Kettlebells

Ask Martin Vol. 9: Kettlebells

Question: I enjoy your posts and web site very much. I have incorporated a lot of it into our training routines. This is my third year at the school and we are working at building a throws program literally from scratch and we are starting to make a little progress. I have a couple questions for you? Do you incorporate pud (kettlebell throws) in training? If so, what weight ranges do you use, type of throws (1 turn, opposite side throws, left arm, right arm), before or after throwing the hammer, etc.? -Paul

You’ve heard me say it before and I will keep on saying it: after technique, special strength is the most important aspect of training. It is more important than general strength training (e.g. squats, Olympic lifts, etc.). To read a little more about why I think special strength is so important, read this post from 2009 or this article about Bondarchuk’s training philosophy.

The best way to train special strength is by throwing, and that is why probably 60% of my training is spent in the ring. After throwing, the next best way to train special strength is through ‘imitation’ exercises with implements like the kettlebell, pud, or similar hunk of metal. We almost always use them in training. For example, with my current training program I conclude each afternoon practice with 45 wind and release throws with a pud (attached to a wire) and 45 discus release with the pud. Both exercises build up the core twisting muscles. How you incorporate kettlebells into your training is very flexible, so my answer might not give you as many specifics as you’d like. But I hope that it gives you some guidelines from which you can create your own great training program.

Types of exercises

The range of exercises you can do is quite vast. A coach should be innovative and think of what is the best way to mimic the throwing technique with the kettlebell. The concept is simple: exercises that mimic the throw will strengthen the muscles you need to throw far. I’ve posted examples of exercises before (fast forward to the 2 minute mark for a few examples … all the med ball exercises can also be done with a pud), but it did not provide an example of all the exercises. You can do release with either hand, both hands, to the left, to the right, like a discus, etc. Here is a unique example from Sergej Litvinov Jr. that involves turning with the kettlebell. You can also do more general core work by throwing it overhead, underhand, or by trying this exercise.

Timing

As far as timing goes, we throw the pud after we throw the hammer. If you do the exercises before throwing, then the athlete might get too tired to focus on hammer technique.

Weight

The weight used is also fairly arbitrary. You want to have enough weight so that the athlete can feel the implement and increase their strength, but you also do not want so much weight that the athlete’s technique falters (which may lead to injury) or the get so fatigued it will affect throwing the next day. The men in our group will typically use kettlebells from 10 to 20kg and the women will use lighter ones. I probably wouldn’t want to go much lighter than 20 pounds (9kg) for men 10 pounds (4.5kg) for women just because at a minimum you want to be throwing something a little heavier than the competition hammer. Beyond that, you just need to see how the athlete reacts to different implements and find the right fit. What is important is that they are doing something. The weight is less significant.

Volume

The volume does not have to be exorbitant, especially if you spread it out over the week. We typically will do exercises five days a week. Each day will include 3 sets of 15 repetitions of one exercises with reps to each side in order to balance the muscles. We tend to repeat the same exercise for a period of time to get the most benefit from it. If you choose to do multiple exercises, you could just do one or two sets of each exercise. But, keep it simple … too many exercises at once can be overkill.

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