How many bells for the new MFF class cycle?

Originally posted 6/20/16 on

A note before we begin: Of everything I’ve written since joining the team at MFF, this is the most Ninja-specific piece yet.  While this is directly related to the new class cycle I’ve prepared at Mark Fisher Fitness, there are benefits for everyone reading. 

At MFF we follow a four week long class cycle, during which classes become progressively more challenging.  Today marks the first day of our 7th class cycle for the year, and it’s one I had the privilege of writing for the Ninja Army.  The previous classes, Cycle 6, was written by Amanda Wheeler, and it was one of the most well written, well received class cycles ever.  In writing Phase 7, I was heavily inspired by Wheels’ Phase 6.

As I worked through our new classes, I realized something: I believe it’s possible to take Superhero Strength, with only three kettlebells, and Kick-Ass Conditioning with only two kettlebells.  Here’s why:

Superhero Strength

In our last round of Superhero Strength, Wheels’ built us a set that included a heavy 2KB Squat, and an Alternating 1-Arm Pendlay Row with Pressdown, both for a consistent 35 seconds all four weeks.  Many Ninjas used the same pair of kettlebells for those two exercises, and I sought to maintain that balance in the new class cycle.

Our new Superhero Strength pairs a 2KB Squat with a 2KB Bent Over Row, and this time around, those sets grow from 40 seconds to 60 seconds over the course of the month.  Rather than progress by using heavier kettlebells, the workout load increases by adding time over the four week cycle.

I’d very much like to see us using the same two kettlebells used for both the squat and the bent over row.  Here’s a demo:

Later in the class, I expanded upon a set that Wheel’s wrote, and that’s 10 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest.  This 10:20 work/rest ratio allows us to put a premium on power and strength, while keeping heart rates at a moderately high level.  It’s power and aerobic work combined!

During this set of exercises following the 10 on, 20 off timing, two of them are loaded: Kettlebell Swings and 1-Arm Pendlay Rows.  This is a great opportunity to challenge our pulling power by attacking a heavier-than-normal kettlebell for this great bent over row variation.

If you take this opportunity in class at MFF, Superhero can be done with a pair of moderately challenging kettlebells for squats and rows, and a single heavy kettlebell for swings and 1-arm Pendlay rows.  The strength is there for you, Superheroes!

Kick-Ass Conditioning

Just as Superhero did, the new round of Kickass Conditioning borrows heavily from Wheels’ wisdom.  The beginning of class follows Amanda’s lead on density work first, a section of swings and core-control variations, a return to some of my constant tension strategies, and then a kettlebell combo section.

The new round of classes changes one exercise in the kettlebell combo used in Phase 6.  Amanda had us doing 2 one-arm swings, 2 one-arm cleans, and 2 contralateral reverse lunges.  I’m such a fan of this combo that I wanted to change it the least amount possible.

The ‘new’ version of this swaps the reverse lunge for a contralateral loaded lateral lunge. In addition to being a tongue twister, this allows us to include some movement through  the frontal plane, moving side to side.  These three exercises happen in a sequence, so they’re best done with one appropriately sized kettlebell.

Included in the constant tension section is an alternating reverse lunge during which you hold a partial squat in between steps backwards.  I tried to honor our culture at MFF with the word “Demi,” as in it’s a half or partial lunge, but I wasn’t able to put that name on it… so this specific version of reverse lunge is the “Lovato Lunge.”  I cracked myself up with this one.  Here’s a demo of the Lovato Lunge:

If you were to load your Lovato Lunge with the same kettlebell that you’re swinging, that means you can complete this entire version of Kickass with only two kettlebells.  A lighter bell for the one-arm work, and a larger ‘bell for the swings and Lovato Lunges.

Limited ‘bells, great.  What do we do with that?

 It’s pretty common to think of exercises first, then think about how you weight you would use for them.  In updating Amanda’s round of classes, I thought about the weights that we could use, and then which exercises would be most appropriately paired together to be as efficient as possible.
In a space like MFF, there’s a finite number of kettlebells.  When we write classes, we’re anticipating that during any class you’ll need 3-4 ‘bells to start, and we encourage Ninjas to swap ‘bells while they go.  Sharing is caring here.  And… in some big-box gyms, sharing might mean the difference between a 60-minute training session and a 90-minute training session.
If you can practice moves of similar intensity with the same load, you’re adding another dimension of progress to your training.  Do you know what’s there, waiting, beyond those kettlebells? Efficiency, take it, it’s yours!

As always, we should do whatever is most appropriate for us in the moment.  If the ‘bells that you’d normally row, squat, swing, or lunge are drastically different, the first priority is always to “run your own race.”  And, should working towards being as efficient as possible with your ‘bells be an opportunity you’re interested in, I believe it’s a great practice in strength for us all to embrace.


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