If you have not been training with kettlebells, where have you been? Kettlebells have been around for hundreds of years, and by now almost every commercial gym has at least a small collection of them. If your gym doesn’t have a set of kettlebells ranging from 12 kg (26 lbs) to 32 kg (70 lbs), request that they invest in some.
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Kettlebells are not only great for overall conditioning, they also serve as a strength and conditioning tool that improves movement quality. These cast iron beauties can make you a much better athlete without big bumper plates, expensive barbells or special treadmills.
If you are not familiar with how to use or train with kettlebells, do yourself a favor and find a certified kettlebell instructor in your area. They know kettlebell drills and skills and can teach you how to address and correct any issues you may have while training.
Here are 5 reasons why you should train with kettlebells.
1. Movement Quality Reigns Supreme
Without proper movement quality, your risk of injury increases. With the number of games athletes play in a single sport each season (and sometimes year-round), it is important to be able to identify, address and improve imbalances in strength, stability and control. Without corrections, imbalances will continue to get worse and increase the risk of injury.
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Before you start training with kettlebells, make sure you meet the requirements for the hip hinge pattern. In all Deadlifts and hinge patterns, the spine must remain neutral. You can use a broomstick, a dowel or a PVC pipe to practice the Hip Hinge drill. Simply place the stick on your back. It must touch the back of your head, thoracic spine (mid-back) and butt. As you hinge, the stick must remain on all three points of contact. If it does not, you are not ready. If you are ready, make sure you can properly perform a Deadlift, keeping the same neutral spine as in the Hip Hinge drill.
2. Perfect the Hinge Pattern
The hinge is arguably the best pattern for both athletes and non-athletes. The time spent sitting, especially in American society, has turned off our glutes and made us a quad-dominant culture. Learning to use the posterior chain through Deadlifts (both single-leg and double-leg versions) and Swings will improve overall athleticism. From basketball players who are looking to add inches to their vertical jump, to football players who are looking to tackle more efficiently and with more force, the Swing is a great training tool to teach the athlete how to use the hips.
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3. The Squat, Done Properly
This may offend some of you, but the truth is many young athletes are simply not ready for the Barbell Back Squat, and most aren’t ready to properly squat with load. Although the Squat is one the most effective ways to add lower-body strength, most athletes have a restriction that causes a fault.
Any or all restrictions will be highlighted in your first set of Barbell Back Squats. Try completing the following progression first:
Facing the wall, squat with your toes as close to the wall as possible. You should be able to squat with no counterbalance. This may not be challenging for some of you, but it will be for those who struggle sitting into their hips. I require all of my athletes to be able to squat like this before progressing.
The Goblet Squat requires proper form and improves flexibility, mobility and core stabilization. It is also a great drill for preparing more advanced Squats.
Kettlebell Front Squat (Double Kettlebells)
The Kettlebell Front Squat is hard to cheat on. With two bells held in the rack position, squat to the appropriate depth. This challenges both the legs and the core. The bells compress the diaphragm, forcing you to take shallow breaths. When you are able to squat with double 24 kg (53 lbs), you may choose to switch to the barbell, but personally, I would stay with kettlebells.
4. Shoulder Health and Posture
We all know that athletes’ posture suffers from being in class, sitting on the couch and playing video games. The kettlebell is a fantastic tool to reverse detrimental postural effects and strengthen the shoulders. From Turkish Get-Ups to Halos and Single-Arm Military Presses, the kettlebell and shoulder health are a match made in heaven.
Why? The kettlebell mass is off-center. This requires stabilizer muscles in the shoulder to work harder than they would pressing or performing a Turkish Get-Up with a dumbbell or a barbell. The weight wants to pull away from you, so you must not only stabilize the weight overhead but use your entire body.
The Halo is a perfect exercise to open up the shoulder girdle and improve posture. Moving the bell around your head requires core stabilization, shoulder mobility and strength. I have all of my clients perform this drill either on their own or as a warm-up before they press.
Every athlete is looking to improve power. The Kettlebell Swing is perfect for preparing to meet the demands of hip extension in Olympic lifts.
After you learn the Deadlift, almost all exercises build off your ability to perform the hinge pattern and produce maximal force, sending the bell’s force outward. Mastering the Swing has massive carryover effects in sports that require explosive power, such as basketball, football, hockey and baseball. I could get carried away, but the takeaway is this: Kettlebell Swings not only increase your ability to produce power, they also strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, lower back and lungs. Performing Swings for power and volume should be a part of everyone’s program.