When the killer kettlebell gets results and high performance
After reading a couple of Pavel Tsatsoulins books I was able to simplify my warm up routine considerably while still pushing myself forward towards my strength goals. This article is a write up of my impressions on the kettlebell and its uses and I always encourage you to read far and wide and try for yourself what works best for you. In this article, I will discuss kettlebells for beginners, advanced users, mobility and back and mobility issues.
A kettlebell is an underutilized tool in many commercial Gyms. I have trained in Dublin, London, Berlin and Stuttgart for a considerable amount of time. Whenever I come into a commercial gym the kettlebells are there and sporadically used by some, but not as much as I would use them, if I was running the place.
Commercial gyms are characterized by low monthly fares, big floor space and lack of focus on their clientele. The business model is supported by the sheer of a number of people they want to appeal to and sign up and not necessarily by a dedicated focus to get each one of them results. I personally think that is why kettlebell is not used that much in commercial gyms.
As with all free weights, there is a higher risk of injury attached for beginners who want to use kettlebells than with machines. The good news is that modern kettlebells come in many weight classes from 2kg up to above a 100kg since their surge in popularity in the United States. Pavel Tsatsoulin majorly contributed to this increase in interest with his book "Power to the People".
As there is more instructional content available around kettlebells nowadays and the widespread availability of the equipment they have become a viable option for beginners who want to start strength training. If you want results for endurance and strength at the same time while using functional movement the kettlebell is a tough one to beat. I have not used better and I have tried a lot. Read simple and sinister from Pavel if you want to start.
First and furthermost I do not believe that kettlebells are ideal for rehabilitation purposes after severe injury. Mobility issues which result from a sports injury, car accident or disability should always be treated and rehabilitated under the professional supervision of a doctor and physiotherapist. Otherwise, you might be doing more harm than good.
Where kettlebells were and are very useful for me and others is mobility issues in the hip and lower back. Overhead squats, Cossack squats and paused squats while holding one or two kettlebells do wonders for your hip mobility. Staying in the lowest position while holding a fairly light kettlebell and wiggling around opens you up for any heavy lifting you might want to do during your session. I personally swing with a 24kg kettlebell and do these mobility exercises with a 10kg enumeration.
The kettlebell provides a great warm up for advanced lifters, strength athletes, and fighters to their main session. The simple and sinister regimen only takes 15 minutes to complete with a weight which has been mastered. When performed correctly you will activate the muscles you will need in the cage or on the platform without exhausting yourself.
I have not found another tool yet which provides this effect with less effort and machines involved. If you want to know more about the Simple and Sinister program please read my corresponding review.
There is also a 10.000 kettlebell challenge on T Nation which I have not completed myself and still get good results with a lot lower volume. Usually, more volume gets better results as long as it does not expose you too much risk of injury. If you want to do the 10.000 swing challenge built gradually up to it. Avoid starting with an extreme program with a movement you have not m mastered yet.
If you experience issues with your grip as a firefighter, mountain climber, powerlifter, weightlifter or another individual who has to rely on it the kettlebell swing will provide results for you. When I was stuck on captains of crush gripper 1.5 I got better results after I implemented kettlebell swings as my warm-up.
A month into the regime I progressed to a number two gripper after being stuck for half a year on the 1.5 grippers. This also helped my deadlift to progress.
The Turkish get up is an exercise which will help you to strengthen your shoulders for the bench press, overhead press, snatch and jerk. Again used as a moderate warm up before your main session you can practice to get your shoulders packed and tight. This will help you to keep overhead weights in control and your shoulder protected by minimizing the risk of sideways movement.
In addition, kettlebells can be used for more natural movement patterns when recovering from bench press injuries and with lower weights than the barbell.
Lower back issues
If performed incorrectly the kettlebell swing can lead to lower back issues. Now before you go crazy any exercise can lead to injury if performed incorrectly. Making instant coffee in your kitchen can boil you if you don't pay attention. When you perform the kettlebell swing correctly you will strengthen your lower back for challenging movements like the barbell squat or the deadlift.
As you can easily train imbalances into yourself especially around this area, the kettlebell swing has become my go to the movement to address this part of the body.
To perform the swing with the least amount of stress on your lower back it is advised to avoid to overextend your back at the top of the movement. You want to be as straight as an arrow and as hard as a board at the highest point of the swing. If you lean backward this is a sign of bad form in which you incorporated the arms too much to get the kettlebell out of the hole.
In the other direction, it is important to note that the swing is a hinge, not a squat. Avoid to squat down deep or "throw" the kettlebell behind you. Imagine you have two buttons right over your hip. Once your arms touch these on the way down you initiate the hip hinge to blast the kettlebell up again. Once your arms lose contact with you hips you only use the momentum you already have created and got as straight and hard as possible. No further pulling or yanking on the kettlebell until it comes back down again.
For more detailed instructions see Pavel's books or attend one of the strongfirst seminars close to you. This video might also help:
Issues with explosiveness
Some individuals have issues with explosiveness on their vertical jump or lifts. The kettlebell swing is a great utility in your repertoire to attack this, without exposing you to the risk of very heavy weights. The swing is ballistic in its nature and therefore well suited to get rid of these issues. Since I am swinging more, my vertical jump has also gone up. The injury risk on 100 swings is a lot lower than on 100 box jumps to achieve a similar result.
Kettlebells also help with a weak core without having to do crunches. I don't know about you, but I do not enjoy sit ups and crunches. I rather bang out some Turkish get ups and swings to achieve the same goal. which works.
For all of the mentioned the kettlebell will get results if it is not used yet. As with all new regimen expect to see meaningful changes in performance after 6 - 8 weeks of regularly performing the exercises. Any results before that can usually be attributed to neurological adaptations. The less experienced you are, the more likely you will see results quicker. The longer you are in the game the m ore you have to gravitate towards the more extreme and heavier ways of using kettlebells to see benefits. For guidance, I pull 190kg on the deadlift, squat 175kg, and bench press 150kg at the time of writing this post. With these stats, I comfortably use a 24kg kettlebell for single arm swings and Turkish get ups and have just recently progressed to a 32kg kettlebell for double arm swings.
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