Kettlebell Swing: The dynamic deadlift

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The last 3 weeks we have seen that the deadlift is a base exercise for building strength and muscle mass. What it misses is the dynamic explosiveness that promotes muscular power and fascial fitness. This is where the kettlebell swing comes in.

The swing harnesses the power from your hip to train fluid ballistic movement that screams athleticism. The nature of the movement mimics sport by demanding transition between fluid movement and full body tension when the kettlebell reaches chest level.

Fluidity of movement comes from training not just the muscle, but also its surrounding tissues and nerves. Fascia is the connective tissue that encases every muscle in the body. Although traditionally the body is thought of in terms of individual muscles, research on the fascial system has introduced a new perspective in which the body is thought of in terms of lines of tension. Fascia houses the muscle-nerve connections and thereby modulates the degree of neural activation in the muscle. By including explosive movements in our programs we train our nervous systems to recruit more muscle mass.
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Kettlebell swing progressions:

1) Perform Romanian deadlifts with the kettlebell

Romanian deadlifts are the basic hip hinge movement. Hinging and then standing up into hip lockout is the basis of hip power. By pushing the hip back you engage the lines of tension down the back of the body that tend to be undertrained.

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2) Progress to low swings

Once your hip hinge pattern is strong, move onto low swings by speeding up the lockout of the hip. As you stand up from you hip hinge, squeeze your glutes to bring your hip forward.

3) Amplify hip lockout

Forcefully contract your glutes to use your hip to throw the kettlebell up to chest height. Activate your midsection to keep the kettlebell at chest height on each swing.

The kettlebell swing creates muscular power and strength and captures traditionally undertrained areas in the body. In a randomized controlled trial, the training group demonstrated better coordination under dynamic loading and increased vertical jump height after training the kettlebell swing. Explosive power training improves muscular recruitment that carries over to your other strength exercises. If the movement is new to you start light and progress accordingly. Power training is best included near the beginning of the training session, so grab a training partner and get after it!

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References:

John, D. (2013) Intervention: Course corrections for the athlete and trainer. On target publications.

Kenneth et al. (2013). Effects of kettlebell training on postural coordination & jump performance. Journal of strength and conditioning research.

Myers, T.W. (2008) Anatomy trains: Myofascial meridians for manual and movement therapists. (2nd Ed.). London, UK: Churchill Livingstone.

Sahrmann, S. (2002). Diagnosis and treatment of movement impairment syndromes. St. Louis: Mosby.

Deadlift lockout and powerful variations

Now that you’re pulling your deadlifts like a boss it’s time to talk about lockout. The lockout is the upright standing part of the lift. The hip is extended by activating the glutes or butt muscles to push the hip into a vertical position.

Done proficiently, the lift ends with your body perfectly straight. Backwards lean or forward rounding in the back is unacceptable and dangerous. As the bar gets heavier scale up the force of your hip extension.

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Different body types and training goals demand different deadlift variations. The same principles of locking out the bar at the top of the lift apply to any type of deadlift. Here are a few that work best:

1) Romanian Deadlift

Prevent another hamstring pull or low back tweak with this variation that emphasizes the hamstrings, glutes and the lower back. Begin standing vertically in the lockout position and hinge at the hip. Keep the bar close to the legs and reverse the movement by bring the hip forward and activating the glutes once the bar reaches mid-shin.

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2) Sumo Deadlift

This variation is useful for those with tight hip flexors and is excellent for strengthening the hamstrings, glutes and abdominals. It is an excellent choice if you kind your knees collapse inwards with a conventional deadlift.

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3) Trap bar Deadlift

This variation uses a trapezoid shaped bar that forces the lifter to stay upright and recruit more quadriceps and abdominals. If you don’t have a trap bar, use two kettlebells held at each side like suitcases. This variation is an excellent choice for those with limited mobility in the hips and ankles or with histories of low back pain. To get all the same benefits of deadlifting, ensure the hip stays well above parallel and that the knees stay back to keep the emphasis on the posterior muscles.

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Use any of these variations either as your main lift or as assistance lifts to make your conventional deadlift stronger. Play around with light loads, then once your technique is up to par load up that bar and get yourself strong! Next week we look at another great hinge movement, the kettlebell swing.

References:

Boyle. (2004). Functional training for sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Cressey, E. (2008). Maximum strength. Da Capo Press.

Robertson, M. (2011) Deadlift variations -Sumo or conventional? Retrived from: http://robertsontrainingsystems.com/blog/deadlift

Performing on the Deadlift Pull

The pull portion of the deadlift transfers to many other full body extension movements in sport and lifting. Take the bar away and it look very similar to a gymnast doing a muscle up or an athlete doing box jumps.

The ability to generate hip power and extend the body makes it well worth perfecting. Unlike the squat, the deadlift is a hip hinge movement that will change how you feel about the muscles on the backside of your body and make you feel like a superhuman in the process.

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1) Make a big chest and keep your arms as loose cables

Once setup, keep your posture tall and your arms fluid. Take a big breath and exhale as you stand up if doing multiple reps. For a maximal lift, hold you breath during the pull and breathed out in the standing position.

2) Establish your grip and take out the slack of the bar

For non-maximal lifts, a double overhand grip is suggested since builds grip strengths and does not produce uneven forces in the body as a mixed grip does. A mixed grip is recommended when lifting in the 90% + range. As a best practice for regular maximal lifts, alternate your hand position each set.

Remove the resistance from the weight by gently floating the bar off the floor, as opposed to jerking it forcefully off the ground. To do this, create gradual tension in your legs and hip muscles and transfer it into the bar until it rises an inch of the floor.

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3) Look straight ahead and drive your feet through the platform

Focusing on pulling and yanking the bar off the floor, which can cause your hips to shoot up too early. Instead, drive your feet through the floor as if you’re doing a leg press and envision yourself pushing the floor away.

4) Engage your lats to keep the bar flush to your thighs

Actively pull your arms back as you drive your feet into the floor. By keeping the bar tight to your thighs your pull is as efficient as possible, which keeps your low back uninjured and lets you lift heavier weights.

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5) Finally, lock out your hip forcefully at the top

Forcefully activate your butt muscles by thinking about pinching a coin as you stand up with the bar. This protects your low back and allows your abs to stabilize your movement.

Next week we go into how to finish the deadlift, plus other deadlift variations that may work better for your body and your goals.

References:

Cressey, E. (2008). Maximum strength. Da Capo Press.

Hadim, M. (January 2015). How to deadlift with proper form: A definitive guide. Retrieved from: http://stronglifts.com/deadlift.

Wendler, J. (2011). 5/3/1: The simplest and most effective training system to increase raw strength.

Setting up your Deadlift

Let’s get something straight here. When you pick something heavy up off the floor you better have a solid starting position locked in. Too often we see ugly hunchbacks emerge and awkward mid range bar jolts resulting from a poor starting position. The deadlift one of the best lifts for building lean muscle and balanced strong physique.

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Use these 4 cues to get yourself in the ideal pulling position:

1) Position your feet hip width apart.

This hip width stance will feel narrower than your shoulder width squat stance and will allow you to produce more vertical force into the bar to get it off the floor.

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2) Align the bar over your laces.

When looking down, you should see that the bar crosses right over the bowtie of your shoe laces.

3) Position your shoulder over the bar.

By leaning forward slightly over the bar, you can push your hip back further to load up the leg and hip muscles. This will also shift your weight into the ball of your foot. Contrary to popular meat head belief, your weight need not be in your heels throughout the entire lift.

4) Take a deep breath and make a big chest.

This final setup piece connects your upper and lower body to transfer the power from your legs into the bar in your hands, plus it ensures your back is not rounded.

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To get the most out of the deadlift ensure that your setup is consistent across each rep. Learn to replicate this position with the help of a mirror or a gym partner. Check back next week for the second article in this series on deadlifting to learn about how to position your hands and pull the bar correctly.

References:

Baechle, Thomas R., Earle, Roger W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign, IL : Human Kinetics.

Boyle, Michael (2010). Advances in functional training. Aptos, CA : On Target Publications.

Starrett, K., & Cordoza, G. (2013). Becoming a supple leopard: The ultimate guide to resolving pain, preventing injury, and optimizing athletic performance. Las Vegas, NV : Enfield: Victory Belt Pub.