Get Stronger One Rep At A Time

There is nothing more frustrating for any serious athlete than hitting a plateau. Similar to most things in life, the solutions are often simple and overlooked. Recently, I hit a plateau with my two kettlebell military presses and was becoming extremely irritated. Not only was I not getting stronger, I was actually getting weaker. What a pain!

Anyway, I started thinking about how I took my bench press from 225lbs to 365lbs and found the solution to my dilemma. What I realized is that strength training is often a game of inches. What I mean is that strength rarely comes in leaps and bounds.

For example, attempting to go from 225lbs for five reps to 275lbs for reps is too large a jump and will most likely result in failure. However, going from 225lbs to 230lbs is not a large jump and will most likely result in a pattern of success.

Adding Resistance

Thus, I realized that I needed to find a way to add resistance to kettlebells. If I kept training with the same weight, I was going to get the same results. It is like the old definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insane.” Now, this sounded easy in theory, but how was I going to apply it in the real world.

The first thing that came to mind was to duck tape a 5lb plate to each 70lb kettlebell that I was training with. Thus, when pressing two 70lb kettlebells, I increased the weight from 140lbs to 150lbs. I applied a great deal of duck tape to each bell to keep the weight in place and it worked fairly well.

However, I soon discovered that a much better way was to use a product called Platemates. Platemates are magnetic weights that you can attach to any dumbbell, barbell plate, and yes kettlebell. They range in sizes from 1lb to 5lbs. I contacted the president of Platemates and told him what I was trying to do. He was generous enough to send me six 5lb Platemates and four 2.5 pound Platemates to test drive.

I tried attaching two 5lb plates to each 70lb kettlebell and it worked much better than duck taping a regular plate. However, they still moved around a little bit. Fortunately, this was addressed easily by wrapping one round of duck tape around the plates and bell. The combination of the strong magnetics and tape kept the plates in line without any glitches.

Now, keep in mind that even with the Platemates, I do not recommend using this method for swings or snatches. All it takes is one screw-up to experience the pain of a plate shower! Thus, only use this method for presses and proceed with caution.

Okay, back to the pressing. I started by attaching a 5lb Platemate to each kettlebell to increase the load by 10lbs. I was amazed how much harder pressing two 75lb kettlebells was. My body was too used to pressing two 70lb kettlebells and the new stimulus shocked my body. Since my goal is to press two 88lb kettlebells for a single, I decided to do several sets of singles with the new weights.

Contrary to what you might think doing high reps with a lower weights does not necessarily prepare you for heavier weights. In other words, you could work up to 225 fifteen times and then try 315lbs once and fail miserably. If you want to get stronger, you have to up the weight. No way around that.

Alright so here is the program that I used to work up to singles with two 85lb kettlebells. (This is where I am at the date of this article. Do the math and you will realize that I am only 6lbs away from pressing two 88lb kettlebells.) This program is a combination of “density training” that I learned from Coach Ethan Reeve at Wakeforest University and “rest pause” training.”

Here is how the program works. On the first workout, your goal is to do ten sets of 1 with 150lbs taking 90 second breaks between each set. Once you can complete all of the sets, decrease the rest periods by fifteen seconds. Once you get to the point where you can do 10 sets of 1 with 15 second breaks, increase the weight by 10lbs. This could take several weeks or in my case a week. Once you increase the weight, start with 90-second breaks and work your way down again.

Singles vs. Multiple Reps

The reason why I recommend singles, is that it is easier to put all of your energy into pressing a heavy weight with solid form on one rep, then on multiple reps. Also, if you goal is to press more weight for one rep, why do more then one rep sets when training? Of course, if your goal is to increase your five rep max, then alter the program accordingly.

Another benefit of heavy singles is that when done properly you will be fresh after each workout and your CNS (Central nervous system) will get a nice boost that blows a caffeine boost out of the water. Brute strength comes from stimulating the CNS and this program gets the job done. Once you have been on this program for 3-4 weeks drop down to some lighter kettlebells and see what happens. I think that you will be amazed at how much lighter the kettlebells feel.

Here is what my results were. On my second week of this program I was pressing two 80lb kettlebells for 10×1 with 60 second breaks. Soon after, I went to the RKC certification in Minneapolis to assist Pavel Tsatsouline with the RKC certification. At the certification, Pavel had me demonstrate the one arm military press several times and each time I used the 88lb kettlebell and did perfect singles each time. I was also able to knock off three reps straight with my right arm with out breaking a sweat.

A few weeks before, I could only press the 88lb kettlebell on a good day and it was with maximum effort. My weight remained at 180lbs. However, my physique was much harder and my strength went up considerably.

Now if you are thinking that this program only carries over to low rep strength, you are wrong. The other day I tested my clean and presses (Military presses not push presses) with two 70lb kettlebells and did 12 straight. A few weeks ago, I could only do 7 and it felt difficult. After training with 80lb kettlebells, the 70s felt like nothing and knocking off 12 reps was not a problem.

Of course, this program will not work forever. Similar to any other program, you will probably adapt in about 4-5 weeks and will have to change things around. However, the rest times are constantly being manipulated and it is possible that you can stay on this program much longer without hitting a plateau.

Written by Mike Mahler

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