The Best Things You Aren’t Doing With Your Kettlebells

by Josh Henkin on October 14, 2015

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Steve Holiner Squat with Mismatched Kettlebells

Senior RKC Steve Holiner Squats with mis-matched double kettlebells

Recently, I had a blast teaching the first RKC in Sacramento, California. We had a fantastic group of people—coaches who wanted to learn. We are all coaches, even if that simply means we are coaching ourselves. When I teach RKC Workshops, my goal is not just to teach people great technique, but I also teach why we do what we do. The RKC method is a powerful functional fitness system because of the deeper understanding we have with our drills, along with our detailed techniques.

Is all this information really that important? Isn’t it just about having a great kettlebell swing? While the answers to those questions are ultimately up to the individual, the old saying, “knowledge is power” still holds true. The knowledge from an RKC Workshop gives so much more power and value than most people expect. Each time we teach the deeper explanations behind “just” another clean, swing, snatch or squat variation, it is exciting to see everyone’s eyes light up.

The best part is the realization that powerful results don’t require complicated applications. Using two different sized kettlebells for double kettlebell drills is a wonderful example. Of course using mismatched kettlebells can simply be a way to perform double kettlebell drills when only a few kettlebells are available, but there is also a better reason to train with them: setting up progressions for RESISTING rotation. Many coaches also refer to this as anti-rotational training.

Before we get into the details of anti-rotational training, we should acknowledge that you may already be using some forms of it. Snatches, one-arm swings, presses, and cleans all represent anti-rotational movements. Renegade rows, suitcase carries, and other similar drills are additional variations of anti-rotational movements. Overall, I think one of the BIGGEST benefits of kettlebell training is the number of anti-rotational exercises that can be performed.

According to renowned physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann, anti-rotational training is important because, “During most daily activities, the primary role of the abdominal muscles is to provide isometric support and limit the degree rotation of the trunk… A large percentage of low back problems occur because the abdominal muscles are not maintaining tight control over the rotation between the pelvis and the spine at the L5-S1 level.”

Learning to resist movement decreases the risk of back injury and allows us to move through the hips—the way the body was designed to move. The ability to resist excessive motion also gives us a foundation to progress and learn more complex movements over time. The first and foremost of these more complex motions is rotation. As many coaches have said, “We can’t produce what we can’t resist first.”

Rotational training is really important for punching, kicking, throwing, and almost anything which requires a great deal of power.

With so many different anti-rotational exercise options available with kettlebells, why choose mis-matched kettlebell training? First, it gives us many more progression possibilities. Secondly, it will allow us to introduce the concept of anti-rotation very gradually. Most people struggle when complex ideas are taught in an overly aggressive way. Lastly, mis-matched kettlebells will make some of our classic exercises that much smarter!

Implementation

Instead of just throwing some random weights together, we will start sensibly. This will allow us to meet an individual client’s needs, as well as easily see when they have hit their limit. In general, I find starting with a 4kg difference works well for most people. For example, a good starting place might be performing mixed kettlebell front squats using a 16kg and 12kg.

Next we’ll need a dowel rod, chalk line, or mat line for measurement on the ground. It will give us some important feedback. During a mis-matched kettlebell exercise, we will predominately watch the front and back of the movement to see if the trunk or hips are moving in rotation, or leaning. Many times, the trunk and pelvis will hold still, but the feet will move to compensate for the instability applied to the body. So, placing the a dowel rod along the toes, or lining the toes up to the edge of a chalk line or edge of a mat will provide quick and easy feedback. How much movement of the feet should we allow? My rule of thumb is “really technical”, if you actually need a tape measure to determine the amount of movement, then you are doing fine!

Remember, you will be switching sides, so keep that in mind when programming. The easiest solution is to use even numbered sets and just switch off on each set. However, if we use an odd number of sets, we will typically perform half of the set with the weights one way and switch halfway through.

Progression

You probably guessed that the most obvious way to progress is to add more weight… While that is true, I actually find that increasing the difference between the two kettlebells is even better. For example, if we are doing front squats and start with 16kg and 12kg kettlebells, we have a total load of 28kg. If it goes well and we want to increase the challenge, instead of just going heavier (which we still could do), we might try the same front squat with a 20kg and an 8kg kettlebell. Even though the total weight is the same, the larger weight difference between the kettlebells increases the challenging anti-rotational effect.

Another option is to change the position of the load. If we use this strategy with an exercise like a lunge, we can hold the load low by the hip and simply move the weight to the rack position, or finally overhead. That changing leverage will make anti-rotational challenge harder and harder. Keep in mind, during more unstable drills like single leg deadlifts, step-ups, and lunges, the anti-rotational forces are more difficult due to the instability of the movements.

The overall goal is to eventually move to true single arm exercises. If you have been around kettlebell training long enough, you will probably notice that as simple as one-arm exercises sound, getting people to do them really well is not so simple.

On the other hand, it is also a really cool way to making jump towards heavier loads. For example, double 32kg swings might just be out of reach. But, swings with a 32kg and a 24kg might be very possible. While the weight is quite a bit lighter, working on resisting the rotational forces will not only allow us to build upon heavier loads, but build a stronger and more stable foundation.

As we often say in DVRT, strength is not just what we lift, but what we resist. Try using some of these mixed match kettlebell ideas in your training and let us know how your kettlebell training takes another leap!

***

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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  • Great article. I love performing the offset training with my classes and for my myself!

  • mixed kettlebells definitely make for an interesting mental challenge too!

  • Josh Henkin

    Thanks guys!

  • Anna Hermsdorfer

    Thank you! I’ve avoided double kettlebell drills because I only own one of each weight. This never even occurred to me! I’m definitely adding this to my training.

    • Josh Henkin

      Thanks Anna, let us know how it goes!

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