Utilizing Kettlebells in Conditioning Circuits
October 19, 2016
Utilizing Kettlebells in Conditioning Circuits
In my 101 Conditioning Circuits there is a separate ebook with kettlebell workouts. We kept it apart from the main ebook because we know a lot of you don’t have many, if any bells. Or, you may not really know how to use them. If it’s the latter we strongly encourage you to get trained in their correct usage before you try to add them your client’s training programs!
When Pavel Tsatsouline re-introduced bells to the masses back in 1999, it was hard to find any, anywhere. Pavel partnered with DragonDoor and began mass production. At the same time Valery Fedorenko was doing demonstrations of kettlebell sport in New York City and elsewhere using bells brought over from Russia. DragonDoor bells were the only ones available for a few years but as more and more people got interested and got certified more manufacturers popped up. Some made good bells, some didn’t. There were many copies of the DD bells that changed the handle shape and thickness. Then Valery Fedorenko came out with his Competition kettlebells and people became more and more interested in kettlebell sport.
With the easy access to KBs (you can find them in Target and TJ Maxx) everyone and their brother thought they could watch a video and be the instant KB Guru (Jillian Michaels anyone 🙁 ). Most of them had horrendous technique or they made up their own movements as they tried to be different from Pavel’s “Hard Style” or Kettlebell Sport “style”.
With all these wanna be’s out there many people were getting hurt doing exercises improperly and doing things like snatches when they had no business going overhead. There are still a lot of trainers out there who have never had a formal course in how to use kettlebells properly much less on how to teach them. If you are a trainer and have never been through a workshop or better yet a cert you shouldn’t be using bells in your training programs.
There are many certifications available, DragonDoor’s RKC, Pavel’s Strong First, Strength Matters, and Kettlebell Athletics. For KB Sport: IKFF and the WKC/AKC are two of the more prominent organizations.
Getting certified will teach you how to teach others the right way to use them and most should be teaching progressions and regressions. For example none of your clients should be doing swings unless they are 2/2 or better on the FMS Active Straight Leg screen and can do a hip hinge properly. If you aren’t doing some of screen you need to start!
Here are some of the progressions I use with my clients.
Here are some of the progressions I use with my clients. Hip hinge =>Sumo RDL or Double Sumo RDL=>2 handed swing =>2 handed high pull or 1 handed Sumo DL=> 1 Handed swing=> handed high pull =>Snatch (if they are cleared for overhead work)
The hip hinge is the most important movement pattern and should be taught before anything else. There are plenty of articles and videos of how to properly hip hinge so I won’t go into detail in this article but here are a few things to be aware of:
- Rounding the lower back – they may not have adequate hip mobility, don’t force it. Get them into it as far as they can without rounding and determine what is causing the lack of ROM
- Rounding the upper back – while not a major issue early on, cueing the shoulders back and engaging the lats is huge when actually deadlifting. Many times a client has great strength and mobility for the DL but not enough lat and upper back strength for the weight they are using. Make them go lighter
- Too much knee bend or no knee bend – the knees should unlock a little to allow the hips to push back. Too much knee bend and it turns into a squat
- Keep the neck aligned with the rest of the spine. No looking up
Once they can do the hinge adequately teach them the KB Sumo RDL. Don’t worry about them getting the bell to the floor. Maintaining neutral spine is more important. When they can perform the Sumo RDL consistently well you can progress them to the swing and eventually the 1 hand high pull. I don’t like and don’t teach the “American” swing so I never progress to that movement.
The one handed progression is focused on doing the hinge with no back twisting or side bending, and building core control via the obliques. If the client rotates the torso or shoulder or the shoulder drops they aren’t ready for dynamic unilateral work (1 arm swings, cleans etc.). If you are using the FMS screen a Rotary Stability score of less than 2/2 or an asymmetry means no unilateral work of any kind. That client should being a lot of side planks, Pallof presses etc.
Don’t be in a hurry to get your clients to the “cool” kb exercises. The risk of injury isn’t worth it. I know it can be tough to convince a client they aren’t ready to do alternating cleans. They want it because it looks cool, they saw it on you tube or maybe in your own gym in a group class. It is your job as their coach to teach them why they aren’t ready and give them something they can do that will get them ready for the more advanced exercises.
If you are not trained in the FMS or some other movement screening system you need to take some courses. Not being able to identify movement issues or having your client do movements they are able to do safely will lead to injury. As a coach it is your job to ensure your clients earn the right to do exercises. Clients must be able to do basic things like crawl, kneel and stand on one leg well before they try swinging a kettlebell, doing power cleans with a barbell or anything else that requires good movement and muscular balance. If necessary refer your client out to a Physical Therapist if they have something going on in a movement pattern that you can’t figure out, even if they aren’t in pain. A hip shift during a squat or deadlift is an example. Your client may have a hip impingement with no pain (yet) causing the shift. You probably can’t fix that and ignoring it will cause your client to break down over time.
When using kettlebells in conditioning circuits, whether the ones in the ebook or your own keep in mind a few things:
- Don’t be tied to the workout. Modify it as necessary. If someone is gassing on a 30 second interval either increase the rest, decrease the work period, make him or her use a lighter bell or regress the exercise.
- A client can go heavy or light in any given interval it’s up to you both on whether you want to work power or endurance, i.e. heavy for fewer reps or light and fast as possible (with good form of course)
- When writing your own programs use common sense and alternate between challenging exercises and easy ones. For example; Snatches and planks, dead cleans and rows, or Figure 8 with tap and floor press or 2h chest press. This lets the client stay fresh longer and allows them to maintain good form.
- Don’t program Turkish Getups or ½ getups as part of a conditioning circuit!! First of all it takes about 30 seconds to complete one TGU when done correctly. Second it is too technical to do when fatigued. If you want to program TGUs put them at the beginning as part of the warm-up /activation section of your workout.
- Alternate KB exercises with other equipment both for variety and to lessen the skill and physical demands. Pairing kbs with bands is a great way to keep things interesting. 2 handed swings paired with band squat and pull. You are working hamstrings glutes and abs on the swings and glutes, quads, abs and the mid- and upper-back.
Swings and battling ropes or swings and prowlers are other great combos.
Here’s a circuit I use quite a bit. Of course you have to have the equipment.
This can be done as a 30:15 work:rest interval, a 20:10 or even a 40:20. The latter will be tough!
1a) Double Wave Rope
1b) 2 Handed Swing or 2h high pull
1c) Alternating Wave Rope
1d) Mountain climbers
1e) Cross over Rope
1f) Plank or other ab work
1g) Circles or slams
1h) Seated band rows
rest up to 1 minute if needed between rounds
It’s challenging but the most technical move is the 2 handed pull and, if necessary, you can regress it to an unloaded hip hinge done fast.
It is in the best interest of your clients that you really know how to use and teach the kettlebell lifts and know when to regress or progress them. Randomly throwing kb exercises (or any exercise really) at people without taking the time to understand them yourself or not taking time to teach your clients properly will get them injured and give you a reputation as a coach who gets his clients injured.
Sure, injuries happen, but it is our jobs as coached to reduce the risk as much as possible through self-education and passing that along to your clients. Screen them, start them off with the basics and progress them when they are ready. Make them earn it!
If you think if it in terms of martial arts, the student starts off with a white and over time with lots of practice they progress up through the ranks, eventually reaching black belt, but ONLY if they a) stick to it and b) practice. If you talk to your clients about their training from the perspective of a martial artist and practicing rather than working out it will make more sense to them and help them to stick to the plan and your program.
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