I like kettlebells.
I make a living teaching people to train with kettlebells.
I help people increase strength, power and athleticism by using kettlebells.
I’ve been doing this since 2008, a few years after I’d discovered the benefits of training with them myself.
So here’s a few observations of what proper kettlebell technique can do for people who implement then into their training.
- Low back strength.
Actually, to be more accurate, it’s endurance not strength that we’re talking here.
The low back muscles are part of what Janda called the Phasic or anti gravity muscles (LINK) which are prone to weakness. The majority of kettlebell movements are born out of a swinging, pendulum like action which directly targets these phasic muscles stimulating them to remain strong and more importantly, enduring.
When it comes to back health, you can;t do much better than a daily dose of 1 handed swings.
- Dialing in the hip hinge.
The hip is the primary hinge of the body, the pelvis is and anchor point for a massive amount of musculature,
many of which are the big players in power development.
So many people I’ve worked with over the years have lost the ability to hinge properly through the hip, instead they bend and flex through the spine. Needless to say, they are often injured and struggle to put out any meaning levels of force.
A few weeks of practicing the kettlebell swing pretty soon has them moving and feeling a lot better.
Once the hip hinge is reestablished, the glutes can work better, the hamstrings become more tolerant and nearly every other movement pattern gets cleaner as a result.
- Forgiving for the shoulder.
I can’t press a barbell overhead or do hand stand push ups with any frequency. To do so will leave me unable to lift my right arm.
Yes, I have banged up shoulders, and I’ll bet you do to.
But the overhead press is a key movement in a strength and conditioning program. It’s good for the rotator cuff, it strengthens the core and it’s just damn cool to hoist heavy metal over your head.
The shape of the kettle lends a helping hand here. With it sitting low on the back of the forearm, you can rack the bell on the chest with the elbows tucked in. As you press them, the arms move independently in an unrestricted path to lockout.
The whole lift allows a far more natural motion from the shoulder and therefore isn’t as stressful as it’s barbell counter parts. So even me, with my bum shoulder can press with frequency when using the kettle.
- It’s great for teaching the Squat Pattern.
I like training using a movement pattern format. I’ve spoken about this many times, and even in this post I’ve covered the hip hinge and vertical press, so we may as well look at the knee bend or squat pattern.
Holding a kettle tight to the chest and then performing a squat is a self teaching lesson in movement. Lean too far forwards and you’ll drop the bell, fail to sit back and you’ll overbalance forwards.
Dan John christened this the Goblet Squat and he knows what he’s on about. In this previous post I talk about the squat progressions and regressions I like to use, and how the barbell sits at the highest point of the hierarchy.
- They sit in a unique position on the strength curve.
Kettles are light. Even the heavy ones.
Think about it for a moment.
A 40kg kettlebell is a monster, it’s pain in the arse to do anything much with, yet if you think about it, it’s the same weight as a barbell with two tens on.
Now a barbell loaded with a pair of tens, well who’s going to take that seriously?
But a 40kg kettle? that’s vicious.
It’s the way we lift kettles that makes them hurt so bad with so little weight. It’s that repetitive ballistic loading that we endure on every rep of a swing, a clean or a snatch.
The faster the bell moves, the heavier it feels at the turn around point behind the body. Get a measuring tape, a calculator, a stopwatch and a physics student and I’m sure you can figure out exactly how much extra force that 40kg bell is exerting as you halt it’s backswing with your hammies and back before asking those muscles to fire even harder to swing it forwards again!
To keep a long story short, the classical kettlebell lifts are about as close to plyometric as you can get without actually jumping up and down.
While we’re on the subject of weight, kettles that weigh less than 8kg aint kettles. They’re paperweights. Stop waving them around.
- The swing is a horizontal movement
How many exercises can you think of that train the hip extension with an emphasis on horizontal force
production that you can do standing up?
Most lifts are vertical in nature. Deadlifts, Power Cleans. Both vertical.
Pull Throughs, ok, horizontal, but a cable stack costs a shit load more than a kettle.
Hip thrusts, fantastic, but you are lying down. Although, I dare you to try super setting heavy barbell hip thrusts for 4-6 reps with heavy swings for 8-12 reps. Go back and forth between the two with 1 minute breaks between drills for at least three sets. Good luck on the walk home!
Back to the point of the point.
How many sporting actions require horizontal force production from a standing position?
Sprinting, kicking, punching………….
- Strength – Power – Endurance
This is the true function of the kettle. Ever seen kettlebell sport? I bet you’ve heard of Pavel’s Secret Service Snatch Test (SSST).
You see that SSST, it pales in comparison to Kettlebell Sport, but both are rough. You need to be strong enough to lift the bell, powerful enough to do it quickly and enduring to do it lots of time. Do you think that’ll help your athletic performance? Hell yes.
- Injury proofing
Pretty much all of the above adds up to creating a body that is very hard to kill.
I have rugby players, GAA players, triathletes, BJJ players, Thai Boxers and athletes from just about every other sport where getting hurt is part of the game. They have all reported massive improvements in toughness from adding the kettle lifts to their training program. Simply adding swings to a lower body session and switching your pressing to kettlebells will do wonders for your longevity.
And I’m still learning.
You want to learn more come to the
Kettlebell Lifting Levels 1 & 2 workshop
September 8th, 1000 – 1600
At Wild Geese Fitness, Dublin 2
and if you are a coach, this is for you:
Kettlebell Instructor Training Certification:
October 5th & 6th, 0900 – 1700 both days.