Kettlebell Lifting for Throwers
by Matthew Ellis, Owner of Primal Athlete Training Center – PrimalATC.com
Kettlebells are training tools that have been around for hundreds of years. They can be traced back to the Shaolin monks in China and to the armed forces in Eastern Europe and Asia. If they were to be invented today, there is no doubt in my mind that they would be created by a throwing coach. In my opinion, there is no better tool to teach a thrower explosion, hip drive, flexibility, balance, and coordination like a good set of kettlebells.
Kettlebells teach throwers what many throws coaches leave out of practice. How often do your throwers work on coordination? How often do they train their balance? How often do they work on core strength? How often do they practice anything that will get them in better physical preparation to do multiple throws? My guess is rarely, if ever. Let’s face it, in today’s world, a throws coach is lucky to see their athletes long enough to get in an hour of technique training. Kettlebells combine the explosive training of medicine balls and Olympic lifts, the core training of crunches and twists, and the conditioning, balance, and flexibility that all throwers need into about 5 simple movements that will take you no longer to train than a basic warm-up before practice. Let’s go over those movements now.
Swings are your bread and butter kettlebell movement. No matter how long you have trained with kettlebells, this should always be your first movement. The two handed kettlebell swing should also be your introductory movement when first teaching your athletes. The movement starts with both hands on one kettlebell. The kettlebell is placed on the ground, between the legs. With a straight back and flexed stomach muscles, take a quick breath. Breathing in at the bottom with a flexed stomach will help to brace the back. Forcefully stand up and explode with a good hip snap. The momentum from the legs exploding and the hips snapping up will make the kettlebell swing in front of you. Exhale when you reach the top of the movement. The arms do nothing but grip the kettlebell. The legs are what move the kettlebell, not the arms. The kettlebell will then fall back between the athletes legs. The athlete will need to catch the kettlebell using their hips and hamstrings, and then repeat the movement. This is a ballistic movement and is done quickly. You should stay within the 8-12 rep range and use a heavy kettlebell. Remember, the kettlebell needs to be heavy enough to really feel the movement. You can drive a fence post into the ground with a small hammer, but wouldn’t a sledge hammer work better? You can tweak the movement once the basics are taught by having your shot and discus throwers do one arm swings between the legs. Have your hammer throwers do two arm swings outside of the legs, or two arm swings inside the legs. Have your javelin throwers do one arm swings outside the legs. You can specify your movements based on what the event calls for.
Usually, teaching an athlete how to do a snatch in the weightroom is a very lengthy process and is often avoided because coaches are scared of injury. The kettlebell snatch is very easy to teach and has all of the same benefits as a snatch with a dumbbell or a barbell without the risk of injury. Because these will be done outside, the athlete can always drop the kettlebell if it gets out of control. The kettlebell snatch is better explained if we break it down into two parts: the high pull and the press-up.
The high pull starts off like a kettlebell swing. The kettlebell is on the ground between the legs and the athlete is holding it with one hand. Their other arm is out to the side to help with balance. Their back has a nice, natural arch and the stomach is flexed. They will take a quick breath and hold it to brace their back. They stand up, forcefully extending the legs and snapping the hips. The kettlebell will start to swing like usual, but the athlete will pull the kettlebell up and back, leading with the elbow. Think of elbowing a very tall person standing behind you. The kettlebell will follow the path of the elbow and should feel weightless at the top of the movement. From this point, the kettlebell will drop back down following the opposite path and the athlete will catch it with the hips and hamstrings just like the swing. The movement will then be repeated for 8-12 reps. Make sure to master the high pull before attempting the full snatch.
Once the high pull is mastered, you can then add the press-up to finish the complete snatch. While the kettlebell is at the top position of the high pull and feels weightless, the arm will quickly and forcefully press upwards to the sky. The base of the kettlebell will flip over the hand while in midair. Because the arm is moving faster than the kettlebell can flip over, there is no risk of having the kettlebell base slam down on the athletes forearm. The arm should be fully extended overhead with the kettlebell resting on the forearm. A great test to make sure the arm is fully extended is to turn your head and look at the arm holding the kettlebell. If you can not see the bicep, you are in the correct position. If you can see the bicep, the arm is too far forward and should be back more behind the ear. From here, the athlete will flip the kettlebell back over the hand and catch the kettlebell at the bottom position and repeat the movement. Use as heavy a kettlebell as you can and stay within the 8-12 rep range. You can also vary the workout by alternating the high pull and the full snatch one after the other. You can switch hands during the movement or even throw a swing in there before every high pull. Remember, rhythm is needed to be a great thrower and this is a fun way of incorporating rhythm training into the workout.
The Clean and the Clean and Press
Two movements that can be taught at the same time are the clean and the clean and press. Both are also very common movements that you will see in a weightroom. However, you can save yourself some time and do cleans with kettlebells along with these other movements. The clean starts the same way as the high pull and the snatch. The kettlebell is on the ground between the legs and the athlete is holding it with one hand. The back has a nice natural arch and the stomach is flexed. The opposite arm is out to the side to aid in balance. The athlete takes a breath, holds it, and explodes with the legs. The hips snap and the kettlebell starts to move. At this point, before the kettlebell starts to swing, the athlete will bring in his elbow toward his rib cage and bring the hand holding the kettlebell up to the shoulder. The forearm and bicep will be pressed together and the arm will be braced tightly towards the rib cage. The kettlebell will be laying across the forearm similar to the way it lays on the forearm when the snatch is finished. From here, the athlete will drop the kettlebell to the starting position, catching it with the hips and hamstrings. The athlete will repeat this movement for 8-12 reps. Make sure to use a heavy enough kettlebell. Remember, this is a much shorter, ballistic movement. You can get away with using a heavier kettlebell because the arm does very little to move the kettlebell. Much like a throw, the legs will power this movement. The arm simply follows through.
The press portion of this movement is usually the easiest movement to teach. Instead of being an isolation movement, this is more of a full body movement. Teach your athletes to dip to the side and flex the oblique muscles and their lat muscle. This will give them a tremendous base to push off with. They will then forcefully push the kettlebell to the sky, making sure to finish with the arm fully extended and back. Have them check the same way they would check to see if the arm is back in the snatch. From here, they will control the kettlebell as they bring it back in the racked position and begin the clean all over again. Stay in the same rep range as the other movements. Don’t be afraid to throw in some variety and mix in other movements like doing a swing to a clean, and then back to a clean and press. Remember, this is a great way to teach rhythm.
Bottom Up Press
The bottom up press is my favorite kettlebell movement. It really is more of a challenge movement than anything else. It is basically a one arm shoulder press, but the kettlebell is upside down. The athlete holds on to the handle of the kettlebell and the actual base of the kettlebell is above the knuckles. The athlete must work very hard to keep the kettlebell from falling over. The athlete will press the kettlebell overhead while trying to hold the kettlebell in this position. This not only works the shoulder, but also the grip and finger strength of your athletes. It is also very fun. Use this movement with one kettlebell in one hand or one kettlebell in each hand, pressing at the same time. Try doing 3 or 4 reps with one weight kettlebell and then increase the weight and try again until you reach failure. It is a great way to empower your athletes and create competition between them.
As you can see, kettlebell movements are a great way to functionally train your athletes. Not only do you get some more variety into your practices and save time teaching movements in the weight room, but you also get the added convenience of training your athletes right on the field. No more sending a handful of athletes to the weightroom alone while you stay outside with your other athletes. Also, kettlebells are a great way to warm up your athletes. How good are your athlete’s warm up right now? Maybe a light jog and some stretching? Why not do kettlebells for a warm up? What else can get your athlete’s bodies in the right shape for explosive throws than explosive movements? So give kettlebells a try. Tens of thousands of athletes have tried them over the years with great success. Your athletes will see success too.