Kettlebell Long Cycle – The Ultimate in Strength Endurance
(Note: This article assumes that the reader has been properly trained in the kettlebell lifts. If not already, please be sure to learn these lifts from an experienced teacher.)
It is pretty well accepted that if one were stranded on a desert island with a single kettlebell and were magically constrained to be able to perform only one lift, that the one arm long cycle would be the lift of choice. Why? Because this one lift incorporates both a push and a pull movement, hitting all of the major muscle groups, while doing a pretty good job of shifting the cardio-respiratory system into overdrive.
I’m going to talk to you about the three variations of the one arm long cycle lift – long cycle press, long cycle push press and long cycle jerk –how to program them and how to synergistically intensify their effect.
Kettlebell Long Cycle?
For those of you who have never heard the term “long cycle”, it is just a fancy way of saying that before each rep – press, push press or jerk – that you will be cleaning the bell into its rack position first. Therefore one rep consists of both a clean and a press (or push press or jerk).
I’m calling the long cycle lifts the ultimate in strength endurance because this lift allows itself to be trained for long, extended sets without ever putting the kettlebell down. It’s not uncommon to hear of people performing a 20 minute long cycle set. The reason for this is because in this lift, one is able to rest in two places, in the rack and overhead. Having these places to rest, one can catch their breath and adjust their pace as necessary.
So how do we program this lift? If you are a beginner, start with a two minute set. Perform one minute with one hand, then switch and perform for a second minute on the other hand. In the beginning, don’t worry about your pace. Just concentrate on your technique. Make sure each rep is perfect. It should always be about quality, not quantity. (I’m assuming we are training for strength, health and fitness.)
As one begins to progress in the lift, start stretching out the length of the set, switching hands at points that make sense. For example, let’s say you’re now comfortable with a two minute set and you want to up it to three minutes. You have two choices, make your hand switch at the one minute mark, as before, and then when you hit the two minute mark, switch back for 30 seconds on your first hand, before switching back again for your final 30 seconds. Or if you are up to it, simply perform the first 90 seconds on your first hand and switch for 90 seconds on your other hand.
The point is, in order to build your strength endurance in this lift, continue to stretch out the length of your set, switching hands as often as you like, as long as you can balance the time on each hand equally and continue to perform for your desired duration.
OK, so how do you intensify this lift? I’m going to discuss three ways.
The first way is to increase the amount of time each hand performs the lift before switching to the other hand. If you have worked up to an eight minute set, switching hands every minute, you can now perform the lift switching hands every two minutes, and so on.
The second way is to vary your pace throughout your set. Here you can be creative. Start your first minute(s) on each hand at a moderate pace. Then increase the next minutes to a faster pace. Then modulate your pace up and down as you see fit. This is sort of like interval training within a single set. One example is to start slow and continue to increase your pace each time you change hands or complete a pair of minutes. Another example is to increase and decrease your pace like a pyramid throughout your set so that your fastest interval occurs half way through the set. No matter how you design the set, you can easily count your total reps by the end, which will give you a benchmark for future sessions.
Finally, let’s discuss how we can combine the three variations of this lift into one synergistically, evil set. As you are familiar, each lift from press, to push press, to jerk, uses less and less deltoid strength to get the kettlebell overhead, respectively, and uses more and more leg drive to lift the bell. We can use this to our advantage if it is our intent to decimate ourselves in our workout. (And this is also a favorite of mine.)
What we do is start the set off performing the long cycle press. Here we are using delts and triceps to press the bell out. These are relatively small muscles that will begin to burn relatively quickly when one is using a respectable weight. As the delts and tris begin to fatigue, without ending the set, we switch over to the long cycle push press. Doing this, we now allow our legs to start to contribute to the lift, taking the brunt of the movement off of the delts and tris. We continue with the push press until our delts are screaming for mercy. It is at this point that we ultimately switch over to the long cycle jerk. Here we are using almost all leg drive to get that bell overhead. The shoulders are now being used simply to stabilize the bell in the overhead position. (This isn’t to say it’ll be easy.) And we finish this grueling set as best as possible using the jerk to get the bell overhead. Cunningly evil, ain’t it?
So there you have some ideas on how to take the one arm long cycle lift and use it to become stronger, fiercer and unstoppable. Most important is that you know how to perform each of these lifts correctly before diving off of the deep end with your training. So please, be sure that you know what you are doing before increasing the intensity of your lifts. Understand and be competent with the basics before getting fancy. You’d be surprised how far along one can get with just the basics. Now let’s go and lift!
In the photos: Amy Moore. Amy currently holds Rank 2 in biathlon (jerk and snatch) with the World Kettlebell Club.
Master Trainer, World Kettlebell Club
Sports Performance Coach, USA Weightlifting