Whether you are a novice or a seasoned veteran with the Kettlebells, there are still several goals that all of us trainers share in regards to getting stronger. Getting stronger can mean many different things. We can call ourselves “stronger” when we build up the number of repetitions of a particular exercise with a certain weight. For example, if you’re current Kettlebell Press with the 32kg was for three repetitions and with practice you are able to get five repetitions after a few weeks of training, you are making progress and getting stronger.
We can also become “stronger” by increasing our work capacity by completing a certain number of repetitions with a particular weight in a reduced amount of time. An example would be the Kettlebell Snatch Test of completing 100 repetitions with a particular weight as quickly as possible. In the most simplistic example of increasing your strength is simply completing an exercise with a weight you were not previously able to do.
If you couldn’t do a Turkish Get Up with 32kg and after a few weeks of training you pop right up with it, then congratulations, you are stronger. Sounds simple when boiled down, however, the truth is that moving up with the Kettlebells can be more difficult than other traditional strength training exercises. The reason is that the progression of one Kettlebell to the next jumps in weight about 8.8lb (4kg). In my own experience, it took me a while to move my Kettlebell Press from 36kg to 40kg. When you get towards the top of your weight for a particular exercise, 8.8lb (4kg) can be a large mountain to climb!
Kettlebell Rule #1: Technique First
The first principle, “technique first” should be pretty self explanatory but I still witness many people sacrificing form for more weight. This is a recipe for disaster down the road. Compromising form for the sake of weight can lead to strains, pain and potential injuries.
Kettlebell Rule #2: Cut Back Reps
The second principle “cut back when the reps get bad,” goes well with the first principle that when you are performing sets for multiple repetitions; be prepared to stop when the rep technique starts to go south. Again, work within your technical ability, keep your body healthy, and work strong and steady towards your goals.
Kettlebell Rule #3: Movement Frequency
To get stronger at something, you have to do the particular movement frequently. Yes, some movements can complement others and the stronger you are in many movements the greater your success down the road. However, if you want to improve one particular exercise and only train it once a month, expect your strength gains to improve slowly.
Kettlebell Rule #4: Don’t Max Out
Lastly, you can’t force strength gains by trying to max out all the time. Doing it too frequent- ly can take the body a long time to recover and can hinder overall performance. Maxing out or testing your progress should only be done once a month.
Ok, let’s get on with the training tips:
Key Exercise #1: Kettlebell Swing
As I tell my clients, the Kettlebell Swing is the foundation for all of your dynamic Kettlebell movements, so it is very important that this movement is trained often and progresses in weight. Kettlebell 2-Arm Swings are generally not too difficult to move up in weight when you have good technique; you may just have to perform fewer repetitions initially until you can complete more.
The 1-Arm Swing on the other hand, is much more difficult to move up in weight and there might be a difference in strength and endurance in your non-dominant arm.
The first drill you can practice is the Stop Swing or Power Swing which I learned from Mark Reifkind. Set up your heavier Kettlebell on the floor in front of you, hike it through the legs, and perform one strong swing and set the Kettlebell back down and repeat on the other side.
As you get more accustomed to the heavier weight, start performing more than one repetition in a row with good technique before you set the Kettlebell down.
My favorite drill to increase the 1-Arm Swing strength and endurance is what I call the 2:1:1 Swing. The theory behind using this drill is that it is common to struggle to perform multiple 1-Arm Swing repetitions with a heavier Kettlebell. The 2:1:1 Swing breaks up the 1-Arm Swings intermittently with a 2-Arm Swing, giving one arm a rest in between swings.
When performing this drill, you should focus on the 1-Arm Swings looking technically similar to your 2-Arm Swings. Hike a heavy 1-Arm Swing, swing the Kettlebell through and switch to the 1-Arm at the top and then to the other arm on the next swing, and then back to the 2-Arm Swing and repeat the cycle again.
Key Exercise #2: Kettlebell Clean
The Kettlebell Clean is not simply an intermediate step to putting the Kettlebell overhead; they can be great strength builders when done as their own exercise. The Clean can be one of those movements that is at the mercy of the “weight jump” of the kettlebells.
If you can Clean a 28kg smoothly, it does not mean that the 32kg will be just as smooth; there is a good chance it might not happen at all the first couple of times you try it. Here are some of the drills I use to help the transition to the next weight. As I mentioned before, training your Swings is going to help your Kettlebell Cleans as well.
One of the easiest ways to build strength with the next kettlebell is to spend some time with it. Having the new kettlebell in the racked posi- tion for practice sake is a great way to get used to the weight during the Clean. My favorite way to do this is with Racked Farmers Walks. Racked Farmers Walks are simply racking your heavy Kettlebell and taking it for a walk. You will spend about 30 seconds or more in the rack position when you Farmer Walk and this gets your shoulders, core, and legs used to this weight.
Now that your body has adapted, when you go to practice your heavy Cleans you have trained both your Swings and rack position with the new weight, so all that is left is getting the transition between the two.
If you need a little more assistance with the transition, the next drill works well with the Single Kettlebell Clean; it’s called the Guided Clean. In the Guided Clean, you are going to use your free hand to assist the heavy kettle- bell from your swing into the racked position. As you get better and better, you can gradually take the amount of assistance away from the Kettlebell until you are performing an unassisted Clean with your new weight.
Key Exercise #3: Kettlebell Snatch
The Kettlebell Snatch is one of the most popular movements in Kettlebell training, and un- like its Olympic counterpart (which is usually done using low repetitions to focus on absolute strength and power production), the Kettlebell variety is commonly done with endurance in mind by performing higher repetition ranges.
Heavy Kettlebell Snatches have their merit as well, and using heavy low reps is the way you are going to progress in repetitions with the next Kettlebell up. Adding the following drills are also going to get you to that next Kettlebell.
Like our Kettlebell Clean, training the endpoint of the Snatch isometrically is going to enhance your ability to do the movement with heavier Kettlebells. The Overhead Farmers Walk is a great way to do this. Put your heavy Kettlebell overhead, lock the shoulders in, and then take it for a walk.
Focus on core, leg, and shoulder stability. I also like to make sure that I have to turn around with the weight because it is a greater challenge of stability for the entire body.
The second Kettlebell drill that will enable you to Snatch heavier weight is a combination of swinging and snatching that I (uniquely) call Swing & Snatch. This drill will build off the Swing into a Kettlebell Snatch when you feel ready.
You can do any combination you feel fit for; 5 Swings and 1 Snatch, 3 Swings into 1 Snatch, etc. The ultimate goal is to trade off 1 Swing followed by 1 Snatch, and try to do that for at least 5 rounds.
Key Exercise #4: Kettlebell Turkish Get Up
The Turkish Get Up (TGU) is not a dynamic movement like the other Kettlebell exercises previously discussed, so you do not have the luxury of using momentum to assist you in the movement. Instead, the TGU is a slow grind where you need to increase your strength and time under the Kettlebell to ramp up the weight.
Arguably the first movement of the TGU is the most difficult and will make or break your success of the whole sequence. The first drill I like to perform is simply practicing repetitions of the Sit Up. Take the next weight up you would like to be successful with and perform Sit Up repetitions executing proper technique. If you can work up to multiple sets of 5-6 repetitions, the chances of completing a full TGU are looking good.
The second drill is doing half of the full TGU movement, allowing you time under the Kettlebell that will build up crucial shoulder strength and endurance. If I am going to incorporate the Half TGU drill with a new weight, I am going to do it from the top to the bottom position.
Going back down to the floor is a little bit easier than starting from the floor, and going to the standing position because you can avoid the added pressure of fighting gravity when having to do three of the hardest movements (Sit Up, Bridge, and Lunge) required when you go from the floor to the top.
Perform a few repetitions of the Top to Bottom Get Up until you are confident, and then try it from the floor. Becoming stronger should be a goal of every trainee, or else why would you even train at all? Challenging yourself in a safe and progressive way not only guarantees you more success, but also provides longevity with your strength progression and health. Now go out there and make it happen.