Mountain Biking with Kettlebells!

“You wouldn’t want to go downhill mountain biking before you learned how to ride a bike”

The above quote is from one of my teenage clients and the analogy is certainly applicable across any board that you look at. Far too many times have I witnessed high skill Kettlebell movements being grueled through by individuals who lack the foundational principles for how to engage their core in order to control the Kettlebell.

A few months ago, I was watching an individual being led through a Kettlebell exercise routine that showed me that even the instructor was most likely unfamiliar with basic Kettlebell training principles. Now I can’t blame the trainer for wanting to use Kettlebells with their clients, Kettlebells are awesome.

In fact, when I first started using Kettlebells myself, I had no idea if what I was doing was right.

The difference is that when I first started using Kettlebells, and when I started showing other people the basics that I understood, I was not considered a certified fitness professional and I certainly was not charging anybody a dime for what I was offering. Hell, even when I was just starting out as a certified professional, and I was charging folks not much more than a dime, I was still only working within the scope of my practice. In essence, I wasn’t taking my beginning students, throwing them on a bike and sending them flying down the “Stowe Flow” trail. In fact I was all about those “training wheels”, and that “walk before you run” mentality.

To clarify… let’s use the Kettlebell Snatch! IF YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND THE POSITION OF THE WORKING ARM DURING THE LOCK OUT THEN YOU PROBABLY ARE BETTER OFF NOT DOING HIGH REPETITION KETTLEBELL SNATCHES…plain and simple! It’s as simple as this in fact, “would you do that with a heavy Kettlebell?” If the answer is no then stop right there. Instead, work on the lockout! Or better yet, go all the way back to the beginning and ask yourself if you understand how to engage the glutes and the abs as a foundation for all Kettlebell movements, then go from there.

 

Here’s the deal, there are absolute foundational principles that go into using Kettlebells, these principles are how we swing without back pain, clean or snatch without wrist bruises, press without shoulder pain, and do get ups without feeling like we’re flailing around swimming through the air. The truth is that these foundations should be taught at the start of any program that has significant Kettlebell usage – a lot of times they are not.

The reality is that most of the time the introduction of these foundations takes a fair amount of talking, like a whole 15 minutes – and surely if you came to do a workout you must never want to even consider standing there listening to someone talk for 15 minutes. But you would benefit greatly from it!

So, if you’re currently working with or planning to work with Kettlebells and you can find a Kettlebell instructor, or attend a workshop or a Kettlebell specific class, it would go quite a long way to keeping your progressions steady, safe, confident, and pain free to take advantage of the opportunity. And if you find a specialized instructor, or you attend a specific Kettlebell workshop, and this still isn’t the case then come on over to North Country Kettlebells and get your first consultation, ON US! Just remember what the young lifter said, “ you’d never go downhill mountain biking before you learned how to ride a bike” believe me you!

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Keeping Active w/ Kettlebells – The Perfect Weight

It has been a long time idea of mine that one way to get folks more active in sedentary situations is to provide regular access to Kettlebells and Kettlebell training. Whether in a gym or outside, at home or in the office, Kettlebells offer an opportunity to do a good amount of impactful physical work in a short amount of time.

Kettlebells are specifically perfect for this because they’re very compact, easy to store, and convenient to pick up and use right on the spot. Lifting Kettlebells offers an immediate change of pace, as well as a sort of mental-emotional reset. The muscle engagement techniques are a great way to create and reestablish a strong mind/body connection, and to set in good body mechanics while enhancing mental focus and demonstrating personal ability.

It’s really quite simple, once you know what you’re doing. You can get all of these amazing benefits by performing just a few lifts in a short period of time. The mind/body aspects are driven even deeper when working with challenging weights that require more mental and physical focus, and the entire practice encourages a constant readiness in the body.

As far as when to make time for this, well that’s the best part! You can really just do it throughout your day, whenever it feels like you need it, or want it, or could use it. Throw a few reps in anytime you want that quick boost!

 

In the end, keep it simple. Remember that this is something you can pick up and use at your beck and call, without ritual or formality. Take it seriously, but know that there is no need to confine yourself by what you think exercise is suppose to look like. Just keep in mind that whatever you choose to do, for however long that you choose to do it, is doing good for you holistically – mentally, physically, and emotionally. Enjoy this as a great way to stay active in your work space, wherever that might be!

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Kettlebells For Holistic Fitness

It is regularly suggested that, in order to strengthen one’s body to either prevent injury or rehabilitate from it, a person should participate in regular load bearing activities and/or at-least-moderate intensity exercise. This is why a Kettlebell can become a wonderful tool for practical fitness training.

As a holistic exercise practice, kettlebell training has been proven to increase vitality and personal physical awareness, while at the same time teaching all of the alignment and structural integrity fundamentals essential to working out safely and progressively.

What is really significant about participating in Kettlebell practices is the flowing nature of the resistance. The Kettlebell is one of the only weightlifting tools that allows for constant fluid movement and infinite variation in how it can be used, making it more like “having a conversation with gravity” than “lifting weights”.

Because working with Kettlebells requires full body engagement, lifters become better aware of how to automatically control external resistances with the activation of the “core” muscles, the practice then becomes perfect for labor oriented or load bearing jobs (especially if you are required to lift more than 50 pounds!).

The beautiful thing about it is that the programs effectively raise the overall physical awareness of the lifter, teaching a constant and focused physical and mental engagement. Practitioners quickly begin to understand where the root of their strength potential lies and how to support and protect the body during all resistance based activities.

This is how Kettlebells can be both the perfect springboard to learning the specifics of weight training, and they can act as a stand alone resistance tool for regular physical activity. Enjoy!

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Empowerment Through Exercise

Imagine this, what if the purpose of exercising and working out were actually meant to recharge the battery and not to drain it, and that when we performed our hardest workouts we felt stronger and more energized immediately after… Huh?

Well, it’s like this. What I’ve found in my programming is that the majority of people who come to me really just want to feel better from the work that they are doing, not worse. For myself, I often ask what is the point of participating in an exercise program that leaves me feeling unable to function for 2 or 3 days before I feel like I can do it again, only to see the same result. Personally, I don’t want my training cycles to leave me with any days of inactivity, especially at the expense of my day to day activities. At the same time I do want to be challenged by what I am doing, and I want to progress, so how do I get there?

It’s quite simple actually. In training, I have to make it so that my body wants more of what I’m giving to it when I’m finished, the goal here is to make sure that I’m leaving myself feeling stronger from what I am doing in the moment, and not exhausted by it like I can’t do anymore.

This way of training, I have to admit, is not for everyone. In fact, I can think of a lot of people off the top of my head who would be completely turned off by the idea. But, for people who want to leave the gym or an exercise session feeling better physically then when they started, it is the perfect way to go.

I work very hard in my workouts, and I work very close to my capacity, but I work in such a way that my body deems it possible to work this hard without failure- then it wants to do even more, and not in 3 days, but tomorrow. The way I see it, my life is not about going hard until I am laid up and can’t go hard for a few days, and then going hard again with the same result. As I see it, my life is about not diminishing my abilities in an attempt to improve them.

I’ll finish by saying this, let us keep ourselves safe and feeling good about what we’re doing, without injury and without forced inactivity. This is what I’ve done for myself, and for my students and clients, and it seems to be working really well so far. Enjoy!

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5 Ways To Know How To Lift Kettlebells

With Kettlebells, believe it or not, the difference between proper, comfortable technique and ineffective, painful technique can sometimes be hard to determine! Here are 5 sure fire ways to put yourself on the right path to safe and fulfilling progression:

1. Pinch The Nickel! This is really the true foundation of kettlebell training, it is the act of holding everything together by thinking about glute and ab engagement, in other words bracing your butt and your gut. This encourages more muscles to work during lifts and it protects the joints and low back at all stages of movement. Here’s an article on how to do that…

2. Choose The Right Brand. All Kettlebells are not created equally, some have handles that are too small, or too big, or too rough, or too smooth. To avoid a number of aggravations, from chipping paint to torn up hands and busted wrists, use KETTLEBELLS USA. With KBUSA, you know that whatever style of Kettlebell you choose, and yes there are even different styles of Kettlebells, whichever you choose it is going to be absolute quality every single time.

3. Keep Things Simple. Make sure that you approach your training as a study, especially if you are working on your own or learning without a trainer. Pick 2 or 3 exercises to “master” and focus on perfecting progressions with those exercises. When it comes to Kettlebells, chances are that getting really good at performing one or 2 movements is going to give you the foundations for many of the other exercises, and make getting good at those a lot easier too.

4. Only Accept Good Form. Repetitions should feel consistent and comfortable from the first to the last. Obviously movements will take effort if you are working at the right capacity, especially the last repetitions of a drill, but with KB training you always want to make sure that your last rep is always your best rep- that is when good technique matters most, since fatigue makes a lifter more susceptible to injury. At no time should your technique lead to pain, if it hurts at all then you may be doing it wrong. You want to feel that you are always in control of the kettlebell and never the other way around.

5. Find Experienced Kettlebell Instruction. Having someone to work through the foundations of the practice with you can stream line your exposure to corrections and adjustments, while covering a lot of ground on improving technique in a short amount of time. All too often do I meet individuals who have been working with Kettlebells for some time but have never gotten the foundations of the program, and so their confidence in their ability is low and the idea of progressing from where they are to heavier weights is not easy to imagine. By working with an instructor who is experienced at taking people through progressions you can create the most enjoyable experience, knowing that what you are doing is having an enormous affect on your personal ability and physical confidence.

There are certainly other ways to know how to lift Kettlebells, joining a group class and soaking up as much of the instruction as you can, or web consulting and submitting videos of your form and technique. These 5 ways to know how to lift Kettlebells are simply good for keeping yourself safe and moving in the right direction. If you ever have questions about what you are doing then reach out and contact an experienced instructor and ask for some guidance, I’m sure it will have a positive impact . Enjoy!

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Are Kettlebells Good For You?

Take a second and really ask yourself, “are Kettlebells the right choice for your strengthening and fitness goals, or even for a healthy way to spend your time?” Let’s take a look at a series of insights that might encourage you towards creating an answer for yourself.

Have you ever entertained the idea of being more physically capable, durable, and aware? Have you tried exercise programs or modals that you thought would work for you only to learn that they were not what you were looking for? Have you found it hard to focus on your exercise practices, becoming bored with or removed from the experience? Have you ever been hurt or injured during an exercise routine?

If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, creating a progressive training program using Kettlebells is probably just what you need.

No strength training device requires the amount of focus and awareness of personal ability than the Kettlebell. By nature of the progressive training you can’t help but use every physical resource you currently posses to develop the resources for continuing to move forward. With Kettlebells there is no cheating. If you are doing it incorrectly or passively then you will not get far in your progressions.

On the other hand, if you are paying attention to how your body is responding, if you are constantly focused on the lifting process, and if you are sincere in your efforts to improve and build on your current ability then you will inevitably increase in overall strength and fitness level, range of motion, and comfort during exertion. So as to the question are Kettlebells good for YOU, I will say maybe not for everybody, but if you’re still reading this blog post then maybe for you the answer is yes. I sure hope so!

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The Guy To Seek When You’re Feeling Weak

Some time ago I took myself through a marketing program that asked me to create a catchy slogan for North Country Kettlebells. It was supposed to be witty and to play on the core vision for my services. The slogan that I can up with for myself was, “The Guy To Seek When You’re Feeling Weak”.

This slogan never did stick, although I moved on from it with the sentiment in my heart, I’d also scrawled the slogan on the cover of the notebook that I was using for the program. Recently I came back across this notebook, prompting me to reevaluate the validity in phrase.

I thought to myself, “What was I actually like before I started lifting kettlebells?” “How did I feel?” And, as I thought back on this, I remembered how often I would get overpowered and out muscled in physical competitions. I came back to times of feeling like I was physically outmatched or that a task was too much to handle… cinder blocks being kind of hard to carry and this sort of thing. Looking back I realized that a major reason for my starting to lift Kettlebells was that I wanted to feel strong because, up to that point, I never really had. Maybe I would have never said that I felt “weak” but I certainly hadn’t felt strong in comparison to the people who I thought possessed actual strength.

These days I do feel physically capable, and not only am I fairly pleased with my strength level, but I’d go as far as saying on a daily basis I do feel physically strong. This makes me take an even deeper look into that old slogan and though I won’t say that I am “The Guy To Seek When You’re Feeling Weak”, because I’d rather not support that kind of self-deprecation, I will say that I am, and am happy to be, “The Guy Who’s On To Help You Get Strong” and that is a claim I am happy to stand by.

So if you’re feeling like you could use a little more power in your day to day, or that you’d like to see yourself as being a bit more durable or even more capable physically, then give me a call or shoot me an email but don’t wait too long, I’ll be your guy who is on to help get you strong.

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Joint Mobility (PDF Link)

In my Kettlebell practice, it is clear that Joint Mobility is as important to strength progression as any other major aspect of exercise programming. I regularly use the term Joint Mobility to refer to a series of range of motion exercises that are intended to “lubricate the joints” through movement, and get a lifter physically and mentally ready for activity. By definition, Joint Mobility refers to the degree to which an articulation (where two bones meet) is allowed to move before being restricted by surrounding tissues (ligaments/tendons/muscles etc.)… otherwise known as the range of uninhibited movement around a joint.

During the systematic movement of each joint, a viscous substance, known as synovial fluid, is produced and acts on many different levels to encourage structural health of the entire body. For example, in addition to it’ s lubricating qualities, synovial fluid posses important shock absorption capability, as well as plays a major role in nutrient and waste transportation. Needless to say, all of these are good things and would benefit any moving body, so “who needs joint mobility?” Everyone.

The program that I subscribe to and recommend to my students is very well summarized in this Joint Mobility link, and I regularly suggest it as a minimum level of practice for my participants. Try it out yourself for a week and see how it feels, recommend it to anyone who you think might benefit from it, and be sure to give your body what it needs. Enjoy!

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Radiant Tension Part 2

Radiant Tension makes it possible to safely move heavier and heavier loads, it also helps the lifter develop a firm understanding of how to apply their entire musculature to any physical task. In my training programs everything starts with an introduction to Radiant Tension, using drills that I have used to teach the initial principles of Kettlebell Lifting since I began taking students.

The Handshake Drill is a sequence that involves squeezing a partners hand, in order to elicit a pressure response that let’s you know the technique is having an effect. Though you could use a weight clip or a crush gripper for demonstration, another person is needed to provide verbal feedback about how well the force created is being transferred into the squeezing hand. The set up is identical to a typical hand shake, Person 1 will be squeezing while Person 2 braces their hand by extending the index finger in order to keep their knuckles from folding and getting crushed.

In the first part of the sequence, Person 1 will squeeze as hard as they can for at least 5 seconds, engaging the glutes by “Pinching The Nickel” (see  part 1), and visualizing the force created as being transferred up the body and into the squeezing hand. At this point, if Person 1 is transferring their force correctly, Person 2 should begin to feel increasing  pressure at the hand. It is important that all the force created is being transferred up the body and into the “handshaking” hand, if not then it becomes the equivalent to sprinting in place, and will effectively take you nowhere. Also, make sure that you do this drill with both hands.

Before performing the next part of the sequence try this. Relax and poke your index finger into your abdomen, take a moment to observe how deep into your belly you can push in. Next, brace your abdomen so that you can not push your finger in at all and notice the force that you are producing in order to stop your abdomen from collapsing. Now, apply this part to the handshake sequence. Squeeze your hand, tighten your butt, brace your abdomen and feel the force transfer increase as it travels up your body and into your grip strength. Person 2 should feel a noticeable increase in pressure at the hand.

The last part of this sequence, the aspect of the drill that I see as closing the loop, is to squeeze the non-working hand/side of the body just as hard as the working side. To demonstrate this, stand as in this photo. Brace you entire body, including both fists, and imagine you are bending an iron bar. You should feel the muscles under your armpits engage as well as the force of your entire musculature making your body rigid and stable. Once this is applied to the Handshake sequence, Partner 2 should feel the most powerful stage of the drill, as all of the musculature is working to support the squeezing hand by transferring a maximal force through the body and into the task.

Enjoy this drill and apply the concept to your exercise practice in what ever way you see fit, tell a friend who you know is trying to push their strength and feels like their not making gains. In addition to exercise, this is a great concept to know for any level of manual labor. From carrying and shoveling, to everyday moving about our lives, Radiant Tension plays a large role in how much we support ourselves during activity, it is a skill to be practiced and elaborated on for the entirety of life and it is your birthright as an active human being. Enjoy!

 

 

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Don’t Get Lost In The Crowd

In the years that I have been a fitness instructor I have had the opportunity to teach mainly in three different settings; large groups(over 15 people), personalized groups(2-10 people),  and on a personal training basis. In my experience I’ve seen the greatest amount of  lasting quantifiable improvement within personalized training programs. Even when a large group program has had a specific goal in training, i.e. technical proficiency, I have still seen more progress per capita when the student/teacher ratio is relatively low, allowing individuals to receive specific personal attention. This doesn’t mean that I have not seen individuals thrive in larger group settings. I have definitely seen tremendous individual progress in larger settings, due specifically to the camaraderie that comes out of a large group environment, and how that motivates participants. But, as both an instructor and a student, I’ve also seen how easy it is for individual participants to get lost in the crowd and how that affects the learning curve.

For example, someone who has had 1 year of experience with the Kettlebell Swing in a group setting but is still uncomfortable with the movement, versus a person who spends 1 hour covering Swing technique with a professional trainer and can perform the movement freely. The latter is in a better position because they have had a concentrated focus on their personal performance and individual cues for the movement. On the other hand, the 1 year participant may only need a few technical adjustments for the movement to feel more comfortable and be over all more effective. This is where getting lost in the crowd can be detrimental and personalized focus becomes paramount.

It is because of my experience, again both as a teacher and as a student, that I encourage individuals taking part in group fitness programs to enhance their experience by seeking out as much technical support as they have access to. This is both for increased comprehension as well as safety, and applies to beginners and long time practitioners alike. Even most veteran lifters and fitness professionals constantly seek information and deeper instruction in their personal fitness practice. So find a trainer to spend some time with, catalog a few blogs that you like, or get a book and video series to follow, but do what you can to make sure that your exercise practice is having the intended effect and not putting you at risk. Trust me, you owe it to yourself.

 

 

 

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