I’ve been using kettlebells for a fair amount of time. And over that time I’ve used them for many purposes and with many different methods. In this article I’m going to encourage you to go outside of the box on whatever methods you may have come to know and use with them.
To properly do this it is necessary to recap some of my journey.
I believe it was first in 2005 when I first ever touched a kettlebell. At that time I was training exclusively with bodyweight exercises. But my friend and bought one and we starting swinging it around. It was fun and I got a great workout. A short time later I bought my own.
Then in 2007 I went through the RKC. Back in those days in addition to Pavel Tsatsouline, there was Steve Cotter, Jeff Martone, Steve Maxwell, Brett Jones and Mike Mahler. All of these guys were impressive and I wanted to have their strength.
It was watching Jeff Martone effortlessly juggle a kettlebell that got me hooked on doing the same. I had done a bit beforehand but when I got home I trained that regularly.
At that first RKC they brought in a special guest, Valery Federenko, who showcased some feats and taught a little bit in his broken English. Contrary to the high tension techniques of RKC training, I remember at one point him telling Mike Mahler to relax when he pressed kettlebells from a seated position.
Oh the Controversy!
About a year later the “first Dragondoor split” occurred when most of those guys listed above moved on. Part of the reason was the AKC formed, headed by Federenko, teaching a completely different style of kettlebell lifting. This was the sport style also known as girevoy sport. As mentioned it was quite different then the methods of the RKC.
I just wanted to learn how to get stronger. I very much enjoyed everything the RKC had taught me. But I wanted more, so I signed up for the AKC certification (one of the big selling points was to get an 8 kettlebell set of competition bells, which I still have and use to this day).
At that certification I learned new styles of lifting. Training for the sport is hard. It is a big mental and physical toughness game. I practiced the technique and trained in it a bit but I didn’t have plans to compete. Later on my goals shifted towards other things.
I realized that different techniques were all good. Nothing was necessarily better than the other. Instead it completely depended on what you were going for. Thus I was not married to any one “way”.
It was this idea that led me to breaking 300 snatches in 10 minutes. In order to do that I had to borrow elements from both the RKC and GS styles to develop my own unique style in pursuing that feat.
Looking at the Kettlebell World
Here’s what I see when I look out at the “kettlebell world”.
There’s a bunch of people who have no clue what they’re doing. In this area the kettlebell has been leapt on like a fad. When I see magazine ads with women in spandex curling four pound kettlebells I have to laugh. I hope that people that jump on the bandwagon from this eventually find a good trainer or gain access to solid instruction on using them.
There are those that are into kettlebell sport. As mentioned above it is a very difficult sport. And for that reason all the more power to those who do compete in it. (Who knows? I will probably have to enter a competition at some point just for fun.) But this isn’t necessarily the best training for the average person to do.
There are those that are RKC all the way (and/or Strongfirst now). It’s fine to be a part of an organization and believe in it. But there are many, in the past and now, that have blinders on, think they have the only way and don’t see outside. After all, when it comes to strength to be married to ONE tool and even then to have limited experience in all that can be done with it, is an odd thing to do.
My advice is if you are a “kettlebell guy (or gal)” that you ought to get at least some experience in other methods of using kettlebells. I don’t see many people that do this in the kettlebell world, although I think it will make you the most well rounded to do so.
I would encourage you to learn the high tension, maximum explosiveness stuff.
I would encourage you to learn the sport style of training, even if you never compete.
I would encourage you to try kettlebell juggling.
I would encourage you to learn tons of different exercises and ways of lifting kettlebells.
The BEST Way to Use Kettlebells?
I do believe that the best advantage of kettlebells is in using them for ballistic exercises. This means swings, cleans and snatches (jerks too but those are a bit different).
How you do those exercises is up to you. They can be done in a hip snap, aggressive manner ala hardstyle. They can also be done relaxed and efficient ala girevoy sport. Both are great. What you do depends on the results you want.
These exercises can be done with barbells and dumbbells but the offset center of mass does give the kettlebell some unique benefits. Kettlebells are optimal for high reps and endurance especially in these exercises. But for the majority of people alive they also can be used almost as well for maximum strength in many different ways
Kettlebells can be used for any number of other lifts. In many they’re not that different from a dumbbell. Doing a front squat with a single kettlebell isn’t really different from a dumbbell except in how you hold it. I doubt its changing how it effects your legs. The great thing about kettlebells, with good trainers, is they tend to get people back towards effective exercises and away from a lot of BS.
With a couple exercises like the getup or bent press the kettlebell is actually easier than with a dumbbell. The lower and offset weight helps you into the position.
And there are a few other unique things you can do with kettlebells. Bottoms up pressing is one thing. A great grip intensive pressing exercise that’s hard to replicate any other way. And of course, my favorite, kettlebell juggling can’t be done the same way with a dumbbell.
Thus it is a tool worth using. And to use it properly you need to know what to do with it.
We only had so much time, so the beginner version, sticks for the most part to the basic of exercises, taught mostly in the RKC style. Why? These exercises are great and a complete program with them is a great place to start for beginners.
And its really in the Next Level set where we started to have some fun. This is about exactly what I was talking about above. We taught the Hardstyle snatch and then said, forget about everything you just learned, as we went into doing the Girevoy sport style.
I covered not just the military press but a whole variety of kettlebell presses, some of which, many people aren’t even aware of existing, and certainly don’t know how to effectively use them.
I also give a great introduction to the world of kettlebell juggling.
After writing this I think I’m going to go snatch the beast a few times 🙂