How 10,000 Kettlebell Swings Helped Me Transform My Body
From men's health
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I trained five days a week. I also ate relatively healthy. While I was never exactly shredded, I made good progress on the big lifts and felt comfortable taking off my shirt in public. But when the lockdown began, that all changed.
I still ate like an active lifestyle person, but most of the exercise I got was moving from my bed to the couch. My gym is closed. My office is closed. The natural routine of my everyday life almost came to a standstill. Coupled with the new existential threats to daily life under the pandemic, this meant I ate plenty to take away and the food became a distraction from the occasional terror of everyday life.
When I stepped on the scales last month, I found that I had gained about 21 pounds. It was no surprise that I gained weight. With all the changes in the last few months, of course I wanted to gain weight. The question now was what I was going to do about it.
Photo credit: Men's Health
Dan John's 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Workout has earned a reputation for being a simple, brutal fitness challenge. The breakdown of the program is straightforward but daunting: you perform 500 kettlebell swings five days a week for a total of 20 workouts over four or five weeks. The swings are complemented by squats, presses or dips for four of the weekly training units. John claims that people who took on the challenge lost fat while building muscle, noticed noticeable improvements in posture and body composition, and increased overall strength significantly.
I wanted a program that didn't require regular gym access and still had good results to help fight my pandemic and general malaise. Swinging a kettlebell 10,000 times seemed like the best option available.
By the time the challenge ended four weeks later, I had lost almost all of my pandemic weight and a quarter of my body fat. The change wasn't subtle and the work wasn't easy. This is how it was for me to swing a kettlebell 10,000 times a month.
Week 1 of the 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge
There are thousands of trainers on the internet who insist that their programs are the absolute best way to lose weight. What these people often leave out is that the equation is often even easier than following your plan. You need to put out more energy than you invest (this is called a calorie deficit). This can be done through careful focus on diet, exercise, or most effectively, a combination of both.
When people aren't getting the results they want, it's usually because they didn't actually follow the program. They don't do all of the workouts. They eat food they shouldn't. If you want to achieve your goals, consistency and tracking is key. Unfortunately, I'm terrible at consistency and tracking. To hold myself accountable and make sure I actually finished the 10,000 swings, I asked longtime friend and collaborator Diego Lopez, a comedian and model in Brooklyn, to take me up on the challenge.
As a day job, Lopez works as a trainer and Jiu-Jitsu teacher. During the pandemic, this means coaching customers through zoom and training in the park. For people looking to improve their fitness with minimal equipment, Lopez is a strong advocate of kettlebells.
"The kettlebell swing is a phenomenal pattern for empowering the upright person," said Lopez. "Kettlebells are the perfect link between cardio training and strength training. They open you up and improve posture. The swing strengthens every muscle you can't immediately see in the mirror. If I had to recommend an exercise to a client, it would be rocking. "
On the first day of training, Lopez completed his 500 turns with a 70 pound bell but struggled with his grip. Normally that wouldn't have been a problem. But the program did not include a day off. It called for another 500 swings. After completing the set, Lopez texted me. I'm not having fun with it.
The first day of swings (I used a 54 pound bell as prescribed in John's workout design) and presses lasted 38 minutes. By the end of the last sentence, I looked like I had just stepped out of the shower and every part of my body felt sore. I thought of Diego's text. No fun with it. I was wondering what exactly I signed up for.
Week 2 of the 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge
By the end of the first week, I had lost nine pounds and dropped from 210 to 201. The workout felt both difficult and monotonous. I had started to develop a large cornea in the center of my hand. Still ... it was very difficult to argue with these results. While I couldn't say I enjoyed the process, the program lived up to the hype.
One of the hardest things about getting 500 reps in one workout was maintaining good form. The kettlebell swing forces you to be honest about what you are doing. Round your back too much and you will get hurt the next day. Try exercising the bell and you will feel it in your shoulders. Focusing on your hip joint and being in tune with the swings can be exhausting, but that's what it's all about. Further important information on correct movement can be found in these instructions.
I also tracked my calories through an online app that was aiming for around 1,800 calories a day and one gram of protein per pound of body weight. Part of the reason I had gained so much weight over the course of the pandemic - aside from the obvious stressful eating - was because I had stopped doing things consciously. I absently ate calories for two days while watching the sopranos. I would hit back a fourth park drink because they were far cheaper than what I would pay in a bar. Logging the calories and doing more or less the same workout every day wasn't sexy, but it did make me feel in control.
Week 3 of the 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge
A big mistake people often make is assuming that the extremes of a fitness challenge should be incorporated into everyday life. The point of a challenge is to move around in a short, predetermined amount of time to see what you can do. During this period, sacrifices are necessary, but only temporarily.
I had lost three pounds by my second weigh-in. That frustrated me. Why wasn't it closer to the nine pound loss the first week? With the beauty of looking back, I can understand what a success it is to lose three pounds in a week, but it didn't feel that way back then. I felt like I was pushing myself without seeing much for it.
These feelings had more to do with the fact that there was a big task increasing in my daily work than anything related to dieting or kettlebell swings. I had a huge project that required late nights and multiple meetings. With the outside stress escalating, I wanted to work out last, especially if those workouts didn't immediately make me the hottest version of myself. But I had already told my friend - a professional trainer and model - that the challenge was something I had completed upon the letter. The shame of explaining that I dropped out or missed a workout seemed worse than the actual swing. Lopez had similar feelings.
"One of the reasons I love kettlebells is because of the versatility they offer. Limiting exercise to swings ruined that," Lopez said. "But this challenge wasn't about having fun. It wasn't even about motivation. I told you I was going to do something, so I had to pursue it."
Lopez even told a story about a message from a friend he had neglected - he turned down the loot call to end his swings. Sacrifice is necessary during a fitness challenge.
Week 4 of the 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge
The last week of the challenge was when I started getting compliments. My face looked noticeably thinner and my clothes felt tight again.
The swings were still difficult, but I had shaved 10 minutes before my start time. Getting a decent workout in less than half an hour was incredibly satisfying, even though I continued to look like Swamp Thing after graduation.
Lopez noticed that his posture was better and it was the best his ass had ever seen. He cut his record for 500 swings to an impressive 17 minutes and dropped 10 pounds without changing his diet.
The final results of the 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge
Photo credit: Graham Isador
Photo credit: Diego Lopez
I lost 16 pounds in four weeks and went from 210 to 194. While the 10,000 Swing Kettlebell Challenge didn't leave me with visible abs or a superhero body, I had significantly better body composition than when I started, which serves as proof of concept for Dan John's program.
I kept hoping for a life-changing revelation as I discussed the challenge with friends, but I couldn't think of anything profound. If you create a plan, put in hard work, and stay consistent, you will get results. This is actually not something you would print on a t-shirt, but it seems like decent news.
I think the challenge shows that you don't need a gym or personal trainer to get noticeable results from your workouts. You need consistency and a good plan. And maybe a kettlebell too.
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