I read an old article in the CrossFit Journal called “The Dumbbell Bear.” It describes a complex (combining several exercises to make one rep or set) done with dumbbells, and that’s always a good tool in a group because we have a lot of them. In last week’s Team Survivor women’s fitness class I decided to use this:

4 2-dumbbell deadlift
4 2-dumbbell cleans
4 2-dumbbell thrusters
Do the above complex each minute on the minute for 20 minutes. (As prescribed, it would be five of each instead of four.)

Most people used dumbbells of 10 or 12 pounds. A few used a 6-pound medicine ball or no weight at all, doing the drills as if holding weights but not. (We had also worked early in the class on perfecting their medicine-ball cleans.)

When I was about to start the workout, people found it a little daunting, so I cut it down to 15 minutes instead of 20. The idea is that the complex takes less that 40 seconds so that you get at least 20 seconds of rest each minute before starting again.

As it turned out, the class could have gone for 20 minutes. At the start, the complex took them 25 seconds. By round 15 they had only slowed by four seconds. Most of the women in the class, although they are cancer survivors and middle aged, are very active and are not beginners to this slightly-scaled-down CrossFit class. So, I was pleased at their work capacity but not too surprised. What I need to do is not negotiate the work downward just because people think it SOUNDS hard!

So I thought I was pretty smart when I used this same complex Thursday night on my kettlebell class (a Kettlebell Bear), doing jerks instead of thrusters. Wow–was it hard! Class that night consisted of three guys (not sure where the other 11 people in the class were that night; was it something I said?). What I had not taken into account was that the kettlebells, even the 8 kg ones, were heavier than the dumbbells the women had used, and that these guys actually ARE beginners.

They liked the workout, gluttons for punishment that they are, even though they said it was the hardest one we’ve done. It’s true; kettlebell jerks are hard and especially after you’ve done deadlifts and cleans with them. I had them do only 10 minutes of this workout and it was taking them about 45 seconds per complex. Very different from Tuesday’s experience!

One person, who is a friend that I’d let come in as a drop-in to that class, said, “I’ve never sweated so much in a workout in my life.” This drives home the belief that mainstream gym workouts with machines are a waste of time. We spent 10 minutes. Why would anyone pay to belong to a place where they “exercise” for an hour and hardly sweat?

I had also started the kettlebell class that night by having them do “Fran” using only PVC, as their warm-up. That’s killer for beginners even though it’s nothing like the real “Fran”!