Above: Local Lab Rats work through 25/35 Touch/Jump/Touch Intervals this week
By Rob Shaul
Continuous improvement is one of the driving ethics at MTI, and I find myself constantly tweaking and tinkering with the different facets of program design both in the notebook and on the gym floor.
Through our remote lab rat program, nearly 70 Beta subscribers/lab rats are grinding through week 3 of a 4-week mini-study comparing the effect of reduced volume on strength, work capacity, and endurance performance.
At our Wyoming Facility, 20 local “lab rats” are suffering through this year’s 6-week Backcountry Ski Pre-season Training Plan, where I’m testing some new programming elements and session design changes.
In my personal training, I’m experimenting with the meditative effect, and fitness development of high rep kettlebell snatches.
Here I want to share my thoughts and testing with Touch/Jump/Touch to Box Intervals, and high rep snatches.
Touch/Jump/Touch to Box Intervals
This is the third year Touch/Jump/Touch intervals have been a key component of our dryland ski pre-season training and I use them as the primary conditioning tool to build what I believe is ski-specific, “leg lactate tolerance.” This is simply the heavy leg and burning quad feeling and fitness which comes in the middle or at the end of a ski run in deep power, or on the bumps which requires multiple turns and impacts.
I’m completing the current dryland cycle alongside my lab rats, and in addition to developing ski-specific fitness, I’m rapidly coming to see Touch/Jump/Touch to Box Intervals as a very potent, general fitness, work capacity training tool.
I fear few training sessions in the gym, these days, but I’ll have to admit that our Tuesday and Thursday sessions which end with 20 minutes of these intervals do cause me to pause. These are very intense, and push the quads to failure, seemingly every interval, but after 10 minutes, also push heart rates at or above max. As I write this it’s early Wednesday, morning, and the muscles in my chest and diaphragm are actually sore from the near panic breathing brought on by yesterday’s Touch/Jump/Touch to Box Intervals.
We’re using our 17″ high step up benches or box for these intervals. Below is the progression through the cycle.
Last year, after the first progression, we hit each progression level four times, before moving to the next. I’ve cut that back to three sessions this year, and we’re currently on Progression Level 3 (25/35) – and Thursday we do our third session at this progression.
Depending upon how it goes, I may or move not move up to Level 4 (30/30) next week.
One of the interesting, and different, elements of this progression is what I call it’s “double” squeeze.
Each Progression level increases the work time, and decreases the rest time – squeezing the athlete from both directions. This somewhat complicates the progression and is different than most ways we progress interval and/or density style work capacity events.
More direct would be:
(1) Keep the rest interval the same for each progression, and increase the work interval. For example, a work/rest progression of 15/45, to 20/45, to 25/45, to 30/45, etc.
(2) Use density progression, keep the overall interval the same, and progress the work each round. For example ….
20 Rounds, every 60 seconds ….
1 10x Touch/Jump/Touch to Box
2 12x Touch/Jump/Touch to Box
3 14x Touch/Jump/Touch to Box
4 16x Touch/Jump/Touch to Box
5 18x Touch/Jump/Touch to Box
6 20x Touch/Jump/Touch to Box
The faster the athlete his prescribed reps each round, the more rest he gets before the next round starts.
Each of these progression examples has its downsides.
The progression level jumps could be too intense for most athletes. Many of the lab rats suffering these now are experienced MTI athletes – which high work capacities and suffer ability. Many not familiar with MTI programming may struggle to make these level jumps, and the result could be the event turns into a slog, rather than a true max effort/quick rest event, thus negating the training effect.
As well, nothing dictates how much work the athlete does each work interval. For example, yesterday I managed 14 reps Round 1, bumped to 15 Rounds 2-4, pushed for 16 round 5, didn’t recover, managed 14 on Round 6, then settled into 15 reps for rounds 7-19, before pushing hard for 16 on round 20 – the last round.
Similar to the Double Squeeze issue, nothing dictates how much work the athlete completes each round.
Concern here would be for incoming athlete fitness. 10x reps may be too little to push fit athletes coming in, but too much for unfit athletes. By dictating the work, the event doesn’t “scale” to the current fitness of the athlete.
An initial assessment, and individually scaled density intervals based on the initial assessment results. Anyone who’s done MTI programming has seen this many times as it’s a key part of all our PFT, selection and many base fitness plans and cycles. In this case, I’d likely do a 45 second Touch/Jump/Touch to Box Assessment for reps, then for the progressions, do 6-10 rounds of approximate 15-second intervals at a rep pace that was 20% faster than the athlete’s assessment pace.
For example, if the athlete scored 30 reps in the 45-second interval, his 15-second pace was 10x reps. Thus, for every follow-on 15-second interval would be 12 reps (20% faster).
I wouldn’t set this up interval style, but would rather set it up density style …. so for this athlete ….
10 Rounds, every 60 seconds….
- 12x Touch/Jump/Touch to Box. Faster he finishes, the more rest he gets before the next round.
What I’m not sure about with this progression, and would have to test, is how many rounds I could push this. I’m not sure the athlete could complete 20 rounds at this pace …. but how many is possible, I’m just not sure.
High Rep Kettlebell Snatches
Last Summer/Fall I started experimenting with high rep kettlebell snatches on my own, as a 2-a-day session, but really started experimenting with these in March-May of this year.
Last December I had foot surgery and didn’t get out of a boot until around the first of March. My endurance work was limited – running/rucking was out, as was long walks, and so were step ups. I rowed plenty, and did some spinning on a bike, but also turned back to high rep kettlebell snatches as an alternate endurance mode.
“Endurance” is key here – we’ve used kettlebells before for work capacity events, but for these purposes, I wanted to use kettlebell snatches for longer (30-60 minute), less intense (not panic breathing) sessions.
I’m not a kettlebell geek and my kettlebell snatch instruction comes primarily from youtube. And in this case, and in past gym experience, using kettlebells for work capacity (not strength) has two main issues: Grip strength and skin tearing. Kettlebell snatches add another – wrist bang from snatches that aren’t caught softly.
Grip strength improves with more snatching, but the skin tearing and wrist banging seems to take years to figure out. The kettlebell nerds don’t allow wrist and hand protection, but MTI does – and after trying leather gymnastic straps, found these straps on amazon, which have worked really well and protect both hands and wrists.
Proper kettlebell snatching is technique intensive. Watching videos of tiny women snatching 24kg bells fluidly, without banging the heck out of their wrists, and lowering with a corkscrew motion that saves grip strength and skin really makes one appreciate the advantages of great technique.
But my technique is far from polished.
In terms of loading, I initially started with a 20kg kettlebell and worked up to 500 reps (250 each arm) in a single session. But …. it was not a true “endurance” effort – it was more a long interval-based work capacity effort as my heart and breathing rate were close to threshold at the end of every interval.
As well, the 20kg bell beat me up – shoulders, grip, and skin. My form just isn’t there to snatch the 20kg cleanly for this many reps.
Setting aside my ego, I picked up a 16kg kettlebell, and have found it’s just about right for longer, lower-intensity effort I was aiming for.
In May I was able to work up to 1,000x reps (500/arm), 2-3 times/week, at 16kg in sets of 100x. I found switching hands every 10 reps preserved my grip strength. Between rounds, I’d rest 60-90 seconds and the overall effort would remain well below threshold breathing – what I was hoping for in an endurance effort.
The 1000x rep effort took 55-60 minutes and my shoulders/grip would need a day away from the kettlebell to recover.
Surprisingly, I found these high rep kettlebell snatch efforts have a similar meditative affect to easy/moderate running. My mind/body are able to slip quietly into a calm “zone” during these efforts, and the training is honestly enjoyable.
I stepped away from kettlebell snatches June-October as my focus/training turned to backcountry hunting-focused mountain endurance.
Recently, I’ve added them in again as a 2-a-day session with the dryland ski programming I’m labratting in the mornings. Currently, I’m alternating between 300x rep and 500x rep efforts, 3-4 days/week. The 300x reps take around 20 minutes, and the 500x rep effort takes right at 30 minutes. I’m still using the 16kg kettlebell, and doing sets of 100x reps, switching hands on the way every 10 reps.
Moving forward, eventually, I’d like to work up to 500x reps at 24kg kettlebell without feeling too beat up afterward, and keeping my breathing below threshold along the way – an endurance effort.
I haven’t worked out the progression yet, but instead of pushing more reps with the 16kg kettlebell, will switch to a 20kg kettlebell and work up to 500x reps. My goal is to do sets of 60 reps, switching hands every 10 reps, building grip strength along the way. I’ll start at 300x reps total (5x sets of 60x reps) and do each progression level 3-4 times, with jumps of 100 reps.
Once comfortable with 500x reps at 20kg, I’ll switch up to the 24kg kettlebell and start the progression again. I’m not sure I’ll be able to start at 300x reps or manage 60x reps/set. If not, I’ll drop to sets of 40x reps and start with 200x snatches for the session.
Questionable Transfer …
One clear benefit I saw from my high rep kettlebell snatch work this Spring was a strong hinge lift when we tested and completed a strength work in June. However, we recently completed a remote lat rat mini-study which compared hinge lift strength improvement from high rep swings to a traditional percentage-based hinge lift progression and found the swings did not perform as well as the traditional progression.
While I haven’t tested it, anecdotally, my sense is the work capacity and endurance transfer from high rep kettlebell snatches is negligible. In other words, the high rep kettlebell snatches I did this Spring did not make me hike uphill faster in June.
What this means practically is high rep kettlebell snatches may burn calories and improve general fitness, but mostly, they just make you better at kettlebell snatches.
Regardless, I’ve found these surprisingly enjoyable. I’m able to put on my headphones, listen to an audiobook, and grind away at a lower, manageable intensity. And for those who are time-strapped, or inclement weather days, or those who simply want to try something different, high rep snatches could work.
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