10,000 kettlebell swings across 20 days. Over 5 hours of training in total. 340,000kg lifted. Are you up to the challenge?
Swinging isn’t just a seedy pastime for the depraved and/or people who have become bored in their relationship. Swinging, if it involves a kettlebell, is a tremendous exercise that promotes a bewildering array of physiological adaptations. Some of the fitness benefits ascribed to kettlebell swinging include:
Augmented whole-body fitness
Cast iron posterior chain development: lower back, gluteus maximus and hamstring
Serious grip strength
Better aerobic fitness
Improved muscular endurance
Turning our attention from the exercise to the tool itself, kettlebells make for brilliant training equipment because they take up hardly any space, are extremely versatile (I’ve heard it said that there is over 50 different exercises that can be performed with a single bell!) and they are almost indestructible. It’s for these reasons – and more left unmentioned – why they’ve been dubbed an all-in-one gym.
So if you haven’t yet got one, the question you ought to be asking yourself is: Why the hell not? (Need some advice on selecting a bell?)
Ok, now we know that the kettlebell swing is a killer exercise (and that the kettlebell is a piece of training equipment par excellence), it makes damn good sense to undertake this challenge. But first two questions need asking . . . then answering.
What is the 10,000rep kettlebell swing challenge? And which sadist conceived it?
I’ll answer the latter first. Dan John, fitness author, former Olympic athlete and strength and conditioning coach, conceived of this challenge because, in his words, ‘it’s one of the simplest – and maybe the best – home training programs [and] it provides results, challenges you, and, most importantly, doesn’t suck.’
In this gladiatorial event the combatant, if he or she wishes to emerge victorious, must complete 500 swings each day for 20 consecutive days.
What fitness benefits you can expect from undertaking the challenge
According to the progenitor of the 10,000rep challenge – Dan John – you may enjoy one or more of the following fitness benefits:
Improved body composition – it’s a no brainer, 10,000 kettlebell swings over 20 days is going to consume a hell of a lot of calories. And it’s going to burn those calories whilst also promoting the growth of lean muscle mass. Thus, throughout this challenge, we can expect our fat percentage to decrease whilst simultaneously increasing the size and density of our muscle tissue. This highly coveted outcome will only be compounded if you continue with your preestablished training regime (during the challenge!) and maintain a healthy diet.
Again, to quote Dan John, apparently ‘Every lifter who was tested after this challenge increased lean muscle mass and conditioning.’ It’d of course be more of a surprise if those lifters didn’t experience a noticeable bump in muscle mass and conditioning. However, so long as you select a bell weight that will pose a challenge (I went for a 32kg (and occasionally 40kg) because 24kgs, though my go-to weight, would not make the challenge challenging enough), and you complete all 10,000 swings ensuring to stick to the prescribed 500reps a day for 20 days, then you almost certainly will increase lean muscle mass and conditioning.
You’ll be imbued with a sense of achievement and accomplishment as you will be one of the few people who started the challenge and completed it. (That positive outcome is contingent on you overcoming two huge hurdles. Hurdle 1: you do decide to undertake the challenge. Hurdle 2: you maintain discipline and motivation enough to emerge victorious.)
Be it rep 1 or rep 9,991, you’ll certainly improve – nay! Perfect – your kettlebell swing technique. Come the end of the challenge you should be a veritable swinging god and even pass off as a Russian Girevoy competitor! Ok, I concede, I went one swing too far with that last comment.
Prior to bequeathing the public with the 10,000rep kettlebell swing challenge, Dan John recruited a group of game fitness coaches and essentially used them as experimental lab rats. Whilst working through the 10,000reps they intermittently met up and reported both their experiences and physiological adaptations. Below is a succinct encapsulation of some of those reported experiences and adaptations:
Improved muscle definition
Dropping of waist sizes
Increased grip strength
Noticeable body compositional improvements
Augmentation of pre-existing lean muscle mass
Enhanced energy levels
Advancements of strength PBs
Body strength ‘shot through the roof’
Abs really did take on the appearance of slabs!
How to approach the challenge
As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to complete 10,000 kettlebell swings. Actually, there’s three.
Way One) The first approach is by far the simplest: it matters not a jot how you do it, how many sets, how many reps, how long you rest, the time of day, etc., etc . . . just swing that damn bell 500 times each and every day for 20 days! That, in a nutshell, is Way One.
Way Two) Before you bother to read this one you ought to be aware that this Way will only work for those who are well endowed with bells. Here’s how it works: line up, say, ten assorted-weight kettlebells, and, starting at one end, proceed to perform 10 repetitions. Once you’ve polished off your 10 reps take one step to the left (or right) and do the same again until you have progressed down the line of bells. If you use the same numerical system as I do, that’ll be 100 reps deposited in the kitty. Another four times through and you’ll have earned 500 big ones!
Way Three) Now, of the three ways, this one is the most complicated. The daily target of 500 reps is broken down into four sets of 100 reps which again is broken into another four sets – and no, if you assumed this was going to follow some sort of numerical logic, not into clusters of 25reps. The four sets that will amount to 100 reps are to be broken down as follows:
Set 1: 10reps
Set 2: 15reps
Set 3: 25reps
Set 4: 50 reps
Why so seemingly an arbitrary assortment of rep ranges? Couldn’t tell you to be perfectly honest. However, the original challenge – which we’ll call 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge 1.0 – included other exercises which were supposed to be performed between each set. Those other exercises include: barbell press, dips, goblet-squats and pull-ups. As I understand it you are to interchange through the four exercises each day. See interchange and rep range example below:
Set 1: 10reps (KBS)
1 barbell press
Set 2: 15reps
2 barbell presses
Set 3: 25reps
3 barbell presses
Set 4: 50 reps
Rest 30 – 60 seconds
Repeat 4 more times through. Total swings: 500. Total barbell presses: 30.
Set 1: 10reps (KBS)
Set 2: 15reps
Set 3: 25reps
Set 4: 50 reps
Rest 30 – 60 seconds
Repeat 4 more times through. Total swings: 500. Total dips: 30.
Good! Now it’s up to you how exactly you plan to tackle the 10,000rep challenge. I opted for Way Three because, well, quite simply, it poses the greater challenge.
Below I have tabulated and calculated various metricises that together showcase what a mammoth challenge this is. Personally I find it motivational knowing, say, how many hundreds of thousands of kilograms I’ll lift and shift throughout a challenge, or how many miles I’ll cover over the course of a competition. If you’re like minded, then the post-challenge totals that follow will whet your appetite for this swingathon.
Total weight lifted
In the original challenge outline Dan John advises women to use a 16kg kettlebell and men a 24kg. By following these advisory weights women would, after completing all 10,000 repetitions, lift a combined total of 160,000kg (160 tons) and men 240,000kg (240 tons). That’s some going.
How, you might be wondering, how did I arrive at these obscene total figures? Simple! Every swing constitutes as X weight lifted. So, if you were to swing a 16kg KB once, you would have ‘lifted’ or ‘shifted’ 16kg. I don’t think anyone would bother arguing with that logic. Now, if you completed a set of 10 swings you merely multiply the weight by the number of swings: 10 X 16 = 160(kg). You with me? Ok, good. By scaling the multiplication integer up to 10,000 and sticking in front of it whatever weight you swung, you will very quickly arrive at your overall poundage.
I opted for a 32kg and, on a couple of occasions, a 40kg kettlebell because I wanted to make the challenge as challenging as possible. And in that I succeeded. However, interchanging between the two weights as I did made calculating the total poundage a tad tricky. But after a spot of numerical gymnastics I arrived at a rather pleasing total of 344,000kg.
Total distance covered
In addition to shifting a shit ton of weight – irrespective of which KB you settle for – you’ll also cover some serious ground without even taking a single step. Let me explain that cryptic opener.
Because I’m a really sad individual I get off on calculating every aspect of my training sessions. This accounts for why at the bottom of all the Hungry4Fitness circuits you’ll find a ‘totals chart’ which displays the distances covered, repetitions completed and, of course, weight lifted. Inevitably my inveterate pedantic predisposition seeped into this challenge and, whilst out on an evening stroll, I thought it’d be a damn good idea to measure the distance the kettlebell would travel after being swung 10,000 times.
This is how I worked out the distance.
I stood next to a whiteboard and, armed with an unsheathed marker pen, proceeded to perform a swing thus tracing out the arc that the kettlebell will follow 20,000 times. (Did you say 20,000 times? Yes! Remember: what goes up must come down. And though that is two separate directions it still only constitutes as one repetition.) I then tacked a piece of string over the arc and measured the string.
In my intellectually impoverished mind this was the most accurate and effective way to calculate the distance the KB would travel with each swing. I’m sure the closet Kurt Gödel could work out a more logical method (email me if you do).
The crude measuring method outlined above showed that the kettlebell, on completion of each swing, travelled 7 feet 4 inches (or 88 inches, or 224cm). To calculate the total distance I merely multiplied 7, 4” by 10,000. Of course, this resulted in the ridiculous figure of 73,333 feet (remembering that the 4” firstly had to be rendered into feet before it could added to the total). Which means precisely nothing in real money. But when calculated into a comprehendible distance it transpired that I moved the kettlebell about 24 kilometres (though this figure is almost certainly incorrect – where’s Jordan Ellenberg when you need him!).
Total time taken
And finally, I timed how long I spent swinging across the 20 days. In total the 10,000 swings took me 5hrs 11mins & 29secs to complete. Although, I’m inclined to include a caveat. And that is, that time is inaccurate.
A closer chronological account would see it somewhere around 5hrs 30mins. Why the discrepancy? Some days I’d get so absorbed swinging my bell that I’d forget to start the timer. Also, my chronometer, as technology is apt to, let me down on more than one occasion and so I had to guestimate.
However, irrespective of my laissez-faire experimental approach, I still arrived at a reasonably accurate time.
Kettlebell swing tutorial
Before attempting this challenge, I highly advise that you spend a few days – or even a week – working on your swing technique. For it would be a big mistake to complete 10,000 repetitions of an exercise that you are performing incorrectly. Of course, by doing so you will not only make your life harder, perhaps by dipping too low on the downwards phase (the most common mistake), but, of primary concern, you will increase injury susceptibility. So, with that said, get your swing in good order before you embark on this Odyssey.
The step-by-step teaching points and video tutorial will both provide you with a comprehensive overview of how to perform a kettlebell swing correctly. Once you nail down the basics spend some time working on your form – preferably side-on to a mirror.
As exercise names go the kettlebell swing couldn’t be less ambiguous if it tried. After taking the kettlebell from the floor with both hands we initiate the movement with a short backwards pull then thrust forwards through the hips propelling that gravity-loving lump of pig iron level with our shoulders.
Congratulations! You are now a certified swinger!
But wait, don’t go anywhere yet. If you’ve never swung before ensure to familiarise yourself with the detailed list of teaching points below. Though an indubitably simple exercise there’s a number of technical considerations that, well, you ought to consider.
Centre your mass over a kettlebell the weight of which is commensurate with your current strength and ability. In short, don’t go heavy – keep it light to begin with!
Bending at the knee whilst ensuring to keep the back ironing-board straight grasp the bell with both hands.
Firing through the quads squat into the standing position.
Before initiating the movement organise your feet – they should be just over shoulder width apart – fix your eyes on an indefinite point in the distance and prepare your mind for the exercise. I call this bit the calm before the storm!
With knees still slightly bent rotate slightly at the hips so as to create space to pull the bell back between your pins.
On receiving the kettlebell in your groin fire through with the gluteal muscles and, with arms straight, propel the KB forward. Instead of trying to get the KB all the way up in the first swing I find it best to elevate it in stages. Usually after the third swing I’m in full flight – so to speak.
Once the kettlebell has reached the desired height – roughly level with your chin – arrest the movement and allow gravity to do its thing. Ensure to control the kettlebell during its descent.
Again receive the KB in the groin harnessing the kinetic energy generated.
Use that energy (and a bit of your own) to complete the next repetition.
Now you're swinging!
Keep control throughout the exercise
Relax during the movement – you shouldn’t strike the appearance of a soldier on parade
Make sure that your feet are evenly spaced and planted firmly before attempting the swing
Fix your eyes on a point roughly head height
Ensure the arms are slightly bent throughout
Keep your core tight whilst swinging
Squeeze your bum cheeks together at precisely the moment when the KB reaches the top position
Do not bend or round your back – keep it straight or slightly concaved
Do not at any point lock the legs out
Do not over-rotate or ‘collapse’ at the hips during the downward phase. The kettlebell should not pull you down so that your torso becomes parallel with the floor. This is a common mistake which places a lot of stress on the lumbar region of the spine.
5 Lessons learned after 10,000 swings
It’s good to work with others when undertaking an arduous ordeal.
A couple of days before smashing a champagne bottle against the hull of my 32kg kettlebell and launching it on the wild and wasteful ocean in search of that infamous White Whale, I asked a couple of training pals if they’d like to accompany me on the voyage of 10,000 swings. Unsurprisingly, they all flatly declined.
So I put the prospect to the only person I knew who possessed a pair of bells. When I got down on one knee before my much better half and proposed the challenge she instantly – without a moment’s hesitation – proclaimed ‘Yes!’ And on that day we started swinging.
I must admit that working with someone through this challenge made swinging that bell a lot less banal. Whenever motivation or enthusiasm waned we would encourage each other to continue on swinging. And during our daily bread of 500 reps we’d sometimes swing in tandem or take turns, motivating each other through a set 100 reps.
When the going gets tough you’ve just got’a keep on swinging regardless. By doing so you’ll almost certainly succeed.
Being the egotist that I am, I scoffed a Dan John’s recommendation to use 24kg KB and instead opted for 32kg (and on occasions 40kg). Now if you’ve ever used a traditional Girevoy kettlebell you’ll know that the handles are designed to accommodate one hand – not two. Also, the handles are thin and often abrasive.
These design features are not a problem when performing classical single-handed exercises – such as the snatch, jerk, clean and so on. However, when you squeeze a second hand into that small space your fingers inevitably crunch and crimp together somewhat like the way sardines are in a tin.
The consequence? After the first set of 500 swings I had some nasty blisters forming along the lengths of my fingers. One of those blisters eventually turned gangrenous and I had to have my finger lopped off. Only kidding.
But, irrespective of the thankful fact that those blisters didn’t result in an amputation, they – the blisters – certainly put a sting in the swing. And after that very first set, with 9,500 swings still hanging in the balance, I knew that I would have to muster the full force of my internal resolve to see this challenge through to fruition.
The going got tough, but I, dear reader, got that bit tougher. If you dare pit your physicality and psychology against this challenge, I can guarantee that you will at some point have to do the same. Be prepared for this.
Adapt and overcome! is an old military saying that, after years of inculcation, has been permanently branded in my brain. It probably traces its origins to Darwin’s oft misquoted maxim: it’s not the strongest species that survives, it’s the species most adaptable to change.
However, irrespective of who coined the phrase – Darwin or the Royal Marines – it still serves as a source of sound advice when an insurmountable wall stands in your way. What I’m trying to say here is, if for whatever reason you find Dan John’s original method to be incompatible with your training preferences, and feel that it may adversely impact on your prospects of emerging victorious from the challenge, there’s no rule against modifying or adapting it.
For example, I much preferred to descend the rep range from 50 down to 10 as opposed to starting at 10 and climbing up to 50. A psychological thing. Also, I often merged the 15 and 10 rep sets together. This, I found, not only speeded things a long a little but took the sting out of the next set of 50. And finally, instead of resting for a minute on completion of each 100 reps, I hopped on the rower and completed 1000m at a gingerly pace (see typical session layout below). Rowing aided recover and made what is essentially a warm-up into a worthwhile training session. Also, it mitigated the monotony of swinging that bell 500 times.
So, by adapting the challenge I not only overcame it but bettered my physicality in the process.
2000m row warm-up
50 swings (32kg)
5 no-weight squats
25 swings (32kg)
4 no-weight squats
15 swings (32kg)
3 no-weight squats
10 swings (32kg)
Repeat four more times.
Flawless form isn’t an option, it’s an imperative.
The necessary importance of applying perfect form when exercising is not only incontestable – who’s going to waste their time with a refutation? – but is an indomitable axiom to which all fitness professionals faithfully adhere and zealously propound. Ever heard a personal trainer tell their client to round their back when deadlifting? Or lock out at the knee when squatting? Could you even imagine such a situation? Of course not!
The application of proper form (or technique) becomes increasingly important when the weight gets heavier and the rep range gets higher. Yes, of course, it’s true that we run the risk of injury even when applying poor form during a light lift. However, heavy weights and high reps not only increase injury susceptibility but also (potentially) compound the severity of the injury. Thus it is imperative that, when engaging in resistance exercise, we pay close attention to the quality of our form.
This advice, though seemingly tautological, has a tendency to flee the mind when it’s most needed. Which was the case one morning during the challenge when I unthinkingly hoisted my 32kg KB off the floor with a rounded back. I thought I felt something go at the base of my spine but after tentatively trying to locate what I assumed to be a pulled muscle I was mightily relived to discover that no such misfortune had befallen me.
However, having escaped unscathed, I made a generous libation to the training Gods and repented by paying extra attention to my form. Before the end of the challenge I’d perfected – from pick up to put down – every inch of the swing technique.
I advise that you perfect your swing prior to initiating the challenge. See the lesson above.
The power of persistence.
I won’t try to mislead the reader by painting a colourful picture of my performance. I’ll tell it how it is (was). This challenge get’s mind numbingly boring and completing those 500 swings induces a Groundhogian Day monotony. I’m non too ashamed to admit that, before reaching the halfway point, I was seriously flirting with the idea of throwing in the bell. Plus a nasty rigor mortis-like cramp-cum-arthritis settled in two of the fingers of my left hand. Normally I’d simply shrug such a problem off and crack on regardless. However, I’m an avid guitarist and wouldn’t jeopardise that guilty pleasure for a purposeless challenge.
But the ego in me wanted to finish. For I would not be able to hold my head high amongst the fictitious crowd of spectators that I’d conjured in my mind – who clapped and cheered my every swing. Also, the insidious integrity in me, a hereditary affliction, wouldn’t allow me to publish this article had I not completed the challenge to the exact specifications laid out by its progenitor.
So, I did a spot of remedial on my stiff appendages, spiced up the swing sessions by including some rowing and boxing, and persevered until all 10,000 reps had been banked.
Positive post-challenge outcomes
I can now swing a 32kg KB with the comfort and ease that I previously could a 24kg KB.
I noticed posterior chain strength gains which translated into improved performance in other disciplines.
The augmentation in grip and forward thrusting strength enabled me to advance on my 10k rowing PB – it also made carrying the weekly shopping a hell of a lot easier.
Those 10,000 swings acted like a hammer and anvil to my transverse abdominus and on completion of the challenge my abs were not only more defined but rock solid.
I maintained sufficient discipline, dedication and determination to complete the challenge. And though the feat of swinging a kettlebell 10,000 times over 20 days is not on par with, say, cycling the Tour de France, which very nearly spans the same number of days, it still required that rarely seen quality that goes by the name of commitment. Due to my jam-packed lifestyle and my obstinate refusal to stop participating in my pre-established exercise regime, at least 5,000 swings were performed at 5am.
I experienced augmented pulling power – and not the type of pulling polygamists pursue. A week or so after the challenge I had a crack at my obligatory bi-monthly 15,000m row, which I try to complete within side an hour (2:00/500 = exactly 1 hour). To do so can be a bit of a barney. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how effortless I found this distance after the challenge. So effortless in fact that I rowed on to 21,097 (a half marathon).
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.