Why the Kettlebell?
Why the kettlebell? With a fitness world filled with an array of devices, machines, free weights and gadgets, how does the kettlebell become the preferred training tool by the top experts in the field?
Celebrity trainer, Don Saladino, and longtime strength and conditioning coach, Chris Holder, both agree that if you want to get into superhero shape, or professional athlete strong and fast, the kettlebell is likely be the best choice, period.
The Elite Trainer’s Perspective- Don Saladino
Listen, I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve worked with people from all walks of life. I also have pretty much anything you can imagine at my disposal in terms of equipment. So given my access and my wide scope of understanding of how to program nearly any exercise, why does kettlebell training find itself at the top of my list?
Before I give you a glimpse on how I think, I need you to understand what’s at stake. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but some of my clientele are Hollywood actors who are prepping for billion-dollar grossing films. Many of your favorite superheroes are under my direction and there are a couple things I must do to ensure they look the way you expect them to.
First, I must make careful, well thought out decisions on what we are going to do to ensure as much as possible that we don’t have an injury during their prep. These individuals are the heartbeat to these films and a back injury, knee injury or anything unexpected close to the beginning of a shoot could set back a filming schedule. If you know anything about this industry, delays, setbacks and an injured superhero are all unacceptable to a studio.
Additionally, we are given a very specific look we are trying to achieve. Layers of muscle underneath extraordinary conditioning are expectations going into filming, so we must make all the right decisions to get the actor dialed. A caped hero with a beer belly, or a superheroine with a double chin just isn’t going to work.
So, why the kettlebell?
• The tool itself is the most dynamic piece of equipment you can find. When programed correctly, this style of training creates outcomes that are beyond singular focus. When programming other styles, you plug and play. If I want maximum strength, I program X. If I want muscular endurance, we program Y. But, with kettlebells, the adaptations bleed into each of the five major qualities- muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance, mobility and body composition. It’s literally a one stop shop.
• The carryover from gym to movie set is seamless. Understand, these actors are expected to be able to do a lot of their own stunts. If you watch these films, the physicality they all have is next level. But, when you break down how they move- bending, running, jumping, throwing and lifting- you realize that much of what they are doing are the things all of us do in our day to day. Kettlebell training readies my heroes to be camera ready to do their own physical acting while callousing their bodies to keep them healthy between takes. I know Holder is going to get into the benefits of kettlebells for athletes, but many of his ideas find their way into my world too.
• Simplicity. Let’s make something very clear though- simple, not easy. I mentioned utility above. Two kettlebells can be as useful as a gym full of equipment when it’s programmed correctly. The six primary movements- swing, snatch, clean, military press, squat and get ups- can truly be all a person needs to get into the best shape of their lives. Throw in a couple bodyweight exercises, some kettlebell carries, and you can quote me in saying, “You really don’t need anything else.”
• Kettlebell training develops mobility in a way that nearly no other training tool can. Strength, endurance, explosiveness are some of the more obvious training benefits of working with kettlebells. But, mobility is one of the most underrated qualities in my focus five that receives the largest punch in the arm. Mobility translates into longevity and health. Forget superheroes, think of your grandmother. If we can increase the obvious yet restore much of her lost mobility through smart programming, we are adding years of heightened quality of life.
• If you can yield the bell with skill in the six primary movements, you can get superhero ready too. I know I’ve focused on Hollywood for the majority of this piece, but I want you to know that this type of training is for everyone. I can’t tell you how many regular folks I’ve worked with have come to me broken. Injuries of all sorts, pain in countless places and out of shape to the point where their health was in danger. Those same people who took the time to learn, who took the time to listen and implement this type of training have turned their lives around. Within months, many of them found themselves out of pain, with blood work that made their doctors happy and for first time- loving who they see in the mirror.
The Coach’s Perspective- Dr. Chris Holder
When you look at the history of weight training, the kettlebell seems to be the relative new kid on the block. In reality, it has been around for centuries and was commonplace for strongmen and their training for as long as weight training has been documented. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s for us common folk to even see one. On the recommendation of one of my mentors (more like strict urging), I ventured off to Minnesota in the spring of 2004 and was given a glimpse of what my future, and entire athletic reputation would rest upon.
See, I’m a pure performance guy. The aesthetics, I leave that to Don. My mind does not operate in ways to strategize how to look incredible for a photo shoot. I’m more of, “How can I get more horsepower out of this athlete come game day?” Bigger engines, faster turnover in a sprint, spring in my jumps and bullet-proofing bodies that are going to be battered and bruised for the duration of their careers. This is the only thing I think about when I program.
Now, before we get started, I need to say that the tool alone is not the answer. More than anything, it’s how it’s taught, how you apply the techniques and programming. I can hand a total newb a bell, teach them a couple things and leave them to their own devices only to find an individual frustrated and discouraged by this awkward piece of equipment. It’s about application.
When taught correctly and executed with laser like focus, the kettlebell is one of them most powerful tools in an athlete’s arsenal. Here’s a few things one can expect:
• There’s nothing like kettlebell swings that will prepare the tissues for the pounding of athletics. When we think running and landing from a jump (something rarely considered but has enormous implications on wear and tear), our minds should go to connective tissue, not just the muscles themselves. Sports put enormous demands on ligaments and tendons, and I have yet to find a better tool for strengthening these stubborn tissues.
• Besides training the sport skill itself, nothing teaches the nervous system to deal is with forces outside of the body quite like the kettlebell. Let’s face it, the on thing you can count on in competition is unpredictable forces working against you with every step. Because of the physics of both the bell itself and the variety of exercises we use, the athlete becomes accustomed to the bell wanting to pull them forward or backward. Innately and overtime, the degree of balance, the sensitivity to proprioception heightens and what we end up with is an athlete who knows where his/her body is in space.
• Nothing teaches rooting like the kettlebell. A term borrowed from the martial arts world, rooting is an idea of how fixed to the ground you can be- beyond gravity. In all sporting endeavors (minus water sports and a few where you launch yourself in the air for whatever reason) the relationship the athlete has with the ground, the footing that they establish is everything. If done correctly, our mantra, the kettlebell teaches rooting like nothing else.
• No training system addresses longevity quite like kettlebell training. Take it from a former offensive linemen, the training we endured when I played might have been more detrimental to our bodies than the competitions themselves. Old school training, even though it got us big and strong, created more mileage on our bodies than anything else. Smart programming with the kettlebell not only rectifies this but also begins to methodically layer in levels of strength and power without beating he body into oblivion.
• Lastly, training smart with the kettlebell pushes anaerobic and aerobic thresholds into places that no other system can. Listen, I’m known in a lot of athletic circles for my speed and running programs. I’ve developed a nearly flawless way of getting athletes fast and building their cardiovascular engines so big that they simply don’t get tired during competition. And the secret sauce isn’t a bunch of wind-sprints, footwork drills and speed and agility sessions- it’s those things along with smart doses of kettlebell training. It’s the combination that takes the average athlete who struggles with conditioning and makes the games feel like practice for them.