Build strength and endurance with kettlebells

In Russia, kettlebells have long been revered as the fitness-tool of choice for Olympic athletes, elite special forces and martial artists. The kettlebell’s ballistic movement challenges the body to achieve an unparalleled level of physical conditioning and overall strength. 

Kettlebell workouts typically are designed to maximize the affected muscle groups compared to standard strength training exercises that focus on one muscle group at a time. This allows for you to get a complete workout in less time than if you worked out with traditional strength training equipment. 

Additionally, unlike normal strength training equipment, when lifting a kettlebell, the weight’s centre of balance is extended past the hand. This allows for a swinging motion and a constant change in the weight’s centre of balance that is unavailable with standard dumbbells or barbells. By swinging a kettlebell, the user will have to engage his core to maintain control, which helps produce an excellent whole body workout.

Finally, unlike normal weight lifting, kettlebells provide both a cardio and strength training program simultaneously. Having to engage multiple muscles and the constant moving nature of the kettlebell will cause the user to have a higher heart rate than normal seated weight lifting.

Movement progression

The great thing about kettlebell training is that it is built on a succession of progressions. Starting from the deadlift, the movements progress to the swing, the clean and ultimately to the snatch. The foundational technique always remains the same. Basically kettlebell training is about two movements: pushing and pulling. Pushing movements include the kettlebell press and its variations and the horizontal press as in the Turkish Get-Up, and pulling movements such as the swings and its variations.

The foundational lifts 

The Russian Kettlebell Challenge covers the following foundational lifts:

1. The sumo deadlift

The deadlift teaches you how to lift an object off the floor, therefore making it probably the most functional of all movements. After all everybody picks stuff up from the floor once in a while. Problem is, most people do it wrong. 

Here’s the right way:

Bend your knees slightly, then bend over from the hips keeping you back straight or slightly arched. This is not as simple as it sounds! Many people find it extremely difficult to bend over from the hips while maintaining neutral spine position. Lack of neutral spine during a lift is a recipe for spine or disc damage in the short or long run. The weight (object) must be positioned between your feet, ideally over the centre of your feet, but never in front. Lift the weight by bringing your hips forward , straightening your knees and hips. Once in an upright position assume a rigid position by contracting your quads, glutes and abdominals. This makes your body strong and protects your back. All swings progress from the deadlift, so it is imperative that you get this movement right before attempting any swings.

The Swing

The swing is a ballistic movement, just like a bullet. An initial acceleration drives the kettlebell through the legs until it “floats” in mid-air in the forward position. The acceleration comes from the hamstring and gluteus muscles which contract in a powerful way in the beginning of the movement. The forward movement of the hips “throws” the arms forward until the arms are in a horizontal position. Variations of the swing include the towel-swing, the power swing, the overspeed swing and the one-arm swing.

The clean

The Clean serves to rack the kettlebell in preparation for a press or for a front squat. With the upper arm tight against the rib cage, elbow bent and the wrist neutral, the kettlebell is held tight against the chest.

The Snatch

This is undoubtedly the toughest of all swing variations. In the snatch the kettlebell finishes with the arm in a vertical, locked-out position, wrist in neutral and the ball of the kettlebell resting against the forearm. The art is to minimise impact of the kettlebell on the forearm in the top position by spearing the hand forward before lockout and making the kettlebell rest on the forearm with minimum impact. On the way down the kettlebell rotates in the fingers to minimise grinding effect on the palms and fingers. I found out how NOT to do this the hard way – the skin on my palms is still growing back. 

The press

From the racked position following a clean, the kettlebell is pressed overhead. To generate maximum power, keep the quads and glutes tight, abs braced and use power breathing to enhance strength.

The Turkish get-up

The Turkish get-up is a challenging, full-body movement. The idea is to get up from a lying position on the floor into an up-right standing position and back with a kettlebell in a pressed out overhead position at all times. The move is very technical, and to learn it, must be broken down into its components. It’s a great full body conditioning movement, working practically every muscle in the body.

The squat

Kettlebell variations of the squat include the front squat and goblet squat. Emphasis is placed on full range of movement (thighs parallel to floor or below), neutral spine and abdominal bracing for a strong and safe back.

Kettlebell workout:

Alternate 45 seconds of work with 15 seconds of

  1. Half-kneel to stand – left (start with the kettlebell overhead, put it up with both hands)
  2. Half-kneel to stand – right
  3. Two-arm swing
  4. Goblet squat
  5. Kneeling windmill left
  6. Kneeling windmill right
  7. Two-arm swing
  8. Goblet squat
  9. Partial get-up: Lying to sit-up left
  10. Partial get-up: Lying to sit-up right
  11. Two-arm swing
  12. Full Turkish Get-Up left
  13. Full Turkish Get-Up right
  14. Two-arm swing
  15. Goblet squat

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