Kettlebells are generally something that get laughed at by powerlifters and Strong(wo)man competitors alike. However, kettlebells used correctly can be a vital tool to any lifter. When I originally started my gym, my main clientele were interested in fat loss. I thought kettlebells were fairly useless, and anything you can do with a kettlebell you can do with a dumbbell. I was lucky enough to have a friend that was RKC certified come show me a few things, and needless to say I was very humbled. I will say that kettlebells are absolutely great for fat loss. Exercises can be explosive, full body, and easily transitioned to the next movement for complexes. Now by no means am I saying kettlebells are the greatest thing ever, and they cure cancer, but they are a valuable tool. If you are a strength athlete then you should never abandon the basic barbell lifts, because nothing will get you stronger. For the strength athlete kettlebells are a great accessory after your main lifts. They are also great as “finishers” if you are in need of improving your conditioning, or dropping some extra pounds to make a lower weight class. One thing about kettlebells that makes most people shy away from them is that the technique is very difficult. If you are interested in adding kettlebells to your training program I suggest you work with someone that has a lot of experience with them.
First, I’m going to outline a few of my favorites for accessory work. These are exercise best to do for higher reps after your main lift.
One arm strict press
You should always incorporate single limb movements in your training from time to time. Imbalances can develop, especially on an overhead press. When performing a strict press with a kettlebell, there is a greater range of motion then with a dumbbell press. The kettlebell starts in the rack position where it rests on your chest, with your elbow pointing straight down. Your forearm should be tight against your chest, and your fist by your chin as if you were a boxer. As with any kind of strict press, tighten your glutes, core, and quads to not use any leg drive. Begin the press by squeezing the handle tight, and press the kettlebell slightly away from you, bringing it back in to lock out directly over your shoulder joint. Done correctly there should be a slight arc to your press. Lower the weight the same way by thinking about pulling it down and keep your lats tight. Make sure not to just lower it straight down as you would with a dumbbell. The kettlebell should return to the rack position before reversing the movement.
Double racked Squat
Racked kettlebell squats are extremely humbling for those who have never tried them. The kettlebells will sit in the same place as they would for a strict press. This exercise engages your core, and your quads big time. Kettlebell squats are also a great teaching tool for the squat. With new clients that are untrained I will start them with a simple goblet squat. Most people walking into a gym for the first time are not ready to have a bar on their back. For those who are experienced try goblet squats as a warm up before barbell lifts to loosen the hips up to achieve proper depth. Going back to the double racked squat, make sure you squat very low. With the kettlbells racked in front, you will be able to stay very upright to break parallel with ease. If you want to make these extra challenging, add a pause in at the bottom. Also do no compare these to what you can front squat, many of you big squatters will be humbled by a pair of 70lb kettlebells!
For those of you that have no experience with kettlebells, I’m sure you have heard of, or seen a swing. Swings can be great as a warm up, going heavy for accessory work, and doing higher reps for conditioning. When I’m talking about swings I also mean the Russian swing, not the crossfit or “American” swing. I don’t care much for the American swing as I feel the kettlebell snatch is a better exercise if we are going to bring the kettlebell over your head in one motion. However if you are a crossfit competitor then by all means, keep training the American swing. I will get into snatches later in the article. To perform the swing properly, make sure you are doing a hip hinge with little bend at the knees. Start the kettlebell out in front of you as I do in the video and hike it back like a football. Your wrists should come into your inner thigh, and think about absorbing the weight in your hips. Explosively reverse the movement by pushing the weight off and stand up tall. Extend the hips all the way and squeeze your glutes tight at the top. Make sure to not lean back to avoid injury to your lower back. You should be completely upright at the top of the movement.
Jack Knife sit up
The jack knife is my favorite abdominal exercise to perform with kettlebells. For a beginner, start with no weight, and work on not overarching your back when lowering your arms and legs. Once you are strong enough, progress to holding two light kettlebells. You will see people doing these with a med ball, but kettlebells in each individual hand, and the way the kettlebells pull back, make this exercise much more difficult. Keep the reps higher as with most abdominal exercise of at least 15 reps. On a side note if have very strong abs, a great finisher is to pair this with ab wheel rollout. Try a countdown of 10 jackknife situps, 10 ab wheel rollouts, 9 of each, 8 of each, etc, all the way to 1 each.
Fat loss complexes
Again I must emphasize that you learn proper form before you try a few of the more complicated kettlebell exercises. These complexes can be done at the end of your training, or added in as conditioning work on your off days. On your off days of training just remember that you need enough rest to be recovered, so do not go too heavy and beat yourself up. I used to do full kettlebell workouts on my off days of heavy weight training, and all it did was beat me up, cutting down my recovery. Keep these light, fast, and use short rest periods.
1a) Left Arm KB Snatch- 3 x 10 x 0 sec. rest
1b) Left Arm KB Clean- 3 x 10 x 15-60 sec. rest
1c) Left Arm KB Swing- 3 x 10 x 0 sec. rest
1d) Right Arm KB Snatch- 3 x 10 x 0 sec. rest
1e) Right Arm KB Clean- 3 x 10 x 15-60 sec. rest
1f) Right Arm KB Swing- 3 x 10 x 0 sec. rest
1a KB swings 30 sec
1b Jump Rope 30 sec
-perform 10 rounds with a 10 sec rest in between
1a Right arm Snatch 2 x 20
1b Right side sledge hammer hit 2 x 20
1c Left arm snatch 2 x 20
1d Left arm sledge hammer hit 2 x 20
I would like to add that I do not have Turkish get ups at all in these exercises even though it is one of the most popular kettlebell exercises. Generally people will add get ups on a lower body day, which you can argue the primary muscles used are the abdominals. Turkish get ups are really a full body movement, and are great if fat loss is your number one goal. However I am using kettlebells to add to your strength training, not take away from it. Also Turkish get ups tend to beat the shoulder up quite a bit. If you pressed heavy the day before, and are now on a lower body day finishing up with get ups you are only sacrificing recovery time on your shoulder. A good alternative is to do these with a sand bag. You get all the benefits of a get up, but without taking a beating on your shoulder. Simply rest the sandbag on your shoulder and hug it with the same technique.
Kettlebells are a great tool in any trainer’s tool box. If you are a coach working with clients mainly interested in fat loss, I highly recommend you learn how to perform and teach kettlebells. Perfect these moves first, focus on your main lifts (squat, bench, dead, events, etc) and add these movements in and you will get stronger, and be more explosive as a strength athlete.