Throughout history, we have used different types of training tools to achieve muscular strength, development, and power. When I first began training on my own, my tools were predominantly barbells and dumbbells. It was not until I realized all the potential that a kettlebell could unleash that I started implementing them.
After years of training with kettlebells, I now travel the country as a Senior Kettlebell Specialist with the Onnit Academy teaching others how to optimize their kettlebell training. I don’t only use kettlebells in my own training, but in my client’s programming as well. I have seen massive gains in all aspects of fitness thanks to this tool!
Kettlebell training offers many unique adaptations that can lead to massive gains in your barbell lifts. Not only does training with a kettlebell increase your grip strength, but it also enhances core strength, mobility, shoulder stability, and power. If you’re new to kettlebells, then you can use the graphic below as an idea for what I’d classify as light, moderate, and heavy kettlebell weights.
As we all know, barbell lifts require an insane amount of grip strength to execute proper lifts. Kettlebell training specifically requires you to learn how to adapt dynamic grip strength while wielding a load, as well as challenging your resistance to fatigue during time under tension.
One of the best ways to enhance your grip with a kettlebell is to practice a farmer’s carry with two kettlebells for time. Increasing your time under tension while gripping onto the weight can help strengthen your forearms while also enhancing core strength.
Try This: Kettlebell Farmer’s Carry
While standing tall with a neutral spine and braced core, hold onto two heavy kettlebells (28kgs on each side) and stand in place. Try holding onto the kettlebells with a tight grip, irradiating tension throughout your entire body for 60 seconds. Perform 5 to 6 sets.
Dynamic core strength is one of the fundamental prerequisites to any advanced kettlebell work, therefore any form of kettlebell training is going to put an increased demand on your core muscles due to the offset load. Offset loading can be achieved with any tool really by training under uneven weight. The unique shape of the kettlebell allows for more grips and ready positions, so you can add offset loads to various movements more efficiently than with other tools.
Try This: Kettlebell Overhead Walking Lunge
One of my favorite core smashing exercises is the single kettlebell overhead walking lunge. Single kettlebell training recruits more musculature to stabilize your body throughout movements. This one is a great warm-up for barbell overhead squats. Try lightweight (8kg to 16kg kettlebell) for 15 reps on each leg for 3 to 4 sets.
One of my favorite mobility exercises that I use to open up my shoulders are kettlebell arm-bars. This exercise is not only fantastic for mobilizing your shoulders through their full range of motion, but it is also great for creating dynamic shoulder mobility while under load.
Try This: Kettlebell Arm-Bars
Try these out for 10 reps on each side for 3 to 4 sets with a lightweight kettlebell (8kg to 16kg). Start lying on your back, pressing the kettlebell up towards the ceiling with one arm, make sure that your leg on the same side as the kettlebell is bent with your knee also towards the ceiling. Your other arm should be reaching straight overhead, resting on the floor. As you are holding up the kettlebell, try to maintain your shoulder packed throughout this movement as you rotate your chest towards the ground. While rotating,make sure to keep the loaded arm straight and try to get your bent leg over onto the other side of your straight leg.
Learning how to maintain packed shoulders through dynamic movement is one of the cornerstones of shoulder stability. Irradiating tension in the lats leads to stronger lifts as you learn to use your back as a base to press more efficiently. Focusing on the slow and controlled negative press, and learning how to effectively pull (the weight down) teaches you how to use your lats to help keep your shoulders packed in a safer position when snatching, or jerking weights.
Try This: Bottoms Up Overhead Press
Bottoms up overhead press is my favorite shoulder stability exercise that is great for getting a lot of work out of a lightweight. While performing this exercise try to focus on packing your shoulder, while maintaining a neutral spine and tight core throughout the movement. Complete 6 to 8 reps on each side for 5 to 6 sets with a lightweight kettlebell (8kg to 16kg).
Kettlebell training allows you to train for power under submaximal loads. This allows you to continue making gains while training under lighter loads, so that you can exert maximum force and get tons of muscle activation using lighter weights conditioning you to have increased muscle activation and force production for your heavier lifts. Of course we should always execute proper form and safe technique when our goal is power, and not having nearly as much weight as you would in a barbell lift can help you train specifically for power while seeing significant gains.
Try This: Kettlebell Hike Swings
Kettlebell hike swings are a phenomenal exercise for strengthening your hips directly, which can translate to increased power in your barbell deadlifts and squats. Perform the kettlebell hike swings with heavy kettlebell (24kg or heavier) for 8 to 12 reps for 3 to 4 sets.
Check out my website in my author page below for more kettlebell training techniques that can help you optimize your barbell lifts! Kettlebell training is a fun and effective way to build a strong, mobile, and functional body.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image courtesy Eric Leija.