Tony Gentilcore on Kettlebells
Tony Gentilcore is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and one of the co-founders of Cressey Performance located just outside of Boston in Hudson, Massachusetts. He’s a regular contributor to sites like T-Nation and Livestong, and is also routinely featured Men’s Heath Magazine. For more information, check out his website at http://www.TonyGentilcore.com.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five to ten years, you’ve undoubtedly heard, or maybe even used a kettlebell. You know that cannonball-looking thing with a handle on one end? Yeah that. It’s a kettlebell.
As a strength coach who works with everyone from your typical fitness enthusiast to elite athletes (and everyone in between), it’s my job to help my athletes and clients attain their goals in the safest, most time efficient manner possible.
While I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lean more towards the conventional “all we need are barbells and dumbbells and we’re going to get strong” side of things, I also like to think of myself as the type of coach who’s willing and able to diversify his training repertoire.
I’m open to new and innovative protocols and gadgets – kettlebells included (although, to be fair, kettlebells aren’t really all that new and have been around for eons.) In fact, according to my sources at Wikipedia, kettlebells have been around since the 1700s, have been used in some form or another in the US since 1960, but never really gained any steam or notoriety until Pavel Tsatsouline developed the first instructor certification in 2001.
I like kettlebells. I utilize them personally, as well as with most of my athletes and clients. But as with anything else – whether we’re talking about kettlebells, TRX, yoga, deadlifts, or anything else you want to throw into the mix (except the Shake Weight) – they’re a tool in the toolbox, and need to be used at the right time, with the right person, for the right purpose.
One of my biggest pet peeves, however, is when someone – or some group – tries to pawn off something as the end all, be all, I’m right/you’re wrong, panacea of everything.
I think it would be an understatement to say that there is a deep rooted group of kettlebell elitist out there who feel that they’re chosen passion should be everyone’s passion, and that kettlebells are the answer to everything.
Kettlebell squats are better than dumbbell squats. Kettlebell rows are better than barbell rows. Kettlebell swings cure herpes. Kettlebells make the best salt and pepper shakers.
I’m actually writing this article using a kettlebell!
Okay, we get it already: some people out there really like kettlebells.
And that’s cool. I do, too. I consider coaches like Pavel, Dan John, Mike Mahler, and Gray Cook (all of whom are kettlebell advocates) mentors. Moreover, I have the utmost respect for people like Neghar Fonooni, Jen Sinkler, Steve Cotter, and Batman who, much like the coaches mentioned above, utilize kettlebells to a high degree in their training as well.
Personal soapbox rants aside, kettlebells can be an invaluable addition to anyone’s program when applied appropriately and in the right context.
Before we get into those points, though, lets first briefly address one common myth concerning kettlebells: the notion that they’re deemed detrimental for people with lower back pain.
As my good friend and colleague, John Romaniello, notes:
“a recent study in the Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment Health entitled “Kettlebell training for musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health” found that training a control group that complained of chronic back and shoulder pain with various “ballistic full-body kettlbell exercise 3 times per week for 8 weeks” resulted in a significant decrease in low back, neck and shoulder pain and an increase in strength in the trunk extensors – mainly glutes and erectors.”
So the question(s) then become: 1) what exercises should YOU be doing, and 2) which exercises lend themselves to be unique and most kettlebell friendly?
If nothing else, the kettlebell swing serves one crucial purpose and sets itself apart from pretty much anything in the fitness world: it teaches people how to hip hinge correctly.
Learning the hip hinge is important for a plethora of reasons, but the three that jump out the most are:
- Helps target and strengthen the posterior chain – namely the hamstrings and glutes
- Not coincidentally, strengthening the posterior chain bodes well for improving athletic performance and everyday life tasks whether you’re looking to increase your “ups” in your recreational basketball league, lift more weight in the gym, run faster, or just be able to pick up a bag of groceries without your spine hating you.
- Too, kettlebell swings help to offset many of the postural imbalances and weaknesses we often develop from sitting all day long in front of a computer.
The (Full) Get-Up
Despite having the most innocuous name possible, the get-up can be quite deceiving and is arguably one of the more challenging (yet versatile) exercises one can utilize.
While the advantages are plentiful, what truly separates the get-up from the masses is the fact that it trains multiple qualities simultaneously such as core stability, hip mobility, glute activation, scapular stability/mobility, as well as full body awareness.
You know, what most people stink at anyways.
Entire books have been written on both exercises, so a few hundred words doesn’t even scratch the surface with regards to discussing the efficacy of both the kettlebell swing and get-up. Not to mention we haven’t discussed technique!
Fear not - the video below is a staff in-service that I filmed at Cressey Performance not too long ago, which breaks down each movement into its most basic components.
Hopefully it will shed some light on why both movements can be considered a nice addition to any exercise routine and serve as a valuable reference point on proper technique and form.
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