out those hard times, slog through. Whether is physical or psychological staleness, sometimes, not always, pushing through is the best thing you can do.