Kettlebells! Cumbersome. Awkward. Brilliant!
Getting Familiar With Kettlebells
Do you know your pood from your goblet squat? Or your swing from your get ups? If not, this is the article for you! For many, kettlebells are a relatively new piece of gym equipment. You may have even seen a few knocking around the gym floor, wedging doors open! Kettlebells have been around for decades, centuries in fact. And they are one of the ultimate weapons in your battle to get lean, strong and functionally fit.
In this article i am going to introduce to the #SacredSix, 6 exercises that when mastered, will arm you with serious ammunition in reaching your fitness goals. Like all exercises, leave your ego at the door when it comes to kettlebells. They are awkward and physically demanding and even if you are used to throwing around the big boy weights from the dumbbell rack, kettlebells will place a completely different challenge on your body. Nail the techniques and get a feel for how the kettlebells move before attempting to chuck up the higher weights.
Speaking of weights, kettlebells are not measured in your conventional kilograms or pounds (although many do come with this engraved or printed on them). The true measurment for k’bells is actually a pood and is the equivalent of around 16 kilograms (that’s roughly 35 lbs). Just in case you end up with a kettlebell that is measured only in pood’s keep this conversion in mind, as 2 pood is a whopping 32kg, a challenging weight by anyones standard.
One of the great things about kettlebells is the fact they are so unstable. This places a unique challenge on the body and makes kettlebells a great tool for srength and conditioning programmes, as well as a way to make any conventional dumbbell exercise a little more taxing.
3 important movements to master when it comes to kettlebells is the ‘hinge’, ‘squat’ and ‘press’.
Many of you will have performed these before with barbells and dumbbells, particularly if you have worked with me. However, all three of these become a new challenge when performed with a kettlebell. I would suggest you take your time in learning these 3 patterns before moving on to more complex movements such as the ‘Turkish get up’ and ‘snatch’. You would also benefit greatly from having your functionality and movement checked out before you start a kettlebell programme. All of my clients are subjected to Functional Movement Screens and Y-Balance Tests to identify if any restrictions are present before embarking on weighted functional movements. There’s no point reinforcing a movement pattern by placing it under load if it is not optimal for the flow of the body.
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First let’s take a look at the swing. This is the movement that will help develop the hip hinge and is arguably the best kettlebell exercise in terms of bang for your buck!
When teaching the kettlebell swing, I prefer the the Russian-style kettlebell swing over the self adopted ‘American Swing’ utilised by many in the Crossfit fraternity. This is where you project the kettlebell to shoulder height only. This is a very effective exercise when executed with proper form. Hip power, hip hinging, and breathing techniques make it incredibly powerful. This exercise has many benefits that combine strength, power, endurance, and work capacity. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this movement is easy. It is the foundation of so many other exercises with kettlebells, therefore it is worth getting right.
The swing provides the powerhouse that will propel all of the other dynamic kettlebell movements, whether that is the snatch or cleans.
The full-body power that is required during the swing results in extreme fat loss and high levels of conditioning, you will ache from muscles you didn’t even know you had!
Not doing the swing correctly can make many other movements vastly more difficult and also potentially dangerous, so ensure that you have it nailed before moving on to more complex movements. Ensure that you drive the hips upwards and forwards when swinging the kettlebell, swinging to approximately shoulder height, no higher.
THE GOBLET SQUAT
Squatting is a fundamental movement pattern with many variations. The kettlebell goblet squat isn’t just a leg exercise; it’s another total-body juggernaut that offers more mobility—the ability to move easily so you can
safely train with heavier loads—and improved conditioning, so again torching that bodyfat!
Ensure that you keep the core muscles nice and firm when performing this and frankly any other form of squat movement. By core muscles we’re not just referring to the abs here either. Glutes should also be squeezed when in the upright position. Drive the hips back and down, with the elbows brushing the inside of your knees. Make sure that the movement is nice and controlled, but explosive as your drive up to the upright position.
Performing these as part of a full kettlebell workout will not only work the legs, but the whole body, for a great conditioning workout that will burn fat for a period of time beyond the completion of your session.
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THE TURKISH GET-UP
The Turkish Get Up is an exercise loved by many and loathed by others. Simply because, it’s tough! Regardless of which camp you are in, it’s effectiveness is undeniable. If longevity is a testament to an exercises quality, the TGU has it in bucket loads. Like kettlebells themselves, it has been around for centuries and has so many carryover benefits, it would almost be sacrilige not to include in your kettlebell programme. Mastering a movement where you start from a position laid out on the floor like you’ve been hit by Holly Holm and moving to a upright standing one without any break in form or flow, means that everything from hip stability to shoulder stability is challenged. Add to this the fact you will be working in 2 two different leg patterns – lunge and as squat stance, and the importance of your spinal position, you can begin to see why it can be considered a quality full body exercise. The Turkish Get Up is an exercise I like to incorporate into clients mobility programmes after a succession of steps as it is great for shoulder activation.
As mentioned, The TGU starts without the actual kettlebell in hand and with you lay flat on the floor. If you’ve been hitting the previous exercises hard, this is not the time to take a nap!
Put the kettebell on your right hand side so it is in line with the bottom of your ribcage. The handle should be facing you, ready and waiting. You should be lying completely on your right hand side in an almost faetal position (save the crying for afterwards).
Place your right hand through the handle so that it rests on the palm of your hand, not in your fingers. The handle should be running straight across the palm of your hand, not diagonally as you see many do. This may seem like an insignificant point, but believe me you will thank me. Running the handle diagonally across your hand misses some of the important “triggers” in your hand that activate various muscles and will the exercise just that little bit harder. Making sure your right wrist stays straight, grasp over the top of it with your left hand and pull the bell to your stomach. Your right arm will be bent at ninety degrees. From here roll to your back and use both arms to press the bell to arm’s length. In this position both legs will be straight, spread out roughly shoulder width. Think about shooting a gun at a target and thats what you’ll look like. Yes, you can make the shooting sound effects if you wish…
Don’t take your eyes off the bell, this will keep your focused as well as keep your body aligned. Bend the right leg and place the opposite arm out at 45 degrees.
From here you will start to ‘Get Up’. Start to sit up with your weight on your elbow first and then your hand. Keep the kettlebell arm down and in its socket and the opposite shoulder away from the ear. This will add some stability and aid you to the seated position, otherwise the movement is almost a weighted abdominal sit-up and far more difficult (there’s plenty of time for those later…)
Push from the heel of the bent leg and drive your hips in the air. There should be a straight line from the kettlebell to the hand on the floor. Sweep the straight leg (in this case the left leg) back and through to a half kneeling position. Taking the hand off the floor straighten the body and take the eyes off the bell and look forwards. Drive from the front heel and stand up.
You’ve now completed your first TGU! Congratulations. Now steady yourself, take a deep breath and reverse the movement back down to the starting position. At this point you can curl back into the faetal position and cry, or you can man up and go again!
IN PART 2 WE WILL LOOK AT THE OTHER 3 MOVEMENTS THAT MAKE UP THE SCARED6, THE STRICT PRESS, THE CLEAN AND THE SNATCH!
If you attempt these next time you’re in the gym, get a picture of yourself. Better still, shoot a video and post it on the TBS Facebook page so we can all marvel at how awesome you are!