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Kettlebell Training

The Basics

by Liam O'Brien

Personal Trainer
Kettlebell Instructor

Pontefract, West Yorkshire

www.liamobrien.co.uk

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About the author

Liam O'Brien is a Personal Trainer and Kettlebell


Instructor based in Pontefract, West Yorkshire.
He works all over the region including Leeds,
Wakefield and the 5 Towns. He has been a Personal
Trainer for just 3 years but has been working in the
fitness industry for more than a decade.
He is a keen Judo player and trains with Knottingley
Judo club; runs regularly - mainly middle distance,
and also competes in triathlon.

You can visit his website at www.liamobrien.co.uk

Contents

The history of kettlebells

the exercises
− swing - snatch
− power snatch - clean
− power clean - military press
− deadlift - windmill
− turkish get up (TGU) - high pull
− front squat - around the body
− chest press - single arm row
− lunge - bicep curl
− tricep extension - upright row
− russian twists - side bends

workouts

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The history of kettlebells
A kettlebell or girya is a traditional Russian
cast iron weight that looks like a cannonball
with a handle.

Although the kettlebell is fairly new to the


UK, they go as far back as the 1700's where
it was first seen in a Russian dictionary in
1704.
Such was their popularity in Russia that any
strongman or weightlifter was referred to as
a girevik, or 'a kettlebell man'.

The actual origin of the kettlebell however will always


be subject to debate. The Scots will claim that they
invented the kettlebell as part of the Highland
Games, and the Chinese say that the giant padlocks
used by the Shaolin monks were the original
kettlebells.

They are still used by the American and Russian


military today as well as Hollywood stars and
professional sports players. They are used by Chelsea
and Liverpool football clubs and Castleford Tigers and
Leeds Rhinos rugby teams.

Kettlebells are now widely regarded as the ultimate training tool for all round
fitness and physical development and are even being used by some
physiotherapists to aid injury rehabilitation.

The main reason that the kettlebell is such a fantastic tool is due to the handle
being outside of the mass of the bell. This creates an extra axis on movements
like the swing and the snatch, making the movement more than just strength
and forcing the body to overcome, absorb and develop the additional
momentum.

A properly executed and balanced kettlebell workout will work every muscle in
the body, and as your confidence grows you can move onto more complex
routines with double kettlebells or heavier weights.

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The exercises
1 - The swing
The swing is a fantastic exercise and forms the basis of many kettlebell moves.
When performed correctly it develops a strong posterior chain (glutes,
hamstrings and erector spinae muscles), lower abdominals and overall power.

'proper execution of the swing alone is superior to


99% of the sophisticated strength and conditioning
programs'
Steve Maxwell. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Champion and Senior
Russian Kettlebell Instructor.

Muscles used:
glutes
hamstrings
erector spinae
lower abdominals

Start position
The bell should be held across the top of the handle and deadlifted from the
floor. Feet should be slightly wider than hip distance apart, spine in neutral,
glutes tight with chest high and shoulders back.

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Lifting phase
The move should be initiated by swinging the weight backwards between the
legs. The backside should be pushed back with the chest remaining up and the
lower back very slightly arched. Legs should be slightly bent.
The kettlebell should be propelled forward by driving the hips forward in a
'thrusting' motion, pushing the heels hard into the ground and locking the
knees as the bell reaches the top. Abs and glutes should be tight.
This type of 'snap' movement should mean that the arms are only used to
guide the bell up; the momentum comes from the hip 'snap' or 'thrust'. The
bell should be swung in an up and out movement, extending the hips and
pushing the bell away from you rather than above you.
At the top of the movement the bell should feel like it hangs in the air for a
moment, as if weightless.
Lowering phase
As the bell starts to drop, let your arms drop with the weight and then push
the backside out again, drawing the bell between the legs ready for the next
repetition. At all times the chest should be high in relation to the spine and the
chin up.
Variations
single handed swing
alternating swing
double kettlebell swing
rotating or travelling swing

2 – The snatch
The snatch requires excellent co-ordination with explosive power. A difficult yet
when perfected, highly effective exercise.
Muscles used:
glutes
hamstrings
erector spinae
trapezius
deltoids

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Start position
The bell should be held in one hand resting on the front of the thigh.
Lifting phase
The bell should be swung back between the legs as in a single hand swing,
then driven forwards and ultimately overhead, with the hips. The bell should be
rolled around the wrist (rather than over the top) before locking out the elbow
above the head.
Lowering phase
The bell should again be rolled around the wrist and swung back between the
legs ready for the next repetition. Let the weight do the work on the downward
phase, keeping your arm straight.
Variations
Double or alternating snatch.

3- The power snatch


The power snatch differs from the regular snatch in that it replaces the power
and momentum gained from the 'thrust' of the hips, with power from the
thighs.

Muscles used:
glutes / quads
erector spinae / trapezius
deltoids

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Start position
The bell should be held in one hand, thumb pointing backwards between the
legs. Back straight, head up.
Lifting phase
The bell should be lowered towards the floor, dropping the backside and
bending at the knee with a straight back and head up. Then with an explosive
upward push from the thighs drive the bell upwards. With a shrug and upright
row bring the bell towards shoulder height keeping the hand close to the body
at all times with the thumb practically brushing the body. Flip the bell over and
drive upwards with shoulders until both shoulder and arm are locked out. You
should keep a straight back throughout this movement.
Lowering phase
Flip the bell back over your hand and lower to the start position, again keeping
the hand close to the body and the back straight.

4 - The clean
The clean is another exercise that requires explosive, controlled power from
the hips, glutes and hamstrings. An exercise in its own right, the clean can also
be used as a safe and effective way to raise a kettlebell to the racking position.
Muscles used:
glutes
hamstrings
erector spinae
deltoids
trapezius

Start position
The bell should be held in one hand as per the single handed swing.

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Lifting phase
The bell should be swung back between the legs and then, using the hips
driven upwards as per a regular swing. Before reaching the horizontal, the bell
should be rolled around the wrist and pulled into the racking position. Failure
to roll the bell around the wrist will result in the bell making contact with your
forearm with some force! Your back should be straight throughout with a
strong chest position.
Lowering phase
Roll the bell around the outside of the forearm, extend the arm and let the
weight of the bell bring you back to the start position.
Variations
double or alternating clean

5 – Power clean
As with the power snatch, the power clean utilises power from the thighs to
replace the swing motion.

Start position
The bell should be held in one hand, thumb pointing backwards between the
legs. Back straight, head up.
Lifting phase
The bell should be lowered towards the floor with the back straight, dropping
the backside and bending at the knees. With an explosive drive the bell should
be raised toward the shoulder. Flip the bell over your hand and pull into the
racking position.
Lowering phase
Flip the bell back over and return to the start position. Back should remain
straight throughout, head high, chest up.

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6 – Military press
Although this move is often performed with a dumbbell or barbell, extra
stability is required throughout the shoulder joint when performed with a
kettlebell.

Muscles used:
deltoids
triceps
Start position
The bell should be in the racking position.
Lifting / lowering phase
The bell should be driven upwards with the arm held locked and behind the ear
to finish. Return to the front racking position and repeat.
Variations
double press
alternating press

7 – Deadlift
Start position
Stand with feet a little over shoulder width apart, toes pointing very slightly
outwards. Head and chest up, glutes and abs tight and back straight. Take the
bell with a double handed grip.
Muscles used:
glutes
quads
erector spinae

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Lowering / lifting phase
Keeping a straight back, bend the knees and sit back whilst lowering the bell
towards the floor. Then drive upwards using the quads and keeping the arms
straight and weight between legs. At the top of the repetition, squeeze the
glutes together and flex the quads. The back should be upright and straight
throughout.
Variations
double deadlift

8 – The windmill (demonstrated by Lisa Rutherford)


The windmill is a great exercise for developing shoulder stability, core strength
and flexibility.
Muscles used:
obliques
shoulder stabilisers
hamstrings

Start position
With your right hand, clean the kettlebell up to the racking position, then press
to upright (or snatch to upright). With the bell in the right hand turn both feet

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to the left and with a definite motion; push the hips out to the right. Your right
leg should be vertical with the hip directly over the foot.
Lowering / lifting phase
With your free hand, reach down towards the right foot whilst looking upwards
toward the kettlebell. The arm should remain perfectly vertical throughout.
Slowly return to the start position ‘walking’ the hand back up the right leg.

Swap hands and repeat.

9 – The turkish get up (TGU)


A favourite of many MMA practitioners.

Start position
Lie flat on your back with your right arm extended vertically, kettlebell in hand.
Lifting phase
Place your right foot on the ground with a bent knee at approximately 45° to
the body. The left leg should be flat on the floor. Left arm should be flat on the
floor, but at 90° to the body. Push or ‘roll’ yourself up so that you are resting
on your left hand. Raise your hips and swing the left leg underneath the body
and with a push of the left hand, into a kneeling position. Regain balance and
stand upright. The right arm holding the kettlebell should remain vertical at all
times.
Lowering phase
Reverse the actions and return to the start position. Place the bell on the floor

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to the right of the body and push/pull it around the top of the head to the
other hand. Do not lift the bell over the face.

Raise the bell with the left hand and repeat the exercise.

10 – The high pull


The high pull is a combination of a deadlift and an upright row.
Muscles used:
glutes
quads
erector spinae
trapezius/ deltoids

Start position
Stand with feet a little over shoulder width apart, toes pointing very slightly
outwards. Head and chest up, glutes and abs tight and back straight. Take the
bell with a double handed grip.
Lowering / lifting phase
Keeping a straight back, bend the knees and sit back whilst lowering the bell
towards the floor. Then drive upwards using the quads and keeping the arms
straight and weight between legs. As you lock at the knees, shrug and upright
row the bell to the chin. Lower the bell to the start position. This should be
slow, controlled exercise.

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11 – The front squat
Muscles used:
glutes / quads
hamstrings
erector spinae
Start position
Clean the bell into the racking position, with feet just over hip distance apart.
Lowering Phase: Drop into a full squat position, keeping your back upright and
core tight. Aim to get as close to the floor as possible with your hamstrings
almost touching your calves.
Lifting phase
With an intake of breath and maintaining a neutral spine, drive upwards
thorough the heels to the start position.

Variations
Double front squat
Overhead squat

12 – Around the body


Muscles used:
glutes
quads
erector spinae
Start position
Hold the bell in one hand with knees relaxed and slightly bent, feet hip
distance apart.

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Lifting / lowering phase
Start to move the bell by swinging the weight out, and then as you extend
your arm, pass the weight to the other hand. Swing the weight around your
back and again switch hands.

Repeat in both directions.

13 – Chest press (pictured as alternate)


Muscles used:
pectorals
deltoids
triceps

Start position
Lie on your back with a bell in one hand (or as in photo, each hand).
Alternatively one bell with both hands if a heavier kettlebell is being used.
Lifting / lowering phase
Push the bell(s) upwards locking out the arms. Lower and repeat.

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Variations
Double or Alternate Press

14 – Single arm row


Muscles used:
latissimus dorsi
trapezius
rhomboids
biceps

Start position
Stand with one foot forward, arm resting on the front knee, with both feet
pointing forwards. Keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
Lifting / lowering phase
Lift the bell, keeping the elbow tight to the body. Squeeze the shoulder blades
together and rotate the trunk.

15 – Lunge
Muscles used:
glutes
hamstrings
quads
erector spinae
abdominals

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Start position
Holding the bell by the horns tight against your upper chest, with abs tight and
shoulders back.
Lifting / lowering phase
Step into a lunge ensuring that you keep a straight back throughout. Return to
standing and repeat.
Variation
Backward Lunge

16 – Bicep curls
Start position
Hold the bell by the horns (or upside down by the horns if preferred) Lock up
core and keep back straight.
Lifting / lowering phase
Curl the bell towards the chest, with no body 'swing'. Return and repeat.

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17 – Tricep extension
Start position
Hold the bell in a reverse or upside down horns position, and lift straight
overhead. Lock up the core.
Lifting / lowering phase
Bend the elbows and lower behind the head. Contract triceps and raise bell to
start position overhead.

18 – Upright row
Muscles used:
trapezius
deltoids
biceps

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Start position
Stand with feet a little over shoulder width apart, toes pointing very slightly
outwards. Head and chest up, glutes and abs tight and back straight. Take the
bell with a double handed grip.
Lifting / lowering phase
Upright row the weight to the chin, slowly lower and repeat.

19 – Russian twists
Muscles used:
hip flexors
obliques

Start position
Sit on the floor with legs out straight, knees slightly bent. Hold your feet off of
the floor (cross your feet if easier). Hold the bell with both hands in front of
you.
Lifting / lowering phase
Rotate the bell to the side of your body without letting it touch the floor. Lift
the bell back over your legs and to the other side. Try and push the bell behind
your body, again without letting it actually touch the floor.

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20 – Side bends
Muscles used:
obliques
Start Position
Hold a bell in one hand, resting against the side of your body.
Lifting / lowering phase
Slide the bell down your side. Keeping a straight body position, return to the
start position and then flex to the other side. Swap hands and repeat.

Workouts
As with all strength or conditioning training, workouts should be preceded by a
proper warm up and pre stretch and followed by a gradual cool down and full
stretch.

Strength and endurance


The following workout is designed to maximise calorie burn whilst developing
whole body muscular strength. Perform the entire workout with a single
kettlebell.

1. Deadlift x 15 reps
2. Front Squat x 10 reps each hand or 20 reps both hands together
3. Military Press x 10 reps each hand or 20 together
4. High Pull x 15 reps
5. Chest Press x 10 reps each hand or 20 together
6. Single Arm Row x 10 reps each hand.

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In between each exercise perform 10 double handed swings taking little or no
rest between exercises.

Super singles
This workout is ideal for people who have developed good technique with the
major lifts.

1. Single Hand Swings x 5 reps


2. Clean x 5
3. Clean and Jerk x 5 (Clean with Military Press)
4. Snatch x 5
5. Power Snatch x 5
6. Power Clean and Push Press x 5 (Power Clean with Military Press)
7. Power Clean x 5
8. Single Hand Swings x 5

Complete the entire sequence on one hand and then repeat this immediately
with the other hand. Rest as required then repeat for 2, 3 or more circuits!

These exercises are the classic lifts and moves that combine
strength, speed, stability and skill to develop total body
conditioning.

Remember the number and complexity of kettlebell


exercises is only limited by your imagination.

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