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Gizmo, Steve Cotter and the Humble Kettlebell

Recently I have been likening the kettlebell swing to shooting an arrow from a bow. I’m not entirely sure when I came up with this but ever since it’s become a very effective teaching tool. Just last weekend while teaching a seminar at Dolan Fitness in Tullamore, as soon as I made the analogy heads started nodding.

So lets share the story.

The swing is very often taught very badly. People who rely on YouTube  for their education often find themselves watching terrible tutorials that they trust because they have a “name” attached. To name names: Jillian Michaels, Reebok and Crossfit. These guys are responsible for a lot of misinformation.

Pop goes the lumbar, thanks Jillian

The swing is supposed to be just that, a swinging action, the bell travels in an arc from between the leg to the front of the body. This means you must hinge at the hips. If, like many you are squatting as opposed to hinging, then you are not swinging efficiently. And kettlebell lifting is ALL about efficiency. To be fair, I can’t think of any reason why I would wish to train myself to be anything other than efficient.

Part of this efficiency is in utilising the little tricks hidden within out physiology. We have a thing called the stretch shortening cycle, better known as the stretch reflex. And like all reflexes it triggers a far stronger response than we could consciously call into action. If we perform a proper swing then we can activate the stretch reflex through the whole back side of the body. By focussing on the backswing, pushing the bell through the legs we will pike the body, hinging at the hip. The position we get into is very close to a standing hamstring stretch, which is no bad thing.

The back of the swing, note the hip hinge loading the hammies

The bell accelerating back putting us into a stretch is exactly what helps us fire it forwards again. Stretched muscles can only do one thing, contract. And contract they will, it is the job of the stretch reflex to contract a muscle if it is aggressively lengthened or it approaches what is perceived to be its maximal length. A reflexive contraction is much more powerful than a conscious contraction. Of course we consciously swing the bell, but we add the stretch reflex as a kind of turbo boost.

The whole thing puts me in mind of shooting an arrow from a bow. The first thing we need to

do is draw the bow, moving the arrow backwards, stretching the bow and bowstring building up the potential energy. When the bow is fully stretched we release the string. The recoil of the bow propels the arrow forwards, once the arrow breaks contact with the string it continues it’s flight even though we are exerting no more force on it. This is exactly how we swing the kettle. We swing it through the legs stretching out our posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, back), as we reach the stretch we bounce of the stretch reflex and propel the kettle back along the same path, as the body comes straight we are no longer exerting any force onto the bell yet it continues to travel, if we let go it would fly forwards, we don’t so it arcs upwards.

If we were working at the top of the swing, this wouldn't be possible

If you find your thighs burning, then your probably squatting rather than hinging. If you’re not sure, then have a look at this little tip that genuine Kettlebell instructor, Steve Cotter posted up a while ago. You’ll notice that unlike the “Guru’s” Mr Cotter credits the info in the video to another kettlebell expert. This is what Steve does, he goes around the world learning from the best, then he brings that information to us, the unsuspecting public. Watch this: [youtube] Now if you want to learn  more about the real art of Kettlebell Lifting, what Steve Cotter has referred to as “the martial art of strength training” then you have the opportunity, he will be in Dublin again this July to run the Certified Trainer course, details of which can be found here.

Regards Dave

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