When I began in fitness I had to go through some growing pains. In college I was planning to go into a university strength and conditioning program. I had been working with my schools program that was a rather big Division I program and thought this was my path. During my last year of college I was speaking to a friend I had made that was already coaching in the university setting. To be honest, he kinda scared me. He told me about the instability, the long hours, and the often times not so great pay (keep in mind this was almost 25 years ago). That conversation steered me to find something else, so I found something way more stable and better paying in fitness (enter extreme sarcasm).
You can see by my first company logo back in 2003 that I still didn’t quite learn the difference between speaking to those that were already big fitness lovers from those that were trying to start their journey. I lost a lot of potential clients because they thought my training wouldn’t be for them!
My thought was if I could bring what I knew from strength and conditioning to the masses (which was very unusual at the time) then I would kill it in fitness. The first few clients I worked with gave me a large wake up call! Being young and mostly surrounding myself with athletes I forgot the challenges that a busy parent and professional in their 40’s faces. It didn’t occur too me that for a host of reasons they would have mobility, stability, and movement skill issues. Quickly it became apparent that I had to scale things WAY back and check my own ego at the door if I truly wanted to help people.
A great example is my journey with the kettlebell swing. As I have written many times, what got me interested in kettlebells wasn’t any super secret training method or ancient training tool. It was seeing how it could bring the athletic based training that I wanted to do in order to help people in a more practical way. The kettlebell swing was one of the few drills that was different from what I had done in the past and it just felt natural and a great way to teach power. It is, but there are a few caveats.
Training power before you have stability and strength is an exercise in futility. Don’t get me wrong, you can teach someone how to do a kettlebell swing adequately rather quickly. However, what they are actually achieving from the kettlebell swing isn’t what you want if you don’t establish that foundation of stability and strength first! It is kinda like trying to put a high powered engine in a Yugo (dated reference?)
No, this doesn’t look ridiculous at all.
In fact, I can tell you having taught A LOT of kettlebell programs that one of the biggest problems I would have to solve for people is the fact the kettlebell swing would bother their backs. You may instantly think, “Josh, it was probably a technique issue” right? However, many times I was the second or third coach people would come to with pretty good technique but still having problems. When we stepped away from the kettlebell swing and I assessed their pelvic control and overall stability, time and time again I found that they lacked the foundation they needed to really benefit from the kettlebell swing.
Depending how problematic the issue we would start with a variety of drills and as people got better, so did their kettlebell swing. One of my favorite drills to use is something that you probably wouldn’t connect to the kettlebell swing. What is that? I loved using a variety of step-up drills. Step-ups? You mean that cheesy aerobic drill, that can’t possibly have any relationship with a kettlebell swing.
If we stop and look what makes up the step-up we learn many important functional training concepts that have a direct impact upon your kettlebell swing.
-Lower leg and foot stability.
-Frontal plane control for better pelvic control.
-Understanding how to drive through the feet.
-Learning how to use the glutes and overall posterior chain more effectively.
We could keep going, but what I really loved about the step-up was that it falls under what physical therapist, Gray Cook calls, “self limiting exercise”. What’s that? It is a drill that basically you can’t really do wrong, if you do, you just can’t do the exercise. In reality, I’ve learned people can find a way to do any drill wrong, but the point is that the step-up is very close to that plus it gives us tons of feedback upon lower leg/foot as well as pelvic stability and strength. These are key areas that we need to have in order to nail that kettlebell swing.
If we do it correctly you will find that the wide range of step-ups is MUCH harder than you may imagine. Here I break down some advanced strategies but you will start to see why they have that ability to raise your kettlebell swing game!
Trying to be purposeful in using the foot on the platform, not leaning into the movement, and then lowering yourself as slowly as possible not only makes the step-up a phenomenal way to help the kettlebell swing, but glute training and helping low back issues as well. Physical Therapist, Dan Swinscoe, shows some great progressions to use in the step-up.
Even these drills can be VERY challenging for people because they really require strength to RESIST lateral motion and this will help pelvic control and setting up that foundational power for the kettlebell swing.
DVRT UK master, Greg Perlaki and coach Robin Paget show how we have so many options in the step-up to build strength and stability at once!
There are a few mistakes that people make in the step-up so let’s go over a couple things that people tend to overlook.
-Step Height: Most people use just whatever is convenient to step up upon. However, far too often this is WAY too high for people and sets them up for failure. Starting with a 12 inch box can help guide you whether you have a good height to build progression, or it may still be too high.
-Control the Descent: Kind of like our DVRT power cleans, most people think they are done when they lift the weight/body up. However, like the power clean, there is just as much if not more strength to build working on how we come down. In this case, unlike the power clean, we are trying to lower ourselves as slowly as possible.
-Don’t Do Just Bodyweight: As we often talk about in DVRT, we give weight not to just challenge the movement, but to engage the core more which helps people with more strength in the lower body as well as better mobility.
Below are some great options to build foundational strength in the step-up with and as you get stronger you can not only progress in the step-up itself, but see how it has a VERY positive effect on your kettlebell swing.
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