Move better, that is the credo.
In the endless pursuit of physical mastery, the emphasis on bigger, faster, stronger will run its course for an everyday athlete and sooner or later the priority transitions into moving better.
How one defines moving “better” does not necessarily require metrics. A simple ease of motion and feeling good while moving is a good start. To move comfortably, without pain, integrated with the breath and getting more fit in the process. As with all movements, insist upon absolutely strict attention paid to movement “form”, since how you perform any movement is the pattern you will carry with you into the application. Quality of form is the most important training factor that never goes out of style.
Are Your Workouts Missing Locomotion?
Countless research has shown that resistance training is important not only for strengthening the muscles, but also for strengthening the bones. There is also a very strong correlation between bone density and longevity. There’s no argument about the benefits to physical vitality that resistance training provides. Strong is strong.
If you have an athletic slant to your resistance training, you’ll want to do more than stand in one place and move weights around. Locomotion covers the entire spectrum of performance in all sports, outside of the lifting sports of Powerlifting, Olympic lifting and Kettlebell Sport. In those 3 sports, the athlete stands in one place and performs. In all other sports, to varying degrees, there is movement from one point to another and in the most popular ball sports, there is no limit to the positioning through space that occurs, restricted only by the dimensions of the field or court. The point is, there are athletic qualities that cannot be developed merely by standing in one place. A well-rounded training program includes locomotion.
How you move can be a very personal journey. From an athletic point of view, to be a good mover is advantageous to any sport.
What Is Loaded Mobility?
When it is no longer about breaking records and winning competitions and becomes more about feeling great and expressing your physical art, Loaded Mobility can present as the perfect style of strength-mobility training and the kettlebell is the ideal tool to load with. At the same time, an athlete looking to add more to his game, will benefit from a focus on loaded mobility. If you can move well with a load, you can move easier without it.
We know that resistance training improves strength, and that mobility training improves function and ease of motion. When you put the two together, you have Loaded Mobility, a way to combine strength and movement skill that can also be a fun substitute to your typical strength or mobility sessions.
Loaded mobility does more than add strength to your movements. The additional load will work against you until your execution of timing is correct, thereby testing your balance. This is a more athletic way of lifting weights.
How to Program Loaded Mobility
A good way to introduce loaded mobility into your training program is as a light or easy day. Program as active recovery where you practice movement combos without having to strain or heave.
The kettlebell lends itself so well to loaded mobility because the design allows you to situate the load above the center of mass, which — unlike the distribution provided by dumbbells — gives more balance and control to the movements, plus it facilitates ease of motion while combining the basic lifts into changing stances.
[Looking for the best kettlebell for your goals? Check out our roundup of the absolute best bells on the market!]
To safely integrate loaded mobility with kettlebells, what is first needed is a foundation with the following techniques, performed with one hand and a single kettlebell:
- Push Press
- Static Rack Hold
- Static Overhead Hold
- Static Goblet Hold
Being proficient with these 8 kettlebell fundamentals is a prerequisite because you do not want to add mobility to incomplete structure. Stand in one place while your learn the basic lifts, and only later add the dynamics of shifting stance that come with a loaded mobility flow.
From a strong foundation in the traditional kettlebell basics, incorporating a multi-directional approach to footwork and stance provides rich range of motion that changes your normal kettlebell workout into a different kind of challenge, involving more balance, timing and coordination. That’s loaded mobility — here’s a basic example.
A Sample Loaded Mobility Flow
You’ll need a single kettlebell, light to medium weight. As a starting point, guys with a 12 or 16kg and gals with a 8 or 10kg.
Your foot placement and transitions from one position to the next is crucial for smooth execution of a loaded mobility routine. Don’t rush; aim to drop into each stance with a solid base, stopping yourself at the same moment that the lift completes.
While a creative movement artist can create a myriad of combinations, to start I suggest basing your loaded mobility patterns around a 5 point stepping pattern:
- Forward Lunge
- Back Lunge
- Lateral lunge
- Medial Lunge (Dragon stance)
Start with both feet parallel at shoulder-width apart. Do one squat, then step forward with the right foot into a lunge, then back to start position, back with the right foot into a lunge and back to start position, step lateral to the right with the right foot and back to start, and finally step across the midline with the right foot into a cross-stance lunge and back to start position. These 4 cardinal directions and the Squat gives 5 points to start from, and practice leading with both the right and left foot.
First practice the 5 point stepping while holding the kettlebell in the Static Goblet Hold position with 2 hands. Make sure you feel balanced and able to control your steps.
Now, repeat in the Static Rack hold with 1 hand. Next, time the step with a simple kettlebell basic, such as press. Here’s how it looks:
From Static Rack Hold position, squat and press as you stand; step forward Right and Press right, then step back to start as the kettlebell lowers back to rack; now step back Right and Press right and step back to start; step to the Right and Press Right and back to start; step to the Left and Press right and back to start. Repeat the sequence with the left foot and Right press. 8 reps in total. Repeat the steps with the Left press.
The same can be performed with clean, bringing to chest with the step and swinging back with the return step. Once you have the hang of it, you can combine with almost any other kettlebell basic such as Snatch or Swing. More advanced versions can include kettlebell juggles, open palm and bottoms-up variations. The most important factor is the timing of the lift with the step, so that the steps occur at the end range of the lift. (Step completes as the Press completes).
[Learn more: 10 kettlebell exercises every athlete should master.]
Want something fancier?
More technical kettlebell movements such as juggling can be integrated along with stepping at different angles such as rear cross steps, adding pivots and turns, etc. This sort of loaded mobility can be referred to as a kettlebell flow in which the completion of one becomes the start of the next movement. This is a dynamic style of kettlebell lifting which allows the movement artist to express a virtually unlimited movement stream of consciousness. Rather than fight with the kettlebell you learn to dance with it in a coordinated fashion. The Kettlebell is an ideal tool for freestyle loaded mobility, since the very nature of the bell is keeping the body set in motion.
If you want to challenge your balance, timing and coordination along with you strength and conditioning, try loaded mobility for a fully integrated mind-body workout.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.