The first time I tried the Kettlebell challenge, one of the biggest difficulties (aside from sore hamstrings) was counting. I kept getting lost, and the house rule is if you lose count, you have to go back to the last place you remember being… ouch!

A year or two ago, I got roped into a burpee challenge, and that – ask anyone – is simply unpleasant. I kept having to stop to catch my breath, which seemed like cheating. Somewhere in my travels, though, I came across an article that talked about Tabata, which combines a 20-second burst of very high-intensity exercise with a 10-second recovery interval – repeated 8 times. I realized that the brief recovery window actually allows you to maintain those high-output bursts for at least several minutes (four minutes is often the Tabata round). This is often referred to as HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training. What a great name!

Also, a few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of “dropsets”, which involve weights and resistance. I believe the “pure” format involves starting with a reasonably heavy weight, and doing the specific exercise to the point of muscle failure (i.e., you can’t do any more). At that point, without really taking a break, you use a slightly lower weight and continue the exercise again to the point of muscle failure, at which point you go down to a yet lighter weight and continue the exercise again to the point of muscle failure.

All of this got me thinking…

Here is the problem I had been trying to solve: how can I do a fairly rigorous workout which also involves a lot of repetitions (and, a BONUS would be that I can keep track of the numbers fairly easily).

So… what if I applied a variation of HIIT and dropsets to my Kettlebell workout? Sounds crazy enough, it just might work. So I tried it. And it seems to work! Here’s what it looks like:

A “round” is five minutes long, and has 100 kettlebell swings (proper form, of course – not using lower back to lift). The first set of 20 swings I use my heaviest kettlebell. Then I move to the next-heaviest kettlebell for two more sets of 20. Finally, I move to the next-heaviest kettlebell, and do another two sets of 20. Whatever is left of my five minutes is my recovery interval. When the timer beeps, the round is over and it’s on to the next round. That makes for 100 swings per round, so the math is easy. It is also pretty high-intensity, so the recovery break is necessary. This is neither pure dropsets nor pure Tabata, but it is a hybrid which respects both intensity and recovery – well, it also respects the fact that I’m not 25 any more!

What is important here is not so much my numbers as the process. I’ve done this (February challenge) three times now. I should think I would have learned a few things about myself… And I have learned a lot about my own personal limits and about incorporating activity into my lifestyle. I’ve learned how to assimilate information about exercise principles. And I’ve learned how to come up with a workout plan that is both doable and challenging.

None of this is because I’m some kind of know-it-all exercise expert. I would more likely see myself as a pretty ordinary person who has been inspired by the examples of other ordinary people. And the pivotal decision that I made – and which I believe anyone can make – was to shift from being a spectator to a participant. If I can do that, anyone can.

That is what I have learned.