The Nature of Kettlebells
By its nature, the kettlebell may very well be the most versatile strength tool in existence. A single kettlebell can provide you with a platform to improve all aspects of fitness. Strength, power, cardiovascular output/endurance, mobility/stability, and flexibility can all benefit from the implementation of kettlebells into a training regimen. What is more, is that the nature of its most basic movement, the swing, translates into more real world applications than its traditional weight room counterparts. For example, honing your skills on the bench press will make you a better bench-presser. Sure, it will increase strength through your chest, shoulders, and triceps, but I would be hard pressed to believe that anyone will encounter a real world application that so closely mimics its movement. That is not to say that traditional weight room lifts do not have their place; they most certainly do. I am simply driving home the point, that if you scrutinize the sustainability of your program (time, energy, resources required, and gain), then implementing a kettlebell regimen into your training is a more superior methodology than not. Does the kettlebell offer all of the versatility a weigthroom has to build the mirror muscles? No, however it will certainly enhance your ability to do so.
The following routine is built on three movements: figure 8’s, windmills, and getups. All three movements are intended to enhance the foundation of any program. More specifically, they will increase strength, flexibility, and endurance of the core and pressing stabilization muscles.
Elements of the Routine
Figure Eight to a Hold is the first element of the routine. It is considered a ballistic movement (“…one moment of acceleration, then coasting-like a bullet”) that hones power. It targets the quadriceps, hips, glutes, lower back, obliques, and grip strength. Maintain a neutral spine throughout the entire movement. Plant your your heels hip-width apart and toes slightly pointed out. Start by holding the kettle bell by the handle in your right hand. Carefully swing the kettlebell up and across your torso so the bottom is resting in your left hand in front of your left shoulder. Nudge the kettlebell forward and allow it to swing down in front of you between your legs while simultaneously bending at the hips and knees. As your right hand swings through your legs, reach back around your left leg with your left hand and grab the handle. Exhale as you simultaneously pull back with your shoulders, straighten your knees, and pop your hips. This will give you the power to swing the kettlebell up and across your torso. Keep in mind that the power of this movement is derived from the hips; this is not a biceps workout.
The Windmill is the second element of the routine. It is considered a grind (“constantly being pushed along, no matter how fast or slow it moves-like a missile”). The windmill targets hamstrings, glutes, lower back, obliques, and all shoulder stabilizers. To start, plant your feet in a wide stance approximately double the width of your hips. Foot position can range from a forward neutral position to a slightly more angular stance where your toes point in the direction that your non-weight bearing hand. Press the weight overhead, lock your elbow, and fix your gaze on the kettlebell. Your descent is activated by folding at the hips. Making sure to keep your knees straight, force your hips out and back as you slide your hand down your leg towards the ground. Exhaling and driving your hips forward straightens the body and completes the movement.
The third and final element of the routine is the Getup. The getup is a grind and is considered the “father” of all kettlebell pressing movements. It challenges flexibility and core strength in addition to all pressing stabilization muscles. Getups are simply an essential tool in building a foundation of strength. There are two options in regards to the starting position of the getup; either from the supine position (face up on the floor) or from the standing position. Both have merit in that you will complete an accent and decent with the kettlebell, however there is an issue and training philosophy to consider. If you start in the supine position, then you have to grab the kettlebell from the floor and hoist it into starting position while laying on your back. From the standing position, you simply start from the extended arm press position. Some believe hoisting the weight from the supine position is an essential part of the workout and that starting from the standing position lessens the overall workload. In my personal training regimen, I employ both methods; in this workout, we start from the standing position.
To start, press the weight in your right hand above your head and lock out your elbow. Keep your gaze fixed on the kettlebell throughout the entire movement. Lunge back onto your left knee. Maintain a vertical alignment with your right arm as you lean left and support your weight with your left hand on the ground. Exhale, lift your left knee off the ground by pressing down with your left hand, and kick your left foot forward. Bend your left elbow and lower your body till your left forearm is supporting your weight on the ground. Slowly lower your left shoulder to the mat so you are in the supine position.
Start your ascent by exhaling and driving off your right foot onto your left elbow. Exhale and drive up from your elbow to your hand. Raise your body by pressing your left hand into the ground and retract your left leg back into the lunge position. Straighten your torso. Exhale and drive upwards into the standing position.
The getup is challenging in that it may be one the most complex movement patterns in kettlebell training. Here are a few “key words” to help with execution from the standing position:
- Elbow locked & Gaze up
- Lunge to Knee
- Lean to Hand
- Kick-thru to seat
- Lower to Back
- Drive off right foot to left Elbow
- Drive from elbow to Hand
- Kick-back to Lunge
- Straighten Torso
- Drive up
Though there are countless schemes of sets and reps the three movements can be built around, I have found that simple ladder sets a are quick, simple, and effective technique. Ladder sets simply build up in repetitions as reps as the sets go on. Below are four variations that include ascending, descending, ascending to descending, and descending to ascending. The routines get more challenging as you go down the list; start at the top and build on your successes.
The following video is a quick compilation of what you have seen here plus the execution of one full set to give an example of the pace and flow between movements. Give it your best and get in touch should you want more information or real time help with questions or technique. Until next time, be well!
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