Russian Kettlebell training has certainly become mainstream in North America. Since I was certified as a Kettlebell Coach in 2007 the amount of health clubs, gyms, recreation facilities and studios that have added kettlebells to their arsenal of mass based tools has certainly exploded. I was one of the first certified coaches in Edmonton, Alberta Canada at the time of my certification and very few people had even seen the kettlebell (KB).
Since 2007 I have coached more than 30 half and full day workshops for coaches in North America. Most of these workshops focus on the fundamentals of the KB lifts. The first thing I focus on when coaching people is that the kettle bell exercises require a tremendous amount of skill and attention to detail. The kettle bell exercises require a lot of practice. If you follow these coaching cues you will be on your way to understanding how to perform and coach the KB lifts. An article will never replace the benefit of a coach. There are now many certified KB instructors in North America.
The purpose of this article is to introduce you to the skill of KB exercises and how to practice the fundamental exercises of KB lifting.
Mass- the measure of inertia on an object
What makes the Kettlebell different from other tools?
At first glance we see that the shape of the KB is vastly different from a dumbbell, medball, sandbell or barbell. What is truly unique about this tool is the distribution of mass relative to the handle. With the vast majority of the mass moved away from the handle as compared to the dumbbell (DB) it will present with some interesting challenges to the athlete or client that uses it.
Since the majority of the mass will be a further distance from the hand, the shoulder and the trunk, the amount of internal force the body must mitigate is greater. When the mass is further away from the fulcrum or pivot the velocity of the object will be greater. Since power is the product of force and velocity there will be an increase in power with the Kettlebell than with a DB.
While all of the movements you see here could be replicated with a DB, the use of the KB will change the amount of leverage the body must create to overcome or produce because of the distribution of the mass. It is for this reason that makes the KB a more challenging mass based tool than the DB.
For example, compare the KB swing versus the DB swing. If you have the exact same weight of the tool (20 pounds), the amount of force going through the body is going to be greater with the KB because of the increase in leverage (force input) and the velocity of the tool. This is the law of the lever, which was proven by Archimedes. The amount of force input will be more with a KB than with a DB with the same mass.
Who benefits from the use of the KB?
It is fair to say that the KB could be a progressive tool to the DB. Since the force input to the leverage of the body is greater we may use a DB first in developing these movement skills first. However if the client can move with good rhythm and timing and can load efficiently through the body they may have success learning with a KB. The added benefit for the client using the Kettlebell would be that in overcoming more force and power will inherently create more strength, power and possibly greater muscular and cardiovascular endurance. So if you are looking for a tool that will help you lose weight, gain muscle, strength and power, this is one of the tools that will definitely help you achieve it. I have also found it beneficial for the clients to learn new skills and to work towards accomplishing new tasks. There are so many advantages to learning these new KB skills that each session becomes another successful opportunity to build confidence and self-esteem.
It has been my experience that when working with new clients to the swings, cleans, snatches that I teach the movements first with a DB or SandBell before teaching with a KB for the reasons I mentioned above. Also the KB will be a more challenging tool to learn for such exercises as the Snatch, Clean and Jerk. And Turkish Get Up. The positioning of the KB will be uniquely different with certain exercises. The position of the KB in the hand used during the clean and jerk will be different than using a DB. While the mass is distributed evenly around the wrist and the hand with the DB the mass will be on the posterior side of the arm and wrist with the KB. This will create a slightly different motion of each tool. Thus a different movement pattern is needed to mitigate the force in the same exercise with the KB than the DB.
There are many different techniques involved in KB lifting. In many cases the Russian Sport of KB lifting known as the Girivoy has several different techniques associated with different lifts. For the purpose of this article we will focus on the fundamentals of the KB Swings, Cleans, Snatches, Overhead Presses and Get Ups.
1 Hand Swing
2 Hand Swing
The motion of the KB swing is similar to that of a pendulum. I liken it to that of Newton’s cradle.
The momentum created starts at the bottom of the ball of the cradle or where the KB is. The motion of the pelvis is similar to how you would grab the first ball- the ball would be pulled straight back to create the forward momentum of the swing. In this case the pelvis is the driver or the initiator of the movement. The arms stay straight and fixed like the suspension wires of the cradle. Essentially the backward motion of the pelvis creates the momentum along with the forward “whip” of the pelvis generates the force needed to elevate or increase the distance of travel of the KB. The KB will end at the height of the shoulders or just beyond at eye level.
In order to keep the arms straight the shoulders are retracted and the head is pulled tall. The elbows should remain straight so that the lever is at its longest position.
The pelvic motion is posterior to anterior. It is common for people to squat (fold of the body) vertically rather than squatting or folding horizontally. This happens from reaching the pelvis in the posterior and then the anterior directions. The action of the motion would be similar to a standing broad jump versus a standing vertical jump.
When the KB comes through the legs the wrists are at the level of the bottom of the pelvis. It should feel like you are pulling the KB through the legs and back behind the body. If the KB is dropping vertical and you have to lift the KB with the arms, the motion is being created in a vertical direction rather than a horizontal or Ant-Post. direction.
The weight of the body is distributed through the front of the heel. This will keep the base of support balanced with the forward and backward momentum of the KB from Bend to Tall Extension/ Standing position. The speed of the descent of the KB will be the same speed as the ascent of the KB.
The clean is a Lift. A Lift can be defined as bringing the implement or tool from a low position to a high position. In the case of the clean the KB will move from a position as low as the ground or knee height to shoulder height. You can perform the clean movement with any tool such as the barbell, DB, KB, MB and SB. Of course as you may expect the technique may be different for each tool because of the shape and mass distribution of each tool. Particularly the top position known as the rack position will be different for each tool.
The KB Clean has a particularly unique motion due to its bulbous shape and orientation. While most experienced KB users have mastered this exercise it is a very challenging technique and can be somewhat frustrating to learn.
The following video will highlight the easiest way that I have found to teach this skill.
There are 2 variations of the starting position in the clean. The clean can start from the floor or from the hang of the arm. If the KB is in a dead position the motion of the clean will be vertical, however there is an option to create some horizontal momentum that can be captured in a combination of the vertical and horizontal swing. This shift in mass through the field of gravity can be a great variation and can be a fun way to add combinations while transitioning out of the 1 arm or double KB swing.
The Snatch is also a Lift. However the top position of the Snatch is overhead. Just like the clean you can perform Snatches with all kinds of different tools. Like the clean the KB Snatch has a unique technique to it. Because of the KB shape and the challenge to perform the motion without having the KB slam into the arm in the rack position.
The overhead press is a great pressing movement for the shoulder and arm. This is a lift from the shoulder position to overhead. What is particularly cool about this exercise is that it will teach control of the mass overhead and while you can do this motion standing the technique will translate no matter what your bodies orientation to gravity and the position you start in. Kneeling, Half Kneeling, Supine, Seated and Side-lying variations can be used to challenge different parts of the body.
The Turkish Get Up
The Turkish get up is a classic Kettlebell exercise. This exercise is a combination of transitions from lying through to standing while keeping the KB directly above the shoulder. This movement has been considered one of the staples in strength and conditioning circles and in martial arts. The exercise starts lying on their back with the KB in one hand. The exerciser will perform a lateral sit up using their hand and foot for leverage. From this position the exerciser performs a hip thrust and will then bring their free leg underneath them. From here the client is in a half kneeling position with the Kettlebell overhead. From here the client transitions from half kneeling to standing. The client reverses the entire motion back to a lying position. This is known as the lunge variation of the the Turkish Get Up. There is also a squat version.
These KB exercises can be staples in any traditional exercise programs. If you want to develop strength and power, lean muscle mass and lose fat this tool is for you and your clients. Always make sure that the client has the ability to perform the movements with great mobility and stability. Today KBs come in a variety of sizes and shapes. I prefer the prograde authentic KB for instructing these more advanced skills. It will be easier to control the KB and not have undue strain and collision of the KB against of the arm during the clean, snatch, and overhead press. My recommendation if you are new to KB exercises is to practice, practice, practice. It will make coaching the skills that much easier if you feel comfortable and proficient at these skills. You will also be able to empathize with the client if they get frustrated or challenged with making this skill proficient. The Kettlebell is just a tool. It is a very functional tool that has its purpose. Remember you cant build a house with only a hammer. Use the appropriate tool for the right job. But if the job is driving a nail, the kettlebell is your hammer.