Zumba For Powerlifters, Swings For Athletes

The kettlebell swing and sports performance. These two topics are rarely talked about in the same breath by most in the fitness industry, but should they be?


Is this like suggesting powerlifter should do Zumba to improve performance? To some the answer is probably a resounding yes. With that said, is there a place for the kettlebell swing in a sports performance setting or is it just for general fitness clients?  

We would argue the kettlebell swing is a fundamental building block for both populations. We would further argue the kettlebell swing should be in sports performance training and if it’s not, a disservice is being done to the client. Read on… we’ll explain why.

Before moving forward, we need to start out with a few definitions from the world of exercise physiology… (Please bare with us for a few paragraphs)

Potential Energy– the energy of a body or system as a result of its position in an electric, magnetic, or gravitational field

Kinetic Energy– energy the body possesses by the virtue of being in motion

SSC- is an active stretch (eccentric contraction) of a muscle followed by an immediate shortening (concentric contraction) of that same muscle.

As stated above, the SSC is activated and utilized when there is an eccentric contraction (lengthening of muscle fibers) promptly followed by a concentric contraction of the same muscle fibers. When the SSC is excited, a concentric contraction has the potential to be more powerful and produce greater force when compared to a concentric contraction not preceded by an eccentric contraction. This is because during a rapid eccentric contraction, potential energy is created and the SSC is excited. If a concentric is then performed immediately following the eccentric contraction, potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, resulting in increased force production. An example would be a traditional vertical jump where the student performs a countermovement (eccentric contraction of the prime movers) and then rapidly transitions to a concentric contraction resulting in a jump.  Slide1

Now to the SSC and kettlebell swings…

The kettlebell swing is a ballistic movement in which a kettlebell is actively pulled back and behind the student as a result of a hip hinge (rapid/forceful hip flexion) and then immediately followed by rapid/forceful hip extension. Please note this should all be done while maintaining a neutral head and spine (see the video below for more). In the kettlebell swing the “down portion” is a rapid and forceful eccentric contraction and there is then a quick transition to the “up portion” which is a concentric contraction. Sounds a lot like plyometrics, huh…???  


From the perspective of the exercise physiologist, an ideal kettlebell swing sequence under significant load maximizes the potential energy produced via the eccentric contraction which is then converted to kinetic energy for an explosive hip drive.   This occurs because when the bell “pulls/assists” the student into the bottom position of the swing the posterior chain is loaded with significant force (rapid and forceful eccentric contraction in the prime movers) which produces a greater amount of potential energy. This is the plyometric equivalent of a depth jump. Assuming good mechanics, this potential energy is converted into kinetic energy and results in a more forceful concentric contraction.

The end result of regularly performing kettlebell swings include, improved power in the hip extensors, improved control and coordination of key “core” musculature, an “overspeed” eccentric training effect on the posterior chain, and improved efficiency in the utilization of the SSC (of the involved musculature).   

Improved power/explosiveness without the impact of plyometics

For Strength and Conditioning coaches, the KB swing can be an extremely useful tool when training large groups of athletes, especially those at the high school level.  It is generally easier to teach than other exercises that require rapid extension of the hips, e.g. clean and snatch.  The kettlebell takes up much less room than bars and plates and it is easy to cycle athletes through multiple sets of swings using a, you go, I go pattern and a clock.

I’ve done this with many sports teams that want to train in-season and it works very well.  Kettlebell swings are a great way to go to for in-season athletes, most notably for sports that inherently require a lot of running and jumping to play the game, because it is impact free.  The last thing a track and field athlete needs is more jumping and impact in the training room after a practice of jumping and impact!  They need to get generally stronger in the positions that will benefit them the most.  It just so happens that explosive hip hinging benefits pretty much everyone.  

Sticking with track and field, it is really easy to take a whole team, which includes distance runners, sprinters, throwers and jumpers and put them through a kettlebell workout as a group.  The first thing I have them do is find a kettlebell that fits their strength and a partner of equal strength.  Distance runners and younger guys would grab the lighter kettlebells, sprinters and jumpers the medium kettlebells and throwers would grab the heaviest bells.  Next you would line them up so no one is swinging at each other and tell partner one to grab the kettlebell and get ready.  Setting the clock for 10 minutes, you tell partner one they will do swings for 20 seconds, they will have 10 seconds to switch, and then partner two swings for 20 seconds, then switch again.  In the end, everyone gets 10 sets of 20 seconds.  Lots of volume and lots of practice for the whole group in 10 minutes.  

This method also gives the Strength and Conditioning coach a chance to clean up technique and generally give the group feedback.  For example, if after two minutes of swings you notice a large majority of the group is doing a poor job of keeping the kettlebell above their knees as it passes through their legs, you can stop the clock and teach.  A great way to give feedback and praise to someone who is doing it well, is to ask the student who is keeping the kettlebell in the right path to come in front and demonstrate for the entire group.  As they swing, the coach can point out what they are doing well, give some coaching cues, and ask the partners to watch for this and to coach each other when the clock starts up again.  

In this short span you’ve identified general movement flaws, provided an example of proper technique for the visual learners (while using a student model), gave verbal cues for the auditory learners, and taught the team what to look for so they can coach each other up instead of just you coaching everyone!  To read more about different kinds of learns read one of our old posts here.

If during the course of a season you spend one training day a week swinging kettlebells and using a coaching model where everyone is involved, you can improve strength, fitness, sport specific movement patterns, and team building.  As you can see, the benefits of using the swing for large groups in the Strength and Conditioning setting is valuable, and not just for improving physical qualities.  
In closing, the kettlebell swing is an excellent accessory exercising reaping a wide range of benefits for athletes when appropriately performed. Of all the low-impact options available to improve hip extensor strength and power the kettlebell swing should be at the top of everyone’s list. To be clear, the kettlebell swing should NOT replace plyometrics in a strength and conditioning setting, but instead be treated as an alternative option when in-season and as a way to decrease foot contacts/high impact exercise year-round without losing hip extensor power.

For more information about swings or other kettlebell exercises either visit the others posts on our blog OR consider attending one our of Certified Kettlebell Coach Seminars.

The most fundamental functional exercise

You know breathing is important when it comes to movement and training. We have all been taught exhale on the exertion and inhale on the return (this is a general statement… there are nuances). Ok great… easy enough, but is there more to it? If so, is this out of our scope as fitness professionals? 
To answer the above questions:
YES there is much, much more we should / need to do with our clients and NO it isn’t beyond our scope with a little education and practical experience on the most current science related to breathing assessment and corrective strategies. 

Human-LungBreathing is our first motor program. It’s also the most essential and foundational motor program we have. Unfortunately, we begin to lose optimal function of this pattern early in life. We’ll get into why later. When our breathing is compromised, so is our posture. When this occurs, our deep core muscles (specifically the diaphragm) don’t function properly and our breathing gets even worse.  This can have detrimental implications on movement quality because the diaphragm is the center point of our body. If the diaphragm is faulty, there is a lack of stability that no amount of abdominal or gluteal bracing can compensate for.  

Have you ever tried to improve a movement pattern OR increase ROM in a joint OR improve flexibility OR try to move up in weight in a “big lift” where all the “normal” strategies fail?  Believe it or not, if you’re not assessing and correcting breathing you might find that you get stuck more often than you’d like to admit. 
 Correcting breathing will:
DSC_01121. Improve deep core muscle function
2. Improve length in muscles being forced to assist in breathing because the deep core muscles are under-active
3. Allow joints to return to their optimal position (if they’re being pulled in bad position by overactive “compensatory muscles”)
4.     Improve bracing
5.     Decrease stress and anxiety
6.     Improve endurance
7.     Decrease neck tension
8.     Improve posture 

Whether you are a “function first” fitness professional, strength and conditioning coach, or specialize in fat loss you NEED to better educate yourself in this area and here’s why:
Function First Fitness Professionals:
6752PS2If your client is being pulled into flexion as a result of bad posture there are often significant posterior chain limitations. For my “FMS People”, I’m talking about a poor score on the Active Straight Leg Raise and/or Shoulder Mobility. Additionally, if you’re goal is to train the “core”, but you ignore deep core muscles you’re not training the core in an ideal manner. 
The bottom line is if you can’t breath correctly you aren’t really training the core. At least not the deep core.
Strength and Conditioning Coaches:

DL Rounded spineThis is an easy one. If you want your athletes to lift significant weight you need them to learn how to brace and maintain that brace while moving and applying significant force.  You also need to teach them power breathing. If your athletes lack the ability to perform basic diaphragmatic breathing they can’t correctly perform power breathing. Therefore, you will see bad posture in the head, shoulders, C-Spine, T-or Spine. I think we all know deadlifting heavy weight with bad posture can result in bad things…


Here’s how screening for and correcting dysfunctional breathing patterns will help in strength and power training:
Battling Ropes Metabolic ConditioningProfessionals Specializing In Weight Loss:
Your success (in the weight room) is all about getting the metabolism up and keeping it there for hours and days after the session. The better your client breathes, the more work they can perform in a session. If you’re programming the right way this will help your client in the quest for weight loss. 
So… Why do we lose our breathing patterns?

1.     Sitting too much (especially in bad posture)

2.     Too much screen time

3.     Poor posture / postural awareness

4.     Movement dysfunction (increased compensatory strategies)

5.     Early specialization in sports

6.     Improper training methods (Training muscles not movements)

Notice the trend above? The bottom line is spending too much time in flexion (sitting in some form) and poor movement are the primary culprits.
Where and how do breathing assessment and corrective strategies fit into your programming?
There are simple assessment and corrective techniques that can be included in your initial fitness screening and in their training programs. Just like any other exercise, it can be progressed and regressed accordingly. Most importantly, you are teaching them strategies they can integrate into their daily life to not only improve their fitness, but their overall well-being.

If you would like to learn specific strategies to screen for and correct dysfunction breathing patterns attend Breathing and Postural Control by Dr. Missimer on 4/2/16 in Malvern PA! www.fit-edu.com

The FMS and Screening for Dysfunctional Breathing Patterns

If you’re an FMS Practitioner and value the system (as you should) it’s used every day. Having a tool in your belt that exposes movement quality issues in the most fundamental of patterns is so important when it comes time to program corrective and traditional exercises. Knowing what movements are safe and which should be avoided (until the client is ready) was really a game changer for me in my career and maybe yours…?

Unknown-1Now that I’m done putting the FMS on a pedestal let’s talk about what it’s not… IT’S NOT THE WHOLE ANSWER.  Most of “us” also use additional break out test to determine if the issue in a pattern is motor control or a “hardware issue”. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, even when we add breakout testing (measuring dorsiflexion, glute max activation, hip hinge mechanics, etc.) to the process we don’t always come up with a corrective solution that works. 

What’s missing? 


We NEED to screen for dysfunctional breathing patterns so we have all the information we need to improve movement.
maxresdefaultWhen a client has dysfunctional breathing patterns all the leg raises, rolling drills, and foam rolling in the world won’t fix movement dysfunction. That is… until the breathing pattern is reset. 
DSC_0112Dysfunctional breathing patterns have the potential to wreak havoc on our bodies. Inhibition of respiratory stabilizers such as the diaphragm, TVA, multifidus, and obliques (just to name a few) force the respiratory system to default to the recruitment of muscles not designed to be involved in respiration. While the recruitment of these muscles is inefficient, the body will recruit whatever it needs to keep you alive and breathing. 

So what…???

Well… most often, dysfunctional breathing patterns will drive compensation upward and downward into the surrounding musculature of the shoulders and hips. To be more specific, pain and/or stiffness often presents in the Neck/Shoulder Musculature (Pec Minor, Scalenes, SCM)SI Joint/Lumbar Spine, and Anterior Hip Musculature. If significant enough compensations will likely result in mobility, stability, postural, and motor control issues.
It’s finally time to bring this all together… If we don’t screen for dysfunctional breathing patterns we end up trying to prescribe correctives to address The Active Straight Leg Raise and Shoulder Mobility Screens. The likelihood of correcting movement dysfunction without addressing breathing is VERY UNLIKELY. Therefore, using a systematic method to screen for and correct dysfunctional breathing patterns is critical if we want to get our clients/patients the results they want. 
Now… to develop a systematic way of screening for and correcting dysfunctional breathing patterns. There’s lots of great breathing research out there now, but few systems that can easily be learned and implemented into your practice with ease. 

Until now…

Fit EDU and Dr. Arianne Missimer have collaborated to bring you Breathing and Postural Control. 
This course is designed to help you: 
1. Recognize the importance of breathing and postural control for optimal performance in life and sport
2. Develop a better understanding of functional anatomy including the fascial system
3. Identify screening methods for postural control and breathing dysfunction
4. Learn strategies to correct these deficits
5. Integrate screening and corrective strategies into your current fitness and/or corrective program
Seminar Details

Save $100 on Breathing and Postural Control when registering by 3/18/16
Use coupon code BREATHE at checkout. 
Limited to the first 5 registrations.

Offer Expires 3/18/16.


The Kettlebell Coaching Series:The Goblet Squat 3

In our last few squat pattern posts we addressed goblet squat form and coaching fixes specific to “pulling” into the squat and to address torso position. In this post we will discuss using Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT) to fix movement dysfunction.

RNT uses outside resistance to neurologically turn on an automatic response. It is often seen as a “quick fix” of faulty movement patterns without using much cueing. RNT is implemented to improve functional stability and enhance motor-control skills with an automatic response.

95p_Frequency of ExerciseTo put it simply, RNT improves flawed movements by employing external resistance which the body must resist and react against. External force should be applied so that it exaggerates the issue. This can be accomplished by pulling with a band OR by physically pushing or pulling a segment of the body.  In the picture above the coach is pulling the students right knee into a valgus collapse. The students automatic response will be to push the knee away from the midline.

In the squat, RNT can be used to fix a variety of movement flaws including: valgus knee(s), torso position, and uneven loading (placing more weight on one leg) just to name a few. Over the years we have implemented RNT to “fix” valgus knee and torso position countless time. Let’s start with Valgus Knee(s).

Fixing Valgus Knee(s) with RNT

While most of us know that a primary reason  knees go valgus when applying force has a lot to do with Glute Max activation, many trainers and coaches don’t want to spend the time on correctives to fix this issue. This is more often the case in large group setting and can simply be a time issue. Using RNT in this situation can be a great “movement hack”.

DSC_0277Here’s how…If the student’s left knee is going valgus in the squat attach a band to a fixed object to their right side. Have the student arrange the band so it rest is just above the left knee and is pulling the thigh towards the midline (to the right in this case). Make sure there’s enough tension to make the student DSC_0280fight the band, but not so much that they can’t maintain the position.

If both knees go valgus set the band up in front of the student and arranged so it simultaneously pulls both knees valgus. Use the same rule of thumb for tension.

Fixing torso position with RNT

DSC_0283As we discussed in our last post, maintaining a tall torso in the squat can present challenges for many students. For some, RNT is exactly what the doctor ordered. In this case, affix one or two bands in front of the student and relatively low to the ground (this is dependent upon band length and tension). The student should arrange the bands to that they rest on the back of the shoulders thereby pulling their torso into flexion. The natural response should be to get tall. In this case we used two band and Erik assumed a overhead deep squat position. Use the same rule of thumb as above to determine appropriate tension.

We recommend performing sets of 15 repetitions when implementing RNT and little to no additional load. Immediately follow the RNT set with a weighted set for good transfer. If the form continues to break down in the weighted set just use the RNT technique for a few sessions OR try decreasing load.

For more information on fixing movement dysfunction in a variety of patterns refer to some of our previous blog posts and consider attending one of our upcoming seminars.

Current offerings:

Breathing and Postural Control: 4-2-16 in Malvern PA

Certified Kettlbell Coach Level 1: 1-30-16 in Malvern PA

Certified Kettlebell Coach Level 2: 2-27-16 in Malvern PA

Certified Barbell Coach: 3-12-16 in Malvern PA

Metabolic Conditioning: no scheduled seminars thus far




The Barbell Coaching Series: The Deadlift Part 2 Short vs. Tall

Businessman and Author, Stephen Covey, once said, “ Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” Stephen Covey is best known for his authorship of the widely popular 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His above quote was probably meant for themes of relationship building, leadership qualities, and diversity training. We are going to use the quote to frame a completely different conversation based around one of the most basic of all strength exercises, the deadlift.

As a strength coach, I teach very few exercises. In fact, the amount of exercises I use when training others could pretty much be counted on one hand. That’s because human beings are all pretty similar when it comes to what our bodies look like. Where the strength part comes in, is your strength as a trainer to identify the small differences in mechanics from person to person. What I am trying to say, is the deadlift is a valuable exercises for everyone, but how it actually looks from individual to individual may be very different.

For the sake of time, we will keep it simple. Let’s talk about tall people vs. short people in the deadlift… Hence the pic of Arnold and Danny from the movie “Twins”.  A great 80s movie I might add… Anyway, this is a topic near and dear to my heart because I am very tall, and at 6’6” my deadlift looks vastly different than someone who is 5’7”. The main difference you can expect is the height at which the hips start.

DL Tall Set Up


A tall person (Arnold) is going to have a more horizontal spine angle and higher hips.





Deadlift Short Set Up


Conversely, a short person (Danny) is going to have a more vertical spine angle, maybe around 45 degrees, and a lower hip angle.




Keep in mind, some absolutes are still in play, such as, a neutral spine throughout the exercise execution, a barbell that remains over the mid-foot, and a starting position that places the shoulder blades directly over the bar.  Here are the basics that hold true for everyone in their deadlift set-up.

Watch the video here

There really is more to this whole idea of identifying individual anthropometrics. Both tall and short people may have a very short femur and a long spine. They both could have short torso and a very long tibia. All of these differences may make things look different, even within the categories of tall and short. As your journey as a trainer continues, and as you work with more and more people, you will begin to take notice of these subtle differences. You will come up with ways to identify movement issues and create visuals in your mind for what the movement should look like based individual differences. This is where your strength and value lies as a trainer.

Here’s a more in depth explanation of the differences in set up.

Watch the video here

We will continue to post tips for helping coach the deadlift and other barbell exercises. We are also excited to announce the launch of our barbell certification in 2016. The Certified Barbell Coach will launch in March and will be held in Malvern, PA. This certification will focus on the performance, evaluation, and coaching of the Barbell Big Three (Deadlift, Front Squat, and Overhead Press). More details will be released by the end of the year.


The Kettlebell Coaching Series: The Goblet Squat -1

The art of loaded squatting can be tricky to master.  Look around most fitness and performance settings and you see plenty of loaded lunges, deadlifts, and often something that resembles a quarter squat, but you don’t often see a loaded squat performed though a respectable range of motion.  Is it because it is scary to put a barbell on your upper back or hold to hold a barbell in the front squat position? Is it the way people are introduced to squats? There’s a good chance both reasons are players in this. However, our opinion is that it has more to do with the initial approach squatting.

Here’s how we progress the squat pattern:
1. Air squat
2. Driver squat (see HERE)
3. Kettlebell goblet squat (see HERE)
4. Kettlebell front squat
5. Barbell front and/or back squat

For those of you who don’t already know, the goblet squat is a squat variation unique and powerful in it’s effectiveness.  It improves the fundamental squatting pattern by increasing range of motion in the hips and develops leg strength. The difference between the goblet squat and most other variations is that it allows participants to express a full range of motion with minimal loading of the spine.  When performed correctly, it’s very effective at putting participants in the “right” position.  This exercise can serve as THE squat a student performs in their training or simply be a bridge to the front and back squat.

Here are Goblet Squat Fundamentals: 

The remainder of this post and series will focus on coaching the goblet squat.
Setting Up

Grasp a kettlebell by the horns and hold it in front of the torso at chest height. Take a shoulder-width stance with the feet turned outward slightly.  Please not that you should NOT wear sneakers when performing the goblet squat. Stand as tall as possible, acting as if a puppeteer has a string attached to the top of your head and is pulling you up.
Be sure to firmly grasp the kettlebell and simultaneously engage your lats. A good cue to use, which accomplishes both, is “trying to break the kettlebell by twisting the horns away from the center”. If you aren’t able to figure this out, squat success may escape you.
Finally, push the kettlebell 4-6 inches off the chest.
Connecting with the ground
DSC_0028Its important your feet are as connected with the ground as possible (hence no sneakers). Keep more weight in your heels, but also spread the toes as far as possible and press them into the ground. Think about screwing your feet into the ground.  Pretend your feet are on saucers and spin them out.  This will help load tension through the hips.

Learning to pull into the Goblet Squat

This can be challenging to learn, but is critical! If you allow gravity to do the work for you in the descent of the goblet squat you will NOT maintain a tall torso. Therefore, its important you learn how to pull yourself into the squat with your hip flexors. This is a tough concept to master and even harder to teach.

Here’s a great drill to help students learn what it should feel like:

The Drive to the top
Once you have descended to a depth that allows your elbows to touch your thighs, briefly pause and drive back to the start position. Maintain a tall, rigid torso throughout the movement so that your hips and torso rise at the same speed.

Now that you have all this new information get a kettlebell and start performing goblet squats. In the meanwhile, we will work on additional posts which will address a variety of movement issues and coaching drill you can use to “fix” the squatting pattern including additional drills to help with that challenging concept of pulling into the descent.

The Goblet Squat is covered in detail in our Certified Kettlebell Instructor Level 1 (CKI-1) Seminar along with the kettlebell swing and turkish get-up. Our last CKI-1 in 2015 will be held onSaturday, 11/14/15 in Malvern, PA. Use coupon code SAVE25 for a $25 discount. Valid until 11/9/15. Our 2016 seminar schedule will be released shortly.

The Barbell Coaching Series: The Deadlift Part 1

In 1987 at the World’s Strongest Man Competition in Scotland, the first ever four-time champion of the event, Jon Pall Sigmarsson, famously shouted, “there is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift!”  He was able to scream these words while holding 1153 pounds.  You should watch it here.  In that short clip, there is a lot to talk about, but in this post and video we will cover why it is important to deadlift and some tips on how to get started.

DL off floor goodHaving been involved in strength training and fitness for a while now, it seems that the fear of deadlifting is beginning to subside.  In the past, if you were not into powerlifting or strongman, or trying to be strong, performing the deadlift was a scary proposition.  People would only hear the word “dead” and think that performing this exercise was going to kill you and destroy your back.  As people are starting to learn, this is the exact opposite of the truth. The deadlift trains a very important movement pattern, the hinge.  It requires bracing of the midsection and thoroughly activates the posterior chain.  If done heavy enough, almost every muscle in the body becomes a contributor, which is why the deadlift is thought by many to be the truest test of full body strength.   From middle school to the elderly, the deadlift, or some form of it, should be in your training regimen.  

The following training advice will refer to teaching someone how to deadlift with a barbell.  Yes, there are other tools that can be used like a kettlebell or trap bar (or gigantic train wheels with a square axle like Jon Pall) but the barbell is king.  They are easy to find and easy to use, especially in the step-by-step progression we are going to teach you.  
When beginning, there are two lessons that need to be understood.  The first is how to hinge.  We have written many articles about how to load the posterior chain when doing KB swings and drills that can be used to teach the hinge movement pattern.  All of those drills will prove valuable in your trainer tool kit.  See one of our many recommended drills here.

Things start to change though when weight is added, which is why you also have to teach lesson two, how to load tension throughout the body/bar system.  The easiest way we have found to teach both of these things at the same time, is the “rack pull” or deadlift off of blocks.  

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 12.18.19 PM
The bar height, instead of roughly around the mid-shin when lifting off the floor, will be around the knees, just like it is in the Jon Pall video.  One of the characteristics of a deadlift is a more horizontal than vertical spine.  In the video, Jon Pall drives his knees under the bar and with a vertical spine extends the load off the ground using his knees.  When teaching beginners off the blocks we do something slightly different.  We coach people to have a smaller knee bend and a more horizontal spine, which pushes the load to the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and lats.  Just to be clear, we are in no way being critical of Jon Pall’s technique, that would be ridiculous.  He used more of a squatting technique for a specific reason just as we are using more of a hinge.  Watch the video below for specifics of how we use the short range of motion deadlift to teach beginners the basics of pulling well and pulling heavy.  

There is much, much more to come on this topic and other barbell exercises so stay tuned!