In a previous post, we discussed how kettlebells allow you to replicate many of the basic movements you make in everyday life. This type of strength training helps you re-establish natural movement patterns, learn how to handle unstable loads without thinking about it, and reduce the risk of injury.
In today's post, we'll look into four kettlebell exercises that can be applied to all walks of life, whether you’re a world-class athlete or you struggle to pick up a bag of groceries.
The Dead Lift
The dead lift is the most basic kettlebell movement. We all have to bend over in our lives to tie our shoes, pick up a child, or lift a laundry basket. You cannot always squat and straddle what you need to perfectly lift it up. The kettlebell deadlift teaches you the right techniques, patterns and muscle control to prepare you for those imperfect, real-world scenarios.
In the realm of kettlebells, we call this movement a hip hinge. Your hips stay above the knees. Your shoulders stay above the hips. And your back remains flat.
The kettlebell is placed between the feet, which are shoulder width apart with toes facing forward. The hips hinge and the rear end goes back as you reach for the weight. You then stand upright with the kettlebell close to the body above the knees.
If you have knee issues or don’t have the mobility to do a squat, the deadlift is a great alternative because it exercises the same muscles without putting them through the range of motion that a squat requires.
The two-hand swing is an earned right. You have to first perfect the basic deadlift before you do the two-hand swing, which is essentially a ballistic deadlift.
Rather than setting yourself over the weight, you step back away from the weight and hike it back towards your hips. It’s really the hip drive that brings the kettlebell up to chest height. It floats for a moment, starts to descend, and then you pull it back, throw your hips back like you’re about to jump, and pop your hips forward again.
Core stiffness is paramount. When weight is moving backwards before you stop and change direction, you need to have your core in shape and your back has to be in alignment. The two-hand swing is excellent for cardiovascular health and core strengthening. If you have knee problems and can’t run or use an elliptical, this is a high-intensity exercise that keeps the feet planted on the ground with no impact.
If you swing a golf club, baseball bat, tennis racket or hockey stick, or change direction while running, these movements are all the result of hip drive. It involves ballistic hip flexion followed by ballistic hip extension as you transfer energy from the feet to the hands.
For people who sit at a desk all day, the average squat involves plopping yourself into a chair. The goblet squat encourages you to use muscles that have been patterned out of the hierarchy after spending years sitting at desks.
The goblet squat gets its name because the kettlebell is held below the chin and near the chest like a goblet. Start with your feet at shoulder width apart. With knees tracking in the same direction as the toes, your shoulders and hips descend at the same rate. The torso ends parallel to the shins. Inhale into your abdomen for additional support, and use that tension to repeat the same movement (in reverse) to return to the upright position.
Having the weight of the kettlebell in front promotes engagement of additional muscles in the posterior chain and in your core to prevent you from falling forward. This acts a self-correcting mechanism.
Between the deadlift and the goblet squat, you learn what your strongest position is. Ideally, you’ll be able to do both movements effectively. If not, a personal trainer will be able to tell you which movement is better for you – bending over or squatting – when you need to reach to or lift something from the floor.
This is a rather complex movement that involves moving your body underneath the kettlebell and changing your hip and shoulder positions until you come to a standing position. A personal trainer would show you how to do one or two steps at a time. Once you master those, you continue to the next series of steps until you can complete the entire movement in a fluid motion.
The Turkish Get-Up teaches you how to control your body as you move with and under an unstable load. It uses a wide range of muscles, especially the shoulders, hips, abdominals and back. Due to the nature of these movements, and when done correctly, the Turkish Get-Up may be applicable to post-rehabilitation care, once cleared by the physical therapist.
From a personal trainer’s perspective, the Turkish Get-Up is a valuable diagnostic tool because it involves all of the hip movements of the goblet squat and deadlift, as well as shoulder movements. When we observe someone performing this movement on the right side and the left side, we can quickly find out where they have weakness or imbalance.
These are typically the first four movements you learn when you start with kettlebells. Of course, kettlebell training, like any form of exercise, requires thorough preparation and evaluation to ensure that you can perform the movements safely. In future posts, we’ll discuss these preparations and evaluations in greater detail.
Always keep in mind if you are new to exercising or dealing with an injury, it is best to seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. To learn more about how a physical therapist can help you, click here to find an Activcore location near you.