Kettlebell Challenge Workouts

Best Beginner Kettlebell Workout

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Swing/snatch pull

David Willoughby, a weightlifting champion from the 1920s and a man of unquestionable authority on the iron game, stated that the two-arm swing "brings into action and develops practically every group of muscles on the back of the body and legs, and a good many others besides. If you have time on your schedule for only one back exercise, make it this one."

The swing is a great way to learn your way around a kettlebell and get prepared for the more difficult snatch.

Pick up a kettlebell with both arms, keeping your knees slightly bent, your back arched, your head up, and the weight on your heels.

Good Form: Pick up a kettlebell with both arms, keeping your knees slightly bent, your back arched, your head up, and the weight on your heels.
Poor Form: Back curved, looking down and legs locked

Swing the bell back between your legs. Observe how the weight remains on the heels and the shins are vertical. You should feel that the K-bell is pulling you backward and loading your hamstrings. The position illustrated is essential to master; if you let your knees protrude forward you will never get the leverage to bring your hips in on the action.

Snap the hips through by contracting your glutes explosively, a motion similar to a vertical jump. Visualize jumping up and at the same time projecting the girya straight ahead with the power of your hips. The height of the pull may vary: level with your waist...

You can even pull it straight up, if you feel confident that you can reverse the movement before the kettlebell flicks over and hurts your wrists (the handle may not be wide enough for two hands in that position). If you do get that high make sure that you do not lean back—that applies to all kettlebell drills across the board.

Note how your may end up on your tip toes as you express your power upward. Great, just make sure to rock back on your heels as the bell comes down.

When you reach the top of the movement, immediately let the bell free fall to the spot slightly below and behind your knees. Once that destination is reached, proceed with the next rep without hesitation. No pause at all; you have touched a hot stove!

When it comes to high rep ballistics, the armed forces manual recommends inhaling when the body is opening up and encourages rib cage expansion—trunk and hip extension, movement of the arms up or out—and exhaling when it is closing down, forward bending and kettlebell lowering. I am not going to be as dogmatic, but I want to stress how important is to synchronize your breathing with the movement somehow. If you fail to find a rhythm you will not be able to keep up for long.

Once you have mastered the two-arm swing you should try the one arm version. You may pass the bell from hand to hand on the bottom or, if you are not puling higher than your head, on the top of the pull.

An interesting variation of the one arm pull calls for swinging your kettlebell outside your knee. Be careful, as this could be dangerous to your knees— watch out for a crash! A two arm/two kettlebell swing outside the knees—the movement is similar to the arm action of an accelerating down hill skier—is also a treat. It goes without saying that all weird permutations must wait until you have your kettlebell basics down pat.

Kettlebell Fundamentals

A variation of the two-arm/two kettlebell drill—the true snatch pull if you want to get technical—calls for keeping the bell close to the body, keeping its bottom down, and bending the arms as much as necessary, on route to the finished position.


Although some comrades, including Russian hand-to-hand combat expert and Spetsnaz veteran Anatoly Taras, perform this exercise with one arm—your thumbs get strong among other things—I urge you against it. You may end up dropping the kettlebell on your head; the grip in this position is iffy if only one hand is doing the job. True kettlebell snatches with the bell flicking over the wrist are harder and safer.

Once you have finished a workout that involves swings or snatches, stretch your back and hamstrings. You will be grateful you have. Perform the stretch of your choice, or, better yet, the stretch of my choice from my book Relax into Stretch or its companion video. Stretching your inner thighs would not hurt either. Alright, who am I kidding? It will hurt, but at least you will have a fighting chance of getting out of bed the morning after, without help. In case you are wondering how your hip adductors could be involved in a pulling motion, you are about to find out the hard way.

If someone you know is considering taking up kettlebell lifting but cannot make up his mind to invest in a book, a tape, and kettlebells, make him or her a believer by teaching swings with a dumbbell


The clean draws its name from the requirement to bring the weight to your shoulders in one 'clean' movement.

Pick up the kettlebell off the floor, the same way you would for the one arm swing. Note that the starting position for all the pulls, swings, cleans, and snatches is identical.

Swing the kettlebell back and then immediately toward your shoulder.

Pay attention to the proper wrist angle at the completion of the drill. Imagine that you are trying to wrap your fist in your forearm, toward the inside of your elbow. If you let you wrists hang free, as is your natural lazy tendency, you will be a hurting unit in no time flat. Some Russian gireviks have done this in the past, because relaxing their wrists on the impact helped eke out more reps in their ballistic lifts. Their reward was to develop a whole laundry list of problems, including joint hernias. And the correct answer is strength and focus. Sorry, nice try—wrist wraps are not the solution!

The neutral wrist alignment applies to all the KB drills: cleans, snatches, jerks, presses, you name it. "..the swinging of kettlebells requires a strong forearm and wrist...," observed 'Russian Lion' Hackenschmidt—and now you know he was not kidding.

If you do the drill correctly you will barely feel the impact of the bell on your forearm. If you do not—you will get bruised or worse. Consider wearing a thick sweatshirt or something along those lines, in the beginning—although Russians never do.

Pay attention to the proper wrist angle at the completion of the drill. Good form above. Poor form below

Pay attention to the proper wrist angle at the completion of the drill. Good form above. Poor form below

The key to efficient and painless shock absorption is good technique. Every Independence Day my wife Julie's family gathers at her aunt Tootsie and uncle John's cabin near Duluth, Minnesota. The balloon toss is always a part of the holiday program. Couples get balloons filled with water and start passing them between them. After every throw, everyone takes a step back. Sooner or later overfilled balloons get busted. Whoever keeps theirs alive wins the jackpot.

Shortly after you start playing this game, you realize that simply catching the blob is as good as throwing it against the wall. A sudden stop generates high Gs and bursts the bubble. You quickly learn to barely touch the balloon and rapidly retreat with it, to absorb the shock over a distance rather than in a dead stop.

By the same token, the shock of the kettlebell coming down on your forearm should be absorbed by a long and smooth braking action of the knee dip, performed as the bell is flipping over the wrist and hitting the forearm. It is equally important to bring your elbow down as low as possible and press your arm against the ribs. An arm 'disconnected' from the body punishes the shoulder.

At no point lean back! That applies to ALL the KB drills! And always brace your abs and glutes on impact!

Drop the kettlebell between your knees and continue the set. Ease into cleans and watch your elbows as you drop the girya. You may find that squeezing the handle quickly at the lowest point helps to protect the elbows.

At no point lean back! That applies to ALL the KB drills!
One way of making the clean tougher is to pull the dead weight straight from the floor, without a pre-swing: the dead clean.

Another approach is to clean from a dead hang: the hang clean. Make sure to tighten up your whole body as much as possible before the pull.

Catching the weight on a dime adds a nice touch to hang cleans. Pause until the inertia dissipates, flex, and clean again.


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