A Year in Review
Just prior to January 1, 2021, I was searching for a new annual resolution and was subsequently challenged to complete 10,000 kettlebell swings in the first month of 2021. This piqued my interest as it was a SMART goal: specific, measurable, achievable (if I pushed myself), relevant (as in reasonable, realistic, and results-based), and time bound. It was a perfect New Year’s Eve resolution; one I could really focus on and not have it fizzle out along the way. One third of the way through I innocently asked what I should do come February and got challenged to do 10,000 swings every month of the year. Oh boy. That was a challenge. But I accepted.
Now, 120,022 kettlebell swings later (I added the last 22 to welcome the new year) I look back on this year of very clear dedication and discipline and notice the positives and negatives of this challenge and taking the competition seriously.
Overcoming Challenges Along the Way
The negatives include overuse injuries. Somewhere around month 8 I began having high proximal hamstring issues, resulting in an ache when I would drive or sit for too long or even try to stretch my hamstrings. This issue was brought on and exacerbated by the hinge and thrust that the 2 handed kettlebell swing requires. I adjusted to single handed swings to circumvent this part of the movement and found that then I was inadvertently relying too much on traps and neck, resulting in TMJ jaw pain and unrelenting headaches.
My competitors advised me to stop with swings or take a rest and do something else for a while. Hmmm, was this motivated advice, as in did they want me to fall behind? My personal trainer asked me to stop the kettlebell swings since it limited the work we could do together. The massage therapists and physical therapists also advised taking a break from swings. Had this not been me, but a client I was advising, I likely would have recommended they take a break, too!
But I just couldn’t do it. I knew a break would solve little unless it was a long break from swings. And I could not stop given that I was so close to the end of what felt and feels like a huge accomplishment. Instead I made modifications by lightening my weight and the aforementioned switch from a double to single hand swing, and was able to persevere.
I am quite aware this accomplishment changes nothing, although during a year when so much was uncertain, the regularity and focus of the swings was grounding. I saved no lives and did not improve the environment. I’m not even sure that I am that much more fit than I was before the challenge. But I will tell you, despite some moments of boredom (around month 10) I loved having a clear idea of what I had to do that day, how much I had to do to get measurably closer to my ultimate goal, and because there was a clear end goal each month (10,000), I could get there sooner or later, depending on how my week was shaking out. I also noticed that my stamina for doing a ton of swings in one go or one training session went up significantly. 300 swings used to feel like a lot. Now 850 feels like a lot. And one day I knocked out 1200 after my competitor had done 1100 or so the day before. Have you ever done 1200 swings in a day? It’s kinda awesome.
Getting Back to the Weight Room
When I finally returned to the normal weight room, I had definitely lost some of my weight bearing gains. I no longer was squatting or benching the same weight as I had before. 2021 left me little time for anything but swings. But I can tell you that I maintained my memory of the form for those movements and my old gains returned relatively quickly.
This challenge, it has been great for me. I would recommend it, or something akin to it, to anyone. I walk away from 2021 knowing I did something, and something that few or possibly no one else has done. (My competitors didn’t make it to the end!) I have a new confidence in my ability to take something on and cope with it day in, day out, every week, every month, for an entire year. The goal was big, but it was clear and tangible. Had it not been for the hamstring issue, I could have kept going. It also allowed for a certain amount of flexibility. I shifted between kilograms depending on how I was feeling, whether I was swinging single or double, and when I got injured, I dropped the weight down to accommodate. And it was fun. It kept me in contact with my competitors. We shared progress and bantered. This was particularly helpful during this isolated time during the pandemic. We each could own our own set of kettlebells. No one needed a gym. And we didn’t need to be in the same location to compete.
The next challenge, what will I do for 2022? What’s your Everest in 2022? What will you take on that’s bigger than you think you can do, yet you dig in, adapt, adjust and make it happen anyway?