Many of you may have jumped to one of three mindsets here reading this simple title.
- “Oh God really. Kettlebells… Oh Lord give me strength. Put down your fancy props and get back to the barbells dude. No one ever got stronger with a kids play thing.”
- “YEAH KETTLE BELLS!”
- Kettle what??
Luckily for all of you this post is going to make you stronger. I want to discuss not only why I use and programme kettlebells for my clients and for my own training but also to run through a different style of workout with the kettlebell some of you may not have though of before.
So lets start of small for those of you sitting at home with the expression of Elmer Fudd as he tries to comprehend Bug’s latest scheme or ploy. “Kettle what?”
The Kettlebell is an old method of training dating back to Greece and much more recently made popular and effective by the Russian Military. It can be broken down into 3 components, the Bell, the large weight suspended at the bottom, usually with the weight of the kettlebell on it in pounds or kilos. The Horns, the vertical grips ascending from the top of the bell, and the handle the horizontal grip connecting the horns together. They can come in a variety of weights and some even have artistic faces of tigers, or gorillas engraved or molded as the weight.
In terms of training you can do almost anything you want with kettlebells, from your conventional and obvious bicep curls, squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses and so on. Or you can take the more functional route and do some more kettlebell specific movements such as the kettlebell swing, Turkish get up and the Olympic lifts like a kettlebell snatch or clean. What I am going to discuss here is quite simply how I include them for three different fitness goals and give you a quick example of each.
I have used kettlebells to great effect to build strength an speed with some of my clients and athletes, and it all comes down to just that, developing the technical ability to move the heavy weight (strength) at speed repeatedly over a predefined length of time. My most common go to in this instance i
s the kettlebell swing as it transfers into lots of sports and many of the major Power Lifting and Olympic Lifting exercises. It is simple enough to explain. You stand feet shoulder width apart and take the kettle bell with a double overhand grip, from here bend at the hips with a tiny hinge at the knee, pushing your butt back and knees slightly apart, (think Romanian deadlift). from here push your hips forwards and swing the bell with your body up to chest height, maintaining a nice neutral spine and light core tension, breathing out as you being the swing, letting it fall in a controlled fashion back between your legs to reload the swing for the next rep. Keep it flowing and in a rhythm, don’t try to rush it, just get into the groove.
Typically I start the athlete of with a simple chest height kettlebell swing on a time period, no rep counts just 30 seconds on 30 seconds off, and repeat for 4-5 minutes. And as they progress I either add more weight or increase the work time to maybe 45 seconds or 60 seconds of repetitive swinging with the same 30 seconds rest between each round. Building up a mix of strength, speed and muscular endurance.
2. Core Stability
Again kettlebells play nicely into a lot of core workouts as they require a lot of core muscle activation from the glutes and hip flexors into the abdominals, obleaks and erector spinae. My focus here is on anti movement exercises although I have also used unilateral weighted crunches or the Russian twist exercises as variations. My go to exercises are the Turkish get up, or the farmers walk.
The farmers walk is all about stability in the core. You pick up a weight on one side of the body, carry it a certain length, (normally I use about 30 yards). Put it down, switch hands and reverse the movement, walking the 30 yards or so back to the starting point. The aim here is to go heavy, pick a 24kg+ weight and try to keep your core and spine straight and strong as you carry the weight. You can use dumbbells as well or this but I find the kettle bells grip to be superior in allowing the athlete to focus on the exercise and not the dumbbell bouncing of their thighs. Plus it can also benefit grip strength, holding this heavy ass weight in one hand for prolonged periods of time.
3. Mobility and flow
This is one where the focus switches to a mix of the previous two aims, coupled now with a third aim which is to promote movement at the joints we want to be more mobile, primarily the hips, shoulders, ankles and so on. I take a few approaches here. The turkish get up is a simple test and can be a very effective tool in helping clients move well and keep good control and focus on how they position themselves in different postures. However I find here that a more flowing approach seems to get the mind and body working well together.
Here is the circuit I use:
You begin on the floor with the kettlebell out in front of you, the handle perpendicular to your face. In a press up position you begin with 30 taps of the kettle bell (15 each hand) trying to remain in this plank position and balancing at times with only 2 feet and one hand on the floor. Once this is completed you stand and deadlift the kettlebell and perform 15 kettlebell swings, before standing tall and adding in 15 upright rows with the kettlebell, always thinking about posture and breathing throughout.
After this it gets more fun we do 8 kettlebell cleans with each hand, before cupping the kettlebell to our chest with it inverted so we can cup the top of the bell between our palms in a front rack position and do 15 front squats before finishing with a further 15 kettlebell swings to chest height and then deadlifting the kettlebell back to the floor.
The aim here isn’t so much about the weight we use because there is a lot of reps and a lot of focus on the shoulders, hips and lower back so I tend to go for a lighter 8-16kg kettlebell and use this in a de-loaded workout or as a warm up.
Try mixing some of these workouts into your own training programmes as either accessory lifts or warm ups and see what you make of them. I have always found that the kettlebell gives me an added focus on the hip movement and postural requirements of many big lifts such as squats, deadlifts and so on. Hopefully you find the same results and add some more kilos and speed to your own training.