Program Test – Viking Warrior Conditioning

As mentioned in previous posts, its important to track metrics about your health that actually tell a story, and are actionable. It’s no secret that I think tracking your overall weight is a waste of time if you aren’t gathering other data points to tell you something about the weight number you see.

A metric I’ve become very curious about is my VO2 max. For a deep dive on the metric, check out this Wikipedia article. In a nutshell, the number is a measure of the maximum level of oxygen you can metabolize during exercise. A higher number is good. When researching ways to train VO2 max improvement, I stumbled upon an interesting book called Viking Warrior Conditioning. The book was an interesting read. It does a DEEP dive on cardiovascular fitness and training aerobic capacity. The author’s thesis is that by following his kettlebell snatch protocol, you can see significant gains in your overall VO2 max.

One exercise. One protocol. Big gains in VO2 max. Kettlebell snatch.

Hmmm.

Most training protocols I’ve seen to increase VO2 max involved high intensity sprinting, rowing, or other similar type of cardiovascular work. This protocol called for progressively high intensity kettlebell snatching with a very specific prescription for reps and time. Here is the best part – the first level requires you to complete 80 sets of kettlebell snatches (in a row) before you can advance to the second level.

shitting me

Sign me up!

My plan is to execute the protocol as the book prescribes, and see what type of gains can be accomplished with this protocol. In order to do this properly (within the bounds of my resources), I’ll need to:

  1. Define how to do a kettlebell snatch properly
  2. Define how I’m going to track/measure my VO2 max and define when I’ll measure
  3. Execute the program

How to do a kettlebell snatch:

I’ve done swings before, but never the actual swing to a snatch. I tried doing it dry (without instruction), and it hurt my wrist. The damn kettlebell clanked down on it. The book offers an explanation and some pictures, but they didn’t tell the whole story. I found this on YouTube, and it was very helpful:

It took me a few practice sessions, but pretty soon, I was snatching like a pro and not hurting my wrist. Doing his dry steps really helped. Specifically the high pull. That was kind of my “ah-ha” moment. Once I got that down, I was catching the bell softly before it crushed my wrist.

How to track my current VO2 max:

The most accurate method would involve a treadmill stress test with a mask strapped to my face. That is a bit over the top for what I’d like to accomplish. I’m going to rely on two estimates, and track the trends. As long as the estimates are “wrong” by the same factor each time I measure, the TREND will tell me how I’m doing.

Method 1: Garmin Vivosport

This is my fitness tracker of choice. It measures heart rate, has an integrated GPS, and also estimates VO2 max. This will be one of the numbers I use to track my trend. I’m currently a 44, and have a resting heart rate of 47 bpm (this number will be important in my second estimate).

Method 2: The resting heart rate method

You can estimate your VO2 max with the following formula

VO2max = 15.3 * (maximum HR / resting heart rate)

In this case, my VO2 max using that formula is 59.05. For the purposes of this exercise, I estimated by maximum heart rate (again – not going to a lab for this) by using the following formula:

Maximum HR = 208 – (0.7 * age)

In this case, my theoretical maximum HR is 181.4 bpm.

So, my goal for this experiment is to see if those numbers go up. For the Garmin Vivosport, I’ll be at the mercy of what the computer calculates. For the math approach, it looks like the key will be my resting heart rate going DOWN. That loosely makes sense – if my cardiovascular health improves, my resting heart rate going down should correlate. To keep things consistent, I’ll take readings and chart them after the last workout of the week. More to come on program scheduling later.

I also need to decide what size kettlebell to use. The book suggested starting around 35 lbs. That seems like good advice, so I went and bought one and my local sporting goods store. Note – these things are EXPENSIVE. I kept the receipt because if it was too light or heavy (based on testing feedback from the book), I’d want to swap it out.

UPDATE – the kettlebell weight is good!

Execute the program:

cMVO2 Test: this is the “entry level test” where you figure out what rep number you will use for the first level of the protocol. It’s basically 5 sets of kettlebell snatches for a specific duration of time. BUT, each set has a difference cadence/frequency for you to follow. Finally, on the 5th set, you are supposed to go for maximum reps in the alloted time. It my case, it was maximum reps for 60 seconds. I did 27. According to the protocol, I’m supposed to divide that number by 4, and that will tell me how many reps I use for level 1. In this case, I’ll be doing 7 reps.

I have a decision to make – I need to figure out how many times a week I want to do this protocol. The book offers a few suggestions/paths, and lays out the pros/cons. I’ve decided¬† that I’m going to do this 2 times per week, with no less than 2 days rest between each session. I want to allow for maximum muscle recovery.

On to the workouts…

Level 1: The 15:15 protocol (15 seconds work, 15 seconds rest, repeat)

I’m supposed to do 7 reps on one arm in 15 seconds, rest for 15 seconds, and then do 7 reps on the other arm, and rest for 15 seconds. That counts as 2 sets. Once I get to 80 sets in a session, I can move onto the next level. I think I’ll be here for a bit.

Day 1:

  • Sets completed = 30
  • Notes – overall, not bad. I probably could have done more but decide to stop there to see how I’d feel the next day. Never did this many snatches in one session, so I’m curious what the DOMS looks like.

Day 2:

  • Sets completed = 40
  • Notes – I wanted to do 50, but I felt blisters forming on my hands. Will need to try gloves next time. Was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t very sore after day 1. I’m routinely finishing each set with about 2 seconds to spare, so I feel like my cadence is good. I also feel that my technique keeps getting better and better. The bell is landing very softly on my wrist during the transition.
  • Rest between days: 2
  • Testing results – no change in Garmin output or RHR calculation method

Day 3:

  • Sets completed = 60
  • Notes – I tried 1 strip of duct tape for the first 20, and that worked okay. Tried gloves for the second 20 and had to add the duct tape back on for the last few sets. Went straight to wrapped duct tape for the third round of 20, and that seemed to work the best. I think from here on out, I’ll be wrapping the callous lines with duct tape. Also, it looks like my cadence went up – I was finishing with about 3-4 seconds to go. I might try jumping right to the 80 sets on the next workout. BTW – I’ve been using a free timer app (Android) called Tabata Timer. It is a great app. I’ve been using it for a long time, and it has a lot of functionality for a free app. You can program a whole bunch of different types of interval timer protocols. Really worth checking out.
  • Rest between days: 4
  • Testing results – will test after day 4 (since I’m doing 2 rounds per 7 day span)

Day 4:

  • Sets completed = 80
    • This marks a completion of the 15:15 protocol
  • Notes – the duct tape worked great. I’ll be taping up from here on out!
  • Rest between days: 3
  • Testing results – no changes yet
  • Next steps – I’ve graduated to the 36:36 protocol. I took my cMVO2 test result, and calibrated according to the book, so I’ll need to complete 17 reps in 36 seconds, with a target of 35 total work sets (I’ll probably go to 36 sets to keep the work on each arm equal). I have a feeling that this is where I’ll start to see the needle move on the VO2 max metrics I’m tracking. Since I was able to fly through the 15:15 in 4 rounds, that tells me I had a decent baseline to begin with. When I look at the actual number of reps that I did (560) and the reps that I will do (595) – the difference is only 35 more reps. But, for each work set, I’ll be under load for 21 more seconds per set – thus keeping my heart rate elevated much longer per work set. THAT is where the magic should happen.

Level 2: The 36:36 protocol (36 seconds work, 36 seconds rest, repeat)

Day 5: coming soon…

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7 comments

  1. I completed the 15:15 last fall. The ripping callouses were brutal by the end. If you find yourself not being able to progress on a daily basis, don’t be afraid to back-off and do 80% volume one day to give yourself a little more recovery so you can hit it hard again the next session. Good luck!

    1. Thanks for checking out the post and offering feedback. Did you end up seeing a boost in your VO2 max when you finished? Did you advance to the 36:36?

  2. Yes, I did see results in VO2 max, however for that exercise only. There was no carry over to other activities unfortunately. There was a ton written about it in Strong First and Dragon Door forums. I didn’t advance. I moved on to doing more circuit and cardio work.

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