Often when you hit sticking points in your kettlebell training, all it takes are 1 or 2 little cues to help you bust through plateaus and get you through to new heights in your lifts.
I experienced one of these a-ha moments.
It was at the RKC Orlando back in October. I was working with my training partner, ironically named “Chris” as well, and had cleaned the 36kg kettlebell and was holding it in the rack position.
I had my abs braced and was ready to drive it up over my head for a military press. I started to drive the bell up and ended up struggling at about the half way point holding it there and trying not to kick my hip out to turn it into a side press.
“C’mon, brother!”, Chris was yelling at me in his Texan drawl. “it ain’t nuthin’. You got this!!!”
By this time, after holding it at the sicking point for 2 or 3 seconds – which seems like an eternity if you’ve ever been there before – I was about ready to give up.
All of a sudden Pavel, the mad Russian himself, came walking by and started poking me in my lat.
Magically, I could feel my shoulder drop (I think it started to elevate – bad news if you want to keep your shoulders healthy) and the bell began to go up – slowly, with control and struggle.
Once I got the bell about 1/4 of the way, getting to the lock out position was easy.
By poking me in the lat of the working side, Pavel was able to ignite a strong mind-body connection in me (also known as bio-feedback) that allowed me to fire the correct muscle to help with the military press that I was struggling with.
Pressing that 36kg from the rack position was a new PR for me and all it took was one small physical cue for me to understand the relationship between the bell and what muscles were going to allow me to press it over my head.
So with the mad Russian – pickle juice, gavortka and all – on my mind, here are 4 tips that I have learned that will help you bust through plateaus in your kettlebell training…
1. Root Yourself Into the Rack Position – This is important prior to a grinding exercise like a front squat or a military press. After cleaning the kettlebell and racking it, make sure there is a distinct pause as you ready yourself to either descend to the ground (as in a squat) or drive the bell overhead (press). At this point, after racking the bell, you want to make sure that your glutes are squeezed, your kneecaps are pulled up into your quads, you’re abdomen is “zipped up” and both your lats are rock solid.
You want to feel like you are taking your energy and driving it through the ground and the ground is equally responding by driving energy back up to you.
Getting this rooted feeling allows your mind to understand that every grind is a full-body exercise and isn’t just locally using the prime mover muscle.
2. Use Your Lats – “Ears are shoulder poison”. This phrase still rings true in my head. It was something that I first heard from my team leader, Brett Jones, who also happens to be a genius when it comes to assessing movement and function. If you just really focus on what’s being said here – keeping your shoulders away from your ears – you’ll end up with a lot less shoulder pain and more strength on your presses (as I experienced).
A military press isn’t so much a deltoid-focused exercise as it is a lat-focused movement. Once you’re able to understand the relationship between your lats and how they are involved with pressing, the weight that you can press overhead (or stabilize overhead when you are doing your Get-Ups) will increase significantly.
3. Punch The Wall… With Your Butt – This tip refers to the ballistic exercises like the swing, snatch & clean. Imagine that you’ve got a cardboard wall immediately behind you and that you want to punch a hole in it – with your butt. That explosive hinge that you just performed is the ideal counter-movement that you want to replicate on the “down swing” of your ballistic kettlebell exercises.
This “over speed eccentric” firing of the hip joint loads up your hamstrings and glutes for an explosive hip extension – the primary movement pattern for athletes to be able to run fast, jump high and hit hard.
I’ve been experimenting a lot with OVER SPEED ECCENTRICS over the past few weeks, especially how it relates to training for vertical jump. I’ll be sure to report back when I tell you about my experiences using them.
4. Squeeze the $%*# Out of the Handle – Try this experiment. Hold an open hand in front of you with your arm fully extended. Now, clench your fist as tight as you can and see what happens.
Do the muscle in your forearm become dense?
Does your bicep & tricep contract?
What about your pec, lat & serratus (the “rib-like” muscle underneath your pec?
And finally, if you’re standing up do your abs & glutes contract?
You’ve just created a radiating effect throughout your body which is one of the most important elements in being successful at your kettlebell training.
By squeezing the $%#* out of the handle when you perform your grinds, you recruit every muscle in your body to aid in your effort.
And believe me, when you’re trying to get 80 lbw over your head from a “dead” position, you’ll need all the help you can get.
Hopefully after reading and understanding these tips, you’ll be on your way with successful lifts, explosive ballistic drills and stronger grinds.
Remember as well, that these tricks are not only great for your kettlebell training, but for all strength training practices as well.
-Chris Lopez, RKC, CSCS, Certified Turbulence Trainer
"Finding practical ways to help you with your kettlebell training"