Kettlebells and Minimum Effective Dose


strength training has been around for hundreds of years. People have sought out a multitude of methods to increase their lifting capabilities as well as to gain the proper aesthetic build they desire. Among the many techniques, a common method was established that enables building of mass and strength. This mainly involved lifting your maximum for single to short reps and taking the right amount of rest time. This is so you are able to repeat the same number of reps until you reach or almost reach failure.

There have been multiple lifting programs that revolve around the “lift and rest and lift again” routine. The most popular programs are Stronglifts 5 x 5, Mad Cow, and Starting Strength. They mostly recommend from one to five minutes of rest. Some even recommend an indefinite quantity of time but strongly suggest not too rest too much or the brain would put the muscles “back to zero” and you won’t be able to properly do your program.

With the above mentioned, you can take up to (or in some cases, more than) an hour to complete one workout session and for most people this is simply out of their schedule. This is where popular “short but sweet” programs come in like HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training which aims to produce the most amount of work in the least amount of time. Another modern approach to this type of workout is termed the Minimum Effective Dose, coined by Tim Ferriss in his book “The 4-hour body”.

What is Minimum Effective Dose or MED? By definition, Minimum Effective Dose is simply the smallest amount of workout you can perform to obtain a desired maximal output. Also, because you already get the preferred results in the least amount of effort, anything in excess is considered a waste. A popular analogy to this type of workout program is the boiling of water. By itself, water boils at 100OC and does not boil more if you leave it any longer. You would be able to save more money and time if you simply stop the continuous heating of the water once it boils and you’ll have plenty of time to something much more productive.

The science behind MED


The MED method is claimed to be much more efficient on time and resources since you will only need to trigger certain actions to initiate your body’s fat burning capabilities. This is quite useful for not only people looking to lose fat or weight but also for athletes who may aspire to get leaner without adding more volume to their workouts.

It could be any type of workout so long as you can do it for eighty seconds but preferably a workout that stimulates the whole body like kettlebell swings.

Tim Ferriss claims that eighty seconds is the target number when it comes to MED workouts. Ferriss says the eighty-second rule helps push the extra calories into the muscle instead of it being stored as excess fat. This seems to be very ideal and simple but timing is quite crucial for MED to work on you. As Ferriss stated, blood sugar levels were at their peak about one hour and a half after eating. Timing it right, your body should be able to burn fat at a more efficient way. Ideally, one way to further exploit this program’s effectiveness is to perform a set of exercises for eighty seconds before eating. Ninety minutes after you eat, you can then do another set of exercises. It could be any type of workout so long as you can do it for eighty seconds but preferably a workout that stimulates the whole body like kettlebell swings.

If you do this right, you should be able to see results which directly translate to the weighing scale. You should be able to see significant results in terms of weight loss if you maintain your current diet and workout routine.

Why MED doesn’t always work

As much as MED is good at losing excess fat, MED may hinder your performance when it comes to lifting. The effect of MED is more on the quick HIIT sessions but what happens if you attempt to go longer than your prescribed workout program schedule? This may be the biggest fault of the MED program. Having your body trained to perform efficiently for a short period of time limits your ability to endure tasks that require optimum strength at longer periods of time.

Volume training

This is particularly troublesome for the athlete that wants to keep going at a certain workout routine for a longer time. As mentioned above, MED does not advocate increase in volume since it aims to perform in the least amount of time. The body is then conditioned work for only such short periods that it begins to fail once a test for endurance is presented against it. Simply put, a person who does MED on a regular basis will not have the same endurance as a regular weight lifter. The person who does MED will tire out faster and will have trouble keeping up with other athletes who are used to prolonged bouts of exercise. Some may even claim that common athletes are just warming up with a MED athlete’s max.

Regularly practicing MED may have a detrimental effect to a person’s strength levels during stressful events such as dehydration, fatigue, and even jet lag. A MED person would simply tire out faster given that their sessions weren’t meant to withstand those kinds of stress levels. A MED person’s strength will not suffer at first but their overall fitness will. This flaw will show up when overall fitness is tested in activities like running, climbing, and any other forms of endurance training.

The person who does MED will tire out faster and will have trouble keeping up with other athletes who are used to prolonged bouts of exercise.

As with performing MED training, it has its own place in the fitness world and offers a best bang for your buck type of benefit to overall weight loss training. But you must have an extra time for building the proper foundations of your body’s overall endurance and this can only be achieved with volume training.

Volume training enhances not only strength but also your body’s resistance to fatigue and overall stress levels. Volume training also produces a tough foundation to prepare you for an increase in intensity. This also develops your muscles’ ability to maintain solid form despite repeated heavy and taxing workouts. Much like how traditional training requires you to repeat a certain movement at a relatively comfortable weight before increasing the weight levels by small increments.

This will also help you cope with loads of stress during your progress towards enhancing strength levels. People who skip volume to head straight for intensity have weaker bases thus weaker and slower progress than those who take their time with lifting for volume. Adding endurance workouts in between your hard lifting sessions will definitely help you achieve a stronger body overall. The measure of strength is not when you do something great for a short period of time but about how long you can maintain a certain level of strength even if such an activity is prolonged unexpectedly.

MED and Kettlebell Swings

Pavel Swing

For those willing to practice Minimum Effective Dose, one of the best ways is to perform it via kettlebell swings. MED training requires a minimalist approach. With that said there are tons of minimalist workouts that you can do for a set period of time. Out of all those workouts, however, it is the kettlebell swing that produces the best results in the shortest span of time.

Being relatively simple to do, with proper form of course, and requiring a very ergonomically sized tool, the kettlebell swing can deliver the best bang for your back simply because it gives so much while requiring so little. On top of that, the kettlebell swing is also a very low-impact type of exercise which you can repeat for volume. Furthermore, Tim Ferriss himself states that the two-handed kettlebell swing is one of the smallest things we can do to help us shed the excess fat and get into perfect shape.

One recommendation by Ferriss is to do 75 two-hand swings one hour after a protein-rich meal twice a week. Preferably done after breakfast, this will definitely push the nutrients to your muscles than have them stored as fat.


A kettlebell is one of the most versatile workout tools you can use to boost strength and destroy fat. There are many ways to train with a kettlebell and as with every one, exercising caution and practicing proper technique should be your first priority.

Robert James
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