Straight to the Bar

All Things Strength


Six Simple and Effective Kettlebell Exercises for Athletes
Filed In : Articles | highlighted

48kg Bottom up Press by Unbreakable‘ Adam Glass.

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.

See-Saw Press

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.

Over to you. Drop us a line on Twitter ( @scottbird ), or add a comment below.



NB : if you love talking about strength-training as much as I do, you might also like to check out the weekly newsletter (there's also a daily version available). A regular dose of fitness-focussed discussions, absolutely free.


Leave a Reply

What's This?

Straight to the Bar is the online home of fitness enthusiast Scott Bird, and looks at the many training approaches, essential techniques, uncommon exercises and superb equipment to help you become as strong as humanly possible. In short, this site is the home of all things strength.

images of strength

'Napalm' Jedd Johnson.
Want to see (and learn) more Feats of Strength like this? Dive in.

Just Joined Us? Try These.

There are some incredible writers on the team here. To give you an idea, check these out :

If you enjoyed these, check out the complete ‘Best Of Straight to the Bar‘ list. Fantastic.

setting up a home gym?

If you’re getting ready to put together a solid Home Gym (fantastic thing), here’s how.

For more, swing by the full guide. Absolutely free.

And of course, you’ll find everything you need over in the SttB Strength Store. Massive range.

Ever Tried Kettlebells?

If you’ve seen people using them but never taken the plunge yourself, here are the ones I use personally. You can also pick up a book/DVD/course if you want to learn how to put them to work.

Ready To Learn Even More?

I love learning new skills, and the many seminars & workshops available are a great way to do that. If you’re looking for a specific type of workshop nearby, check out the ones on Dragon Door. Great mix of kettlebell and calisthenics-based offerings.

The Precision Nutrition Certification Program

The Precision Nutrition Certification Program

The Precision Nutrition Certification Program.

If you’re a fitness professional and love the Precision Nutrition approach, check out their certification offering. To say it’s comprehensive is an understatement.

Wherever You Are, We Are.

In addition to the main site, you can share your strength-training passion with a like-minded community on :

Wherever you like to hang out, get your regular dose of strength. Straight to the Bar.

Doug Fioranelli is a strength coach and owner of the Rise Above performance gym. Follow his own training on his blog The Weight of the World.
Drawing of Scott Andrew Bird performing a deadlift. Artwork by Vince Palko.