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?

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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 Kettlebell Coaching Series: The Turkish Get-Up Part 3

We’re finally back… fresh off a CKI Level 1 Seminar. It’s about time we wrap up The Turkish Get-Up. We have already discussed how to perform and coach the Get-Up along with a variety of cuing tips and coaching drills (see our last 2 blogs here: Part 1 Part 2). Now we’re going to talk safety.
Logically, The Get-Up requires students to express a full range of shoulder flexion (among other things) on the kettlebell side. Well… this can get hairy for many as a limitation in shoulder flexion is common. We recommend evaluating shoulder flexion when possible before having a student perform overhead work. Many use the Function Movement Screen to determine whether or not overhead work is safe. While we like the idea in concept (of using the FMS), we are big proponents of directly measuring shoulder flexion.

How to measure shoulder flexion:

Shoulder Flexion Test

Have the student stand with their back against a wall and their heels a little less than a foot from the wall. Their head, upperback and tailbone should all be and remain in contact with the wall.

Shoulder Flexion Test 2Shoulder Flexion Test 3

From this position, have the student flex one shoulder to 90 degrees (the arm should be in front of them and at shoulder height) with a straight elbow and their thumb up. Tell them to raise their arm up until their thumb hits the wall while maintaining a straight elbow. They must maintain the aforementioned 3 points of contact on the wall. If successful, their shoulder flexion is not limited.

If they cannot reach the wall they are limited. If they reach the wall, but either bend the elbow OR extend their spine they are limited.

Why having a full range of motion (ROM) is critical:

Let’s start of by defining the term “structural load”. A structural load is a load in which the weight/kettlebell/external force is positioned in a way that allows for the joints to remain in an optimal position and for the load to be transferred further up/down the chain to the “core”. Additionally, the load is close to your center of mass. It simply comes down to how the student positions their body relative to the load. An easy example to help with this concept is to go grab a dumbbell or kettlebell. This weight should be a weight you are very comfortable and confident in holding overhead. Seriously. Go get one. Stand up and safely press the object overhead. Once overhead, position the object so that the fist is directly over the shoulder joint while maintaining a straight elbow. If your joints and spine are all neutral and your core is active, you should feel as if this weight is very manageable. Maybe even a little light. Your Lats, anterior core, and posterior core should all be wide awake and helping your maintain this position. Notice you don’t feel too much in your Delt. This is representative of a structural load. Now follow all the same steps, but then allow the weight to get a bit further in front of you and a little lower to the ground (less shoulder flexion). The farther from your body and your center of mass, the harder it is for your core to assist. In fact, go far enough forward and it begins to feel as if your Delt is on an island.  This is not a structural load. Therefore, in The Get-Up a structural load is what you want to maintain throughout.

What happens when you do overhead with bad positioning:

pav1When performing overhead work, such as Turkish Get-Up, Waiter’s Walks, Presses, or Snatches, it’s important to have a neutral spine for a variety of reasons. Maintaining a neutral spine puts the student in an optimal position to brace and maintain stability throughout the exercise. If the student has limited shoulder flexion, getting the working arm(s) into the optimal position without compromising joint position elsewhere is impossible. Specifically, extension of the spine, lateral shifting and/or rotation of the pelvis, and flexion of the elbow are all common compensations. This will logically put high levels of stress on the elbow or somewhere in the spine increasing the chances of injury.

How to Spot The Turkish Get-Up:

Knowing where you need to be any when are critical to safely spotting the Get-Up. This video will help you understand ideal position for the coach.

Time to wrap it up:
After reading our last three installments on The Turkish Get-Up you should be quite a bit more knowledgeable on the intricacies of performance, evaluating, and cuing, etc. However, in order to be an effective coach (especially in this case) it’s critical for you to master the exercise. We highly recommend performing many, many, many Get-Ups before you start coaching others. If you have any questions or anything of value to add to coaching the Turkish Get-Up please don’t hesitate to reach out to us through our website, social media, or even a call.
Next Seminar:
Saturday, 11/14/15 from 8:00am – 5:00pm at McKenna’s Gym in Fawn Grove, PA. Visit our store to register: http://www.shop.fit-edu.com $75 off until 10/14 with coupon code MCKENNA75

The Kettlebell Coaching Series: The Turkish Get Up Part 1

The Turkish Get-Up is awesome and is the best exercise your are not doing. Legend claims It’s at least 200 years old and is thought to have been created for soldiers fighting with shields and swords as a means to get from their back to a standing position when an enemy was on top of them. While its history is impressive, its training impact on training and performance is even more significant. One of the most respected professionals in our industry, Gray Cook, said “The Turkish Get-Up is the perfect example of training primitive movement patterns-from rolling over, to kneeling, to standing and reaching. The Get-Up promotes the shoulders’ stability and mobility. It improves one’s strength in many patterns by teaching the importance of linkage while eliminating strength leakage.” We can’t forget, it also provides the opportunity to functionally evaluate the right and left sides.

While it is amazing one exercise can do all the above (and more), performing and coaching this exercise can be extremely challenging. As a result, many fitness professionals either pretend it doesn’t exist or do some bastardized version they think is just as good. This 2-part series will put you in a position to understand how to perform the Get-Up AND the intricacies of coaching it.

DSC_0971An ideal place to start is with your sneaker. Yes, that’s right… your sneaker. In lieu of a kettlebell, we recommend you begin this process by balancing a sneaker on your fist. We also recommend mastering the Half Get-Up before moving the to “full” Get-Up.

The Half Get-Up is separated into 5 steps:

1: Roll

2: Press

3: Drive up to the elbow

4: Post up onto your hand

5: High bridge

Here are step-by-step instruction on teaching the half get-up:

Now it’s inevitable you will come across some issues along the way. Two very common issues to watch for are the knee on the kettlebell side going valgus at the initiation of the high bridge and shoulder packing.

Here’s one strategy to fix a valgus knee on the kettlebell side:

Here’s a great drill to use to help with shoulder packing on the kettlebell side:

Additional key item to address:

I. What to do with your head and eyes:

It’s important to look at the kettlebell through the entire half get up. However, you should begin to teach this when practicing with a sneaker. If you think about it… there is a heavy piece of iron over your head. Given the fact that you are actively moving your body beneath it, it is a really good idea to keep your focus on the kettlebell. Safety is a real concern here, especially when venturing towards “heavy” kettlebells. We’ll go over spotting in our next post.

II. Setting up after the press

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Get very, very familiar with this position if you are going to perform and/or coach get ups. Setting up correctly after the press sets the stage for the rest of the get up. If your limbs aren’t correctly aligned you might not have the leverage you’ll need to successfully perform a Get-Up. This could mean a failed attempt OR losing the kettlebell and ending up with a serious injury to your cranium.

Notice these key points:

  1. The arm on the kettlebell side is straight (elbow and wrist), the shoulder is packed, and the fist is directly above the shoulder joint.
  2. The leg on the kettlebell side is bent at the knee and the foot is just outside the width of the hip
  3. The arm on the non-kettlebell side is at a 45 degree angle relative to the torso
  4. The leg on the non-kettlebell side is straight

III. Connection with the ground:

There are two key connections to the ground that you want to move as little as possible through the get-up.

  1. The foot on the kettlebell side
    1. This foot SHOULD NOT move once you have pressed the kettlebell while on your back and set up your limbs for the drive to the elbow. Anchor it down and keep it there. This is where much of your stability will come from.
  2. The hand on the non-kettlebell side
    1. You will often see people moving this hand around before going into the high bridge. While you must externally rotate your shoulder and as a result point your fingers away from your body, DO NOT move the location of this hand in relation to your body. If you set up correctly it’s already in the best place to provide adequate stability and leverage.

IV. Shoulder Packing:

Getting your shoulder packed and staying there throughout the get up is no easy feat, but it’s critically important for your shoulder health. You have to go over the concept of shoulder packing before touching the Get-Up. Cover this concept in other exercises (deadlifts, push ups, any/all upper body pulls, etc.) before performing get ups. This is yet another reason to master the Half Get-Up before moving the to Full Get-Up. Packing your shoulders gets progressively harder the “higher’ (further into shoulder flexion) the arm. In other words, it easiest to pack your shoulders with your arms at your sides (farmer’s carry). It the hardest to pack your shoulders when you are at or near 180 degrees of shoulder flexion (waiter’s walk, pull ups, pressing, etc.).

V. Speed bumps

Treat each step in the get-up individually. In other words, think about your next step, perform the action, and then pause. Many refer to these pauses between each step as speed bumps. We reference these speed bumps in the screwdriver video. While the get-up is intended to be a beautiful and graceful set of movements it is also intended to be approached methodically and with focus. Do not blend any of the individual steps into one. You’ll get sloppy and likely increase the chances of a mistake… and remember you still have the big piece of iron over your head so mistakes can be costly.

Please recognize there are many more items to address in the get up. While many of these will be covered in our next post, we won’t address everything as there are simply too many subtle points to address when coaching this exercise. The best way to learn EVERYTHING is to attend a live seminar. If you’re interested visit our homepage to learn more about our CKI-1 Seminar at West Chester University of Pennsylvania this October. www.fit-edu.com

Hungry for more information right now? Check out the below step-by-step half get up pictures in sequential order.

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Building Myelin, Layering Skills, and Transference

Over the past few months, we have focused our posts/attention on one exercise, the two-handed kettlebell swing. Through a series of 4 posts we discussed how to load the posterior chain, increase the chances of gluteal engagement, scapular stability, and finally, proper sequencing. (just scroll down to check them out). While we have received positive feedback about these pieces being helpful for fitness professionals, they weren’t designed to “stand on their own”. It’s time we bring them together.  Much of the source material from this piece is from “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle.

Building Myelin

Before we get deep into the discussion of myelin, practice and how they’re related lets define myelin.

400px-Neuron_Hand-tuned.svg

Myelin: an electrically insulating material that forms a layer (myelin sheath,) around the axon of a neuron. The presence of myelin is essential for proper functioning of the nervous system. The main purpose of a myelin layer is to increase the speed at which impulses travel along the myelinated fiber.

Myelination: the process of forming a myelin sheath around a nerve to allow nerve impulses to move more quickly.

Circuits: A grouping of nerve fibers that work simultaneously and/or in series to complete a particular movement or task

Now that we have gotten that out of the way lets talk about the relationship between practice and myelination.  New research has revealed that myelin, once considered an inert form of insulation for brain cells, may be the holy grail of acquiring skill. Daniel Coyle has described this new information as a revolution that will forever change the way we view talent and practice. Here’s an excerpt:

“The revolution is built on three simple facts. (1) Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons—a circuit of nerve fibers. (2) Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibers and increases signal strength, speed, and accuracy. (3) The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.”

UnknownWhen we take part in “deep” (quality, mistake focused) practice of a skill where quality learning occurs (anything from playing the piano to deadlifting) we build myelin. The more deep practice the better and the more mistakes you make (and learn from) the better. The phrase practice makes perfect has been thrown around for generations and while logical, we didn’t have any scientific basis to back this up. What has been discovered is that it’s really deep practice that makes perfect. Myelin grows in direct response to deep (mistake focus practiced).  For instance, once a mistake is made, it is more beneficial to stop, evaluate what went wrong, and try to immediately fix it on the next attempt than to plow through and disregard your errors.  Twenty minutes of deep practice can easily trump an hour of mindless practice. Daniel Coyle described this process as follows:

“Deep practice feels a bit like exploring a dark and unfamiliar room. You start slowly, you bump into furniture, stop, think, and start again. Slowly, and a little painfully, you explore the space over and over, attending to errors, extending your reach into the room a bit farther each time, building a mental map until you can move through it quickly and intuitively.

As it relates to fitness and high skill work like a kettlebell swing, clean, snatch etc. it’s critical the student takes part in deep practice early on. Being mindful of your position in different parts of a movement and more importantly developing and understanding of what good positioning is… is essential for building myelin.

Layering Skills

Another aspect of building myelin is quality coaching.  A master coach, pinpoints flaws and knows how to address each one and in the right order to optimize performance.  A quality coach needs to have an abundance of knowledge about their given subject (coaches need to build myelin just like their students).  What a quality coach does is recognize exactly what makes their student improve, take them slighlty out of their comfort zone and guide them to the next level.  Every student needs to be handled differently because they all respond to different motivations.  If you have a vast supply of tools in your coaching toolbox (interpersonally and skill specific) you will be a more effective coach.

DSC_1151Bringing this back to the kettlebell swing, if you notice your student is not able to grasp the idea of hinging, put the kettlebell down and do a drill that will help them to feel the movement and positions you want them to achieve.  For a beginner with little movement skills, this is often all it takes to get them out of their comfort zone.  Hinge drills with a piece of PVC pipe and high tension front planks will do much more for this person than swinging a kettlebell. Once they master the hinge and high tension plank have them perform swings to apply this new skill. The coach must then begin to layer in additional skills as needed. Staying with the example of the kettlebell swing these additional skills should include “core firing” / “tightness” at the top of the swing, shoulder packing, DSC_1157and then sequencing.

Here’s the order we use when layering skills in the kettlebell swing:

  1. Hinge
  2. Core Firing / Tightness
  3. Shoulder Packing
  4. Sequence

**Please note: Our last 4 Kettlebell Coaching Series Posts addressed how to coach each of these ** View the coaching videos here 

Transference

If you want to develop complex skills, the drills used to improve them must have a direct transference to your goals.

Another practice that helps to build myelin, and was briefly mentioned above, is slowing a skill down to a snail’s pace. The above section referenced the hip hinge drill as a tool to help teach the kettlebell swing. This is drill is purposefully performed SLOWLY.  It’s important to feel the top and bottom positions in the swing before actually performing the exercise due to the speed of movement.  The swing is essentially a hip hinge on steroids. No race car driver begins their career driving at 200 mph!  He or she probably started with a bike, than a go-cart or 4-wheeler, then maybe some small dirt track races.  They most likely spend at least a decade racing at lower speeds before safely and effectively driving at 200 mph with other cars only inches away.  Now you might say, I’ve had my drivers license for 20 years does that mean I can drive a car 200 mph?  The obvious answer is no, but the reason why may be cloudy.  Driving to work and back has no transference to racing.  By law, you are allowed to drive 65 mph  on some highways in our area.  Therefore, your circuits are only myelinated for driving up to 65 mph.  And what happens when someone gets too close to us?  We beep our horn at them!  We are used to a nice cushion around us.  Driving a race car requires much deeper  and more specific practice than driving our sedans to a grocery store provides.

As you can tell we are fans of the “Talent Code” and highly recommend all coaches read it. We also feel if you are training others with kettlebells it’s critical to your development as a coach and to the safety of your students you get a coaching focused kettlebell certification. When it comes to teaching bells it’s all about having a systematic well thought out approach.

In our Level 1 Certified Kettlebell Instructor (CKI-1) you will learn:

  1. Our system for teaching each of the Kettlebell Big 3 (Swing, Goblet Squat, Turkish Get Up)
  2. How to developing your coach’s eye
  3. Corrective exercises and coaching drills to “fix”movement flaws,
  4. Simple yet effective programming strategies.

Visit our homepage to see our upcoming seminar schedule. www.fit-edu.com

The Kettlebell Coaching Series Pt 2: Glute Activation

Glutes. There is a lot of talk about butt muscles these days. Two months ago Tiger Woods blamed his poor play on the inability to fire his glutes during his swing.  While we are not sure that was the problem for Tiger, lack of muscular contraction in the glutes is an issue for many people. As a result, a lot of time and effort is spent by trainers, S&C Coaches, and performance coaches simply trying to get the glutes to “fire”.

Here’s a very brief anatomy / physiology review of the glutes

glutes2The glutes along with the “abs” are prime stabilizers of the pelvis and torso. The gluteal muscles are a group of three muscles which make up the buttocks: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. The three muscles originate from the illium and sacrum and insert on the femur. The gluteus maximus is the largest of the gluteal muscles and one of the strongest in the body. Its action is to extend and to laterally rotate the hip, and also to extend the trunk.

Everyone wants to “strengthen their core”, but it seems we overlook the glutes. A term was coined (not sure by whom) to describe the inability to contract the gluteal muscles. That term is “Gluteal Amnesia”. Basically it means we forget how to contract our glutes. This is a real issue for some people. Sitting for long periods can lead to the gluteal muscles atrophying through constant pressure and disuse. This is also associated with lower back pain and difficulty with some movements that naturally require the glutes (i.e. rising from the seated position, and climbing stairs).

Glutes and Swings

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When it comes to kettlebell swings, a strong gluteal contraction is critical to produce adequate power to correctly perform the movement and to stabilize/protect the lumbar spine. Based upon the information above it is clear steps might need to be taken in order to make sure the glutes do their job in the swing to prevent disaster. There are many simple drills to help students fire those glutes.

Here’s a few we really like…

Please keep in mind that there are many, many more options. However, we have found these drills to be effective in helping students learn to reach a high level of Maximum Voluntary Contraction (MVC). MVC is the greatest amount of tension you can apply to a muscle. It is important to ensure your students can generate an adequate level of glute MVC before performing swings.

Given the risk… why swing at all?

It is the fitness professional’s job to measure the risk and reward of each exercise. When the reward outweighs the risk it’s reasonable to consider adding the exercise in question. We all know that there is an inherit risk in swinging kettlebell, aka a cannonball with a handle. However, good coaching combined with the right movement prep and drills can significantly reduce the risk of injury in the swing. Additionally, the potential rewards are substantial. Research has proven that kettlebell swings are an incredible exercise for your “core”, posterior chain, and more specifically glutes. Two recent studies published by Stu McGill and Leigh Marshall in January 2012 and another by Kreutzfeldt Zebis and colleagues in July 2012 showed a very high MVC of the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings).

Muscle % MVC
Glute Maximus 76
Glute Medius 70
Semitendinosus 115
Bicep Femoris 93

McGill also included a case study on Pavel Tsatsouline and when swinging a 32KG bell he was able to achieve 100% peak muscle activation in the glute maximus and over 150% in his erector spinae.

As a frame reference, the glute MVC numbers for some other “hip extension” exercises are 55% MVC in the Deadlift and 52% in the Sumo Deadlift (as per Bret Contreras).

Bringing it together

Teaching your students to brace their core to protect their spine and minimize “energy leakage” is a basic skill that MUST be taught. Practicing this skill until it becomes automatic is critical so that your student can safely progress to higher level activities. While kettlebell swings are a great hip extension exercise that helps develop strong glutes, laying the foundation of gluteal activation and general bracing strategies are essential, otherwise swings simply aren’t safe.  If you follow this model, adding swings to a student’s program will upgrade their movement skills and general fitness.

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The Kettlebell Coaching Series Part 1: Loading the Posterior Chain (Hamstrings) in the Swing

Loading the Posterior Chain at the bottom of the KB Swing is critical to a strong hip drive and to get the sequencing correct. Failing to load the posterior chain in the swing is common and creates a host of issues too long to list. While saying to load the “Hamstrings” is well and good, getting the student to understand how to consistently get into this position is another matter entirely. While there are countless drill and cues coaches use to fix this issue, we will focus on four. Our criterion in selecting these and all coaching fixes in this series is as follows:

  1. It works
    1. We are only presenting fixes that we have used for years with a high level of success
  2. Its easy for the coach to learn
    1. Our goal is to make your job easier… not harder. Therefore, we kept it simple
  3. Its easy for the student to understand and perform
    1. We don’t believe in ridiculous fixes that require a student to do 7 things at one. As number 2 states… our goal is to make your job easier. Confusing the student won’t help accomplish this goal.

Here’s an example of a Erik failing to load his posterior chain. Notice the short ROM in his hinge. He never gets enough weight in his heels and there is definitely no “loading” of the Hamstrings to speak of… FYI: His normal swing looks a little better than this.

Here are 4 coaching fixes that will help:

Fix #1: Load the hamstrings before hiking the bell  

Fix #2: Behind the Heel Hip Hinge Touches (we need a shorter name for this one)

Fix #3: Towel Drill #2

Fix #4: Clipboard Drill

Please note that we do NOT recommend that you do all 4 drills with your students. You will need to fit the drill to the student. Optimally, 1-2 drills is all it takes.

How to implement these fixes…

  1. We recommend everyone does coaching fix #1 before they hike the kettlebell.
  2. Coaching fix #2 can be done before swings as part of your prep work or as part of a circuit (focused on skill acquisition) which includes swings. This is a great tool because it teaches your student what the bottom of the swing should “feel” like.
  3. Towel Drill #2 is also all about feeling ideal position at the bottom of the swing
  4. Coaching fix #4 is implemented while a student is performing swings so they can feel the bottom position in each swing.

Now that you have all this new info… try some of the fixes above with your students who have a challenges loading their Hamstrings! Tell us which ones worked for you or your students.

Shameless plug time:

Fit EDU’s next Certified Kettlebell Instructor (Level 1) Seminar is scheduled for Saturday, 6/13/15 in Malvern, PA (http://shop.fit-edu.com). If you’re ready to get an affordable certification to immediately improve your kettlebell coaching skills we’d love to have you there!

Please note: This article and many to come will focus on simple coaching fixes designed to help trainers coach and “fix” issues students might have in The Russian Style Kettlebell Swing. We are also working under the assumption you and/or your client does not have any major movement limitations / contraindications and simply needs skill work and some great coaching to improve.

http://www.fit-edu.com


Balancing Movement Quality and Metabolic Conditioning

When it comes to programming metabolic conditioning or “MC” for clients fitness professionals usually go about this in one of two ways.

  1. Disregard movement quality and just “get after it”:

In this scenario, the client is pushed to their limits and things like posture, spinal position, knee position and general movement quality are NOT significant factors in programming

  1. A very conservative approach is taken and the client never really gets the “metabolic training effect”:
    1. This scenario can occur because the trainer is very technical and puts movement at a premium (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing from a safety perspective)
    2. This might also occur because the trainer is timid when it comes to pushing clients out of their comfort zone
    3. This can also occur because the trainer recognizes the client has some movement limitations. Instead of getting to the root of the movement issues and fixing them MC is avoided.

Can we hold movement quality at a premium, but still program in MC when a client has dysfunction? This is inevitably the time where you start to think about your approach to the challenge of balancing movement quality and MC. Do you sacrifice movement quality in the name of fat loss? If so, then to what degree? Do you sacrifice fat loss for movement quality? Have you found a middle ground?

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This topic isn’t addressed very often (in literature, articles, etc.), but should be. It’s critical fitness professionals find a way to improve movement and add MC sooner rather than later? Why you ask… well… because Americans have a movement quality problem AND an obesity problem. The remainder of this article will address this topic from the perspective of two fitness professionals:

Erik Miller: A strength and conditioning coach working with large groups who uses his coach’s eye to evaluate movement quality

Joe Chaitkin: A personal trainer working in 1-1 and small group setting who uses the FMS and additional movement-based assessments to evaluate movement quality

Erik’s Approach:

As a coach of large groups, most of which are teenagers or younger, improving movement skill is almost entirely what I do. MC is secondary to learning and polishing movement skills. Due to time constraints (even though it is probably optimal to do it first), a formal “movement screen” is not possible. If it is clear that practice and coaching is not producing the desired results (improved movement skills) then a movement screen is performed. (When this point is reached, I introduce the student and his/her parents to Joe!) I tend to be aligned with the mindset that everyone should be able to take part in the basics of human movement, even if there are some flaws. All should practice the squat, deadlift, press, and pull. However, there are many times when completing the full range of motion is impossible. For example, if one cannot keep the spine neutral when deadlifting off the floor, I will raise the bar up on blocks to shorten the range of motion. I implement the same strategy with squats and push-ups. The benefit of training the movement pattern remains intact and we will build up to performing the full range of motion.

So… what do I do if we need to take part in some metabolic conditioning work? First, we practice the basic movement patterns and do lots and lots of submaximal form work. For most beginners this stimulus is enough to present a challenge at the onset of training. Once form is pretty dialed in, it is time to increase intensity. Adding a “metabolic stimulus” is a great way to determine weaknesses and lingering movement flaws.

For example:

A student of mine, who we’ll call Bill had finally learned to proficiently squat and deadlift with light weight. After a few sessions, his major flaw in when performing these movements, a valgus collapse of his right knee, was under control at light weight and slow speed. It was now time to challenge him with some metabolic conditioning. A triplet workout was designed which included a goal time to complete four rounds of the following:

  1. Goblet squats
  2. Push-ups
  3. Running

After the first round, Bill was doing well. No sign of a valgus collapse. The same was true after the second round. However, on the third round of squats, things started to get ugly. As fatigue from the accumulated workload started to set in, the knee started caving in. Bill’s underlying movement flaws came rushing to the surface. Instead of pushing through, we stopped after the third round and he was made to rest, get a drink of water, and received instruction on what was going on (He was unaware his knee was collapsing). Because Bill is a teenager who participates in many sports, it is very important to put him under stress and see how his movement holds up. He had to be pushed with a metabolic stimulus because of the demands of his sports.

Some food for thought; he couldn’t keep the problem (valgus knee) in check for six minutes. Imagine what happens during a 2-hour basketball practice. This student was ultimately referred for an FMS.

Another example is of a one-on-one client. He had zero ability to hold a barbell or dumbbell on his shoulders without his elbows flaring out to the side. This immediately told me he was seriously lacking external rotation while his shoulders were in flexion. Pressing overhead or combined movements like thrusters were not an option in the metabolic conditioning portion of our workouts.

We still could get a great metabolic stimulus by working around his flaw: Implementing exercises he does well, like squats, push-ups, and swings got us to his fat loss goal, and it did so without him risking injury. Because he is a “desk jockey” it wasn’t “required” that we take the time to restore mobility to his shoulders. He was overweight with poor cholesterol readings so it was more important to address those issues than to improve his ability to reach overhead.

How Erik bridges this gap:

Grading movement helps guide my decision to alter a workout or adjust the range of motion. This is the basic idea – all strength work and skill work should score in the “A” range. Fatigue is not an issue and improving skills is the main goal. To get stronger, “A” level movement is required! However, when transitioning into metabolic conditioning work, I will allow my clients to sacrifice a perfect grade for the sake of metabolic stimulus. I will only sacrifice one letter grade though. If someone is performing a movement in the “B” range, that is acceptable. Now, determining grade levels is up to you. My standards might not be the same as another S&C Coach, but having consistent standards in place allows for a focus on movement quality and safe metabolic improvements.

Joe’s Approach:

I’ll be honest with you here and admit that at some point in my career I’ve taken each of the approaches mentioned earlier in this article. However, over the years my though process and as a result my approach to MC has changed dramatically. I place movement quality at a premium… I’ve become one of those “FMS guys”. However, I also value the impact of metabolic conditioning.

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How Joe bridges this gap:

I use Functional Movement Screen ® (FMS) results as my guide to qualify and disqualify clients from performing particular movements in metabolic conditioning sessions. In fact, if a client’s movement quality is poor from a global perspective (they score a 10 or lower) I will keep metabolic conditioning or even circuit training to a minimum until movement improves to an acceptable level. FYI: on the FMS scale a 14 represents “adequate” movement quality with no increased risk of suffering a non-contact injury.

For example:

A poor score active straight leg raise (think posterior chain limitations and/or core dysfunction) tells me the client is disqualified from the following exercises:

  1. Kettlebell swings
  2. Deadlifts
  3. Lower body plyometrics
  4. Squats

A poor score on the shoulder mobility screen tells me the client is disqualified from the following exercises:

  1. Overhead press
  2. “Advanced” push ups
  3. Pull ups
  4. Heavy rows
  5. Kettlebell swings

It is important to recognize that most people have strengths and weaknesses as it relates to their movement quality. Therefore, if a client scores poorly on their shoulder mobility screen, but performs well elsewhere I can aggressively program (i.e. program MC) as long as I stay away from the list of items above.

Here’s a sample MC program for a client with poor shoulder mobility and good movement quality in all other patterns:

  1. Squat jump Interval
  2. Deadlifts Interval
  3. Traditional Push Up Interval
  4. Battling Rope Interval

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Assuming the work to rest ratios and weight loads are appropriate for the client this program is clearly advanced, would provide an adequate stimulus to produce a metabolic training effect, yet is still safe for a client with poor shoulder mobility.

Notice both the “coach’s eye” and “FMS” approach are simply different paths leading to the same destination. Both evaluate the quality of movement patterns and use this information to qualify or disqualify particular movements in MC. The take home point is that its critical to develop a system for evaluating movement that can be consistently implemented and serves as a means to guide your programming. Just think of this as installing checks and balances into your programming. Without such a system, programming for MC becomes challenging for you and dangerous for your client.

Interested in learning more about Metabolic Conditioning? Our next seminar is Saturday, 10/22/16 in NYC. Only $225 with coupon code METABOLIC until 9/22/16. Learn More