I love kettlebells. I know it sounds corny, but I honestly love that cast iron ball with a handle on it. Kettlebells offer so many benefits that I could write a few chapters explaining them all (which many have already). But my favorite benefits, and the ones that I feel are most important, are the explosiveness and massive strength building that they allow. There is nothing like it; not a single “Smith Machine” exercise or Pilates move that can compare to the
benefits of training with kettlebells.
As a trainer and a RKC instructor, I love to get creative and push myself to the limit (safely of course). About 80-90% of my training involves kettlebells and I am always looking to improve my performance and programming skills. One question that I get asked often is how to advance your kettlebell training after you’ve been training with them for a while. The obvious answer is increasing load, increasing volume, decreasing rest intervals, etc. All are fantastic tools and should be included in your program. But what they are really asking is how you can get funky with it, keeping it fun and interesting. And this is my specialty…
There is much more you can do in addition to your basic Swing, Clean & Press, and Snatch exercises. While these exercises are still a MUST have, they aren’t the only tools you can use for optimal results. If you are looking for a bit more and are the type of person that isn’t afraid to get a little bruise here and there, then this might be what you’re looking for.
I caution novice trainees at giving this a shot. It is extremely difficult and a bit dangerous. If you’re a beginner, or even a person who has trained with an RKC, IKFF, or ATSCI instructor, still be careful and master all your basic kettlebell lifts before giving this a whirl.
You must have the following set of skills dialed in before advancing (think of these as the prerequisites before graduating):
- You must have optimal hip mobility and flexibility; are you able to get to full hip extension or do you have an anterior pelvic tilt?
- You must be able to perform a perfect squat; knees must track the toes, torso is upright with zero or less than minimal lumbar curvature.
- You must have mastered the Swing, Clean, TGU, Clean & Press, and Snatch.
- You must be able to perform 100 Snatches; men using 24kg and women using 12-16kg.
- You must have Tiger Blood… not really, but recommended.
Now, assuming that you have the above skills down, and the appropriate size kettlebell, let’s get funky. The progressions below are only going to increase your performance. If you are strong, you will get stronger. If you have lots of power, then you will become more powerful.
Pistol Grip Get Up (Pistol TGU)
The TGU is an awesome, full body exercise. Starting from a lying position with the kettlebell pressed overhead, you simply stand up! Ha! It’s much more complicated than that, but there is a way to make it even more so with the Pistol Grip. As stated at the beginning of the article, do not attempt this unless you are very familiar with proper TGU form, and even then, make sure you are in a location where dropping the weight on the floor is acceptable (you may need to bail out at any time during this exercise).
How to execute the Pistol Grip Get Up:
1. First master the Pistol Grip Clean, Press, and Thruster.
2. Start on your back holding the kettlebell with a Pistol Grip overhead.
3. Run through the exact TGU motions (which you should have been familiar with before attempting this exercise), while balancing the kettlebell and gripping the handle as much as possible.
Holding the kettlebell overhead for all TGU movements is no fun. It is extremely exhausting on your grip and forearm, making it very easy for you to crack yourself over the head. However, if you are able to pull this off then more power to you. Total body strengthening and a cast iron grip strength.
The gladiator press is great for building core strength. I use it to build my ab’s and upper body strength. Think of the gladiator press as a combination of a Side Plank and a TGU. It does involve a bit of coordination and of course strength, so scale yourself accordingly.
How to execute the Gladiator Press:
1. First assume the TGU position starting position.
2. With the kettlebell pressed overhead and your same knee bent, sit up using your opposite elbow, then place your hand on the ground to support your weight. Elevate your hips.
3. Turn your body 90 degress and stack your top leg.
4. Lock your body into a straight line.
5. Abduct top leg (again maintaining body position).
6. Perform a side press without swaying.
The gladiator plank is one tough cookie. But doing this will build an awesome trunk along with an incredible upper body press.
Pistol Grip Thruster
You can probably do a strict Military Press, Squat to Press, and a Kettlebell Thruster. Now to make it more interesting, try doing the Pistol Grip Thruster. What is a Pistol Grip? Hold the kettlebell upside down (bottoms up), keeping a tight grip on the handle.
How to execute the Pistol Grip Thruster:
1. Clean the kettlebell using the Pistol Grip.
2. Holding the kettlebell in place, perform one uninterrupted movement combining a squat and a press.
3. Pause for a two-second count, descend the kettlebell and body into a squat and repeat.
The challenge is not how strong your press is, but instead, how powerful your obliques, core, and grip strength are. Work your way to Pistol Cleans. Then work on Pistol Presses. Then combine the two into Pistol Grip Clean & Presses. Once you can do sets without losing grip or having the kettlebell fall on your big toe, then shoot for the Pistol Grip Thruster.
The 3-Headed Monster
The 3-Headed Monster is for those looking to impress the girl next door, or more likely, to improve explosiveness. You will need a pair of kettlebells. The series involves a Double Palm Clean, Double Flip, and Double Snatch.
How to execute the 3-Headed Monster:
1. Double Palm Clean - Perform a very explosive Double Clean, letting go of the kettlebell halfway through the rep and catching in your palms. If performed correctly, the kettlebells should shoot into your palms. You’re not catching the kettlebells off of a lob.
2. Double Flip - Perform an explosive Double Swing keeping your elbows bent and the kettlebells closer than during a standard Swing. When the kettlebells reach chest level, push the handles away and allow them to flip. Catch the handles and go into the next exercise.
3. Double Snatch - Finish the series with a standard Double Snatch. With twice the weight, you may want to “catch” the kettlebells at the top of the rep by bending your legs slightly.
This is a difficult task to do. Completing the cycle counts as one rep. If you want to take it to another level try doing sets and reps of 5-10.
This article was featured in the Aug/Sept 2011 Issue of the My Mad Methods Magazine. "Advanced Kettlebell Training" was written by Jon Celis. Learn more about the My Mad Methods Magazine by Clicking Here
Jon Celis is an elite fitness professional who specializes in real world fat loss. His degree in Kinesiology and reputable certifications has led to his success in becoming one of the newest yet profound trainers in Southern California. Find out more.
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