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Phat Boys, Traveling Vikings, and Devil’s Triplets: Hard-Core Cross-Training for Hard-Style Junkies

August 23, 2011 07:00 PM

GusPetersen ARTICLE
So you’re a self-proclaimed hard-style junkie. You live for your next intense kettlebell workout. You’ve read Enter the Kettlebell at least three times. You walk like a Russian. You quote Pavel at parties. You may well have a kettlebell tattooed on your calf. In a pinch, you’ve probably even tried pickle juice as a pre-workout tonic. You’re training hard and heavy most days, and your workouts are packed with intensity. Even on your active rest and recovery days, you want to train smart so you can keep your edge—without taking a step backward due to overtraining.
Kettlebell juggling is a challenging, mentally engaging cross-training option you can experiment with on recovery days. When you’re coming off a hard, heavy kettlebell training session, a kettlebell juggling workout could be just the ticket. I’ve found that working kettlebell juggling with a lighter-weight bell gives me a chance to loosen up and recover without overtraining, while at the same time requiring mental focus and using unique movement patterns that increase athleticism and boost sports performance very effectively.
The first question you’re probably asking yourself is, "How much lighter?" For very strong and fit men weighing over 200 pounds, I recommend a 16-Kg kettlebell. The average guy under 200 pounds should use a 12-Kg kettlebell. And most women should use an 8-Kg bell.
The key to successful skill building is to start with easy foundational techniques (e.g., mid-air hand transitions, toss-and-taps, front and back flips), and gradually progress to more difficult techniques (e.g., double helicopters, over-the-shoulder tosses, juggling cleans and snatches) as you gain proficiency over time. This is a great way to diversify the techniques and skills that make up your kettlebell training repertoire.
Because you’re throwing a lighter kettlebell, your reps are going to be higher—anywhere from 20 to 100 reps is a good goal to aim for as you work a single technique. The duration time or number of reps will vary depending on the technique, how hard your workout was the day before, and your level of fitness.
If you’re feeling good and getting into high reps, great! But as with all kettlebell techniques, when you hit a point where you can no longer throw and catch with perfect form, it’s time to call it a set. Listen to your body and, as Pavel would say, "come to a comfortable stop."
This type of recovery workout can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Just make sure to throw light and work at a moderate intensity. Focus on maintaining good technique, and keep in mind that it’s best to stop when you’re feeling better than when you started. Sometimes less is more.
When I’m training heavy, I will sometimes follow up the next day with a light 12-Kg single-bell juggling workout. The beauty of this kind of cross-training is that I end up practicing a variety of techniques (usually not more than two or three in one session) that are radically different from whatever hard-style techniques I was working the day before. The athletic nature of juggling skills keeps my mind engaged, and before I know it, I’ve got a good sweat going.
In between my juggling sets, I plug in most of Pavel’s Russian joint mobility techniques throughout the workout (yes, I’m old school). I will also throw in some light (16-Kg) low and high windmills. I normally do two or three sets of five reps of both low and high windmills spread out between my juggling sets.
Whether I’m throwing double helis, over-the-shoulder tosses, "Phat-Boy" (double-rotation) flips, or working a combination of these moves in different planes ("Devil’s Triplets"), I’m building a totally different set of skills. My muscles are getting worked, but with a significantly lighter weight, and with different biomechanics at play.
GusPetersen ARTICLE 2
As an example, within the Kettlebell Athletic Training (K.A.T.) Fitness System that I developed, there are several different "styles" in which a kettlebell can be thrown and caught. I have many clients who have thrown and caught hundreds of flips originating from a standard, between-the-legs swing ("traditional style"). However, when I first ask them to throw a flip in the same plane (sagittal), but now with the kettlebell on the outside of their body ("lateral style"), a very interesting phenomenon occurs. It’s as if they’ve never thrown or caught a flip before. Their minds are totally engaged in the task at hand, and yet their movements initially appear stiff and jerky until their bodies and nervous systems adjust to throwing and catching in the lateral style. As a result, there will inevitably be a number of bad throws and clumsy drops. I have discovered, however, that as they repeat the new movement pattern over and over, the repeated firing of those same nerve impulses eventually ingrains the movement in the brain, where it ends up being stored as a new motor engram.
Once committed to memory, that engram can be called up and reproduced without conscious thought, and at that point the client is able to switch effortlessly from one style to another while performing flips.
The K.A.T. Fitness System also features "pirouettes" and "Traveling Vikings"—two unique skill sets that involve throwing the kettlebell, pursuing it as you execute a specific movement pattern, and catching it on the move. These more advanced techniques are highly effective total body exercises that I’ve found pay big dividends in terms of enhancing agility, focus, reaction time, and vision. Your vision, including peripheral vision, is especially challenged as you attempt to catch double- or even triple-rotation techniques on the move. These are also excellent techniques to plug in between your heavy days. If I’m coming off a heavy hard-style workout, I may decide to practice a technically difficult technique—one so challenging that I may only be able to catch five or so reps in a row. This keeps my reps way down, while at the same time allowing me to work agility and mental focus.
For me personally, the way these types of techniques translate to real-life athletic pursuits is best illustrated by the experience of skiing a steep bump run through the trees on a snowy powder day. First off, you’re working hard navigating through the deep snow. Your quads are burning as you make rapid-fire turns to avoid tree after tree. As you bounce from one mogul to the next, your lungs are burning as well. Everything is happening fast, and your vision is blurred by your speed and the heavy snowfall. But you still manage to see that tree on your left. And that 16-year-old snowboarder cutting you off on your right. And the line you want to take for the next five moguls you’re going to hit.
OK, skiing and juggling kettlebells are two totally different movement patterns. But when you "train the way you play," with a focus on developing skills that demand a high level of athleticism (i.e., agility, focus, fast reaction time, keen vision), there’s going to be a cross-over. No matter what activity you’re engaged in, the mind responds automatically and the body accomplishes its task without conscious thought. I have seen this same principle apply for my kettlebell juggling clients in a wide range of athletic endeavors, from martial arts and rugby to baseball and tennis. 
An example of how I program my juggling workouts:
Circuit A:
Criss-Cross double helis (lateral style)
12-kg KB x 10 (each hand)
Low windmills - 16-kg KB - x 5 (each side)
Mean Street double helis (behind-the-back style 12-kg KB 
x 10-20 (each hand)
Low windmills - 16-kg KB - x 5 (each side)
Anchored double helis (behind-the-back style)
2 16-kg KBs x 10 (each hand)
High windmills - 16-kg KB - x 5 (each side)
2-bell cross-body front flips (lateral style)
2 12-kg KBs
x 10-20 (total)
High windmills - 16-kg KB - x 5 (each side)
3-5 rounds
Circuit B:
Traveling Viking 2-hand chest passes (traditional style) 12-kg KB
x 10-20 (total)
Low windmills - 16 kg - x 5 (each side)
Pirouette push-aways (traditional style) 12-kg KB x 10-20 (total)
Low windmills - 16-kg KB - x 5 (each side)
2 KB high-pull swings with pirouettes & flips (traditional style) 2 12-kg KBs x 10-20 (total)
High windmills - 16-kg KB - x 5 (each side)
Traveling Viking 2-hand flips & catches (traditional style)
16-kg KB x 10-20 (total)
High windmills - 16-kg KB - x 5 (each side)
3-5 rounds
These lighter-weight kettlebell juggling workouts challenge the mind and the body in new ways that have exceptional carryover to the real work and play that inspire you to stay fit so you can perform at your peak. They also help you recover so you feel good for your next heavy kettlebell workout.

Gus Petersen is the owner of ProEdge Kettlebells, in Denver, Colorado, and has been a personal trainer at the Cherry Creek Athletic Club for more than 20 years. He became an RKC-certified instructor in 2004 and has since served as an assistant instructor at several RKC certifications in Minneapolis. In April 2010, Gus attended the first Dragon Door Indian Club Certification Workshop and earned his Indian Club Specialist Certification through Dr. Ed Thomas and Brett Jones. Gus is also certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFFA) and has a degree in sports medicine technology. In September 2010, Dragon Door released a series of five instructional DVDs featuring the Kettlebell Athletic Training (K.A.T.) Fitness System, a complete system of original kettlebell juggling techniques that Gus developed. For more information on kettlebell juggling or the Kettlebell Athletic Training (K.A.T.) Fitness System, e-mail Gus at