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Key Mistakes In Building Better Kettlebell Swings

I think I am an authority on making mistakes in coaching because well, I’ve made most of them. There are certain things that only experience will teach you, but you have to be open enough to learn them and realize THE MOST important aspect of coaching…”it is not about YOU!” Most people I do believe get into fitness to help themselves and others, but coaching either is about being open to the lessons experience can provide you. This can be easier said than done if the world of social media (far from a world of expertise) is saying one thing, but in your heart you are seeing something very different. However, what is right and what is difficult is often a very similar thing. This can be especially true when we are discussing something as popular as kettlebell swings.

7a64c423f4852d90f6f6223b631ad858 - Key Mistakes In Building Better Kettlebell Swings

Still one of my favorite movie quotes;)

Trust me, I get it! When I did my kettlebell certification in 2003, I wanted to show the world how awesome kettlebells were and the exercise that seemed to be so unique and powerful was kettlebell swings. ALL my clients had to do them as I was told they fix your low back, develop great posterior chain strength, and is great for conditioning. So, why wouldn’t all my clients be knocking out kettlebell swings?!

Over time, I found I could get someone performing kettlebell swings rather quickly. However, what I found is that my clients could do kettlebell swings well but they weren’t getting all the amazing results that I was told was the whole point of the movement. What was I missing?

kettlebell swings

Sure, the easiest thing would be to say that my kettlebell swing technique was off, but I’ve taught at more kettlebell certifications I could count, instructed the US Marines on kettlebells, and even taught kettlebells in Russia if you can believe it! There was something more going on. That led me to finding that most make these mistakes with kettlebell swings.

kettlebell swings

Too Fast, Too Soon!

Sometimes with an exercise, it isn’t that the exercise is good or bad, but the context that it is applied. It doesn’t require a PhD in biomechanics to know that kettlebell swings are a big power movement. With any type of power training you need to have good pelvic control, stability, and a foundation of strength in the pattern (in this case the hip hinge). Most give beginners kettlebell swings before they have really spent any time doing any of this and wonder why they aren’t having success. So, what can we do?

 

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Why do exercises like these 5 #DVRT movements do a better job of helping low back issues than so many other movements you see online? Well, for one, we don’t think just about the low back. In many instances, the low back is just a victim of other parts of the body not working as they should. Thinking that low back strength is typically the issue of low back pain is a misguided approach to helping people be better. ___________ What I try to show in these 5 drills is how much pelvic control should be a focus of such programing than trying to strengthen any individual muscle. The ability to control our pelvis is foundational to our movement and making sure we are using the right muscles the right way at the right time! Unlike trying to strengthen the low back, pelvic control isn’t dominated by one or a few muscles. It requires all 35 core muscles to work synergistically to learn how to create the stable platform for our extremities to perform. ___________ The reason that I am using the Ultimate Sandbag in these movements isn’t because I help run DVRT 😆Rather, I often wish I had this tool when I began treating patients. The ability to use a weight to help build the connections to assist in teaching the body HOW to control the pelvis is so valuable to anyone. Many times we waste so much effort and time trying to cue aspects of the body that are sorely ineffective. Creating proper tension against the Ultimate Sandbag and the weight along with the joint angles it gives us makes the combination of understanding what we should be training and using the right tools to help teach how is exactly how we make people significantly better fast! ____________ Don’t just throw these exercises into your workout, think about what you are trying to teach and remember a few repetitions performed with great intent are far more powerful than a bunch of reps that are designed to make you just tired or sore!

A post shared by Jessica Bento (@jessbento_physiotherapist) on

Physical therapist, Jessica Bento breaks down several DVRT movements that go a long ways in helping pelvic stability/control.

 

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Of all our #DVRT exercises that have become popular, I was genuinely surprised that people fell so in love with our dead bugs. I’m happy about it, but I didn’t think people would be so quick to get into an exercise that outwardly doesn’t seem like a lot is happening. I tell people, you can think of a dead bug as a plank that is on its back. In some ways it may even be BETTER than a plank because of what the dead bug can teach about proper core stability. __________________ The goal of the dead bug isn’t to create nearly the tension that we find in an exercise like the plank that is designed to teach us how to brace and therefore stabilize the spine correctly. What the dead bug’s goal is to use more reflexive core stability to keep the pelvis “quiet” as we move our arms and legs. The reciprocal motion of the arms and legs taps into our bodies natural patterns, but also creates load upon the pelvis. In a perfect world, we don’t need to give much feedback to the body on how to stabilize, but let’s be real, we need to help people learn how to control their pelvis! _________________ I see people do all sorts of dead bugs and use all kinds of tools to stress the dead bug, but many times they can lose the point of the drill. For example, if we hold a stability ball and press our arm down and leg up, we are actually teaching more of a flexion pattern which we don’t want. Instead, drills like we show with kettlebells from our PKM program and our Ultimate Sandbag patterns teach how to control the body through making better connections of the chains and use load as a feedback tool. We don’t want to become reliant on flexion to create stability, rather how to use our body in smarter ways as these movements show.

A post shared by Jessica Bento (@jessbento_physiotherapist) on

Ultimate Sandbags and kettlebells offer excellent opportunities to teach the body about proper stability. It is essential to establish this foundation.

As Jessica shows, stability and control of the pelvis is not only done on the ground, but should be progressed to more functional positions. 

Building The Pattern

Most coaches and lifters understand that kettlebell swings belong to the category of hip hinges. That means where we move from our hips while maintaining a “plank” in our torso as we perform the movement. Force is created from our feet up and does have the potential to help the low back. As renown spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill explains, “Interestingly, the differences between many “troubled backs” (the chronic back with recurrent episodes) and matched asymptomatic controls performing the same jobs have been shown to be variables other than strength or mobility. Rather deficits in motion and motor patterns have been documented as being more critical and thus should be targets for therapeutic exercise. For example, people with troubled backs use their backs more. Generally, they walk, sit, stand and lift using mechanics that increase back loads. Many of them have stronger backs but are less endurable than matched asymptomatic controls (McGill et al, 2003). They tend to have more motion in their backs and less motion and load in their hips.”

Learning the pattern often starts with the deadlift and for many reasons, the Ultimate Sandbag is a preferred tool to start teaching proper deadlifting as DVRT Master and kettlebell expert, Steve Holiner explains below.

Years ago I was teaching a kettlebell certification when a coach asked me about Ultimate Sandbag deadlifts. He didn’t understand why they were so valuable because as you get stronger you can only go so heavy with the lift. That is true, but then I explained to him that we had more to our arsenal than just going heavier, we can challenge the movement by changing the holding position and our front loaded good morning has TONS of carryover to kettlebell swings.

The great thing is that we can use Front Loaded Good Mornings in many patterns to both build up our hip hinge as well as our stability and mobility at the same time. You see, most people don’t spend time developing functional strength skills like this and wonder why their results to not only kettlebell swings, but taking their strength to real life/sport.

 

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One of our #DVRT drills that I think gets largely overlooked is our Front Loaded Good Morning. I think it gets overlooked because people really don’t get it. Most training systems don’t really discuss progression in how we hold a weight because most implements can be held in many different ways. That is one of the great benefits of the Ultimate Sandbag, we can place it on our body in so many different ways to create different training effects and progressions at the same time. The Front Loaded Good Morning is a great example. ________________ By placing the load in the crooks of the arms, the next part is key. We want to create tension against the Ultimate Sandbag by trying to “break it apart” with my forearms and that helps me connect to my core more effectively because I can engage my lats and start to use the hip hinge to really emphasis the Posterior Oblique System (POS) of the lats, core, and glutes (the lats and glutes work in opposites). ________________ I’ve seen people try to do this with other tools like kettlebells and it just doesn’t work very well. Just as I wouldn’t recommend using an Ultimate Sandbag (USB) for swings, I don’t recommend kettlebells for Front Loaded Good Mornings. That is because the load has to be held onto largely by the arms, not the lats. Even holding onto the “horns” of the kettlebell and trying to pull the weight towards you it isn’t easy to get the lats engaged and we don’t get that moving plank we can with the USB. The lat connection is so different because of where we can place our arms and how we can make the load part of our body. ________________ This position allows us to train the hip hinge pattern in more functional patterns as DVRT master, Sean Lettero of @janddfitness demonstrates. Since the glutes and core muscles are diagonally shaped, they are made to function in all three planes of motion. Using these strategies we can progress someone even with the same weight into more sophisticated forms of strength for the hamstrings, glutes, and core. Want to see your posterior chain muscles improve? Use some Front Loaded Good Mornings and notice a HUGE difference!

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Not Introducing Power Progressively

What makes kettlebell swings unique is also what can make them very challenging. The long lever arm allows us to create a lot of force, but also requires us to be able to decelerate a lot of force. Most people actually struggle more on the deceleration because you have to own the movement pattern, have a solid level of strength, and be able to put the technique together reflexively. That is a lot for people when they are learning power training for the first time like in kettlebell swings.

The answer? We can use some DVRT movements like our cleans to help teach qualities of kettlebell swings that don’t require the same level of deceleration strength. This means safer on our low backs and greater success. While kettlebell swings are often touted for their ability to help low backs, there is a risk with them as well especially if we can’t own how we are producing or absorbing our power development as Dr. McGill explains, “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.” There are going to be people that find power development with shorter lever arms more friendly on their backs. It isn’t about teaching a lift, but the concepts that the exercise promotes.

Once we get our kettlebell swings going, that doesn’t mean we get away from these concepts they actually only become MORE important. That is because a one arm swing has way more variables to the body than the two handed swing so understanding how to layer these progressions goes a long ways in building success and enjoyment of great training that kettlebells can allow for in our workouts.

You can discover how we make kettlebell training so much more about progressions, teaching functional fitness, and success in our Progressive Kettlebell Movement (PKM) certification for 20% off with code “save20” HERE along with our DVRT workouts and Ultimate Sandbags HERE. Also, don’t miss Steve teaching our first live DVRT level 1 & 2 of 2021 in Boston HERE (sorry, coupon codes do not apply for live events)