I am a RKC kettlebell instructor and though I have grown fond of using kettlebells I do not use them solely for my training or the training of my athletes. For some certified kettlebell instructors that is considered sacrilegious, however I feel being a good trainer it is not about using primarily one training tool or program, nor is it wise to mix everything you can into a program with no rhyme or reason.
When training athletes I rationalize which kettlebell movements are useful if they meet three criteria:
- The exercise is easy to learn
- The exercise can’t be replicated better with another exercise variation
- The exercise enhances the movements and energy systems we are trying to train
As you will see, all of the following exercises fit these criteria. All are fairly simple to learn so they do not detract too much from the time of the training session. All of these exercises, I feel, are best done with kettlebells rather than any other training equipment out there. These exercises can be implemented in a variety of ways within the varying scheme of sets and repetitions; therefore they can be manipulated to fit the movements and energy system(s) trained.
Deadlift to Goblet Squat
This is a relatively simple exercise that can be used to teach proper deadlift mechanics by driving from the hips and completing with a good snap at the top. I use this exercise a lot at the beginning of a workout to get the hips mobile and to prime the body for training. You will notice that it can be very challenging on the conditioning level, especially if you got for high reps.
Adding Dan John‘s Goblet Squat into it makes the exercise a bit more challenging because it requires more coordination and stability from the abdominal muscles to keep you from pulling forward.
Keep the kettlebell between the knees and feet, look up to keep a flat back, drive your hips upward. At the top of the deadlift pull the kettlebell up slightly and catch in the Goblet position and then go into a front squat. At the top of the squat drop the kettlebell back down to the low position and begin the deadlift again.
2-Arm Swings with Catch (Variations)
When the athlete can perform 2-arm swings proficiently then it is time mix in some fun along with speed, coordination and grip training. This is a great exercise for martial artists, wrestlers, and boxers who need to have quick hands.
At the top of the swing where the arms are extended simply let go of the bell and “regrab” it without having it pull you forward. When this becomes easy try touching your chest then quickly grabbing the bell, or tapping the handle as many times as you can with alternating hands.
1-Arm Alternating Swings
This swing variation is a great exercise for building up explosive power, conditioning, and grip strength. By switching hands you establish a great rhythm for the movement with your hip snap, which is important when doing conditioning training. Switching hands requires the grip to work more to catch and [slightly] decelerate the kettlebell on the downswing. By alternating arms one can truly train their conditioning because one arm is resting while the other is performing the movement, so high repetition sets are achievable.
At the top of the 1-arm swing where the arm is extended meet the handle with your free hand to allow for a simple switch.
Double Kettlebell Thruster
Yes this exercise can be done with a barbell; however, I have found the kettlebell variation is more comfortable for the athletes to perform because the kettlebells can be placed in the racked position. This position leaves less wear and tear on the shoulders and minimizes fatigue of the low back muscles.
The benefits of this exercise are huge; this is a full body movement which makes it fall into that sports specific category. Thrusters are also very good for conditioning training.
Rack the kettlebells against your body (think about following the ribcage towards the sternum (that is where they should rest). Keep your chest up and eyes forward drop down into the squat position. Drive with your hips out of the squat and begin to press the kettlebells overhead at the top of the movement. Return the kettlebells back to the racked position and repeat the squat.
Let’s face it, most people are not good at overhead pressing, simply because they never do it; athletes are no exception. This is another rhythm exercise and can be done with several variations (standing or walking). I do like pressing the kettlebells much better than dumbbells because they sit better in the rack position.
I have seen this exercise done different ways. One way is to keep one of the bells racked as the other is moving; this is the more common way. The other is to begin the upward press of one bell as the other is coming down. This style takes a lot more concentration and attention towards the technique of the movement. In the long run its benefits may not outweigh the potential compromise in technique; it may be better to keep one racked while the other is moving.
Bottoms Up Press
This is another great exercise to improve overhead pressing strength but it also challenges the grip strength tremendously. I usually save this exercise for the end of workout as a finisher and treat it like a grip exercise since the volume is generally very low.
Clean a kettlebell up so that your arm is close and your palm is facing towards your body. After stabilizing the weight suck in some air and press the weight upwards, try to use your Lat muscles to do this. Stabilize the weight at the top and then pull it back down like a chin up.
This exercise can be done with two kettlebells at the same time but it is much harder to concentrate and perform correctly, so it is recommended that you so one side at a time. Just make sure that you train your weak side as well. Good strength coaches like Zach Even-Esh insist that you do your weak side first. I prefer to do weak, strong, and back to weak.
There you have it. Six simple and effective kettlebell exercises that will help increase your athlete’s strength, coordination and conditioning.