If you don’t know what a breath ladder is, it’s a tough way to structure your kettlebell workouts (or any workout, really) that challenges you physically and mentally. Basically, for every rep you do, you get one breath, i.e. swing once, set bell down and breath once, followed by two swings and two breaths, and so on and so forth up to whatever number you choose (10, 20, 30, etc.) and then back down again.
I did a breath ladder to 20 and back with a 16 kg kettlebell after reading this article about someone else’s version of the 10,000 kettlebell swings project, thinking it would challenge the heck out of me. I picked the 16 kg weight because that’s what the women in the previous project had used.
It was easy. I never had ragged breathing. In fact, the most uncomfortable part of the whole routine was when my nose started to run and I still had to keep breathing through it without opening my mouth.
I was super irritated. I mean, the whole thing took 40 minutes to complete and I felt a little cheated out of a good workout. If I’m going to spend 40 minutes doing something, I want to get something out of it. As near as I could tell, the only effect this had was making my legs slightly more tired than usual when walking up the hill near my office.
So come Wednesday, I decided to make up for Monday’s debacle. I upped my weight to 20 kg and reverted to my original one minute on, one minute off interval set (there’s just something meditative about this structure, so elegant in its simplicity). Four minutes in, I was thinking I would need to switch down to a 16 or even a 12. My arms were burning like crazy. I made it to six, and then eight, and finally tricked myself into the full 11 minutes of swings by telling myself I’d just try one more minute.
This time, I definitely felt like I got my workout in!
Unfortunately, my body wasn’t too happy about the sudden increase in intensity. I felt exhausted and drained all of Wednesday and Thursday. My neck and shoulders seized up like someone put them in a full body bind – something that I’m prone to experiencing since achieving a level of over training back in my days of kettlebell sport.
Come Friday, I didn’t feel up to another workout. My inner overachiever really wanted me to push through the pain, but the older, wiser me suggested I listen to my body, back off for a bit and ease back into it come Monday. And so, aside from a pretty intense ride on my horse on Friday that gave my legs a respectable amount of soreness, I laid off for the weekend.
As a side note, I am starting to notice some subtle physical changes. My legs feel more muscular and are slimming out slightly (hallelujah – I hail from the meaty thigh tribe of the far north). My abs, particularly my obliques, are getting firmer, though that could also be a result riding regularly over the past six months.
So, question for you: If you feel exhausted, worn out and physically in pain, do you push through it or rest?