In the old days, any Russian strongman or lifter was called a girevik, or 'a kettlebell man'. Many famous Soviet weightlifters, such as Vorobyev, Vlasov, Alexeyev, and Stogov, started their Olympic careers with old-fashioned kettlebells. Recalls two times Olympic champion and world record holder Leonid Zhabotinskiy: "We kids got into the habit of visiting the local blacksmith. Among the metal scrap in his shop we found a one-pood [16kg] kettlebell. So we tried real hard lifting it with one arm, then with the other, so we would hurt all over the day after! .. It was my first competition in lifting weights." No wonder one prestigious kettlebell tournament was named after Leonid Zhabotinskiy.
Yuri Vlasov who defeated mighty Paul 'the Wonder of Nature'Anderson, once interrupted an interview he was giving to a Western journalist and proceeded to press a pair of 'doubles', ten times. "A wonderful exercise," commented world champion weightlifter. "... It is hard to find an exercise better suited for developing strength and flexibility simultaneously."
Indeed, the number one reason Olympic weightlifters should add kettlebells to their regimen, is the promise of spectacular gains in shoulder and hip flexibility. The drill of choice is the kettlebell overhead squat. The overhead squat is a staple exercise for a weightlifter, but not an easy one to master. It takes unusual shoulder and upper back range of motion to perform a rock bottom squat, while holding a barbell or a pair of dumbbells overhead—even with a very light poundage. Athletes usually fail to bring the weight far enough behind their head—and either lose it in front or fall on their butt.
By the nature of their shape, kettlebells hang behind the hands and make the balancing act much easier. Now, for the first time, you can do a legit overhead squat. The KBs will stretch out your shoulders in no time flat—just keep on overhead KB squatting!
Although KBs are worth getting for shoulder flexibility alone, there are plenty of drills—other than overhead squats—that you can do with them, to supplement your Olympic weightlifting training. Randall Strossen, Ph.D. is one of the top weightlifting experts in the US and the publisher of the classy magazine, MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes (subscribe on www.ironmind.com). Strossen comments: "It's no secret that kettlebells were standard equipment for Eastern Bloc strength athletes and old time strongmen—they are excellent for swings, laterals, rowing and a variety of throwing-related movements."
And much more. Prof. Arkady Vorobyev recommends kettlebell snatches to weightlifters as a means of developing quickness. Three to four times a week— and never to the point where you start slowing down. The former Olympic champion also favors snatching two 32kg kettlebells for sets of five, while standing on an elevation, as a special snatch exercise.
The authoritative weightlifting textbook by ex-world champion, Prof. Alexey Medvedev, lists twenty-four kettlebell exercises for the arms and shoulder girdle—and twenty-nine for the legs and torso! Another Russian weightlifting expert, V. I. Rodionov, recommends a great variety of kettlebell drills, including stiff-legged snatches with one or two KBs, one arm swings to chest level, hands switching every rep, split and squat snatches, and juggling one or two kettlebells, by yourself or with a partner. He prescribes kettlebell throws—overhead, forward, and to the side, as well as the techniques employed by discus and hammer throwers—for developing quickness. He recommends occasionally using high repetition kettlebell lifts, to develop special endurance.
Rodionov's kettlebell leg-work menu is very extensive: front and overhead squats, feet flat and on the balls of the feet, Hack lifts on the balls of the feet with a kettlebell held behind the lifter's hips, leg extensions with a kettlebell hanging off the lifter's instep, and lunges. The scientist insists on turning your front foot slightly in and keeping it flat when performing KB lunges. The rear heel is off the floor and is turned slightly out. The emphasis is on depth and stretching. Russian lifters also favor explosively switching the legs in the low position—which is sometimes referred to as 'the Russian lunge' on this side of the late Berlin Wall
The one-legged kettlebell front squat, or 'pistol', tops off Rodionov's leg list. I have successfully implemented this awesome drill into my S.W.A.T. team and U.S. federal agency trainings. You can watch the proper pistol technique in my Rapid Response videos. You may use one or two kettlebells.
High step-ups are popular among Russian weightlifters for glute development and flexibility. Kettlebells offer a fine tool for overloading. Clean a pair to your chest and go for it. Keep your shin vertical and push through your heel. Use a hard, elevated surface, not a soft bench.
A cruel and unusual drill is 'the Sots press', named after the world champion weightlifter of the early eighties, Russian Victor Sots. It rewards you with exceptional shoulder strength and active flexibility. Clean a pair of giryas and go into a full squat. Now military press the bells! Good luck, you'll need it.
The original Sots press is performed with a barbell and will defy most humans, even with an empty bar. Because you don't have to worry about getting round your head—and thanks to their displaced centers of gravity— kettlebells enable you to work up to the barbell version.
When working up to a kettlebell Sots press, master this squat press from the shoulders first—and only then try to press from the rack on your chest. Keep your elbows as high as possible, or you are doomed.
Kettlebells are not new to all American weightlifters. "I used to use kettlebells years ago; at the University of Notre Dame in the sixties," Ken Durso wrote me from Tennessee. "There were all manner of training aids in Father Lange's gym including some old kettlebells. Although I never used them much, after graduation I lifted for the McBurney YMCA team in New York City, sort of a third stringer behind some really good Olympic lifters—Dick Rosen (148lbs, pressed 305); David Berger (165lb expatriate to Israel, was killed at the Olympics by the Arab terrorists); I was fourth in the Junior Nationals in 1969, best lifts of 280 press, 260 snatch, 340 C and J. There were kettlebells in that old gym on 23rd Street and I used to do one arm presses and various swings.
After many years, I bought one of IronMind's kettlebell handles late last year and began training again with them in my routine, nothing very regular at first. Just wanted to feel it again. Started doing light power cleans, up to the shoulder and then an overhead press, sets of six or eight, down and up, down and up. Got to over 100lbs with either arm and have the video tape to prove it... Unfortunately the heavier weight began to pulverize my upper arms as the plates swung round, crashing into my outer biceps. I got very black and blue. I switched to very high pulls, not actually racking the weight... I had adjusted my footing to straddle on some stacks of roof shingles. This provided clearance for the bell to swing down between the legs and lengthen the pull. Very important, this approximates the pull in the weight over bar event of the Highland Games, very similar."
Kent Durso finished third at Pleasanton US Championships Highland Games last year, Masters class. "Also, I am fiddling with a kind of shot put motion, for reps with a lighter weight, to get extension of the shoulder, very important for that last push on the stone. As you can see, I am still experimenting with the kettlebells. I believe they are directly beneficial for throwing events."
Although powerlifters have no need for above average shoulder flexibility—a PLer who can scratch the back of his head is off the charts—they will find overhead kettlebell squats unmatchable in promoting hip and lower back flexibility. For max power and safety, a powerlifter needs to keep a tight arch in the lower back all the way into the hole—a rounded back subtracts 15% from your pull according to Roman (1962) and does no good to your squat either. The overhead kettlebell squat done for a few sets of five, in lieu of your usual squat and deadlift warmup, is your ticket to achieving the perfect SQ and DL technique—and squat depth.
Alexey Vorotintsev, a prominent coach and a holder of many USSR kettlebell records, has been influential in getting PLers to train with kettlebells. And why not? Recall that there is a high correlation between the KBL total and the PL total (Vinogradov & Lukyanov, 1986).
Many Russian powerlifters start or wrap up their deadlift session with kettlebell pulls or swings. 32kgx12/3 is the typical format unless the intention is to build up the back and hammies with back-off sets. Another choice you have, when incorporating kettlebells into your power regimen, is complex training.
Dr. Fred Hatfield is one of the most competent sports scientists in the US. He was also the first man to officially squat over 1,000 pounds. Hatfield, AKA "Dr. Squat", recommends doing one or two explosive vertical jumps right before a deadlift attempt. He warns that the effect is lost if the lifter spends too much time adjusting his grip.
Dr. 'Squat's idea is to facilitate a more intense contraction of the musculature involved. Since the hips and back, rather than the thighs, do the most work in the deadlift, I believe that KB snatches or pulls are superior to jump squats, in the DL context. Make sure to focus on explosion and immediate reversal of the movement when the KB hits the low point below your knees. Imagine you have touched a hot stove.
You can also plug kettlebells into Steve Wilson's deadlift routine. Recently Texas powerlifter, Ben Phillip Workman contacted me. He told me about a radical DL routine by Steve Wilson who pulled 850 back in the eighties. Wilson deadlifted 225275 pounds, or 26-32% of his max, for two to three sets of twenty reps two to three times a week. Once a month he would deadlift heavy. This 'non-scientific' and counterintuitive
B.P. Workman pullling 655.
B.P. Workman pullling 655.
routine worked not only for superhuman Wilson. "Pavel, the Steve Wilson DL [program] worked out surprisingly well!" wrote B. Phillip Workman. "I made my own modifications along the way but I was able to pull 675 with nothing but a belt (no roids either). I was quite surprised that lifting submaximal weights often really juiced my dead. My best DL before that was normally 605 on a great day.it also had a positive effect on my squat, I feel. I squatted 625 with just a belt (of course I was squatting on a regular basis once a week). You know, when I think about it, the deadlift jumped when I went from pulling 1-2 times a month to pulling 2-3 times a week with probably between 80-100+ reps a week! Makes me put that much more faith in PTP [my book Power to the People!: Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American]!"
I believe that centralpattern generators, the neural circuits in charge of rhythmical movements are to thank for Messrs. Wilson and Workman's success. One of the CPGs' jobs is to disinhibit the antagonistic muscles, that is 'remove the brakes' your body always puts on. In essence the CPGs 'lubricate' your movement—make it more efficient. Now when you try harder—for example at your monthly heavy deadlift session—you will go further. That is the theory.
But whatever the theory is, obviously the program delivered. I suspect that the Wilson routine will work even better if you do one arm kettlebell snatches or snatch pulls instead of deadlifts. The KB drills are at least as good in building up the spinal erectors and hamstrings as repetition deadlifts. Then they are safer (I am not a big fan of more than five reps in the dead; I gave my reasons in Power to the People!). Plus they enforce a clean, efficient groove that will carry over to deadlifts. Strength coach extraordinaire, Bill Starr, stated on many occasions that quick lifts teach a powerlifter a very precise pulling groove. No one in his right mind would do high-rep barbell quick lifts (too dangerous, among other reasons) but with kettlebells you have a green light.
Please give the Wilson routine a try with kettlebells: two to three times a week, two to three sets of ten reps per arm (twenty total). Pick a kettlebell that works you without killing you. Once a month try a conservative max. Let me know how you do on the dragondoor.com discussion site.
And one more good reason for a powerlifter to train with kettlebells: KBL's repetitive ballistic shock will build some serious tendons and ligaments—with power to match! Although heavy supports in the tradition of Jowett, Anderson, and Grimek are a must for a man or woman of power, they are only half the connective tissue training equation. Eastern European specialists, such as Prof. Verkhoshansky, recommend full-amplitude, high-rep work to stimulate tendon and ligament development. So go get 'em, tiger!
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