Kettlebells get a bit of a bad rep in some training circles, which is a shame as they can be a valuable strength training tool. Over the coming weeks I’ll offer some pros & cons, as well as training tips and program ideas. You can add them to your current training plan, or just knock out a few reps if you find yourself short on time and in desperate need of a workout toy.
To kick this series off I want to debunk the biggest myth about Kettlebell training: “Kettlebell training is bad for your back!”
In reality, swinging a kettlebell can have many benefits for your back health. If you are feeling pain in your lumbar spine during or after a kettlebell workout, then it is most likely to be the execution of the movement which is the problem, rather than the exercise itself.
The swing is at the heart of every kettlebell movement – most of the core movements require an effective ‘hip hinge’ to be executed correctly and safely.
The most common technique error I see, even my own clients initially, is relying heavily on the upper body to move the kettlebell through the movement, rather than employing an effective hip hinging technique. This is most prominent during the ‘set up’ phase of the swing and the initial ‘hike’ to give the kettlebell its momentum.
Two of the three pictures above (right hand side) show incorrect set ups I often see: if you adopt these, your back health will be compromised by the force running through the rounded lumbar spine. The picture on the right shows an optimal hip hinge: using the hips and glutes to their full potential, ensuring that loading forces are distributed evenly through the vertebrae.
‘Gluteal Amnesia’, when the gluteals don’t fire properply after the hamstrings, is often a culprit in lower back pain, especially when it comes to deadlifts and swinging a kettlebell. Weakly activated gluteals mean that the lower back takes over lifting, and back problems inevitably occur. Proper kettlebell training contributes to high levels of muscular activation in the abdominals and in the lower posterior chain, especially the gluteals, helping both to strengthen them and to encourage them to fire properly.
Coach Pete’s Six Fixes:
1. Break It Down. Start with simpler movements, such as the deadlift pattern, and make sure you master these before progressing back up. Build up your hip hinge and train your lumbar to get used to the compressive & shear forces being generated through the spine, by using progressively heavier loads and a more explosive movement up to the top position (this is known as ‘the static stomp deadlift’).
2. Include Hamstring and Gluteal Activation Work. Loose hamstrings are your worst enemy when it comes to deadlifts and swings. Try incorporating some sets on the gluteal ham raise machine, and perform some hip bridges with a foam roller between the thighs – both of these exercises will pump the hamstrings and gluteals with oxygenated blood.
3. Adopt the Hardstyle Swing Technique. While maintaining a neutral spine throughout, work the hip hinging movement even harder, adopting effective bracing techniques in the body.
4. Tame the Arc. You control the kettlebell! Tell it where you want it and don’t let it pull you away from the correct hip hinging technique.
5. Use Whole Body Tension and Diaphragmatic Breathing. ‘Stay Tight’ is something I say to clients, members and even myself, every single day. Combine whole body tension with controlled, diaphragmatic breathing throughout the movement.
6. Look After Your Back. Back health should be up there with cleaning your teeth and washing behind the ears as part of a daily routine! Swing every day, using the correct technique, and be rewarded with a strong and healthy back.
Thanks for reading, I hope you find this helpful!
See you in the gym,