It is 2003, I JUST finished my first kettlebell certification and I couldn’t be more excited. I had already tried to introduce kettlebells to my clients, but to be honest I didn’t feel great about it. Sure, I had watched the VHS tape that I bought (yea, a VHS tape!!!) many times over, but with the movements being so new I definitely didn’t feel like we were implementing the kettlebell we should. Probably of all drills the like kettlebell swing felt really foreign!
Don’t get me wrong, I was coming from a university strength and conditioning program where exercises like cleans and snatches played a big part of our programming, but kettlebell swings were something very different (I would learn so were kettlebell cleans and snatches from the barbell;). Of course nowadays, kettlebell swings are probably one of the FIRST drills people learn because it is an iconic kettlebell movement. However, after going through the course and now having worked with a wide array of clients for almost 20 years, I now realize that one of the BIGGEST mistakes I made was introducing drills like kettlebell swings into my clients’ programs far too early.
Yes, I know you have all these drills that are suppose to give you a perfect swing. Some of them may even be REALLY good, but the reality is once you coach people enough times, you realize even a pretty good looking swing from the outside, doesn’t tell you how people are actually using their bodies. I’ll give you a real world scenario!
Several years ago I had a fitness professional come to me to refine her kettlebell skills. From the outside she looked really good! Sure, a tweak here, there, but even with my little adjustments she was still having a problem. Whenever she would perform kettlebell swings her low back would end up bothering her. We hammered technique several more times, but she wasn’t getting better. Watching her you would have said she looked like she was nailing each repetition, what gives?
Instead of beating our heads against the technique wall I had to take a step back. Racking my brain on why someone with good technique would have these issues I finally found something I wanted to try. “Let’s take a look at your pelvic control”, I told her. We laid her upon her back, did a simple leg lowering test and WOW, she had very poor pelvic control. It hit me, her issue wasn’t technique, but she was trying to fire that cannon from a canoe! Meaning, she just didn’t have the pelvic stability to actually generate the power she had been demonstrating. Because she had all these “energy leaks” in her body, internally she was compensating all over the place. This made me take several steps back and ask the question I SHOULD have asked in the first place, “what did you do to prepare your body for kettlebell swings.” She looked at me kinda funny and said, “well, I went to my kettlebell certification and learned how to do kettlebell swings and just have been doing swings.” This is the trap we fall into, not just with kettlebell swings, but many higher level movements.
In our world of “I must have it now” we skip important concepts that are paramount in having success. Once I gave her a program she worked with for a few months, each month she said her swing felt a bit better (she only used kettlebell swings at that time as a measuring tool). To be honest, I have MANY stories where I wanted to slap myself on the forehead for not thinking of the REAL question or issues first! In an effort for you to skip and avoid many of my own mistakes, I wanted to break down 3 common errors people make in teaching kettlebell swings.
I figured we start with the concept I find most overlook completely, which is that pelvic control. Power is a relatively advanced concept. It is important, but it requires us to have the strong foundation in which we can be produce high levels of force, but be able to absorb them as well. In doing so, we need to at the very least have that foundational pelvic control to generate such power from in the first place.
“Oh man, dead bugs again?!” You might be tired of hearing about them, but dead bugs are a must in beginning to teach people how to correctly control their pelvis. Being on our backs takes away a lot of complexity that more functional movements possess. If we see compensations in these environments then we KNOW kettlebell swings probably shouldn’t be on our exercise menu for now. If you do well in them and have done your homework, using many of these dead bug progressions in your warm-up will only accentuate the power you can generate during your kettlebell swings. Physical therapist, Jessica Bento, does a great job showing we don’t just randomly choose an Ultimate Sandbag or kettlebell, each have their place, but you need to know how and why you are using them!
You can see that progression can come in the form of the tools we use, or the positions we move to in our programs. Jessica shows how we use kettlebells to make our core a bit more reflexive but still make connections of the chains of the body. However, what is also important is how we take these concepts to more challenging environments so that pelvic control we create starts to transfer to more complex movements.
For many people, kettlebell swings are the first power movement they learn with kettlebells or sometimes the first ever power exercise. As I wrote about the other day, power is actually important for people, especially as we age (you can read the whole article HERE).
The argument isn’t “is power good for us”, but have we done our homework in building a base where power can actually be beneficial for us. Once we get standing, we want to focus on the qualities of the movement for hip hinging (this is the movement that kettlebell swings are made up of). Many make the leap of going from a deadlift to kettlebell swing progressions. What most overlook is what makes kettlebell swings great also makes them very challenging, the long lever arm! Unlike cleans and even snatches, kettlebell swings have a long lever arm away from the body. This means we have to not only create a lot of force to project the kettlebell away from our body, but to be able to absorb the very high level of forces that come back to us. Even if you started with an 18 pound kettlebell, that isn’t 18 pounds when it is coming BACK to your body.
That is why I think combining what we teach in DVRT with Ultimate Sandbags along with these kettlebell progressions give us a MUCH better chance of creating success and being safe! Where do we go after we teach the foundational deadlift? As I have written many times, I think one of the most overlooked, but essential hip hinges is our Front Loaded Good Morning.
Physical Therapist, Dr. John Rusin shared with me how humbling a 60 pound Ultimate Sandbag Front Loaded Good Morning was for someone who has TONS of experience deadlifting.
You can see how Jessica demonstrates both that what Front Loaded Good Mornings allow us to do is…
-Slow down the lowering phase to understand how to brace the core with our feet, lats, and core to better absorb force.
-Teach how the lats are essential for both phases of the movement.
-Maintain our “plank” under more challenging conditions than the deadlift.
-How to create force from the ground and be explosive in the hips while we are stable in the trunk and upper body.
We don’t just “jump” to kettlebell swings from here. I think something that is very unique in what we presented in our new Progressive Kettlebell Movement Certification (PKM) is that we often tend to have people go into power before we explore hip hinging in more conditions. Movement, a lot like language, is better when we have a bigger vocabulary. Learning to take a movement pattern, like the hip hinge, and express it many ways gives our body more options and avoids many of the injury issues people run into when performing movements.
I love this quote from Dr. David Tiberio of the Gray Institute to illustrate this point, “In fact, it could be argued, since muscles are activated by neural sensors (proprioceptors), that training in only one plane will inhibit the utilization of the other planes during functional movements that require three-dimensional Motion.”
Before moving to power let’s spend more time building the hip hinge as you see here…
You see how Jessica uses instability of the rear slide to challenge pelvic control in a more dynamic way along with her ability to keep the connections of the lats, core, glutes, and feet! Just as important, see how she uses the Ultimate Sandbag and kettlebells to build specific progression. The Ultimate Sandbag allows us to create more tension while the kettlebells require us to be more reflexive in nature. However, see how she started with TWO kettlebells so that she could have more stability and progressing to single arm OPPOSITE of her stance leg.
Eventually this brings us to single leg deadlifts and all their progressions like Ryan Pang shows. However, you might wonder why use single leg deadlifts BEFORE kettlebell swings? Remember that “canon from a canoe”? The more we can blend stability, mobility, and strength, the more likely we are to have success in our kettlebell swings and avoid the common pitfalls that strike so many!
How We Build Power
Once we have spent considerable time building that foundation (don’t worry, there is still plenty of challenging training there) and we are ready to move to power training, doesn’t that mean NOW we get those kettlebell swings rolling? Well, as I discussed in that previous blog post (HERE again if you want to check it out), cleans should really come before swings. That may sound controversial but I don’t think it should at all!
Cleans teach us important concepts of power and have the shortest lever arm of our kettlebell power based movements so they SHOULD be well engrained as a precursor to swings. Not to mention, teaching cleans then swings is a HECK of a lot easier than teaching swings then cleans (patterning the projection of load can screw up many cleans). Once we have the foundation of cleans down, we can use the similar concepts of building our movement vocabulary and bridging gaps in movement.
When we progress, it can come in the forms of load, body position, or how we use the implements (more on this one soon!). However, what people often overlook is going from the bilateral gripping and tension of the Ultimate Sandbag to a one arm kettlebell clean can be a big jump for many people. Now we have to RESIST lateral and rotational forces and that requires more sophisticated strength. That is why we are always looking to how we can teach concepts within an exercise. What you see below is a great technique in building such success. Now, I didn’t speak about ANY swing technique here (I will in an upcoming post) because before we attack kettlebell swings, we want to make sure we have the foundations in place to actually benefit from such a great exercise.
This is what makes our Progressive Kettlebell Movement Certification (PKM) so unique. It isn’t about teaching kettlebells as much as it is a greater system of teaching functional movement with a tool that allows us many options and the ability to teach concepts in its use. Check out how you can save almost $100 on our new PKM certification and how you also get a 18 pound kettlebell for FREE. Go HERE this week only!
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