Deconstructing Kettlebells: Deadlift & Swings

Last week we introduced the kettlebell and the various holds that are associated with kettlebell training. This week in b3 wellness's Deconstructing Kettlebells series we take a look at basic hinge patterns - the deadlift and the swing.

Before we get rolling into the movements, let's take a moment and talk about footwear and kettlebells. The best footwear for kettlebell activity is a flat shoe/minimalist shoe or if you have the ability to go barefoot - have at it. The reasoning is we want you to feel rooted to the ground with the entire foot. A pair of chucks works well if you are in a gym setting that frowns on you showing off your "little piggies" on their floor. A shoe with a large heel will change your trajectory on ballistics and could wreak havoc on your practice.

Kettlebell movements are divided into two primary categories - Grinds & Ballistics. Grinding lifts are the squat, the deadlift, the overhead press, and the get up. These are slow and methodical in nature. Ballistic movements are the swing, the clean, the high pull, and the snatch. Ballistics are explosive in nature.

When used correctly, the kettlebell can provide a sinister blend of conditioning and strength training. Today's blog is not about programming, but simply about learning how to correctly deadlift and swing the kettlebell.

SWINGS

This is the foundation of ballistic kettlebell exercises. the swing teaches a powerful hip snap along with conditioning, and strengthening the body.  This swing is the gateway drug to cleans, snatches, pulls, etc in kettlebell training. But even a foundation movement such as the swing has some precursors.

Learn to crawl, before you walk. And the process begins with Step 1 - the deadlift.

 

Step 1 in learning the kettlebell swing is grooving the kettlebell deadlift:

 Figure 1 - The setup on a kettlebell deadlift. 

Figure 1 - The setup on a kettlebell deadlift. 

 Figure 2 - The Figure 4 position of a deadlift

Figure 2 - The Figure 4 position of a deadlift

 Figure 3 - Top position of the kettlebell deadlift

Figure 3 - Top position of the kettlebell deadlift

Deadlift

1.      Take a comfortable stance a slightly more than shoulder width apart, toes pointed forward.

2.      Place the kettlebell in between your legs. The bell should be lined up with the ankles (medial malleolus if you are feeling saucy)

3.      Find the crease in your hips and shift your butt back directly behind you as if sitting in a high chair.

4.      Keep your head in neutral spine during this time, while maintaining a natural curve in your lower back. (Figure 1)

5.      Slowly reach for the bell, with your knees slightly bent as you push your hips back. This is called your “Figure 4” Position and it should be tight to maximize your hinge. Take a breath in and hold it. (Figure 2)

6.      With your heels planted, pick the bell up and squeeze your glutes and quads at the top. In addition, try to bend the handle of the bell with your hands, this will fire the lats, shoulders, and triceps to help make the entire chain of muscles engage.(Figure 3) Exhale as you near the top of the movement with a small, compact breath out (you may even make a small "teh or tuh" sound.

7.      Lower and repeat. Maybe even smile....

8.      As the set concludes, you may notice the bell finishes further back than where it started. That is not a bad thing. If posture and execution of the movement are correct, this shows an improvement in mobility – There is nothing wrong with a little progress!

The kettlebell deadlift can breakout into many different variations including bulgarian deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, suitcase deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, double kettlebell deadlifts, etc. etc.

 

 

Two-Arm Swing

Once you have mastered the kettlebell deadlift you are ready to try the swing. We will get into the two-arm swing first. There are many variations and the two-arm is the launching pad for many others. The swing is a blend of tension and relaxation all in the same rep. 

 

 Figure 4 - Two Arm Swing Setup

Figure 4 - Two Arm Swing Setup

 Figure 5 - The hike

Figure 5 - The hike

 Figure 6 - The top of the swing.

Figure 6 - The top of the swing.

1.      Take a comfortable stance a slightly more than shoulder width apart, toes pointed forward.

2.      Grab the bell along the handle with both hands (overhand grip) (Figure 4) Take a breath in and hold it briefly.

3.      Hike the bell back behind you while actively bringing your hips back. NOTE: Hike the bell above the knees but be kind to the pelvic region. Think of this region as the triangle that the bell must pass through for an efficient rep. (Figure 5)

4.      Drive through your heels and snap your hips all the way forward, while keeping your arms shoulder packed and your head up. Exhale as the bell leaves the hips from the snap. The exhale should be small, yet powerful.(Figure 6)

5.      Make sure you squeeze your glutes tight and lock your knees out. Bend the handle to help keep the shoulders packed.

6.      At the top of the swing there should be two lines – One line from the ankles through the ears and a line from the bell through the shoulders. (Figure 7)

7.      The power driving the bell up is your hips, not the arms!

 Figure 7 - The two lines at the top of a swing (one-arm swing shown).

Figure 7 - The two lines at the top of a swing (one-arm swing shown).

 

        

One-Arm Swing

The one arm swing is a more challenging movement as now we have half the grip holding the bell, and we also have to fight the rotational forces provided by the off-centered load.

 Figure 8 - The setup for a one-arm swing

Figure 8 - The setup for a one-arm swing

 Figure 9 - The one-arm swing hike

Figure 9 - The one-arm swing hike

 Figure 10 - The apex of the one-arm swing

Figure 10 - The apex of the one-arm swing

 

1.      Take a comfortable stance a slightly more than shoulder width apart, toes pointed forward.

2.      Grab the bell along the handle with one hands (overhand grip). Opposite arm is tight and to the outside (Figure 8) Take a breath in and hold breifly.

3.      Hike the bell back behind you while actively bringing your hips back. NOTE: Hike the bell above the knees but be kind to the pelvic region. Think of this region as the triangle that the bell must pass through for an efficient rep. (Figure 9)

4.      Drive through your heels and snap your hips all the way forward, while keeping your arms shoulder packed and your head up. Exhale as the bell leaves the hips from the snap. The exhale should be small, yet powerful.The "free arm" can travel with the bell as shown to help keep tempo. (Figure 10)

5.      Make sure you squeeze your glutes tight and lock your knees out. Bend the handle to help keep the shoulders packed.

6.      At the top of the swing there should be two lines – One line from the ankles through the ears and a line from the bell through the shoulders. (Figure 7)

7.      The power driving the bell up is your hips, not the arms!

Hand to Hand Swings, Overhead Swings, Over-Speed Swings, Band Swings, Double Kettlebell Swings are just a few of the swing variations that are out there. Get your head wrapped around the two swings shown here first before you start venturing off the reservation with the alternatives.

I enjoy using most everything when I train people- barbell, kettlebells, bodyweight, suspension training, small apparatus, etc. What is great about the kettlebell is great because of its diversity and space saving capability. I can train a client in a 7 x 7 space and not miss a beat.

Next week the Deconstruction will look at the squatting patterns with kettlebells. We offer specialized kettlebell programming and customized programming for your fitness and nutrition needs at b3 - thanks for reading!

 

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