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Building Better Kettlebell Swings Part 1

When you hit a new decade I think it is only natural to look back and get a little introspective. Heck, social media is full of decade comparisons. It is even a bit more odd when you start realizing things like “crazy I’ve been in the fitness industry for 25 years!” That definitely makes you feel a bit old, but it also does some other things. If you have always been striving to be better you have seen a lot of methods and programs come and go. You have seen programs fail and then get repackaged ten years later because the industry has such turnover, people think it is new again. Interesting right? What in the world does this have to do with kettlebell swings?

I’ve often told the story that I wasn’t automatically into kettlebells back in 2002. Like many I looked online and much of what I saw I just thought, “I could do that with a dumbbell.” It wasn’t till I got to really experience the intent behind the tool that I really got excited about using kettlebells with my clients.

In fact, for awhile, I used kettlebells probably for 90-95% of my training with clients. No, I wasn’t sold on being a “kettlebell guy”, it was just that I could address so many needs of my clients through teaching them how to move better though the use of kettlebells. Things like….

-People squatted better and had less pain.

-We could teach the hip hinge much faster.

-I could introduce explosive movements that normally would have been too difficult to teach.

-There were many progressions we could use to meet people where they were at and build them better success.

kettlebell swings

I was so excited with what kettlebells could offer it wasn’t long till I was writing content for sites like Bodybuilding.com about their benefits. Man I’m old!

 

Whether you like kettlebells or not, I think those are all really good reasons to use a tool. A funny thing happened over the years though, I got further and further away from the various kettlebell organizations. Why? I mean teaching at these certifications was always a great thrill from me, but I saw what was happening was in many instances there was an “elitism” happening in many different forms. The thing that I liked MOST about kettlebells was disappearing.

kettlebells

I’ve been fortunate to share my kettlebell knowledge and experience with many great groups including several of the US Marine bases. It is about how to help people be better!

What was that?

The point they were highly accessible to people and with a few proper cues people could be well on their way in getting better. Looking back, one of the quotes I loved most was from Pavel Tsastouline himself in his first kettlebell book from 2001. In the book he called kettlebell training “working man’s weightlifting”. That was the whole beauty was that anyone could improve their fitness and movement capabilities with some good kettlebell instruction.

That is what I want to do in talking about kettlebell swings. You see, for the first few years of kettlebells, the snatch was actually king and this was reflected in the fact that there was a snatch test to become certified. What happened? As the audience got more diverse it was easy to see that there were many people who shouldn’t be doing snatches because of movement restrictions.

Such a dilemma opened the door for swings to take over as they are a very demanding exercise, but upper body limitations don’t stop you from doing the drill. Let me preface EVERYTHING I’m about to say with kettlebell swings are an AWESOME exercise, if you have created the foundation to really benefit from them.

kettlebell swings

Why do I say such a thing? The reality is most people should NOT be doing kettlebells swings. I know the pitchforks and torches are coming for me, but this isn’t a slam on the exercise or the people doing them. It IS about trying to be a responsible coach. So, why such an odd stance?

What makes kettlebell swings great and unique, is also what poses as a great challenge. That is there is a long lever arm to the movement. So what? If you swing only a 20 pound kettlebell the weight that is coming back onto you is nothing CLOSE to 20 pounds. Through the acceleration of the load and the lever arm, there are HUGE stresses that the body must be able to absorb.

Even in studies, world renown spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill has shown,  Some unique loading patterns discovered during the kettlebell swing included the posterior shear of the L4 vertebra on L5, which is opposite in polarity to a traditional lift. Thus, quantitative analysis provides an insight into why many individuals credit kettlebell swings with restoring and enhancing back health and function, although a few find that they irritate tissues.”

Basically what this means is that due to the long lever arm created by kettlebell swings there are higher shear forces acting upon the lumbar area. If you have instability or a bulge there it could be problematic for your low back. Since none of us have clients that come to us with MRI reports, we have to consider safety first. In this case, that means creating a VERY strong foundation of movement before getting to swings. This is opposite to many coaches who introduce kettlebell swings VERY early on to their clients and often times are playing Russian roulette with people’s backs. Even if you have NO low back issues, if you don’t know how to “root” into the ground, “pulse” the core, and have an awesome hip hinge, you too could have issues using kettlebell swings.

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This is a BIG reason that when I worked with many coaches (I was the only person for several years in Arizona that was certified in kettlebells so I worked with many fitness pros in my area) who had clients that had decent looking kettlebell swings, but had low back pain, I knew the issue was not building that proper foundation. So, what can we do?

Ultimate Sandbags & Kettlebells Like PB&J

When my DVRT book came out, I thought a group of people that would really love the information were those into kettlebells. I was sorely mistaken as I heard many kettlebell instructors ask “why do we need to add anything else if I have kettlebells?” I get it, I don’t add anything to my gym or training unless it does something uniquely different than something else. In this case, I know Ultimate Sandbags do, but it doesn’t mean leaving your kettlebells behind as I truly believe these two tools are like peanut butter and jelly.

So, how are we going to use these tools to build a foundation where we can feel more confident that people are properly prepared to do kettlebell swings. We can actually start on the ground! That seems weird since kettlebell swings are done standing. However, I tend to start almost everything on the ground because I want to see if I put you in a really stable environment can you do the movement pattern well. If you can’t, I know there is no way we are going to do something more advanced in standing.

glute exercises

Even though Cory has a deadlift here, you should be able to see how hip bridges are so foundational for our kettlebell swings.

That means we are going to use the hip bridge. Yes, I know people are all into hip bridges right now to “build their glutes”, this isn’t the post where I get on my soap box about that (maybe later;), instead let’s think about how we can use it as a good starting point. The hip bridge can allow us to build some foundational connections that will be very important to our kettlebells swings. Primarily, a chain that I have talked a lot about with the foot, glutes, core, and lats. Kettlebell swings are ALL about how these areas of the body connect well. The key then is how do we use hip bridges to teach these concepts?

DVRT master, Cory Cripe breaks down how to get more out of your hip bridges so we can have that foundation for kettlebell swings. 

 

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Hip bridges are nothing new, but the more we understand about the body, the more we see how we should use the hip bridge to build not only better looking, but better functioning #glutes . A great example is how I use #kettlebells to help bridge what we do in #DVRT to bring about better connections and of course results! ….. Using #kettlebells allows me to integrate the grip and lats to connect to my core better. Holding them in the neutral position and gripping tightly makes this important connection of what is known as the posterior oblique sling which you see in the diagram. The glutes work WITH our core and lats to create spinal stability. Without connecting this essential chain, we get a whole different impact to our #gluteworkouts . Using the block underneath my heel allows me to build progression to true single glute work. Building those small layers are key to building success! …… Being able to go into our march and then alternating pressing we can bring in the cross pattern nature that our nervous system prefers. You know, like when we are walking and our opposite arm and leg swing to help us move seamlessly, but also to give our movement strength and stability. Training the glutes and core to produce and resist force at the same time is how these muscles are designed to function. Isn’t that what we are REALLY trying to achieve with #functionalfitness programs?!

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Physical therapist, Jessica Bento, shows we can integrate kettlebells into our hip bridges to create more reflexive action of these chains AFTER we have worked through and built up some strength in those Ultimate Sandbag progressions. 

There is so much to say about building kettlebell swings more effectively, but this would turn into an e-book in of itself. That is why after letting you digest this foundation of information, I’m going to have this be a 3 part series so you can see how we can make kettlebell swings more effective and just as important, how we keep your clients safe and happy!

Don’t miss our 25% sale on our Ultimate Sandbags, DVRT Online Certifications, and Workout Programs HERE with code “save25”. This includes our Progressive Kettlebell Movement Certification HERE

kettlebell swings