Training For SMK Strength Matters Kettlebell Swing Test

There are many great swing training programs out there, Mark Reifkind published one this time last year. Mine is no better, it’s just another very effective and simple way of skinning the cat. Just bear in mind that any programme is only as good as its compliance.

To steal Dan John’s wonderful concept: This is a park bench programme, so you just keep going (forever!) enjoying constant gains. It has worked on most people I’ve tried it with.

Here are some success stories…

  • Me (37 y.o. male trainer): 32kg to 48kg in seven months, 1-3 sessions per week

  • 54 y.o. female lawyer: 12kg to 24kg in nine months, 1-2 sessions per week

  • 45 y.o. male businessman: 20kg to 32kg in six months, 1-3 sessions per week

  • 36 y.o. male banker: 28kg to 36kg in five months, 1 session per week

The people the programme has worked for share common qualities, they all:

1. Enjoy swinging

2. Have access to kettlebells that increase in increments of 4kg

3. Have good hip hinging technique and never flex their lumbar spines, even when tired

4. Are self-motivated. They complete short sharp 20-minute sessions most weeks without my watching over them

5. Have trusted the programme to work and stuck with it

The few people this programme did not work for lacked one or more of the above.


Three different sessions: light, medium and heavy. Do one session every 2-7 days in this format:

Medium – heavy – medium – light – medium – heavy – medium – light – medium – heavy …and so on.

Before every session I suggest at least 10 minutes of joint mobility and movement preparation. Follow every session with at least 5 minutes of flexibility for your hammy’s, hip flexors and wrist flexors.

Medium Day

Objective: SAID principle: practice what you’re training for, progressively increasing the load. This is the real meat and potatoes. Light and heavy days are just there to speed up ‘medium day’ progress by varying the load.

Two 10-minute parts, where part two immediately follows part one, so this session is only 20 minutes. Part one takes some mental strength and part two is for grip endurance and technique consolidation. So you only have to psych yourself up for a 10-minute session, really. Use the same kettlebell for both parts, unless your skin starts ripping , in which case, check out the ‘skin ripping drill’ further down.

Part 1: 20 x 30 second intervals (10 minutes). Set your interval timer to 20 intervals of 30 seconds (just like the swing test). Start with the heaviest kettlebell you KNOW you can complete the swing test with, relatively easily. If you have any doubt, go lighter. If you know you can complete the test with, say, a 28kg but it leaves you wanting to cry, start this programme with a 24kg.

Part 2: 10 x 60 second intervals (10 minutes). Have another interval timer pre-set and ready to hit ‘start’ for 10 further intervals of 60 seconds. 10 one-arm swings per interval, no matter how your progress is going in part 1. So that's a total of 100 swings (50 per arm) during this second part. Having an extra 30 seconds rest per set of swings takes the pain of trying to gasp for air away and allows you to concentrate on sharp, explosive form. It also gives you the confidence to add more reps to part one one your next 'medium day' and offers overload.

Here’s how it goes. Below, one single digit represents two sets of swings, assuming you always do the same number of swings with your stronger arm, as you did on your strong arm. Experience dictates that if you can achieve a confident pass on the test with one weight, you can complete it with 8 reps per set with a kettlebell that’s 4kg heavier.

The above progression of reps is just a guideline. If you're feeling particularly strong and energetic on any given day, feel free to skip session 7, for instance, jumping straight to 9,10,9,10,9,10....etc. Just never go backwards. Always add more. Don't let the gremlins persuade you to put it down during minute 6 of part 1. Commit to the numbers and KNOW you can do it. However if you know you're having an off day but want to train, do the light or heavy* session instead.

*Why would you do the heavy session instead of the medium session if you're not firing on all cylinders? Due to the amount of rest per interval, the heavy session takes less mental effort than the medium session, where the 11-15 seconds** rest between sets is a killer.

**"11-15 seconds rest? Rif says it should be 15 seconds." Rif's right of course, but if you're over 6'3" and you're swinging over 36kg, 10 swings takes 17-19 seconds.

Just keep progressing until you reach your target weight. Obviously, for the Strength Matters swing test this is 28kg/32kg for men and 20kg/24kg for women. But I suggest setting your sights higher because I’ve seen non-industry kettlebell users with very little athletic background easily surpass these requirements. Ladies, at least one-third bodyweight kettlebell should be your goal. Gents, aim for at least a half bodyweight kettlebell.

Light Day

Objective: Train the cardiovascular conditioning aspect and mental endurance. This is just an extended version of the test, but with a lighter kettlebell.

Set timer to 30-40 intervals of 30 seconds, a total of 15-20 minutes work. Perform 10 single arm swings every time it bleeps with a kettlebell that’s 4kg-8kg lighter than your current medium day weight. Move up to the next heavier kettlebell when your ‘medium day’ kettlebell increases. How long: 15 minutes or 20? Depends on how you feel. Try 15 minutes to start with and after a few weeks/months of this programme you’ll know what you’re capable of handling. If at any point you’re feeling strong and energetic, have a go at 18-20 minutes but never do less than 15.

This is the perfect opportunity to add perceived effort, thereby improving your hardstyle swing technique, so crank up the tension-o-metre and strive to make every repetition as crisp, sharp, explosive and HARDstyle as possible. Here are some useful tips:

  • Maximally engage your abs, glutes, hamstrings and quads at the top of the swing whilst clawing the floor with your toes, as though you’re bracing for a monster blow

  • Maximally engage your lats on the way down whilst rapidly driving your arse backwards

  • Explode and snap your hinged body back up to standing, driving your heels down into the floor like you’re trying to leave footprints

If you put in a maximal amount of effort — and I mean maximal tension — with just half your target weight, let alone the recommended 4kg/8kg, you’d be gassed in no time. For monsterous grip endurance, you could complete this session wearing cotton gloves. This is a common drill in the world of kettlebell sport.

Heavy Day

Objective: Increase strength, so when you go back to medium day, viola!, it feels lighter.

Set your interval timer to bleep every 30 seconds, 40 times — total of 20 minutes. Grab a heavier kettlebell. Ideally, this is one that’s at least 8kg heavier than your current ‘medium day’ weight. Do a set of single arm swings every time it bleeps. How many reps? Experience dictates that you’ll manage 40 sets of 5 reps with a kettlebell that’s 8kg above your current ‘medium day’ weight, unless, your skin starts to rip, in which case, STOP immediately and follow the skin ripping drill below. Your goal is to graduate to the next heavier kettlebell by completing 40 sets of 7 reps, irrelevant of where you are with your ‘medium day’ progress. Aim to progress in this fashion:

That’s it, folks! Just keep working your way through these 3 sessions every 2-7 days (so you have 1-3 swing training sessions per week) and you’ll be at the required standard in no time.

Ripped Hands Drill

If at any point you feel your hands beginning to rip, STOP immediately. Grab a lighter kettlebell and continue the session with 10 reps per set with a lighter KB. Allowing the skin to break will disrupt your training for up to 2 weeks.

If your skin already feels sore before starting or if you already have ripped hands wear cotton magician gloves and do the ‘light day’ session instead of your planned session. The glove makes the handle more slippery, thereby offering ninja grip endurance training. Keep using cotton gloves until your hands have completely healed. On the upside, when you go back to normal swinging you’ll notice a significant improvement in your grip.

Can I Do Any Other Training/Activities Whilst I’m On This Programme?

Yes, you should. The swing is a hip hinge and anti-rotation movement. Those are just two movements out of seven that the body has available and should do daily/weekly. The other five should be included into your schedule too, whether you practice the movement (without weight) or train the movement to become stronger (with weight).

Those are:

  • Squat

  • Push (horizontally and vertically)

  • Pull (horizontally and vertically)

  • Rotate/twist

  • Run

Answering this question fully would take another article entirely, but if in doubt, do get-ups, goblet squats and go for the odd sprint. If you sit in a chair for longer than two hours a day, you should also perform daily anti-chair mobility or include it in your pre-swing mobility routine. If you have another goal that doesn't conflict with this such as pressing, that's ok too.

Above all, remember "the goal is to keep the goal the goal” (another Dan John quote).

Don’t waste time sitting on your arse looking at the numbers calculating by which date you’ll be able to complete the test with your target weight. Just do it! Undoubtedly, a life occurrence will get in the way and hinder your progress anyway.

Don’t bullshit yourself by saying you don’t have time for a short sharp swing session.

Don’t let it get you down if you happen to fall off track at any point. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off and jump back on the train to ninjaville.

Thanks for reading. If you'd like a PDF version please email me at contactATphilipmcdougallDOTcom.


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