The Kettlebell Swing

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The Swing – for legs and conditioning that won’t give up.

The kettlebell swing is exactly what the name implies. A swing, or hinge movement. The athlete will swing the kettlebell from between the legs up to approximately chest level and back, for repetitions, using the hips to power the movement, similar to if the athlete was jumping.

As mentioned before, the swing is more of a hip hinge than anything else. Designed to maximise explosive hip strength and power.

When done properly, there is minimal compressive and shear stress on the lumbar spine because the spine is neither overly flexed, or extended during any point of the swing.

The arms are not used actively, meaning the shoulders are not forcefully elevating the kettlebell.

The kettlebell is being swung forward by a forceful hip drive and the kettlebell “floats” to approximately chest level.

The height of the kettlebell is actually irrelevant because the hip power is the focus and not the actual elevation of the kettlebell.

Here are a few points on how to teach the swing.

Hips first
A natural athlete moves from the hips, never from the back or knees. A hips-first movement pattern is the safest for your back and knees. It’s also the most powerful.

Whilst standing up, place the edge of you hands into the creases at the top of your thighs. Press your hands into the creases and “hinge”, sticking your butt out while keeping the weight on your heels. This will teach the athlete to go down by folding at the hip joint rather than bending through the back. This is probably the most important part of teaching proper swing technique.

It’s the same on the way up. Hips first. Drive up with the glutes and hamstrings, not the quads and definitely not the back.

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The box squat
The box squat is similar to sitting down on a chair. Powerlifters originally thought up the box squat to improve squatting depth, technique and power.

To start, revisit the hip-crease drill. Once you have mastered the movement pattern it’s time to progress.

Pick up a kettlebell by the handle and hold it in front of you. It’s likely that you will need it for balance, at least for the first few repetitions. Stand approximately a foot or so in front of a stable bench or box facing away from it. Lower the body by creasing at the hips and pushing the glutes backward.

Keep pushing the glutes back. The knees will bend naturally. Remember, hips first.

Don’t let the knees drift too far forward. If you don’t feel the hamstrings tighten when you lower, then you’re squatting wrong.

The knees should track the feet, with the feet pointing slightly outward.

Push the kettlebell forward to counterbalance, and remember to keep sitting back. Continue to sit back under control until your glutes touch the box. If done correctly, you should feel tightness across the top of the quads and a stretch along the hamstrings.

Now it’s time to stand up. Rock back slightly. Now rock forward and stand up. Do this by planting your feet into the ground. Shins upright.

The moment that you feel that your weight has loaded your feet, push your feet hard into the ground.

Tense the glutes, and drive the hips forward until you stand up. Full hip extension. Lock out the hips by cramping the glutes.

This might sound a little exhaustive, but attention to detail is what makes it safe, and effective. If you’re going to doing something, do it right.

The box squat is a basic skill often overlooked when teaching movement patterns, but once it has been mastered, you will find that many drills will build from this foundation and will become a lot easier to master.

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The condition:
Swing the kettlebell between your legs and then in front of you up to chest level for repetitions.

The swing standard:
Maintain the box-squat alignment during swings and when picking up or setting down the kettlebell:

  • Keep your head up;
  • Keep a straight – not to be confused with “upright” – back;
  • Sit back, rather than dip down.
  • Extend the hips and knees fully on the top: the body must form a straight line;
  • The kettlebell must form an extension of the straight and loose arm(s) on the top of the swing.

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The Goblet Squat

Created by strength coach Dan John and named after the position in which the weight is held, the goblet squat is one of the simplest ways to learn and reinforce the basic squatting movement pattern.

It can be used as a mobility trainer, a warmup activity or as part of your workout proper. The goblet squat is so versatile that it might be the only squat you need in your workout.

The set up & execution
Similar to setting up for the kettlebell sumo deadlift, the athlete should take a comfortable stance, with feet slightly turned out.

With a dumbbell, holding it vertically by one end. Hug it tight against your chest. If you’re using a kettlebell, hold it by the horns. A medicine ball can also be used.

With your elbows pointing down and head facing forward, lower the body down and back into a squat, keeping the chest upright at all times (making sure not to fall forward or have excessive rounding the back).

Allow the elbows to brush past the insides of your knees as you descend. It’s okay to push your knees out. If your heels come off the ground at any stage, your stance is likely too narrow.

Finally, if mobility isn’t that great, squatting to the point where your elbows touch your knees if fine. In time, mobility and depth will increase.

Now, return to the standing position with a full hip extension (standing tall).

Pretty simple.

As mentioned earlier, the goblet squat is a great tool for teaching the squat in general and can be used as a mobility trainer. There isn’t a real requirement to go heavy, as higher volume sets with lighter loads will work very well.

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Taking the time to master the basics
Something that has been instilled in me throughout my military career is to be “brilliant at the basics”. A great lesson that can be applied to almost all aspects of life.

The mistake most people make is that they try to move too quickly into complex movement patterns before they have mastered proper form first. Often sacrificing technique for time or load.

If you really want to optimise your overall athletic performance, take the time to master the simple patterns first, like the goblet squat. You can alway add complexity to your programming later.

The simple movements patterns can also make the some of the most demanding and challenging workouts.

Basic fitness movements

Generally people would think that strength and conditioning training would require a gym, some heavy weights or even machines. This could not be any further from the truth. It is definitely one way get an effective workout, but you can also get a great strength and conditioning results with compound bodyweight movements.

It is a real simple way to introduce a beginner to a fitness routine. I’ve also come across many intermediate and advanced athletes over the years who have used bodyweight training to great success.

Below is a list of some of the basic fitness movements.

Plank

the-no-fuss-build-your-own-ultimate-abs-workout-2-700xhAs the names suggests, your body is a plank. Place your hands underneath your shoulders (either arms extended or on your elbows) and ground your toes into the floor and activate (squeeze) your glutes to stabilise your body.

Place your neck and spine in a neutral position, looking about foot ahead of your hands.

Movement standard:

  • Male: 2 minutes;
  • Female: 2 minutes.

Push up

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From the plank position, lower your body until your chest touches the ground. Keep your core and glutes tight and a neutral spine and neck. Press your body up again into the plank position.

Movement standard (single set in 2 minutes):

  • Male: 50 push ups;
  • Female: 20 Push ups.

Pull up

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Grip the bar at shoulder width (or slightly wider) with an pronated (overhand) grip, then hang from the bar with your arms and legs extended.

Pull yourself up until your chest reaches the bar, focusing on drawing your elbows into the ribs and sliding the shoulder blades down your back. Then, lower yourself down under control until your arms are straight.

Movement standard (single set effort):

  • Male: 10 pull ups;
  • Female: 4 Pull ups.

Air squat

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Feet at or around shoulder width (whatever’s most natural) and toes either forward or pointing slightly outward, lower by pushing your butt back and out until your thighs reach at least parallel.

Keep the weight on the heels and a tight, neutral spine throughout the movement.

Movement Standard:

  • Male: 50 Squats;
  • Female: 50 Squats.

Two or three days per week, after a suitable warmup, for example, some light cardio activity with some range of movement to activate the joints, try to complete a circuit using the four basic bodyweight movements.

Your initial goal should be to aim for the movement standard in each exercise for three rounds, with two minutes rest in-between rounds. Once you have surpassed this standard, try adding another round, decreasing your rest periods or even add some additional functional movements like interval running or the farmer’s walk.