Conditioning for GS, part 1 (Modes)

Obviously, conditioning plays a very important role in kettlebell sport performance. However, there are many different ways to program conditioning. For best training outcomes you should perform a needs analysis and address weaknesses or build on strength that you feel will result in your best performance. From a GS standpoint conditioning will refer to the power of the aerobic/anaerobic energy systems and local muscular endurance. The hardest part is identifying the areas you want to target and best strategies to improve this fitness quality. An area that must be considered and where a number of people make mistakes, is the mode or type of exercise used. For example, the same running intervals will have different demands compared to sled intervals or kettlebell intervals. A second example would be treadmill running, which has been found to have a higher oxygen cost with the same heart rate as beginners performing the kettlebell swing.

There are a number of ways you can improve you conditioning. GS training itself may be a powerful stimulus for improved conditioning. However, if you have plateaued using GS training alone, we can implement cross training or circuit training as additional stimulus for reaching new levels of conditioning. Every type of training has pros and cons, and may be best suited to one particular application.

We know in novice’s, performing the kettlebell swings is less aerobic than treadmill running, also, running is generally considered to be more aerobic than cycling. (Unless you have a strong cycling background your Vo2peak will be roughly 90% of running Vo2peak.) The aerobic system has been shown to have greater demands placed upon it during kettlebell swings and snatches than that of some circuit training protocols. Margaux Chan compared a progressive rowing and kettlebell snatch with 16 kg set. They found that the snatch set reached 82.1 ± 7.4% of the V̇o2peak achieved during the rowing set. In this study the snatch group reached a V̇o2peak of 37.3 ± 5.2 ml·kg-1·min-1. Another similar study looking at a progressive kettlebell snatch testing over 8 minutes found a Vo2peak of 41.3 ± 6.2 ml·kg-1·min-1 after 8 weeks of training. Four weeks of kettlebell snatch training using 15s on 15s off for 20 min with 12 kg in female football players was found to increase aerobic fitness more than circuit training. The intervals were at the pace of Kenneth Jay’s 5 minute progressive snatch test. On the other hand, in my unpublished testing, I have found similar and some higher Vo2peaks during the kettlebell snatch sets with one hand change over 6-10 minutes with a relatively constant pace (generally a progressive set that increases RPM every minute will allow you to reach a higher Vo2peak than doing 16 RMP for the same time). This was likely because I have been very fortunate to test some very high level athletes using good pace with heavier loads, such as 24 and 32 kg. So generally, kettlebell training is more aerobic than other forms of resistance training. However, circuit training that switches between exercises allows for heavier loads to be used for your ‘conditioning’. This may promote a greater range of adaptations. In trained people car pushing and pulling, or heavy sled work are less aerobic but more anaerobic than treadmill running. Here is an example, a treadmill Vo2peak produced a blood lactate of 11.9 mmol.L⁻¹, whereas pulling and pushing a car produced 16.1 (135%) and 15.0 (125%) mmol.L⁻¹, respectively.

Below are some pros and cons about the types of training you can use for conditioning in kettlebell sport.

Mode Pros Cons Use when a session goal is
Cycling Very aerobicCan be very anaerobicFast recovery (no eccentric)Good for lighter ‘off legs days’ No eccentricNot specific Improved conditioning with minimal increasing load on the body.
Running/sprinting The most aerobic (in most cases)Can be very anaerobicHas stretch shortening cycle Has eccentricHarder to recover from (time may be better spent doing GS)  General conditioning is the major weakness and you have good ability to recover.
Kettlebell training* Highly – Moderately aerobicMost specific – strength/enduranceCan be very anaerobicGreat for increasing local muscular endurance Need to maintain formNeed to manage volume/fatigue levels closely Getting better at GS.
Circuit training* Low -moderately aerobicGreat for increasing strength endurance or local muscular endurance Not first choice for improving aerobic systemTime may be better spent doing GS General strength endurance is focus.
Strongman training* Low – moderately aerobicGreat for increasing local muscular endurance and anaerobic power Not first choice for improving aerobic systemTime may be better spent doing GS General strength endurance and anaerobic conditioning is focus.

*Any resistance training used for energy system work will vary greatly depending on the exercise and resistance used.

Take away message

Kettlebell training can be used for aerobic conditioning. It will offer you many other benefits on top of improved aerobic conditioning, however if you want to reach you peak aerobic fitness you may have to cross train. Most of the best GS athletes run, making running one of the best cross training choices, but cycling and rowing may also be good choices. If you wanted to focus on difference types of fitness you could use kettlebell swings for a mix of specific strength and endurance, or circuit training for general strength endurance and a little aerobic training, and sled training/strongman training for an endurance session with a greater anaerobic focus. If you can’t run because of x injury, maybe cycling is a good option. I will go more into this and other thing in coming posts.


The cardiopulmonary demand of kettlebell snatches



My name is James Ross, I’m a qualified personal trainer, strength & conditioning coach and sports scientist. I am a founder and coach at The Richmond Gym in Melbourne and started the website

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