Why Kettlebells Will Improve Your Life

by Florian Kiendl on July 22, 2015

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The kettlebell—your universal remedy.

The kettlebell—your universal remedy.

In teaching people of all walks of life, I have observed several distinct effects of kettlebell training. Some are obvious, others much less so…

If you are new to kettlebells you might be wondering what impact this new implement might have on you if you start using it consistently. This article should give you a good idea of what to expect, and it will probably strengthen your resolve to give kettlebell training a try.

On the other hand, if you are already an kettlebell expert or an HKC or RKC Instructor, you may find that you have already experienced or witnessed these effects with your clients. When I first started teaching kettlebells, it was sometimes difficult to convince potential clients or new students that kettlebells were right for them. In following paragraphs I will try to summarize my observations regarding the positive impact of kettlebell training.

Kettlebells Are Perfect For Making You Fit in a Limited Amount of Time

We all know that training promotes physical and mental health. What has changed in recent years is that science has now started to explain why. How muscles impact the immune system, or the effects of aerobic exercise on brain function are somewhat new areas of research. In the past, there was only the subjective experience of people like John F. Kennedy or Jack LaLanne who promoted an active lifestyle many years ago, but today we have profound scientific explanations for why everyone needs to move on a regular basis.

Yet, while medical science has started to understand the importance of movement for our overall health, the reality of our lives has also rapidly changed—and many people are more unhealthy than ever before.

Our lives have become faster and more stressful than in the history of mankind. To cope with this increased speed, we rely more and more on technology—therefore we’re moving less than any of our ancestors. Aside from obvious things like driving wherever possible or using escalators instead of stairs, there are more subtle changes that rob you of the opportunity to move. Internet stores make everything—even kettlebells—available at your fingertips without leaving your house.

We need movement more than ever, but we have less time and fewer opportunities for it. The average gym class or 45 minutes on the treadmill can not compensate for the lack of movement during your work-week—unless you can train several hours per day.

The kettlebell is the perfect solution for this problem. With its off-centered mass, it trains your muscles and your heart at the same time. Exercises like swings, cleans and snatches train your entire posterior chain—the group of muscles, ligaments, and tendons most important for a healthy spine and good postural alignment.

Kettlebells Naturally Improve Your Posture

Correctly swinging a kettlebell activates two muscles that are usually dormant in much of modern society: the gluteus maximus and the latissimus dorsi. These muscles are the two most important players in our posterior chain. Luckily, we can use the kettlebell to get them back into action.

The gluteus maximus (or more crudely defined, your butt muscle) is one of the biggest and strongest muscles in the body. If it functions as it should, it enables you to lift heavy objects from the ground and also protects your lumbar spine. In the kettlebell swing, its role is to forcefully lock out the hips. One of the first exercises I use with beginners when I teach the swing is the shoulder bridge (you lie on your back with your feet pulled toward the butt and push your hips to the ceiling). We start with this exercise for only one reason—so the beginners can experience what it feels like when their glutes are tensed. I rarely have my beginners do more than 30-40 swings during the first lesson and they are still sore the next day—guess where!

Active glutes lead to unlocked hip flexors and allow the pelvis to get into a neutral position, the foundation for a naturally s-shaped spine. The activation of the glutes is why sometimes even a few short kettlebell sessions can lead to an improved postural alignment.

The second muscle group, the latissimus dorsi (or the lats) is mainly responsible for all upper body pulling movements, but they also help with your press if you use them correctly. Additionally, the lats are able to stabilize the upper back and protect the shoulders.

In the swing, the lats are used to keep the kettlebell from pulling your shoulders forward and they also counter rotation in one-arm swings.

Kettlebells Bring Vigor and Youth Back

Have you ever noticed that you can accurately guess someone’s age from fairly far away by watching how they move? An older person is usually more restricted and moves gingerly. On the other hand, children move with mobility and vigor—at least until we make them sit still for hours every day.

For beginners, one of the hardest concepts in Hardstyle kettlebell training to understand is the explosive nature of the movements. We are not just standing up with the bell in hand, but are exploding out of the hinge and tensing the whole body in the top position. Movement of this quality simply does not exist in our every day lives. The average adult unlearned fast and crisp movements. With kettlebells, your body learns that it is not dangerous to move fast, and you will soon start to move as you did in your youth.

After beginners understand this idea and move more dynamically, they usually feel very good and empowered. They break the chains which have restricted their movement for years. It’s a great feeling, and you usually can see it in their eyes.

If you are wondering if this paragraph is dedicated only to a certain age group, it is not! Kettlebell training works for people in their late teens as well as for senior citizens older than 60. The only real difference is that older beginners will have more movement habits to unlearn, and will need to be more cautious in the process. A trusted RKC Instructor can be very helpful in these situations.

There is no age limit for kettlebell training

There is no age limit for kettlebell training

Kettlebells Allow You to Express Yourself

The last aspect of kettlebell training I would like to discuss in this article is breathing. When watching people train, one of the first things you will notice is their rhythmic and loud breathing. Some people, especially the ladies will be slightly appalled when confronted with this for the first time. We raised in a culture where the sounds our bodies produce are considered to be inappropriate—which is kind of weird if you think about it. Therefore we always try to avoid or conceal those sounds, so it can be shocking when you first enter a gym and see a group swinging a kettlebells and sounding like a gathering of steam engines! What a strange sight!

Deep and pressurized breathing has several positive effects on our body. Most importantly, it activates the diaphragm.

Aside from these physical effects, I also observed that we are psychologically effected. It is similar to that of the Kiai, the blood-curdling Tae Kwon Do war cry you can hear during the keykpa (board breaking). Beginners always struggle with it and feel strange to call out this loudly. It is the same with the Hardstyle breathing during a good kettlebell session, you will hear hisses, grunts and even yells. Sometimes the rhythmic sounds you hear from a group swinging and pressing together can sound like a weird kind of music 😉

When you overcome the internalized reflexes of your upbringing and allow your breath—the most fundamental function of your physical existence—to be heard, it seems to flip a switch in your brain which makes it easier to express your needs. It literally liberates you to make yourself heard.

Conclusion

If you are already using kettlebells, you will have experienced the transformative nature of this seemingly archaic training tool. I would be glad If you could find the time to share your own experiences in the comments.

If you have not yet started training with kettlebells, I strongly encourage you to give it a try. Expect it to be a humbling experience in the beginning, but know that it has the power to make you better and healthier than you are today. A good coach can help anyone get a good start. It will not be comfortable, it will not be easy, but it will definitely be worth it!

***
RKC Team Leader Florian Kiendl is a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and runs a Martial Arts Gym in a small town close to Munich (Germany). He made it his mission to help his students to improve their movement and overall health. In his search for ways to overcome the movement restrictions of his students (and his own) he found the RKC and now works together with Master RKC Robert Rimoczi and others to help as many people as possible to gain back their Strength and Agility.

He writes a regular Blog at blog.kettlebellgermany.de and offers workshops all over Germany teaching the RKC Kettlebell exercises: KettlebellGermany.de.
If you have questions or comments on the article feel free to email him at florian@kettlebellgermany.de

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3 Ways to Get More from Your Kettlebells

by Josh Henkin on July 15, 2015

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Master RKC Josh Henkin Overhead Press

Kettlebells were a big change for me—far beyond just adding swings, get-ups, and squats to my training. The whole concept of kettlebells made me re-evaluate the tools I used and made me reconsider how many tools I really needed to accomplish a specific fitness goal. In many ways, kettlebells got me thinking more about the big picture. Soon, I was solving fitness needs more effectively. I remember when Dragon Door kettlebells only came in three sizes—16kg, 24kg, and 32kg. Back then, most people didn’t consider switching to a lighter or heavier kettlebell to be the default way to make an exercise harder or easier. That’s what I loved about kettlebells in the first place—we were taught to think about them a bit differently, and I want to share that with YOU!

Many people think they will outgrow their kettlebells as they work through various movements and progressions, but I have yet to see that truly be the case. In fact, by not automatically jumping to a different size kettlebell, you will find yourself breaking plateaus and feeling stronger much faster. The following three kettlebell techniques will show you how!

Dead Stop Anything

Since cleans, snatches, and swings are essential in kettlebell training, it’s important to note how to progress these movements. Time after time I am shocked to see how dead stop progressions can change so much about someone’s movements—and how many strengths and weaknesses are revealed.

While the dead-stop technique is definitely beneficial for swings, I find it has the BIGGEST impact on cleans and snatches, because they don’t have any pre-swing to build from the powerful eccentric pre-load. Ironically, since many people love deadlifts for the same reason, I am surprised this technique is not more popular for kettlebell ballistic training. Personally, I have found VERY few people who can double clean two 32kg or bigger kettlebells from a dead stop for sets of five. But, every time I do meet someone who can, the strength transfer to other lifts is pretty amazing!

Stop!

Since many popular fitness approaches are based on completing a workout in a certain amount of time, we often overlook the value of adding specific pauses. The great thing about pauses is that they can add challenge to any kettlebell lift from snatches to get-ups to squats.

It is amazing what the addition of a few seconds pause can do to the weight of a kettlebell. Suddenly, a somewhat light kettlebell can feel MUCH heavier!

But there are more reasons we should use pauses. On a basic level, pauses give us an opportunity to look at our positions and alignment. When people try to fly through their workouts, it’s common to see a loss of proper posture and cheated ranges of motion. Pauses help prevent technique breakdown and also accomplish some of the benefits we discussed in dead stop training. And with pauses, we can hold in a wide variety of positions. There is great value in holding the catch of a clean or snatch, the bottom of a squat, or even specific phases of the get-up. All of these pause examples can help build untapped strength.

Finally, pauses are an opportunity to work on isometric strength, which is valuable but often difficult to add to most fitness programs. Since isometric training is typically only effective in about a 15 degree range of the action, it may not seem worthwhile. But that limitation is a GREAT reason to work on it at both the bottom and top ranges of motion of a given exercise. At the top, isometric strength can do wonders for building great core strength. And the bottom the range of motion is typically where we need the most strength in a lift.

Perform the Underdog Movement!

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to teach an RKC Workshop in China. During the course we always demonstrate and teach “accessory” kettlebell drills. These drills aren’t tested in the RKC, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. In truth, many of these additional kettlebell drills are just as important as the more popular and tested exercises.

For example, the kettlebell single leg deadlift has amazing transfer to swings, cleans, and snatches. Many people would benefit from performing the single leg deadlift because it builds greater stability and strength in the lower legs, hips, and trunk. It is so easy to catch and correct compensatory movements with drills like the kettlebell single leg deadlift.

Master RKC Josh Henkin Coaching One-Leg Deadlifts at the China RKC

Master RKC Josh Henkin Coaching Single Leg Deadlifts at the China RKC

Bent rows also make this list of “underdog movements”. I’ve heard some people say that bent rows are “too hard” on the back, but I think this row variation is a great foundational drill for all our ballistic kettlebell exercises. Think of the bent row as an alternative plank—if you can’t hold the position with the right posture, then you may not be really ready to produce power.

Rows also help the shoulder joint with all the overhead work involved with kettlebell training. Due to the typical modern lifestyle and training, the muscles on most people’s back sides are typically weaker. While some trainers will say that you just need to include pull-ups in your training to fix this imbalance, our lats are internal rotators of the shoulder and can actually increase the shoulders’ tendency to round forward. Think the shoulders of elite swimmers. Fortunately, bent rows can help many of the muscles which pull the shoulders back.

But there’s a crucial trick—while many people can lift a kettlebell when they row, they might not actually get their shoulder blades to move. We need to see and feel the shoulder blades coming together as you bring the weight upwards. When this happens, we will also sense if you have scapular movement. If you do not have this movement, it can impact your overhead strength and performance.

Since they are important, I don’t want you to just add some of these “other” kettlebell movements, but instead, PRIORITIZE them in your training. The benefits will include increased performance and resistance to injury.

Just Three?

Adding three things might sound easy, but they all take discipline to perform. You may honestly feel humbled by some of the lighter kettlebells you thought you’d bested. But if you truly have the desire to get better, you will never feel like you’ve grown out of your kettlebells after you experience the amazing benefits from these three simple strategies!

***

Josh Henkin, Master RKC, CSCS has been a RKC instructor since 2003 and has implemented kettlebell programs for major Division I programs, SWAT teams, and many different general fitness programs. Josh is also the creator of the DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training system where he is a highly sought after presenter worldwide. He can be reached at info@ultimatesandbagtraining.com or http://DVRTFitness.com. Josh Henkin is also the author of DVRT, The Ultimate Sandbag Training System now available in paperback and ebook format.

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