Swings of Change – the 10,000 Swing Challenge, by Peter McLeod

I was just turning to leave the new John Ruffell Studio after my personal training session when John reminded me that he was going on holiday for the next week. Perfect! Some down time… relax a bit, maybe a few beers with the boys…. But no…

“I have got some homework for you to do while I am away, I thought you would like to do the 10000 swing challenge with a 24kg kettlebell to keep you going while I am away.”

All thoughts of a heading out to the pub immediately evaporated as the implications of what he was suggesting slowly sank into my brain. Never one to back down from a challenge through being either extremely obstinate or just plain stupid my mouth immediately accepted before consulting my brain or my body. As John has been training me for kettlebell classes twice a week for a while now I suspect he was fully aware of this and the trap was sprung.

So while John, Katy and White were sunning themselves by the pool I found myself staring at a green 24 kg Kettlebell that was now living in my sitting room.

“Okay, how hard can this be?” I thought to myself. I did the maths quickly and figured that to fit into my work schedule I was going to have to complete 500 swings in the morning and 500 in the evening for 10 consecutive days. That did not seem to bad and judging by “Death by Swings” Session we had done at kettlebell classes a while back I estimated it would take me about 3o mins to do 500.

The first session the following morning I cracked on and began the task. I blasted into it and I think did 80 swings straight off the mark, followed by another 80. No worries.. by the time I hit 250 I could barely hold the bell and by the time I hit 300 I had to drop down to the yellow 16 kg bell I had as a backup as I had totally overcooked it. I had forgotten to ask for chalk which is my friend and grabbed some old weights gloves, so my hands were in a sorry state of repair. Somehow I had blisters on the tips of my little fingers which was a new one on me. Now the full enormity of the task I had undertaken hit me and I have to say I felt slightly panicked, but was not going to back down. That first session took me nearly 40 minutes as I adjusted position and grip along with breaks in between. Somehow I managed to get through the session that evening by taping hands up and cutting the reps down to 50. I still had to switch down to a 16 kg after 300 reps though.

I woke up the next morning feeling very stiff, mostly in the glutes and forearms, but also quads and shoulders.  I repeated the process and I have to say in some ways it was even worse. The sweat poured off me so I knew I was getting a serious workout. I knocked about 5 minutes off the time which I put down to better execution, timing and have a better feel for reps. By the time I hit day three I finally managed to stick with the 24 kg bell throughout the entire session which made me really chuffed. My hands were still causing issues though as by the time I hit 300 reps I was losing my grip which was slowing me down.

4000 reps came and went and I solved the hands issue by buying some cheap neoprene weights gloves from Tesco of all places which were tight and cushioned my hands and lower fingers beautifully. Match with a bit Yellow Vet Wrap around some offending fingers and finally I had grip and by locking my thumb down over my second finger I could hold the bell for longer. I was also beginning to notice that my body was changing, extraordinary for such a short period of time. My forearms, biceps, triceps and lats, along with my back were beginning to feel much tighter… like a tiger. My back too seemed to be losing some of the loose skin that had been there and my glutes were less stiff and seemed to feel a bit less… shall we say, volumous? My times were dropping and I hit a steady rhythm of 40 reps being the way forward.

Once into 5000 – 7000 reps I had cut the time down to 23 – 25 minutes to complete the session and with the help of some serious dance music from Juicy M was actually beginning to enjoy it! I think my technique was improving, I was not squatting so much and the snap from the hips was taking over from brute force in the upper body. All was well with the world and I the fat layer around my stomach was decreasing and there appeared to be some shapes appearing below my pecs which I suspected were stomach muscles…. Which I have not been reunited with since my mid twenties.

Once I hit the 8000 mark I was into a pattern which worked well at 0630 in the morning as I was into 160 reps before I actually woke up. The sessions were becoming part of my daily routine and the dog had gone from being mildly terrified (not unusual for him) to only raising one eyebrow in mild interest. My hands had settled down completely with some new callouses appearing and I could really feel my body tightening up. On the scales I was putting on weight and by this stage had gained a 1 kg which I was really hoping was muscle. By 9000 the end was in sight…

The last day arrived and I was really pleased that I had stayed the course. Always with challenges like this it is so easy to get half way through and miss a session.  That turns into two and then your done as you are out of the routine and your motivation is gone. I blasted through the last 500 swings in 20 minutes and 30 second setting myself a new record and a fantastic way to finish the challenge.

So what did I get out of it? After 10 days I lost an inch off my waist while putting on 1.5 kg in weight. My whole body feel s tighter and I have definitely become stronger and gained bulk on my upper torso. My gluts and hamstrings have also benefited hugely. I have learnt a much better squat position, hand position on holding onto weights and my grip has improved dramatically which will be useful for Judo.  I won’t deny it was hard work, but I think it has put me on the path to change and given me a strong base from which I can move forward to meet my physical goals. I had forgotten how much I enjoy exercising first thing in the morning as I am awake and full of energy to go to work. If you are looking for a challenge to kick start you then I would highly recommend this. I am already looking forward to the next challenge.