Harness the Benefits of Performing Olympic Lifts With Kettlebells

December 13, 2011 | Featured in the Back to School 2012 Issue

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When it comes to power and strength training, tried-and-true Olympic lifts will always have a place in your workout program. However, these lifts can be difficult to master, due to their complexity. So why not try performing Olympic lifts with kettlebells? Athletes can master Olympic lifts quickly by using kettlebells—which are also potentially safer and more effective than barbells.

Kettlebells are a great way to improve the musculature in the neck, upper back, shoulders and arms—essential for contact sports. Kettlebells also help you improve in overall strength, power and endurance. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that individuals who used kettlebells over traditional training methods increased their strength in three areas: the Bench Press by nine percent (three rep max); Clean and Jerk by 20 percent (three rep max); and Back Extension by a whopping 23 percent (maximum rep count).

In the images below, we compare the traditional Hang Clean with a Double Kettlebell Hang Clean. Although we only compare one exercise, many of the concepts apply to all Olympic lifts, including variations of the Clean, Snatch and Jerk.

Hang CleanHang Clean 1

The athlete in the photos is Jon Munk, a professional lacrosse player and a coach on the SKOGG System team. Notice the placement of the bar at the start of the lift. Since it's in front of his hips, it places stress on his low back. Munk then performs a quarter squat, followed by a shrug and pulling motion at the elbows to flip and catch the bar at chest level. Due to the rigidity of the bar and position of the weight, the end position places unnecessary stress on his wrists, elbows and shoulders. In fact, some athletes who lack upper body flexibility may not even be able to perform the movement.

Double Kettlebell Hang CleanDouble Kettlebell Hang Clean 1

Munk is now using two 70-pound kettlebells to perform the same lift. The position of the kettlebells at the start of the lift is directly below the hips, on the centerline, eliminating low back stress. A powerful forward hip drive initiates the move, followed by a straight pull up the center of the body. Munk's arms naturally rotate as the kettlebells head up to the catch position, known as the "rack." Notice how the hips remain under the load, the wrists are straight and the elbows are tucked neatly to the body with the hands at a natural ready position. The bottom line: performing the same lift with the same results while maintaining a safer posture.

One of the best methods for incorporating kettlebell Olympic lifts into your program is to superset them with a lower-body pushing exercise like the following:

Barbell Squat/Double Kettlebell Hang Clean Superset
Perform each exercise for one minute, adhering to the appropriate cadence (below), and rest 15 seconds between exercises.

  • Pick Your Goal:
    • Power: Perform three sets with heavy weight or kettlebells; execute one rep every 20 seconds for three total reps per set
    • Strength: Perform four sets with moderately heavy weight or kettlebells; execute one rep every 10 seconds for six total reps per set
    • Conditioning: Perform five to six sets with moderately light weight or kettlebells; execute one rep every four seconds for 15 total reps per set

Michael Skogg is a kettlebell coach, author and educator with 20+ years of experience. He is the creator of the SKOGG System and a  former Weider National Kettlebell Trainer. Skogg's background is injury rehabilitation and corrective exercise as a Certified Neuro Muscular Therapist (CNMT), CHEK Level 1 and 2 practitioner and American Kettlebell Club Certified Coach (AKC).

Michael Skogg
- Michael Skogg is a kettlebell coach, author and educator with 20+ years of experience. The creator of the SKOGG System, he is a former National...
Michael Skogg
- Michael Skogg is a kettlebell coach, author and educator with 20+ years of experience. The creator of the SKOGG System, he is a former National...
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