The Workout: Kettlebells 20

By Jen Sinkler, PCC, RKC–II |

Swing ’em, snatch ’em, or clean ’em. Kettlebells are popular in bootcamps and strength-training classes worldwide. And rightly so: They build your chain of posterior muscles — your back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves — while also burning fat, enhancing body awareness, and improving core stability.

Many of us, though, stick to the same kettlebell movements and are missing out on a host of unsung benefits. “When it comes to getting ­started, the basics are excellent, but what truly transforms someone’s strength is thinking a step or two outside of the proverbial box,” says John Wolf, an expert in unconventional training methodologies — kettlebells, sandbags, club swinging, and mace training, to name a few — who over­sees fitness education and program­­ming at Onnit Academy Gym in Austin, Texas.

Working with kettlebells is, by virtue of throwing around a ballistic weight, a dynamic form of exercise.

It’s all too easy, though, to stay within the sagittal plane (with front-to-back motions), while neglecting side-to-side and rotational moves. Incorporating multiplanar kettlebell exercises challenges your body in new and important ways, improving not only strength and conditioning, but also mobility and range of motion.

“When you start to explore how else your body can function, you develop a more diverse movement palette and increase the ranges of motion you can move safely within; you become more physically resilient,” says Wolf, who designed this workout.

Mixing up your training also engages your mind because you have to pay attention. If you can swing in your sleep, you might find that you zone out doing the exercise or get bored more easily than you used to.

Changing the movement by swinging side to side instead of front to back may be the trick to reengage your attention and interest. By recruiting your muscles and your brain simultaneously, these next-gen kettlebell moves (or any new-to-you exercises, for that matter) can manifest major neuroplastic changes, including sharper thinking and increased creativity, both in and out of the gym.

This workout is designed to be accessible for all, even those new to kettlebell training. As with any new practice, start slow and use a light weight. Assess how your body responds to each movement, advancing in small increments each session.

Approach this workout with a mindset of purposeful exploration rather than a focus on maximizing effort or number of repetitions.

“We all express ourselves through our movement whether we do so consciously or not. As we develop greater proficiency with our bodies, we reap the rewards both mentally and emotionally,” says Wolf. “If we move in new ways, we think in new ways.”

The Workout

Perform each of the four drills in a circuit format for four rounds with a 3/3/3 tempo: Use a three-second lifting phase, a three-second isometric hold, and then a three-second lowering phase. Rest for one minute between rounds.

Chest-Loaded Hinge

Why It Works: This hip-hinge variation allows you to practice the hinge movement at various tempos, maximizing the work your glutes and hamstrings do and keeping your back muscles engaged the entire time — a skill that carries over nicely to all other swing and clean variations.

How to Do It

  1. Lift yourself back to the start position and repeat for 10 rep

Coaching Point: Hang out at the bot­tom position of this drill and see if you can actively shift more of the work back into the glutes and hamstrings.

Bridged Persian Press

Why It Works: This press pays huge strength dividends while introducing a relatively simple rotational variable. This move will blast your glutes and challenge your core.

How to Do It

  1. Lower back to start position and repeat for 10 reps.

Coaching Point: If you find the bells are hard to balance as you press them, they are probably floating diagonally upward above your face. Think about pressing them downward over your bellybutton to maintain a strong alignment.

Modified Sumo Squat

Why It Works: This sumo-squat variation trains the hips to maintain external rotation, enhancing hip function, while the knees and ankles are also mobilized through a greater range. All of this translates into better full-body mobility.

How to Do It

  1. Return to the start position, keeping shoulders stacked over your hips, and repeat for 10 reps.

Coaching Point: If you aren’t able to line up the outsides of your knees with the outsides of your feet, turn your toes in until you can. Upon your descent into the squat, imagine your back sliding down a wall to maintain an upright posture.

Goblet Shinbox Extension

Why It Works: Poor rotary function of the hips contributes to back and knee issues. This drill focuses on improving internal rotation and extension, which are two all-too-common limitations. Done right, this drill will work your butt better than almost any other exercise.

How to Do It

  1. Return to the seated position while keeping your shoulders over your hips to maximize engagement with your glutes. Avoid plopping down to the floor by controlling the lower part of the range of motion. Repeat for five reps per side.

Coaching Point: Focus on the lowering portion of the drill to get the most benefit. If your hips are not happy in the full, seated position, then work the top half of the range only until you develop a greater range of motion.

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