Kettlebell training isn’t easy. Not only is it physically very demanding, but it also requires a great deal of body awareness that is usually only achieved through many months or years of practice. If you have a history in dance, martial arts or other skilled physical activity you will take to kettlebell training much more quickly, as it correlates directly to almost all sports. However, if you are beginning from scratch, there is a good chance that you are feeling a certain degree of awkwardness about certain aspects of your training and are constantly working to improve the movements. I aim to assist you with with that awkwardness today.
For many people, a lack of flexibility will stand in the way of good technique in one way or another. Tight hamstrings may cause you to flex your back when you are in a deep hip bend, tight hip flexors will prevent you from hip extending far enough and tight shoulders and lats will prevent you from lifting your arms overhead. Tightness in the thoracic spine will make your kettlebell lifting less efficient and more injury prone and is not only common but also often overlooked.
Even if flexibility isn’t too much of a problem for you, the key to making everything feel more natural in your training is by going through the proper progressions. The proper progressions will both help you develop flexibility and the best motor patterns for the job.
Here is a path that you can follow when you are learning how to lift kettlebells that will allow you to move one step at a time. If at any point, anything doesn’t feel right, simply back the necessary amount of steps and work out the problems you are experiencing with a lower intensity exercise.
1) Before you lift anything heavy, learn how to bend, squat and lunge with nothing but bodyweight.
2) The deadlift: is the king of the weightlifting jungle, you can learn this once you have learned how to bend properly with just your bodyweight. If at any point your training doesn’t feel right, you can always return to this exercise. It is the foundation that you will build off of when you are swinging, cleaning and snatching a kettlebell.
3) The front squat: Practice this now, if for no other reason than it is essential that you have learned the difference between a bend and a squat by now, and this is your chance to practice and understand the difference between these two movements. For many men especially (but not exclusively) the bend looks just like a squat, remedy this at this phase of your training and do not move forward until you have mastered both.
4) Turkish getups: Start by using a water bottle for weight and gradually move up as you learn the movement. This exercise will not only progress the lunge that you learned body weighted to a weighted exercise, but more importantly it will start to open your shoulders and teach you how to fixate properly. This ability will pave the way for your clean and jerk and snatch, two lifts that should not be attempted before this exercise has been mastered.
5) The kettlebell swing: Take plenty of time to learn the two handed swing, once this feels natural move to the one handed swing and then learn how to alternate hands by switching at the top. The one handed swing will be the foundation of your clean and snatch so don’t rush this part, use simple workouts like swings and push ups to practice the lift one rep at a time.
6) Clean: Develop both the ability to clean from a backswing and from dead. This step may not take extremely long if you have followed all of these progressions because it is a simple move, the word clean refers to lifting weight from the ground to your shoulder in as clean a movement as possible.
7) Press, push press & jerk: There are four ways to lift a weight from your shoulder to overhead and this is the first three. Each one will progressively teach you how to lift heavier and heavier weights by implementing leg strength and technique. The skills learned here will be essential as you progress into learning the kettlebell snatch.
8) High pull: This is the precursor to the snatch, and don’t be surprised if it feels less natural than any of the kettlebell lifts you have done so far and may even feel less fluid than the snatch itself. The high pull will teach you how to pull the bell up your body as opposed to letting it swing forward as in the kettlebell swing.
9) Snatch: The snatch is the final exercise that is considered to be a core kettlebell lift. To master this one, you will need a culmination of many of the skills you have learned in the various lifts so far.
10) Windmill & overhead squat: Two variations of “moving under the weight” that will help improve your focus, stability and flexibility.
11) Bent press: The fourth and final way of lifting weight from the shoulder to overhead, and the most challenging variation of all of the moving under the weight lifts.
Using these progressions, you should be able to tackle almost all of your technical issues and make kettlebell training more rewarding and also less likely to cause an injury. Along the way, you may find certain additional exercises are helpful or necessary in order to develop the requisite range of motion or stability in a given area. There are also many other exercises that are found in the world of kettlebell training that you may include when you feel the appropriate progressions have been made, things like figure eights, tactical lunges, bottoms up or throw and catch exercises. The list of exercises I have given you here could take anywhere from a few months to a year or more to learn and after that, a lifetime to master.
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