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Lance Monteau, MD and The Great 100,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge

Lance Monteau Kettlebell Swing Challenge
Lance Monteau set himself a magnificent challenge: to perform 100,000 kettlebell swings within a one year period. Lance has just completed that goal. Dragon Door e-interviewed him about his whole experience with this admirable achievement.

DD: What prompted you to undertake the goal of doing 100,000 kettlebell swings in one year?

LM: Initially, I was intrigued by the idea of the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge. I had done kettlebell swings in CrossFit years ago, so I was somewhat familiar with the exercise.  People had good things to say about the challenge.

It’s ironic that those of us who are extremely passionate about exercise still tend to fall into not changing the exercise program we are doing.  And I thought, "well it’s only five weeks…"  Another aspect certainly, is that if coaches Dan John and Pavel are talking about exercise, I am listening.

So, as I approached 10,000 swings in 5 weeks, I quickly realized how amazing the workout was and decided to keep on going.  Then after a few months I started thinking that 100,000 swings was very doable.  The reality is, at 5 weeks, the body is just starting to adjust to the benefits of the exercise program, momentum is literally just starting, so it’s a shame to stop at that point.

DD: Why the kettlebell swing over any other possible exercise?

LM: The benefits of the swing are enormous.  Our posterior chain supports/is responsible for every movement we perform, and the kettlebell swing works all of those muscles — be it picking up a toothpick off the floor, or deadlifting hundreds of pounds.  It is necessary to tighten the body on every rep, and this affects all-over body strength.  The swing gets you fit!

Believe me, when you do 50 reps with a challenging weight, you find out what you are made of.  The swing also allows you to use much more weight than exercises like the snatch — which dramatically affects work capacity.  The swing gives you a grip of steel! And forearms to go with it.  The mobility of your lower body improves significantly.

Of course, no one exercise does everything, so I use the swing as my base exercise and rotate strength exercises with it for all-around strength.  The dynamic nature of the swing is what separates it from all other exercises. The swing keeps the body from adjusting to it, which makes it endlessly effective. I don’t know if we can say about any other exercise.
Lance Monteau Kettlebell Swing full height

DD: Were there times when this goal seemed particularly challenging and if so what strategies did you employ to overcome those obstacles?

LM: I never felt like I would not accomplish the goal. I am a firm believer that a successful life is just a bunch of successful days all added together.  And having a schedule is everything.  When we do not have a schedule, we are not even in the middle for success, we are very low on the scale.  But when we have a schedule, we will get superlative results.  It’s that simple, holding to a schedule and just getting the work done.

So, I automatically went right to my workout after getting home from my job and first thing in the day on the weekends. Absolutely there have been days when I was not feeling up to the program, but as often has been said, you don’t always have to like something, you just have to do it. That is really the difference for those of us who truly love exercise: we will do it no matter what. Fortunately, swings I feel are a very fun exercise, another reason that I love them!

DD: What kind of physical condition where you in when you started and at what age? And what was your prior history with kettlebells in particular but physical exercise in general?

LM: I have exercised my entire adult life. I have always been fascinated by the body’s ability to adapt and respond. I have also spent various amounts of time on different types of programs. From more powerlifting, to bodyweight only, to swimming and cycling and running.  Many of these for years at a time.  Really depending on my goals, which of course changed at different times in my life.

I once thought that when I bench pressed 400 pounds the sun would come out from behind the clouds, but then when I got there nobody cared lol. At the time I started the program my strength was decent, but I was definitely lacking in the fitness department, as I found out immediately with the swings.

I was 51 when I started the program last year. I will say that my goal now is to always be fit no matter what, and be as strong as I can, and to be able to live my life and do whatever I want and not be held back by a lack of fitness or strength, generally speaking.

DD: What made you decide on a particular weight to use?

LM: I started with the 24kg kettlebell as recommended. After a few months my body took a definite jump in fitness and the 24kg became very light.  I work out at home and I do not have a 28kg kettlebell, so then I jumped to 32kg.

I was in the process of moving to 40kg, however I was noticing that it was taking enough out of me as to interfere with any other exercises I was doing in the same workout. At this point at least, the 32kg is just right, continues to be challenging and works seamlessly with my other exercises.

DD: What kind of mental, physical and spiritual transformations have you experienced as a result of this adventure?

LM: I didn’t know what to expect. I literally only lost 2 pounds in the first 4 months, then lost 4 more, then stabilized. I’m a pretty constant 215 at just over 6 feet. However some adjustments I have made on my strength exercises are now pushing my weight up again.

Being consistent with the program absolutely builds mental toughness, no doubt about it. And as many people know, training builds confidence — really tons with this exercise.  I also feel very in touch with my body — the mind-body connection has definitely improved.

Lance Monteau Kettlebell portraitDD: What's next for Lance Monteau, now that this challenge has been met?

LM: I don’t see changing the kettlebell swing as my base exercise and fitness tool. It just does so much. I feel amazing. Many people can relate when they get that feeling of significant (extreme?) fitness.

The swing couples perfectly with a strength exercise. I have streamlined the program to only use one at a time and rotate them for maximal effectiveness. So that combination is accomplishing everything that I could want at this point.

I have thought about taking a shot at the world record for the swings, so we will see. And seeing if I can get 125,000 swings in a year is also a thought.  Perhaps I might move up to the 40kg again, so there are a few possibilities, but as long as I am doing swings, I cannot go wrong.

DD: What are the big takeaways from your experience that you think could help others considering a similar challenge?

LM: If I could only recommend one exercise to another person, this would be it. I am convinced that exercise needs to be simple, in its premise.  The more simple it is, the more consistent someone can be. Not feeling like exercising but knowing "I just have to get these 500 swings in no matter how I feel, and it won’t take me hours to do it…" makes us more consistent.

It’s not the intensity of the exercise, it’s just being consistent with it.  The body can do superhuman feats when it is trained consistently.

DD: Any caveats or final advice you'd like to offer?

LM: I would encourage people to do the challenge (500 repetitions a workout), but make sure your weight is not too heavy!  Use a weight where you can finish all the reps but you had to work enough to be breathing hard. It’s a balancing act. I used to watch the Biggest Loser and I hated how the trainers would just kill the contestants with too much intensity. Remember how the first winner gained back ALL his weight after the show??!!  He did not have a love for exercise inculcated during his experience on the show. There is no skill in that.

Only intelligent well-thought out exercise that is consistent and challenging with balance will nurture our mind to enjoy exercise long term, for a lifetime! Don’t be discouraged by what other people are doing! Just be consistent, your form will improve over time, you will get the "feel" at a certain point and have no doubt you are doing the exercise correctly. Then you will feel great, your clothes will fit better, your self-esteem will be healthy, you will sleep better, your mood will improve, and you will have a zest for life!

—Lance Monteau, MD, PCC, Internal Medicine Physician, Austin, TX