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Sunday, February 17, 2013

It's all in the details

With kettlebells as a fitness tool on the rise, attitudes about "correct technique" are rising in proportion. Though my personal goals are in Girevoy (Kettlebell) Sport, I support all correct training techniques. In my opinion, the most important part is safe, effective technique for a specific goal. For the sake of helping those new to kettlebells, without any particular bias, I offer basic observations about the techniques offered at any gym based on the type of kettlebells in the house.

If you walk into a gym with cast iron weights, here's what you need to know:

  • Most personal trainers have some experience with the cast iron weights.
  • The smaller ones are lighter, the bigger ones are heavier. The weight is stamped in pounds and kilograms on most bells. 
  • A fantastic tool to improve Cardio-vascular endurance and for Strength & Conditioning if used correctly.
  • Excellent tool to improve range of motion and flexibility if used correctly.
  • If practiced correctly, basic kettlebell exercises have a high potential to correct back and knee problems when nothing else has worked.

4 different weight sizes.
Basic exercises: Two-Hand/One-Hand Swing, Sit-up Get Up, and various Squats.
Intermediate exercises:  Clean, Press/Push Press, Turkish Get Up, Russian Twist, and various Deadlifts.
Advanced exercises: Windmill, Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Doubles, Bottom-up and Overhead Squat.

A trainer who has learned from a good source focusses on details at the foundation of kettlebell work. Things to look for:
  • Shoulders are back and legs/hips are straight at the top of a Swing.
  • The breathing pattern is obvious and trained. 
  • In a Turkish Get Up or overhead exercise, the athlete stops in rest positions.
  • In overhead exercises, the wrist, elbow and shoulder are "stacked" and look natural.
By contrast, an athlete or trainer who has learned from "YouTube University" can be seen Swinging the kettlebell with shoulders and hips going in different directions. The overhead position looks treacherous, the lifter's wrist and/or elbow are bent. Major red flag if the lifter passes a kettlebell over his/her body when changing sides for the TGU.

Special mention must be made of CrossFit-style gyms, known for rapid-fire functional training formats. What to know:

  • Continuous Circuit Training is a time-tested conditioning and weight loss exercise format. 
  • Just because they have pro-grade kettlebells and Eleiko bumper plates does not mean they teach correct technique.
  • It is rare to walk into a functional training facility during a workout because they happen so fast.

The focus can be seen in the effect. In the aftermath of a WOD (Workout Of the Day) we see what is important to trainers and athletes. Signs of well-informed lifters:

  • The presence of a chalk bowl (which also represents focus on Olympic Lifts).
  • Time in the gym schedule for "Clean and Jerk/Snatch Skills" or Skill Training. 
  • Trainers have initials after their names, such as RKC, CKT, IKSFA, WKC or AKC (the K means Kettlebell), and are willing to put extra time into gym members who need special skill training.
  • Gym members use wrist covering and put time into stretching and recovery.

Signs that the gym lacks advanced training might include:
8 different weight sizes
The kettlebell selection is mostly yellow/16kg, green/24kg and red/32kg, are muddy and the handles are dinged-up; the gym members have bruised writs, blisters and shoulder injuries from the kettlebell work; or the trainer has no consideration for your level of fitness at the first workout.

CrossFit gyms have done great things for spreading awareness of kettlebells. Bringing the pro-grade equipment on board has made room for the most technical use of kettlebells, Girevoy Sport. Basic information about GS:

  • A GS gym is a mythical place. Most typically it is a traveling seminar that happens in a gym with the word CrossFit or Kettlebell in the name. Serious GS athletes find a corner in the gym to train in and bring their own timer.
  • GS is a competitive sport. The three traditional lifts are Jerk, Snatch and Clean&Jerk (Long Cycle).
  • Even if an athlete competes as an amateur, a competition or Personal Record session is part of the training season.
  • Pro-grade equipment is essential for an athlete to excel. A solid foundation and well-developed programming makes the difference in a person's competitive season.
  • An athlete may be coached remotely, thus often videos sets for his/her coach.
  • GS training increases an athlete's Strength Endurance and Work Capacity.
  • Lasting benefits of training and recovery cycles will carry over from season to season.

The color-coded weights are referred to in kilograms. Both men and women will improve with progressively increasing weights from Beginner to Advanced:

Beginner-level: amateur class competitor, pink/8kg, light blue/10kg, blue/12kg, brown/14kg, yellow/16kg.
Intermediate-level: begin using doubles, brown, yellow, purple/18kg and 20kg (also purple), and green/22kg and 24kg (also green).
Advanced-level: professional class competitor, purple, green, black/26kg, orange/28kg and red/32kg.

A clear sign that Kettlebell Sport is being practiced in a gym is that there is chalk on hand. The kettlebells have paint missing around the middle, and the handles may be sanded and caked with chalk. Many GS athletes wear low-slung weight belts and weightlifting shoes. The trainer focusses on what may seem like minute details such as positioning of the handle, small movements of the shoulder or hip and breathing cycles.

Because few GS athletes learn efficient technique intuitively, people refer to World Class coaches when asked where to get good training. If you want to be a GS athlete or get the benefits of Sport training, prepare for some meticulous, patient training sessions to start. You must be ready to rest one day between training sessions and do good old-fashioned running to develop cardio-vascular stamina.

Feel free to check in with me regarding any aspect of kettlebell lifting or GS. I'm happy to work with lifters on their own level.

Best wishes for effective, safe lifting!