[Article originally posted at www.hemsworthstrength.com]
Kettlebells, and more importantly, the kettlebell style of lifting is one of the most effective overall training styles you will find. What makes the kettlebell such an effective tool is the versatility of improving strength, power, cardiovascular fitness, and joint stability/mobility. Expensive multi-station machines cannot even begin to compete with this space-saving, versatile training tool. Whether you want to workout at the park, the beach, at the gym, or in your basement, the kettlebell can be taken anywhere.
The first time I saw kettlebells, I felt the same way I did when I first saw those fat-melting vibrating belts: skeptical. At first glance, kettlebells appear to be a modified dumbbell at best. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kettlebell lifting is an art; a style of lifting that uses the unique shape of the bell to optimally groove the patterns and slings of the body. They are not meant for bicep curling or chest pressing, but rather technically sound, fully integrated movements. You see, kettlebell lifting is an endurance sport; it is about how long you can go for.
Hip Hinging and Activation for Strength & Power
The first time I was trained with kettlebells, my hamstrings and glutes were screaming at me for the next four days. It was truly one of the most well-rounded workouts I had ever been through. At the forefront of kettlebell lifting is the art of hip-hinging. This technique teaches you to use your glutes and core to preserve and protect your spine. For those of you who have trouble with the deadlift, the kettlebell swing, is a great way to learn how to create a hip hinge with proper gluteal activation. This hinge is the cornerstone of a strong and powerful deadlift.
During that first kettlebell lesson, I quickly realized how metabolically taxing this style of lifting is. For those of you who are looking to lose weight, I assure you that you very few modes of exercise will keep a sustained elevated heart rate the way kettlebell training does. And, the more muscles that are used during an exercise, the more calories will ultimately be burned. Kettlebell training uses all major muscle groups. Furthermore, interval training (alternating running hard and easy as an example), has been proven more effective in improving VO2max, anaerobic threshold, and excess post-oxidative consumption (EPOC) than slow, steady, long runs. Kettlebell lifting, for time, will lead to the same cardiovascular adaptations. You will be challenged through intervals using full body movements, while encouraging joint-sparing technique.
Stability & Mobility
Another aspect of kettlebell training that is hard to beat with other training modes is core stability. During the kettlebell swing for example, the muscles surrounding your spine need to act as a brake by bracing at the apex of the lift so that you do not go into excessive lordosis, or create a huge arch in your lower back. Because of this, it grooves a fantastic sequence of driving with your gluteals and braking with the core. Other lifts such as the Turkish Get-up require maximal stability to perform the lift properly and safely. The stability doesn’t stop at the core, however. Because of the off-set center of gravity of the weight, the bell allows the shoulder to find its own path for optimal force – or joint – closure. When performing an overhead push-press, the shoulder doesn’t have to grind through the movement, thus a safer alternative to barbells or dumbbells, especially for those with shoulder problems. Keeping with the shoulder, poor thoracic spine mobility limits many people in the amount of shoulder mobility or strength work that they can do. Both the kettlebell itself and kettlebell lifting techniques cater very well to these issues by allowing the chest to open up while keeping the shoulder “packed” into the socket.
I was privileged to sit down with RKC Level 2 & AKC certified coach Jim Talo to ask him a few questions regarding kettlebells.
Paul: Jim, to some people, kettlebell lifting may look unsafe. What can you say about this?
Jim: Often perspective limits how we accept or approach situations. Awareness of our capabilities for a given activity is much more important in my mind. An example of unsafe could be overweight, de-conditioned men playing golf or de-conditioned teenagers snowboarding. Without awareness and due respect, squatting in a power rack is unsafe. With a new tool, it is best to follow the instructions and use it in a manner for that which it is most beneficial. As with anything, become technically sound first.
Paul: Do you recommend getting a DVD and learning that way?
Jim: In my experience with new kettlebell lifters, DVDs' are a great resource as a reference along with some hands-on instruction with a coach. Most people need some adjustments to rediscover their primal movement patterns in order to move with the kettlebell. Most of the time, people try to lift (muscle) the kettlebell rather than initiate hip drive to push and swing the bell.
Paul: If you were to recommend three exercises for beginners to learn and get familiar with, what would they be?
Jim: The swing movement teaches one to initiate hip drive, the clean movement for transitioning into front squat, push press and eventual overhead lifting, and the turkish get-up. The get-up is not necessarily a kettlebell specific lift, however it is fantastic for promoting shoulder mobility and rotator cuff stability for overhead lifting that is prevalent in kettlebell work.
Paul: What are some common mistakes that people present with when lifting kettlebells?
Jim: The most common mistake is the kettlebell being lifted (muscled) like a dumbbell, rather than being projected by the hips. Another equally common issue is the need to teach people to move and hinge at the hips rather than at the waist. The advantage of kettlebells is that they tend to move in arcs, allowing the body to adjust mid-movement as needed. Barbells and dumbbells tend to be moved through linear paths close to the body. Kettlebells move through arcs and spirals allowing joints to find a 'groove' for particular movements.
Paul: How many times a week do you recommend lifting kettlebells and how would you supplement them into you regular training regime?
Jim: Kettlebell lifting methodology allows one to be very creative and may be attuned to one's goals. Kettlebells may be used to directly affect the posterior chain of the body and to address imbalances of shoulder strength, or they may be used as a cornerstone of a strength and conditioning program. The methodology would be in the prescription determined by one's goals. Many experienced and avid kettlebell lifters train 5 to 6 days a week.
Paul: Could you describe a quick kettlebell workout if crunched for time?
Jim: For someone just starting kettlebell work: kettlebell swings - 1 minute each hand; clean and push press - 5-10 reps per side; clean and front squat - 5-10 reps per side...rinse and repeat. If I had only 15 minutes: kettlebell snatches, double bell clean and jerks with some double front squats sprinkled in.
Human Motion is hosting several KB workshops with Jim Talo - register through the Human Motion website at www.humanmotion.com.