It is probably not new to you what kettlebells are and maybe you have even picked one up and fooled around with some of the exercises. This odd object is actually a great tool for every athlete and it is probably worth your while to learn how to do a proper kettlebell swing and add it into your training programs to enhance your athletic performance.
Many athletes feel that the best way to develop power for sports is through the Olympic lifts (clean and snatch). No doubt these exercises are great for power generation but they may not be better than the kettlebell swing when it comes to athletic power development and training other energy systems.
The kettlebell swing has several advantages over Olympic lifts when it comes to training for sports because of their target of the posterior chain (primarily hamstring and hip muscle groups) through hip extension for power production and conditioning.
Olympic lifts train the all out one max effort movement. This can be the start of a sprint, or getting off the line in football and other limited examples of maximal effort needed. Most sports, however, are not frequently subjected to these types of efforts. Sports like soccer and basketball consist of a series of repeated sprints and stops of sub-maximal force production; not an all-or- nothing explosive movement.
The kettlebell swing can train just those submaximal repeated efforts because the kettlebell weight used is usually far below what you would use for an Olympic lift. This allows for multiple repetition sets that can simulate the stop and go movement in most sports. Performing sets of 10-15 repetitions of a weight 1/4-1/2 your body weight is perfect for training the hamstrings for the repeated stress that is common in competition.
Unlike Olympic lifts you can also use a lighter kettlebell and perform longer sets of swings to increase muscular endurance and cardiovascular conditioning. One might suggest that running long distances does the same thing and they would not be too far off the mark; however the kettlebell offers a few distinct advantages over distance running.
First off, distance running further adds to what athletes already do which is run. Running conditioning is crucial for many sports but when an athlete gets to an appropriate running level adding more may prove to be too much and increase the potential for overuse injuries. Kettlebell swings for longer periods of time can train the cardiovascular system without adding more joint stress that running produces because there is no pouncing of the pavement like with running.
Kettlebell swing training can also have the same cardiovascular training effect in less than half the time as running. With running you are moving your body weigh whereas with kettlebells you are moving isolated weight which will make you feel fatigued much faster and get the same workout as if you ran for twice the duration.
In terms of learning how to perform the exercises, Olympic lifts take much longer to learn the technique when compared to the kettlebell swing. With the Olympic lifts being so technically challenging not only does it take time away from the training session, it can also lead to more injuries if not performed correctly. Kettlebell swings are generally easy to learn and any corrections necessary can be quickly fixed. Athletes of all ages and ability levels can learn this movement quickly and plug them into their training program immediately.
To Perform the Kettlebell 2-Arm Swing:
- Set up in an athletic stance with two arms on the kettlebell which is directly in front of your legs making a triangle position.
- Lock your lats into place creating back tension.
- Hike the kettlebell through your legs by hinging your hips (not squatting).
- When you feel your hamstrings stretch; squeeze your glutes to drive your feet into the ground to move the kettlebell back through the legs.
- Make sure the hips always finish (get the hips fully underneath your body); this not only ensures proper technique but you are also going to save your lower back.
You want to properly propel the kettlebell upward (not forward) using your hips.
- No leaning back, you want a “tall body” posture at the top of the movement.
- When performing the backswing wait for the kettlebell to almost hit you before you hinge. The kettlebell should be above the knees in the backswing. Hinging too early can cause a sore lower back or even worse problems.
Adding some kettlebell swings into your program is an easy thing to learn and the rewards will pay off nicely in your athletic development.
If you need more information about the kettlebell swing check out the video below:
In this video I answer one of the most common questions about kettlebell training that I get “how do I bring the bell down after I snatch the weight?” I will show you what to do if you are a beginner, and how to also smooth out the drop into the back-swing for the two main styles of kettlebell swings; Hard style and GS competition style.
I have found the pull up to be a very intriguing exercise constantly on the minds of the people who come through the door of my gym. Generally speaking, as new trainees most cannot do them and if they can maybe they only muster up 1-2 full repetitions with an attempt to get their chin past the bar. Most of the time I see trainees resembling a flaying fish or furious pedaling air in a bicycle competition while trying a pull up.
Even with the initial limited success, I would say that most of the clients I train actually want to do them and get better at them. When I construct new programs the pull up is probably the most requested exercise variation to add. I believe this to be because most standardize testing from grade school to the law enforcement training has some sort of strength standard based on the pull up.
At the local middle school the Gold Standard for the pull up test are as follows:
Boys Pull Ups: Girls Flexed Arm Hang:
6th Grade; 2 reps 6th Grade; 17 sec.
7th Grade; 3 reps 7th Grade; 18 sec.
8th Grade; 5 reps 8th Grade; 19 sec.
Ye s I am a little disappointed to see the girls only have to do a flexed arm hang so I train the girls to work their way to pull ups figuring a few reps are better than a flexed arm hang any day and the testing allows pull ups to trump the flex arm hang.
For the Military standards for male recruits in boot camp the minimum requirement for pull ups is three repetitions and doing 20 reps earns you a top score during the testing phase.
Whether it is the need to get better for upcoming physical tests or an understandable measure of success to go from one repetition to five, the desire for trainees to perform pull ups is there and I will encourage this type of drive and add a pull up exercise variation within people’s programs. For many pull ups do not come easily at first and there needs to be a few stepping stones to get to the real deal. In this article I will go into the remedial exercises to get you to doing those perfect pull ups.
Activate the Correct Muscles
One of the most common movement mistakes I see with people who are not successful at pull ups is not activating the proper muscle groups to make their movement more successful. I tend to initially see a lot of hunching at the shoulders and pulling with the arms. The focus on the vertical pulling movement required for the pull up requires emphasis on the posterior muscles of the upper body.
When you elevate your shoulders you are basically turning off the functionality of the back muscles requiring you to rely on your arm to take over the movement. The back muscles are much more equipped to perform the movement successfully we just have to get them activated.
One of my favorite ways to activate the back also turns out to be the simplest; the band pull apart. Simply get a small elastic band and grab with the straightest wrists possible. With your shoulders down and elbows locked out, pull the band apart, towards the chest, by thinking about pulling your shoulder blades together. Make sure to control the band back to the start and reset the body position, if needed, and perform the next rep.
You can also simulate a pull up in the vertical plane with the band by starting overhead with the band and pulling to the chest.
Inverted Row Variations
This is one of my favorite movements towards pull up success because you can involve the correct pull up muscles and move your body weight through the range of motion while at an angle that can be manipulated to make the movement harder or easier.
Now the big difference in that inverted rows are more of a horizontal pull rather than a vertical pull, like the pull up, however the back muscles are generally much stronger pulling horizontally so you can easily perform more repetitions to train the muscles to get stronger for your pull ups.
The bar variation is a good place to start and the nice thing is that it is fully adjustable according to your current pulling condition. If you are beginning this movement, have the bar a bit higher and as you get stronger move it down.
As with any horizontal pulling movement it is important to have an even grip, keep the shoulders down and moderately retracted with your head neutral with the rest of the spine. Proper execution comes from moving the body as one unit, focusing on the muscles of the back (Lats, Rhomboids etc) to initiate and move the body during the pull. You want to feel the shoulder blades moving freely and gliding along your rib cage until they meet together in the middle of your back. Control the eccentric (downward motion) and always try to achieve full range of motion (ROM).
Grip is a huge factor when it comes to pull up success. Make sure to squeeze the bar tight when you are working through the ROM and you can slightly relax the grip momentarily in between repetitions.
Another variation of the inverted body row involves using a suspension type system like the Blast Straps or TRX. These suspension systems act much like the bar by making the movement harder or easier depending on the body position however they also train any imbalances between sides because of the independent handles. The technique is the same as the bar just pay close attention not to pull too far and have to manipulate your body to increase your ROM. This can primarily be seen in the flexing of the wrists or dropping of the shoulders forward to get further.
Suspension trainers also offer the added benefit of performing the motion with a single arm which can train the strength and stability difference between the two sides of the body. The trick when doing the single side is to keep proper mechanics of the inverted row in mind. Shoulders down, body aligned properly and as you pull your body weight up the strap remains stable; you do not want to use any momentum to propel you upward.
For any of these inverted row variations, as you become better, you can add weight to your body to make the movement harder. A weighted vest or chains that can be wrapped around the body work best.
Band Assisted Pull Ups
The other exercises mentioned above will all help to get your muscles stronger for pull up success however you have to train in the vertical plane to truly get the pull up down. Even if you can’t do a body weight pull up there is a way to train this movement with assistance.
Using bands for assistance is a good way to train the vertical motion of the pull up and to progress towards your body weight goal. Bands come in various sizes each having their own assistance/resistance level; the bigger the band the more help you will get.
Set up the band in the middle of the pull up bar ideally splitting your body right down the middle. Depending on the tension of the band and how much assistance you need you can place the band on your foot (more assistance) or on your knee. If you train solo it will be easier to set up the band around your knee especially if it is a larger one.
Keep your form strict and work up to a desired number of repetitions and gradually work your way to using small bands that offer less assistance until you are performing body weight pull ups.
Pull ups are achievable with the right progressive programming and dedication to the movement. Now go get them done.
For further explanation of the progressions above check out the video below:
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