The kettlebell mile challenge is simple, but not easy. I first came across it via StrongFirst, the school of strength founded by Pavel Tsatsouline. The actual author of the challenge is Mike Prevost, who I relied on a lot for my earlier articles on rucking.
I had really wanted to get Mike on the podcast early on, but a combination of my own burnout and Mike’s busy schedule just never worked out. So, Mike, if you find this…sorry about that!
He published this article at StrongFirst on May 27, 2021- but that wasn’t the first time he brought it up. I found posts from Mike on the topic in the StrongFirst forum as well as DaveDraper.com going back to 2019.
The challenge is simple enough. Carry a kettlebell in one hand, suitcase style, while you cover one mile on foot. The challenge weight for men is 24kg (~53 lbs) and 16kg (~35 lbs) for women.
Background on the Challenge
Mike Prevost has a career-long interest in the mechanics of loaded movement. It started with his observations during his time at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, where he observed that the best runners were often terrible at the rucks, while the large guys who were not good at running often led the rucks.
His research eventually showed the strength is a better indicator of ruck performance than cardiovascular endurance under heavy loads. As loads became lighter, cardio endurance became more important. He long theorized that there should be some middle “tipping point” where strength and aerobic capacity were equally challenged.
While working with runners as an exercise physiologist at the US Naval Academy, Mike came across an interesting way to strengthen hip muscles. He observed that poor running gait often connected with poor hip stability, so the task was improving that stability.
Hip Stability and Asymmetric Load
After a few different experiments, including loaded rucks, Mike eventually tried a suitcase carry position with one hand. The asymmetric load on one side of the body required more muscular effort on the trunk to compensate for it. This naturally strengthened the hip stabilizers and began correcting gaits.
While farmer’s carries and similar exercises are not new, they are typically done over short distances. By extending the required distance to a mile, it dramatically increases the strength and endurance component. At the same time, it is safer than running with a ruck because the runner can drop the weight at any time to prevent injury.
Completing the Challenge
First off, this challenge is not easy. If you are not accustomed to one-sided loaded carries, then you should work up to doing the challenge weight. At lighter loads, it is much more of an aerobic exercise than strength. As the weight builds, you will feel much more challenged in your core, back, and grip.
To participate in the challenge, you need a kettlebell (or equivalent) of the appropriate weight.
- Men shall use a 24 kg kettlebell (~53 lbs)
- Women shall use a 16 kg kettlebell (~35 lbs)
You will need a course one mile long. I suggest something relatively flat, such as a local track. You may do this on a treadmill, but must use a 1% incline to simulate walking outside.
Level 1 requires completing the mile in 16 minutes or less
Level 2 requires completing the mile in 12 minutes or less
Level 3 requires completing the mile in 10 minutes or less
While moving, the weight must carried in one hand. Switching hands while moving is allowed, but you should not “linger” any longer than it takes to make the switch. You may stop, rest, or take breaks as often as needed. However, the clock does not stop until you cross the 1 mile mark.
That’s it. Good luck, have fun!
Do you have to carry the KB suitcase fashion, or can you also carry it in the front rack (clean) position?
Hi Ryan, thanks for commenting. The intent of this one is to definitely carry suitcase fashion off to the side.
Due to prior lifting injuries over the years I carry two kettlebells when walking, although not near a mile! Starting light, will this help the possible imbalance in my back strength?
I currently carry 50# kettlebells 1/4 mile, and sometimes push further, though not much further.
Hi Austin, that’s a great question and one I’m not quite qualified to answer for you. It’s a better fit for an exercise physiologist like Mike Prevost (who I borrowed this challenge from).
How many times a week should something like this be done?
Hi Mario, I think the answer to that greatly depends on your current fitness level and goals. For me and my goals, this would probably be no more than a once per week event mixed in with my other exercise activities.
I do something similar. I carry a 45# bell for 3 miles and do 10 sets of 10 presses during the walk. Then walk 2 miles without the weight. 5 days a week. I walk slow with the weight and have a hard time walking fast at all. Been doing this for about 5 years. Took that long to work up to the 45#. Would like to mix in some running/jogging, but knees won’t corporate.
Just started working this into my program, wanting to hit the levels with a 16 before moving up to the 24.
First time through – 16kg and 13:04, lot of work to do
A similar test was suggested by Bill Mauldin in his book “Up front” from 1947. Only it wasn’t supposed to be one mile, but it was supposed to rain, there was supposed to be mud, and you were supposed to lie down in the mud every now and then to know how the soldier felt.