Painful math… calculating intensity in kettlebell sport workouts


Setting any good goal requires the ability to quantify success, which is one of the reasons I’ve set for myself in pursuing my the rank of Master of Sport for kettlebell lifting. The standards that you must meet are clearly defined by the governing body bestowing the rank. The origin of the title like most things kettlebell related are Russian from the USSR days. Ranks and their meaning are explained perfectly by coach Steven Khuong from the Ice Chamber team here:

The path to achieving the master of sport rank is usually a long one, which is why I set the timeline of 3 years to achieve it. On such a long timeline, it becomes crucially important that I find a way to measure and track my progress. To do so, I needed to come up with a statistical method to create a meaningful metric for quantifying the intensity of each workout, and track the output to appropriately periodize my training.

This is easier said than done, especially when you have my level of fixation (pun intended) with metrics AND my unfortunate mediocre math proficiency. I took advanced calculus in high school, tested out of math in college, and never looked back. Thus I have forgotten most things above counting change. Calculating workload in a traditional weightlifting setting is relatively straight forward, weight x reps. In calculating total intensity of a kettlebell sport workout, however, there are numerous factors to consider: total set duration, minutes per hand, weight of the kettlebell(s), movement chosen, repetitions per minute (pace), and rest between sets.

The essential differentiators are the cardiovascular conditioning and strength endurance elements of a timed set. For example, a set performed for 6 total minutes with a 16 kg kettlebell switching hands every minute is far easier than the same set performed with only 1 switch halfway through. The pacing would likely look drastically different in the first set than the second, and the demands of the two sets are very different.

I started by looking at what did NOT need a numeric factor, the obvious choice was the exercise selected. While I did group the 10 primary training movements I utilize for sets based on levels of technical difficulty (beginner/intermediate/advanced), I felt that those differences would be reflected elsewhere in the equation either in minutes per hand, pacing, or the weight of the kettlebell you are able to use.

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The next factor to quantify was the weight of the kettlebell. This was relatively easy as the popularity of the Kettlebell Pentathlon has spread thanks to coach Fedorenko at the WKC. They use a simple multiplication factor of .25 for every 2 kilo increment by which the kettlebell increases. Thus the multiplier starts at .5 for a 4 KG kettlebell and goes all the way up to 8.5 for 68 KG. Obviously the factor could continue on ad infinity, but I don’t think anyone is training with more than 68 KG very often, if ever. Double kettlebell lifts would be multiplied by the total KG multiplier (two 16KG bells, 32 KG total= 4x).

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The final factor to consider for calculating a workout intensity is the cardiovascular conditioning component. This is more difficult because there are literally infinite combinations of work to rest intervals. However, for the sake of consistency and ease we tend to work in half minute increments (30 seconds per hand, 1 minute per hand, etc.) and likewise for the rest between sets. For the sake of time efficiency I do not to rest more than 2 minutes between sets that are under 5 minutes per hand. Thus the levels cluster in groups of 4 where the work interval stays the same, but the rest decreases by half a minute between sets before the work interval is increased. There are 40 different levels that range all the way from 1 minute of work with 2 minutes rest between sets, to 10 minutes of work with 30 seconds rest between sets. I think that covers the entire gamut of people from someone who is brand new to the sport all the way to top conditioned champions.

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For unstructured sets to failure (I like to call these intuitive or “Freebird!” sets), the multiplication factor starts at 45 for sets that go longer than 5 minutes in one hand, and increase by 5 for every minute over that. If you are going much beyond 10 minutes in one hand, you’re ready to move up in weight.

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Before pressing this I made sure to reach out to my good friend Mike. He makes his living in retail analytics and as a part time professor of mathematics and astronomy at a community college in Minneapolis. After talking with him I feel confident that this approach works for accurately tracking my output, however, I am compelled to admit it is NOT a valid metric. Without going way outside my depth mathematically, just remember that accuracy is a measure of how CONSISTENT the number produced is and that validity is how well it corresponds to the real world. For the sake of ease, I will settle for accuracy at least until Mike tells me he’s come up with something valid 🙂

Rock on,



About jdkw52

I work full time in Chicago for a non-profit scholarship program, and I am a part time kettlebell instructor, and football coach.
This entry was posted in fitness, health, kettlebell, kettlebell sport, kettlebell training, kettlebells and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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