Where Do I Start the Bell and Why?

kettlebell prevention

 

 

When training people who are newer to kettlebells, often you will see them pick the bell up off the ground by standing up and THEN swing the bell behind them. That method is not optimal for a few reasons. In this photo posted by Prevention.com, you can see that the starting position of the bell is in front of the lifter, making a triangle with the feet. This allows her to tilt the bell toward her which gets her posterior chain loaded and to pack the lats and get fully engaged from the get-go. Her first movement is then an aggressive hike back and an aggressive stand up. Starting in this proper alignment allows for safe mechanics and muscle engagement. When someone picks the bell up off the ground first and then starts swinging it can be dangerous by facilitating rounding of the back and a disconnected body. A safe swing starts out just in front of the lifter, makes a triangle with the feet of the lifter and allows muscle engagement from the start.

Training Tip Tuesday Episode 9: Breaking Down the Turkish Get-up

The Turkish Get-up is one of the best exercises for all-around strength and mobility. It’s just a matter of fact that our Western society doesn’t roll, stand and kneel very often anymore, and kids are playing video games under trees at the park. The get-ups takes us through all of those movements causing us to both perform and feel better. This video breaks down the Turkish Get-up for the beginner and those looking to refine their technique.

 

Training Tip Tuesday Episode 8: How to Do the Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is one of the most important exercises in kettlebell training. It combines strength and cardio for a “power packed best bang for your workout.” This video offers a few quick tips on the kettlebell swing and tips for not muscling with the arms.

What are your best kettlebell swing cues? Please share in the comments below!

Training Tip Tuesday Episode 7: How to Get a Heavier Military Press

 

In our last episode, we talked about having a loose grip on the kettlebell handle during the quick lifts, such as cleans, swings, and snatches to avoid calluses.  This episode, we are going to talk about having a tight grip on the slow lifts, such as presses, in order to move more weight.

There is a theory called irradiation that states “Muscles contract harder when they contract together.” This means that if you try to make a lift a full body lift, you can move more weight than if trying to isolate a single muscle group. When you set up for a military press, for example, you want to make your body one solid column. You grab the ground with your toes, corkscrew your feet into the ground, pull up your kneecaps to tighten the quads, contract your hamstrings and glutes, fire your abs, and squeeze both the fist of your free hand and the hand gripping the bell.  Then you power breathe to maximize tension and lift a great deal of weight.

In Power to the People, Pavel said, “You can’t shoot a cannon from a canoe.” This statement means that if your body is loose and void of tension, you won’t move much weight.  And because (as we mentioned earlier) muscles work harder when they work together, a solid platform will get a large load overhead.

We jokingly call this the almond butter jar theory because if you are opening a jar of almond butter and the lid is not on very tightly, you can just use a few muscles to open the jar. If, on the other hand, the lid is stuck, you pull it in and squeeze your glutes, abs, biceps, and more until the lid pops off. We use our body as a unit in every day life, so we might as well train it that way in the gym!

Training Tip Tuesday Episode 6: Adjusting Your Grip to Minimize Calluses

When beginning a kettlebell training regimen, one of the most common complaints is having calluses

on the hands that make it hard to train.  One of the main causes of calluses is over gripping the bell handle on ballistic exercises.

Kettlebell exercises can be divided into two categories, grinds and ballistics.  We have discussed this in a previous training vlog but to recap, a grind is a slow exercise (such as the military press) where you grind through to the end, and a ballistic exercise is one where there is a force and then the bell floats, such as a swing, snatch, or even a kettlebell clean.

On the grinds, you want to grip the bell tight to make sure you are using as many muscles as you can (we will talk more about this theory called “Hyper-irradiation” next week) but on the ballistics, you want a loose grip.

A loose grip on the ballistics allows the handle to shift and move around your hand without excess friction.  If you grip the bell tightly on ballistics, you will be fighting the natural movement of the handle around your hand and cause the skin that’s in the way to get worn and callused. A super tight grip can even cause blood blisters in some cases.

You’ll see people on the internet bragging about their calluses but what they are really doing is bragging about an injury.  In extreme cases (such as the snatch test at an SFG cert or heavy preparation for an event) you may get calluses on your hands, but it shouldn’t be a way of life for kettlebell lifters. If your hands are constantly callused, it’s an indication that your technique is off and could use some tweaking.

If you do find your skin getting rough and callused, as you improve your technique, also take care of the calluses that are forming.  My personal favorite is using a Ped-Egg that you can find in the “As Seen on TV” section of your local drug store, and I’ve heard of people even using sandpaper to file their skin down and finishing off the day by putting bag balm or udder cream on their hands and sleeping with them covered in socks.  Do you have an additional method of avoiding or treating calluses? Please share in the comments below!

Training Tip Tuesday Episode 5: How Many Reps of Each Exercise Should I Do in a Set?

 

One of the questions that always comes up in the monthly Kettlebell Fundamentals workshops is “How many reps should I do?”  The answer to that question is “It depends.”Master SFG Doug Nepodal likes to say “5 or less or 20 or more” – but what does that really mean?  It means if you are doing a grind, the general rule is do 5 reps or less and if you are doing a ballistic, the general rule is 20 reps or more.

Grinds

In kettlebell training, grinds are the slower exercises – you know, the ones you “grind through.”  Presses, deadlifts, and even get-ups all fall into the grind category.  These are exercises you would do for lower reps at an appropriate weight.  I tell my students if they get 5 or more grinds in a 30 second interval then they can more than likely move up in weight.  I would rather see one repetition where someone had to connect and use their body as unit instead of 10 where he was repping out lighter weights using just one muscle group. And you can even get your one up with a heavy weight then drop down to a lighter bell, but if you can do ONE with good form then do it at least once a week.

I like to say that presses are one of my favorite ab exercises because to get a heavy press above my head, I have to squeeze my abs very tightly.  As Pavel says, “Muscles are social creatures.  They work harder when they work together.” The more muscles you use, the more weight you can move.  Simple as that.

 Once you understand the concept of full body connection and using your whole body as a unit, you can go back and play with lighter weights using the same connectivity and do a program such as Dan John’s Easy Strength, but you must first grasp the concept of not isolating muscle groups and using your whole body to lift.

The grip in the grinds is a closed hand grip squeezing the handle.  When you close your grip and squeeze the handle tightly, you maintain greater tension and can move more weight because again, you are using more muscles.

Ballistics 

Ballistics are the quick lifts – the ones where you have to maintain a balance of tension and relaxation.  The swing and snatch are the two most common kettlebell ballistics.  In these exercises, you want to do as many as you can until just before your form goes.  Because ballistics are explosive and dance back and forth across the line between tension and relaxation you can do more reps.  There is that split second at the top of the swing where you can “rest” before the next hike and snap and that moment of “relaxation” is important to keep you going. Swings that are all tension all the time are very ugly and make your neck ache afterward.  At the top of the swing and snatch, stand up tall, don’t chicken neck and make sure your face is relaxed.  As Former Master SFG Jeff O’Connor says, “Ugly faces don’t make you stronger!”

There is a place for heavy ballistics and a place for light ballistics.  Make sure to make time for both.  For example, a whole bunch of light snatches such as in Kenneth Jay’s Viking Warrior Conditioning protocol will shred you and make you lean, but unless you are going heavy at least once a week you probably will sacrifice some strength in that lift.

The grip in the ballistics is looser than in the grinds – you can even have an open grip at the top of the snatch!  When you crush grip the handle in the quick lifts, the handle rubs your hands as it turns and causes callouses.  The arms are more of a guide in the ballistics than a driving force so you don’t have to squeeze the bell tightly.

So, how many reps should you do?  5 or less heavy reps for the grinds and a whole bunch of ballistics as long as form is not compromised.  Once you understand how the body works as a unit, play around with different bell sizes on different days – just know that you have the potential to lift a great amount of weight when you are connected and not isolating muscle groups.

Training Tip Tuesday Episode 4: Packing the Down Shoulder in the Turkish Get-up

Knock on wood, I have only had one kettlebell related injury and it was caused by not packing the down shoulder in a super heavy Turkish Get-up.  It is very important that both the shoulder on the bell side and the down side be packed throughout the entire exercise.

I’ve found that many people have trouble feeling what “pack the shoulder means.”  This drill, shown to me by Susan Moore, is the most effective way I have seen to force the packing of the down shoulder.

Set a super heavy bell on its side right where the down hand will be planted (about 45 degrees out from the body.)  As you roll to the elbow, pull the handle of that bell and that will force you to pack the shoulder and show you how the down shoulder works as much as the bell side shoulder. Repeat a few times before continuing in the get-up.

Training Tip Tuesday Episode 3: Switching from the American to the Russian Swing

From what I understand, Crossfit uses with the American Swing as a standard for competition or a measure of beating your personal best.  In the Russian method of swinging there really isn’t a standard for bell height and by requiring everyone to go overhead there was a standard to measure.

In our world, we don’t care how high the bell goes.  In a heavy swing when you begin to get tired the bell may come just off of your thighs.  And that’s fine.  You are still get a fantastic ab and posterior chain exercise done.  Think about punching something in front of you.  You can stay very rooted and connected, but if you punch something almost over your head your abs disconnect and lats get disengaged.  The same applies in the swing and an overhead swing can get dangerous for people who don’t have keen body awareness, and many Crossfitters are now using the American swing for benchmarks and competitions but moving to the Russian Swing for the regular WOD’s.

When switching from the American kettlebell swing to the Russian kettlebell swing, there are two common problems that surface fairly often.  Because the American Swing is in essence s squat plus a front raise, people transitioning will either have a squatty (instead of hinging) Russian swing and/or they will pull the bell with their arms instead of letting the bell height bc dictated by the hip snap and the arms simply be along for the ride.  Here are some drills to fix these two common issues:

1. How to Fix a Squatty Swing:

When someone is squatting and not hinging in the swing, have them swing with the balls of their feet on a 2×4.  Raising the balls of the feet will restrict the ankles and keep them from being able to squat. Immediately have them step off the board and swing mimicking that feeling of sitting back in the swing and not squatting.

2. How to Fix Pulling with the Arms:

When someone is swinging higher than chest level, it’s a tell tale sign that they are pulling with their arms.  In a swing, the arms are like ropes and the hands like hooks and the power is primarily coming from the hips, glutes, and abs.  Make a hand towel into a snake, turn the bell 90 degrees and loop the towel through the handle.  Swing holding onto the towel (choking up as close as you possibly can.) If you are not pulling with your arms, the bell will for an extension of your arm and hands and will be very smooth.  If you are pulling, the bell will toggle on the towel.  Once the towel swing feels smooth, remove the towel and mimic that feeling in a set of regular two handed kettlebell swings.

 

Training Tip Tuesday Episode 2: How to Keep From Banging Your Wrist in a Kettlebell Clean

In our intro class at Condition, we cover the 5 basic kettlebell exercises: swings, get-ups, cleans, presses, and squats.  When we teach the clean I often tell the new students that it will be the most awkward exercise we cover… which sounds ridiculous after having just learned the Turkish Get-up.  It is true, however, that the kettlebell clean can have a steep learning curve for many reasons, and it also is one of the exercises with diminishing returns: the more you think about it the more difficult it becomes.  Most beginners have the issue of banging their wrists, forearms, or biceps in the kettlebell clean. Here are 4 tips to help keep those injuries from happening.

1. Tame the Arc

The kettlebell clean and the kettlebell swing from the waist down are the same. You hike the bell back and propel with the hips for both.  The difference is the trajectory.  Cleans travel much closer to your body than out in front of you.  We call that taming the arc.  The tamer the arc from the back swing to the rack the more the bell will be in control and roll around the hand instead of flop over wildly. A way to train this is to cheat curl the bell into the rack position (resting comfortably in the triangle in the middle of your bicep, forearm and shoulder) and then put a magazine in your armpit.  Perform a clean without dropping the magian.  Keep in mind that your arm should be whip loose at the bottom of the clean and not muscling the bell up.

2. Think “Clean to the Hip.”

If you think about cleaning to your shoulder, oftentimes it will end up much higher than your shoulder.  If you think about cleaning to the hip, your forearm will be in the way and you’ll get it right to the shoulder instead of way up where it falls to the rack and bangs your bicep.

3. Have a Loose Grip

In the kettlebell clean (as in the other ballistic exercises such as the swing and snatch,) you want a loose grip on the bell and can even open your hand at the top.  Having a death grip during even the best of cleans will restrict the bell from rolling around the hand and make it bang the wrist.

4. A Kettlebell Clean is Not a Barbell Clean

I really don’t even know why they have the same name because they are very different exercises.  If someone is coming from an Olympic lifting background the may try to translate the barbell clean into a kettlebell clean and they are simply not the same exercise.  In a barbell clean (which I think is a fantastic exercise, by the way) the bar travels over the hand and ends with a bent back wrist.  In a kettlebell clean, instead of traveling over the hand it should roll around the hand. In a kettlebell clean, you should mimic zipping up a hoodie and then sneaking your hand under the bell instead of flipping it over out in front of you.

There are plenty more tips and tricks to perfecting the kettlebell clean.  These are the 4 that have worked most often in my experience.  Also, I’ve found that the best cleans happen when you aren’t thinking about it!