When I got into kettlebells in 2002 and then got certified in 2003, I was so excited! Not because I learned some Eastern European “secret,” heck, they could have come from literally anywhere in thew world. No, it was because I instantly saw an awesome solution for a problem that I had struggled in solving.
That problem was wanting to bring more athletic based training to general fitness. Having just interned at a big Division I program as I was graduating college, I saw the value of many concepts of athletic based training (that would eventually become more “functional based”) to people who wanted to move, live, look, and feel their best.
What was it about kettlebells that offered that unique solution? Honestly, there were so many different ways to layer progressions, to build that foundation people needed as well as take them to much higher levels of training. The implement was so user friendly and offered us to use the tool to be another coach and that was something so new for me.
Over the years, I was disappointed that people saw kettlebells in two camps. One that only saw 6 drills as really the value of kettlebell training and the other being overly complex movements that wasn’t based in teaching from foundational to complex.
For example, kettlebells are rarely used to address the 7 foundational human movement patterns (squat, hip hinge, push, pull, lunge, rotation, and locomotion). Sure, some will see a goblet squat, maybe a double rack or even single arm squat, but there are SO many progressions we leave out.
The hip hinge is probably the movement pattern the kettlebell shines the most in, because there are so many ways to go from building movement proficiency, to strength, and then power. The kettlebells allow us to be challenged by how they are employed in the movement and the different forms of power we can train.
While kettlebells aren’t ideal for horizontal pressing, they really do help us build better vertical pressing movements. Why is that important? Not only is overhead an extended plank (so we are gauging core strength), but we see how well we can integrate the body from the ground up and teach how to use our body more efficiently so we cannot only have a stronger upper body, but a more mobile and resilient one as well.
Upper body pulling typically gets overlooked with kettlebells. Sure, there may be some rows thrown into a mix, but it is usually a matter of simple convenience and not done so because the kettlebell brings anything unique to the rowing motion.
Overall a bent row gets overlooked and sometimes even labeled as “dangerous for your back”. Which is odd because the bent row is a very accessible way to the hip hinge and to build core endurance which people like spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill references as a key in building low back health. If we can do heavy deadlifts of any sorts and thousands of swings, we should or even MUST be proficient in the bent row. The kettlebell offers us numerous ways to build qualities of the bent row that extend beyond getting a “jacked” upper back.
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Lunging in many kettlebell communities never gets any serious attention. Like rowing, there may be a randomly assigned lunge in the mix, but lunging itself is a movement pattern that deserves so much more respect because it can develop incredible strength, but also allows us stability in other planes of motion as well as teaching acceleration and deceleration in horizontal movement. The kettlebell allows it to be used in a multitude of holding positions to build and then challenge these qualities in a very progressive manner.
Rotation is almost never used with kettlebells, and when done so is often misunderstood. When we think about creating real world power in punching, kicking, throwing, etc, we create rotation. Kettlebells allow us to teach the movement pattern of rotation that most leap frog into advanced strength and power progressions (like medicine balls throws). The fact we can use the kettlebell to help people understand the why’s and how’s of rotation makes it such an incredible tool.
Lastly, but definitely not least, locomotion is the most complex of our 7 patterns. It is something we delve into greater depth in later posts, but since it is what makes us uniquely human, it makes sense that we need to learn how to develop the qualities of locomotion. That means more than just carries, and once you understand what we are trying to train in locomotion, you will see that carries are often too advanced for many individuals current strength and stability.
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