In your quest for athletic domination, you want to use every tool at your disposal to reach your full potential. One great tool is the kettlebell, which offers some unique advantages over dumbbells and barbells. If properly selected and executed, kettlebells are a fantastic addition to a solid athletic training program.
Here are my top 5 favorite kettlebell exercises:
1. Two-Hand Kettlebell Swing
Swings are less complicated than other kettlebell exercises, such as Snatches and Cleans. They give you the opportunity to project power horizontally, which is great for speed development. Done properly, they focus on dynamic stretching of the hamstrings and hip flexors and high levels of glute activation, which will improve your lower-body balance. They are also easy on your joints and lower back.
You can do the Kettlebell Swing with either one or two arms, but for athletes, I prefer a heavy, two-arm Kettlebell Swing. The two-arm version allows you to hold a heavier kettlebell so you can provide a greater challenge to your posterior chain.
From the starting position, pull the bell up into your crotch like you are hiking a football, then snap your hips to shoot the weight forward. Resist the urge to squat the weight up. Instead, use a hip hinge as shown in the video. At the top, pull the weight back down and again keep it high up into your crotch.
2. Single-Leg Kettlebell Deadlift
The Single-Leg Kettlebell Deadlift is one of my favorite lower-body injury prevention exercises. It functions as an assessment tool to observe left-to-right differences in stability and strength, and it helps you correct them. In addition, it forces you to use your hip muscles, not only to extend your hip, but also to stabilize the hip and knee at the same time. Remember, your knees are controlled by your hips. Strong, stable hips keep your knees where you want them to be for optimal performance and injury prevention.
Tip: Though the kettlebell handle is higher than a dumbbell, it may not be high enough for you. If it's too low, you will bend and twist from your spine to get down. Instead, stand on a block, a box, or a stack of weight plates to get the starting height up to where you can reach with your hips while maintaining a neutral spine position.
Go down to get the kettlebell by sitting back into your hip (not squatting down) and pushing your opposite leg back. Keep your chest up and maintain a natural slight arch in your lower back. Grab the kettlebell and push through your heel to lift the weight. Squeeze your glute hard at the top.
(Special thanks to Gray Cook for highlighting the injury prevention benefits of this exercise.)
A heavy Get-Up requires strength, mobility and stability. It also teaches you to tie together many different parts of your body at once. Get-Ups also allow you to evaluate, identify and correct differences in strength, mobility and stability between opposite sides of your body.
Start with no weight and try each position. Once you have this down, progressively add weight and maintain a graceful, controlled movement.
4. Bottoms-Up Press
This unique pressing variation can only be done with a kettlebell. The upside-down position with the weight above the handle makes the bell extremely unstable. This gives you many fantastic benefits, including:
- Increased mental focus. This lift requires that you get your head in the game or the kettlebell will take it out!
- Grip strength and the skill of learning to properly grip weights tightly.
- Shoulder stability: The tight gripping and the instability of the kettlebell in this position helps your rotator cuff stabilize and position your humerus (upper arm bone) in your shoulder socket. This added stability is helpful for reducing your risk of shoulder injuries.
- Pressing mechanics: The instability of this kettlebell exercise requires proper pressing mechanics. You have to keep your elbow under your hand and the weight over your footprint to lift a challenging kettlebell in the bottoms-up position.
5. Kettlebell One-Arm Farmer's Walk
This exercise adds the load of a kettlebell to the natural human gait pattern. In this variation, the kettlebell is less cumbersome than a dumbbell for walking without getting in the way of your legs. Done correctly (maintain a vertical torso and keep the weight off your hip), this exercise really lights up your obliques and teaches you to lock in your whole body. It builds rock-solid lateral strength and stability, which helps with lower-body injury reduction, cutting and side collisions. You don't have to go light, but make sure you own the position; that is where the magic is!
[please insert 05 Kettlebell 1-arm farmer's walk video here]
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