Editor’s Note: There are some smart people out there who know a lot about the theory of strength training. There are a lot of strong people out there whose expertise is gained in the trenches of the weight room full of chalk and sweat.
There are a select few who can boast being both – understanding the science of strength and being able to apply that knowledge to themselves.
Today’s guest author, Scott Iardella, is one of them.
As both a physiotherapist and strength coach, Scott has the knowledge and track record – he’s been both a powerlifter and bodybuilder and has built himself back up from a debilitating back injury using the tools he’s learned.
So when Scott talks, I listen. You should too.
The Kettlebell As A Prehab-Rehab Tool (PART I)
by: Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS, CISSN, SFGII, SFL, FMS, USAW, Pn1
We all know the exhaustive list of benefits that kettlebell training provides for us, right?
But, we need to keep in mind that this tool can be outstanding as a prehab and rehab approach.
What exactly do I mean by prehab and rehab?
Let me explain…
Prehab simply means to prevent injury and rehab is the act of restoring something from it’s original state.
Prehab = PREVENT, Rehab = RESTORE
With these working definitions, the kettlebell is absolutely wonderful as a prehab/rehab tool.
The truth is that preventing injury is the number one goal that all of us need to have and I’ve said this many times before.
“The real #1 goal of any training program is injury prevention.”
If we get hurt or injured with training then there is no more training, which is why injury prevention with a safe, smart approach is always best.
In this 2 part article series I’ll share some of the most valuable exercises that can be used as a prehab/rehab approach.
As we get started, let me give you some perspective on my background so you know where this is coming from.
First, my background is that of a sports medicine orthopedic physical therapist where I’ve treated many shoulder, spine, knee, and general orthopedic problems.
In addition, I’ve personally experienced a major debilitating back injury many years ago and was able to fully come back from that and train at a very high level, which I do to this day.
I’ve been through intense pain and devastating injury before.
Let’s just say that the experience was life altering, to say the least.
In this first part of the article I want to cover 3 exercises and their utility as prehab/rehab.
Before we get started, I do need to cover a few things I’ll call these the “ground rules.”
1-Do NOT perform any painful movement, period.
Any movement that provokes pain is not a good movement and should be avoided until pain is resolved.
You may be shocked how often this seemingly obvious point is completely disregarded.
2-Be in good health and have a baseline of safe, quality movement and mobility.
Ideally, I’d recommend being screened with the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), if possible, to identify any potential “red flags.”
3-Know your limitations.
The “inconvenient truth” is that some things aren’t fixable or correctable.
A spine that’s been kyphotic for nearly 20 years is going to be really tough to promote thoracic extension.
We want to be safe and proficient with our movement and work within our limits.
You will definitely want to keep this point in mind for the Part II of this article series.
With these ground rules let’s get started.
THE DEADLIFT AND SWING
I’ve written extensively about the benefits of the kettlebell swing to optimize back health. The swing is unique in that it dynamically enhances strength endurance, which is key in minimizing the risk for injury.
Based on my own personal experience and understanding the rationale and mechanics of the hardstyle kettlebell swing, it’s clearly one of the most effective exercises to build and maintain a strong, powerful back.
It’s important to remember that the kettlebell deadlift must precede the swing. The deadlift is teaches us proper hip hinging and good spinal position.
Working on the fundamentals always serves us well.
At the top of the swing, think about ONE thing – Glute contraction.
Make sure the glutes are tight to stabilize the pelvis, which greatly supports the lumbar spine.
Even advanced kettlebell enthusiasts need to remember this key point.
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THE TURKISH GET UP (TGU)
The TGU is arguably the best exercise for “shoulder centration.”
Shoulder centration is a term used to describe the most stable position of the humeral head (the ball) in the socket (the glenoid).
When the rotator cuff muscles are firing optimally, they maintain the humeral head in the glenoid (or maintain shoulder centration).
This is the key to shoulder health.
What’s really effective and unique about the TGU is the dynamic movement under load to stabilize the shoulder.
For example, we start out in shoulder flexion, then move into an abducted position, then finish in full shoulder elevation in the standing position.
This is an incredibly dynamic and beneficial movement pattern for the health of the shoulder, firing the rotator cuff at a high level to maintain this shoulder centration.
Beyond the shoulder, the TGU is a ‘one stop shop’ for human movement and performance offering benefits to many other joints, as well.
SLOW DOWN with your TGU’s.
One of the biggest mistakes I see with people doing the TGU is they rush the movement.
Slow the movement down as much as you can to own each transition.
THE GOBLET SQUAT (GS)
The goblet squat is just a wonderful exercise that’s simple and effective for all of us.
Specifically, the hip, knee, and ankle mobility that is required make it a great approach to “prevent and restore.”
The GS teaches us great squat mechanics and improves or maintains squatting strength and range of motion in our lower extremities.
The “prying” GS is excellent to open the hips and improve ankle ROM.
Pull down into the squat and slowly rock side to side “prying” the hips and mobilizing the ankles.
These 3 exercises in Part I shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s how we think about them to prevent injury and “restore” strength, movement, and mobility.
Again, the bottom line here is to think of these exercises as a means to PREVENT and RESTORE.
Well, you’d probably NEVER guess the exercises I’ve got lined up for you in Part II of this series.
In Part II, I’ll share the “easiest” of the rehab-prehab exercises, as well as two “advanced,” but very powerful exercise progressions.
Stay tuned for the next instalment and let me know if you have questions.
Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS, CISSN, SGFII, CK-FMS, SFL, USAW
Coach, athlete, writer, podcaster. Scott Iardella is a strength and conditioning specialist, movement teacher, and physical therapist who’s been involved in the health and fitness industries for over 3 decades.
His unique movement approach and training continuum incorporates kettlebells with barbell lifts and progressions. He’s known for being an innovator and scientist in the area of strength and performance. His passion is helping people of all levels and backgrounds discover their physical potential through a foundation of strength.
He is a StrongFirst Level 2 kettlebell instructor, certified strength and conditioning specialist, certified sports nutritionist, and holds many other notable credentials related to his areas of specialization.
He’s currently completing his 1st major book, “The Edge of Strength.”