Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Importance of Kettlebells and Developing Work Capacity

Some people in the fitness industry discount the importance and impact kettlebells have and have had on people interested in fitness and athletes.

They're just a tool, these people say. I agree.

But the point my colleagues are missing is that this tool is more appropriate and its use is more prudent than many of the tools they are now using. Therefore I can only conclude that they recognize it as a tool, but don't know how to use it correctly.

When I was little my dad had this really cool screwdriver. It's handle contained many different screw head tips and it had its own ratcheting technology. I'm not a tool guy, so forgive the poor description, but as you pushed the screwdriver into the screw, it actually turned the screw for you. You could back out a screw the same way. You could also lock the mechanism in place when more torque was needed, like a regular screwdriver. Sure, you could have a whole set of screwdrivers, Phillip's heads, and flat heads, large and small--but why? Why when you can use just this screwdriver. Oh, sure, it didn't have any really large heads, but it all the normal size heads in the handle.

The kettlebell is to fitness what my dad's screwdriver was to tools.

Here's why I point this out: I was training with my lifting partner today. I used to be stronger and heavier than him. Now, we weigh the same--within a kilo of each other, and he's much stronger than I am. Today, he said he was going to follow me thru my training session, do exactly what I did. Well, he kept up, but barely. My jerks weren't quite as solid as they could've been, but that's just rust. His last 4 sets were shaky because he lacked stamina. Sure we did different training sessions yesterday, but I outpaced him today and out-lifted him on our last exercise. I'm not boasting--just pointing out the difference. This guy is one strong dude and very good lifter. I've only been training for the O-lifts for the last 6 weeks. He's never stopped training. There have been two major differences in our training for the last 2 years or so: Kettlebells and Z-Health. Z has only been the last 10 months, so I'll put more weight on the KBs.

I had more stamina today because of all the KB work that I've done--particularly the higher rep ballistics. I no longer experience any lower back fatigue while lifting. I'm able to maintain my position and reset myself with no trouble on the higher rep sets. I recover more quickly between sets (lower rep ones especially).

So how do you build work capacity with kettlebells? Two ways:
  1. High rep ballistics
  2. Complexes with KBs instead of barbells
1. High rep ballistics: Just use a lighter KB and perform 20+ reps per set. Use multiple sets. Don't over-think it. If you or your athlete are sucking wind, you're doing it right.

2. Complexes with KBs instead of barbells: Fatter handles + 2 independent moving objects + larger stroke = more work performed.
  • Fatter handles are more taxing on the grip than the standard Olympic barbell grip
  • 2 independently moving objects require more stability which is more taxing on the body's musculature
  • Larger stroke throwing the KBs between the legs and to the shoulder than from above the knee to the shoulders
  • Bonus: Many trainees, can perform a rock-bottom front squat with KBs but not with the barbell, for various reasons that I won't go into here...So, more work on the legs because of a larger ROM on the squat
For example, I can perform the following complex quite easily with 60kg:
High Pull from knee x5
Hang Power Clean + Press x5+5
Front Squat x5
RDL x5
Row x5
But using 2x32kg KBs absolutely floors me. (I know, it's the whole extra 4kg--I know, I know 4x30 reps = an extra 120kg...just humor me here...)

I know what some may say, a study of one does not a conclusion make. I agree. But, I am also very accomplished using the Olympic lifts and KBs. So if it's this way for me, a seasoned lifter, how much more so for a non-seasoned one? Plus, I'm basing this conclusion not just off my own experience with my own training, but also on my career in the industry.

So, being the good on-again-off-again-routinely-injured-but-not-anymore training partner, I suggested to my training partner he buy a 32kg KB and just do swings on his non-platform days to boost his GPP. We'll see if takes my advice. But for me, I'm going to figure out a way to get my ballistics back in combined with my hand/wrist supination/extension exercises. Because, admittedly, I was sucking wind and almost threw-up after my last set of deadlifts today, even though I'd rate it an 8 as far as load/effort goes on the RPE scale.

Here was the training session:

A. Power Jerks: 80% x 8-10x2; 60-90s rest--"You go, I go."
70kg/5, 90/3, 110/2, 130kg/2 x9 sets
Felt easy but awkward. Can tell the jerk is rusty.

B. Back Squat, 4-6x4-6;
70kg/6, 100/6, 130/6 x4 sets; Had to work hard on positioning, especially after the 3rd rep of each set.

C. Snatch Deadlift, narrow grip, index finger on ring, 4-6x6
110kg/6, 130/6, 140/6, 150/6, 160/6
6 reps just taxes my CV system. The weight felt very manageable, RPE of 8 or so, maybe a little less, but once I put it down, I started sucking wind bad. I may top out between 180-200kg/6 on this exercise, this cycle. We'll see.

Tomorrow's off--just Z and maybe some GPP.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

totally agree geoff. I've said it before and I'll say it again: you can do more work more easily and recover faster with kb ballistics than you can with any other modality. just need do the math.
its way more than a tool because like it or not none of the other methods allow you to swing and thats the has a very unique effect on the body and the work capacity.
good post.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Nice post.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Franz Snideman said...


like you I have "experienced" in my own body how effective and beneficial KB are. They are offer benefits that you cannot and do not get from so many other weight training implements. although lifting a rock repeatedly would still be beneficial, high rep "boulder" snatches are not practical and pretty much impossible.

If Z is the greatest injury prevention and neurological REHAB out there, might KB's be the most efficient and practical way to get conditioned?

Great post Geoff!

12:55 PM  
Blogger Geoff Neupert said...

Thanks Scott and Franz.

Franz, I'd have to agree with you. KBs have made the biggest difference in my fitness levels bar none. I only wish I had them when I was wrestling and training wrestlers. Things might have been different...

11:23 PM  

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