Q’n’A: Kip-Ups, Bulky Traps & Heavy Bells

 I've spent the past week working at the beach – yes we have a beach up here in Toronto – both coaching and doing some strength & conditioning work both with some National level beach volleyball athletes AND some 10-12 year olds.

The weather has been spectacular and has made me realize that I could really get used to life as a beach bum.  Who knows, maybe one day we'll pack up the kids and move to California or Maui or something.  Now that we're homeschooling, it's something we're strongly considering.

Anyway, lots of questions in the Mail Bag this week, so let's get to them….

Q: My Uncle's cottage has some pull-up bars and I want to know what is most effective to do: regular pull-ups or kipping pull-ups?

A: Do REGULAR CONTROLLED PULL-UPS or Chin-ups.  Make sure that you are not going down to a dead-hang, but hanging from almost fully straight – which means there should be an "ever-so-slight" bend in your elbows.  This will make sure that you are putting the strain on your muscles and NOT on your connective tissue.

I'm not a huge fan of kipping pull-ups because 1) they put unnecessary stress on you shoulder joint (with all the swinging and ballistic movement and 2) because you are "kipping" at the bottom of the movement, you're only really working through a partial range of motion allowing momentum to take care of the rest.

Q: I have been working with quite a few people who have been astounded by the results achieved with kettlebell training – I'm a HUGE fan!  However, I have one female client who is wide in her shoulders.  Being a former competitive swimmer, she is concerned about building her upper body too much again.  She is happy with the definition in her shoulders but is worried about what's happening in the "traps" (upper back/neck) region.  Could you give me any tips on what exercises to avoid/favour for her body shape?

A: My first suggestion would be to check her swing technique specifically her"rooting" to make sure that she understands that the top range of the swing involves very little traps and mostly lats.  She should feel "stuck" into the ground and should think about projecting the energy of the bell forward as opposed to up.  If she has a tendency to "hike" her shoulders up into her ears, then I would make that correction first.

Next, I would take a look at her presses and make sure that her she isn't using her traps as she presses the bell up over her head.  The shoulders should stay down and back again, making sure that her shoulders are as far away from her ears as possible.

I wouldn't suggest avoiding any exercises unless she has a medical issue that won't allow her to do specific things, but I would maybe limit her higher rep cleans & snatches to once per week.  Those 2 ballistic movements could use more trap work than others.

Q: I read your post on Kettlebells vs. Cardio and was wondering how heavy of a kettlebell the test subjects were using?  Swinging a lighter KB does not give the same results and beginners like me need to know this so our expectations are not so high.

A: In the study that I mentioned in that post, the subjects were using a 16kg bell.  I think the take home message, however, is that beginner or not, you will experience some type of results.  

What you have to consider is that – in the case of beginners like you – kettlebell training is a new stimulus.  Your body will have to adapt to the new training effect and it will do that by getting stronger and possibly gaining muscle and possibly losing fat.  

Changes to your body will stop occurring once it has adapted to the weight of the bell with the program that you are using.

If you then move up to a heavier bell, you body will recognize a new stimulus and will again be forced to change.

So in saying that, it doesn't matter how heavy or light of a bell you are using as long as you are forcing yourself to improve.

Remember, every good program works – but nothing works forever.  Make sure you are switching things up every 4-6 weeks.

That's it for the mailbag for now.

Have a great weekend!

Chris Lopez, RKC






  • Reply July 10, 2011


    i have a 20 pound kettlebell is that a safe weight to use all the time?

  • Reply July 12, 2011


    im 17 nerli 18 i have 2 14 kg kettle bells can u email me a work out to make me fitter n ripped n bulked

  • Reply July 18, 2011


    @Lily – It depends how your technique and strength are.
    Get your technique dialled in, and you will soon find that 20lbs is way too light. On the flipside, sometimes you need to use the next heaviest weight to really get the feedback you need to perform the exercise well and get the most benefit from it.
    You will also have differences in the weight you can use for the various exercises – for example I swing and squat with a 16kg (35lb) bell, but my TGU has only just caught up, and the snatch isn’t there yet and I use a 12 kg for that one (although I’m working on it!).

    As always, the best thing to do is go to a RKC-qualified coach who can assess you and give advice accordingly 🙂


Leave a Reply