Strength training is a somewhat controversial area for kettlebell, or Girevoy sport (GS). I will make a case that in addition to regular kettlebell training, heavy resistance or explosive resistance training is useful for improved endurance. The possible methods to improve strength in GS will be another topic. There are a few different ways to apply a resistance training model to GS. You could do high repetition training, which is the most specific, or you could do a more traditional lower repetition program, or some sort of mixed methods training plan which may include both.
There a few major factors that can predict aerobic performance. They include VO2max, lactate threshold and exercise economy (oxygen cost at a given intensity). Today I will look at the benefits of the traditional approach. Improved strength will have major benefits for endurance performance through increased anaerobic performance, increased strength, improved movement economy, increased rate of force development, and increased musculo-tendinous stiffness.
Cycling and running performance are not the same as kettlebell sport, however they can be good measures of endurance performance. Improved strength has been found to improve performance in these events. Strength and power training has been found to improve five minute sprint performance after 185 minutes for cycling, as well as running time trial speeds over 2.4 and 5kms. During the later stages of the 185 minutes cycling effort, the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) was relatively reduced. This may be another important factor for kettlebell sport as high RPE can reduce duration of endurance performance. This means being stronger may allow you to maintain a higher pace than someone with equal fitness, but less strength, during kettlebell competition.
Being stronger will reduce the relative intensity and allow you to perform a kettlebell movement with a smaller range of motion or the same range of motion, with less muscle recruitment. Increased RDF and musculo-tendinous stiffness will improve your reactive strength. Reactive strength is your ability to store and utilise energy of the downwards phase. All of these factors will allow for improved blood flow as intense muscle actions reduce blood flow. Additionally, you may be able to spend more time resting (ie relaxing muscles, provided you have a good rack position), allowing for blood perfusion to occur. This will aid in delivering oxygen to the working muscles and allow for clearance of metabolic by-products. This will help prolong and improve performance. Increased anaerobic capacity may assist in the sprinting performance towards the end of the set. Many athletes attempt a sprint in the last minute or 30 seconds of the set, meaning that with increased anaerobic power you may be able to squeeze a few extra reps out.
You need to get the balance of strength training and GS training right. One of the potential drawbacks is increased muscle size, also known as hypertrophy. This would increase the distance the blood has to travel within the muscle, possibly increasing your weight, as well as potentially moving you up a weight category. Endurance training can inhibit muscle growth on a molecular level, so it shouldn’t be a huge issue unless your volume it super high. On the other hand, increased muscle size will help with strength levels and if well under your weight category, may also assist in improved performance.
The take home message is that improving strength levels may assist in GS and endurance performance. One easy way to incorporate strength training onto a GS program would be to add a set of big exercises such as squats or deadlifts into the end of your session. I would suggest keeping the training quality as high as you can and avoiding anything that would make you very sore. If you are training more than 3-4 times per week you may benefit from performing as little as one set over 80% 1RM per session. This may be a better approach than doing a structure such as 5×5 of the same loading once per week, as this may cause some soreness and therefore impact upon your next GS session.
Hang clean at the end of a long cycle GS session. Pull and push all in one.
Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review.
Strength training improves 5-min all-out performance following 185 min of cycling.
Strength training increases endurance time to exhaustion during high-intensity exercise despite no change in critical power.
Effects of plyometric training on endurance and explosive strength performance in competitive middle- and long-distance runners.
Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists.
Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power.