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It isn’t a competition, it really isn’t. Some people try to make whether you train with kettlebells or Ultimate Sandbags a debate on which tool is better. However, the reality is they are complimentary to one another. Every tool has pros and cons and what we try to do as coaches is negate any negatives of a training tool by using other tools. After all, a great craftsman/woman doesn’t have a toolbox with only one tool, but what they DO know is which tool to use for what goal.
So, how do kettlebells and Ultimate Sandbags work together? After all, many of the foundational drills look similar so is it just for variety? Let’s look at a few cases where even small differences are pretty profound. In order to see how these two great functional training tools work together I am also going to put in 3 workouts that. you can use anywhere, at any time to see how effective these ideas can be to getting your results.
Front Load Positions
One of the biggest challenges that people find when they first get into kettlebells is how stressful to the core holding a kettlebell in the rack position can be for those unfamiliar. Even with having done my fair share of front squats and cleans with the barbell, the kettlebell feels so much different!
That is because the kettlebell doesn’t rest on the frame of our body like the barbell, it sits lower and more in front of us. That means the core has to work harder in resisting falling forward or in the case of a single kettlebell, leaning to the side. It is a tremendous way to bring in core training to all our exercises which any good exercise does because the core is the connection for our entire body.
The position of a racked kettlebell can seem like it is the same thing when you place the Ultimate Sandbag in the “front load” position. However, it is the small differences that give us a pretty different training effect. One of the most profound differences that one can feel is that unlike even the kettlebell rack position, the Ultimate Sandbag isn’t resting on our body at all. We have to work VERY hard to maintain that front loaded positions by pulling the weight into our body and trying to make it apart of our body. The dimension of the Ultimate Sandbag can amplify these differences because the larger dimensions of the USB really fires the body to resist falling into flexion. A 100 pounds in kettlebells in the rack position feels very different than a USB in the front load position.
DVRT Master, James Newman goes over one of the most common mistakes of the front load position.
However, it isn’t as though one is better than the other, they are different. How would I use them? I find the front load the best to give feedback to the lifter so they can create proper tension, this feedback is greater with the USB than kettlebells so we could use the kettlebells as a progression of the movement in asking the body to be more reflexive with the use of the core. Then I would go to an off-set position with the USB, single arm with kettlebell, and then shoulder with the USB.
Yes, a single arm kettlebell rack asks us to resist lateral motion more, but the USB in the shoulder position amplifies that. Again, neither one better than the other, it depends on the level of the person and the goal of the movement. However, if we see this as progressions rather than one superior to the other, we can do a better job of identifying which one we should be using.
A deadlift is a deadlift is a deadlift right? For the most part this is true because our movement doesn’t change depending upon the tool we use for the deadlift. So, why use an Ultimate Sandbag, kettlebell, or barbell for our deadlifts. A big goal of coaching is to put people in position to succeed. For a lot of people, posture and body size can be issues they face in getting a proper position to deadlift.
For a good number of years when I first got into kettlebells I was using them to teach my clients foundational movement and strength in the deadlift. It was much easier to have them learn the mechanics and to understand how to develop proper tension for safer and stronger deadlifts.
I’ve taught kettlebells all over the world from China to Russia (yea, I taught kettlebells in Russia funny right?!) and I believe that they are amazing training tools but how and when I use them has evolved over the years.
When I developed the Ultimate Sandbag, having a fresh slate to build something unique was something I wanted to take advantage of to help people. The position, length, and many other attributes of how we designed the handles are to fit the biomechanics of movements like the deadlift. Have the handles too wide, too narrow, too long, too short and it alters the quality of the movement.
Once we got a solution that would fit 99% of people, we saw an opportunity to do something that neither the kettlebell or barbell has. We could put people in a neutral position and the pliability of the handles would give us an extra dimension to teach important deadlift concepts.
Allowing people to be closer to the width of their shoulders helped avoid a lot of rounding of the shoulders and help people get in the correct back position for the deadlift. Being neutral grip, even those with postural issues we could help them engage their lats more which is essential for core connection and building a stable foundation which neither kettlebells or the barbell really allow for in their deadlifts. Lastly, by coaching people to “pull apart” the handles, it was a very easy way for clients to understand the intent of creating stability as well as feedback for the coach to see if the client was addressing proper tension.
Kettlebell expert and DVRT master, Steve Holiner breaks down these concepts and explains why the Ultimate Sandbag is the best starting point for so many people in learning the hip hinge.
This doesn’t mean we would choose the USB for all hip hinges like kettlebell swings for example. The best tool for kettlebell swings are still kettlebells? However, we can create workouts like the one below to amplify the best of each training tool.
I’ve been writing for some time about using the right tool for the right job, but here is the key to understanding this concept. You have to know FIRST what the goal of the exercise actually is in its use. A great example is how people misunderstand our plank lateral drags (I’ve written a whole post about how to get them right HERE and what makes them unique) . I’ll give you the short version here….
Yes, we are transferring the weight side to side, but HOW we do so and what the weight does is equally important. How we can create pre-tension in the lats to activate the core gives us a great starting position which because kettlebells don’t have pliability to the handle we can’t really do the same. The Ultimate Sandbag has dimension (which is such a unique attribute) which helps us create friction on the ground. Kettlebells have a much smaller surface area and if they are totally round the weight will move around as the drag occurs which doesn’t make the movement really good for the lifter. That is why you see so many people lift the kettlebell as they try to drag it which takes away from the point of the movement.
As I explain what makes the plank lateral drag so good is what the tool allows us to do. So while kettlebells aren’t ideal for lateraled drags, they are for higher level anti-rotational drills like renegade rows as I explain above (even if it means starting with dumbbells if you don’t have kettlebells with larger bases).
I really believe kettlebells and Ultimate Sandbags are like peanut butter and jelly. The key isn’t debating which is better, but what are you going to use each for and how that makes the exercise and overall workout better!
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