Thursday, April 20, 2017

Some Kettlebell History

Note: This is a repost of a piece I did in 2007 to provide evidence of a "third way" for how to train with kettlebells. At the time, controversy was raging in the USA "kettlebell community" (all 50 of us, lol) over the "correct way" to use what was then a still esoteric (and for recreational trainers, a vaguely dangerous looking) implement. Hard Style on the one side, GS/kettlebell sport style on the other side, and a few of us straddling the fence (very uncomfortably) arguing for a contingency approach: kettlebells as one more tool in the strength and conditioning arsenal to address particular strength and conditioning goals. (As if one of the most revered Russian weightlifters and sports scientists ever, A.S. Medvedev, didn't know what he was doing.) 

My perspective now is pretty much the same as it was then. (I think.) Kettlebells, like barbells and dumbbells are tools. For athletes who are using kettlebells for supplemental resistance training, they only need to learn and follow the basic biomechanical rules and techniques for safely lifting heavy things that apply to all implements.There is no "one true way" to solve the few idiosyncratic hurdles kettlebells present. However, once lifting weights veers into sports whether Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Kettlebell Sport then to succeed one has to learn, and master techniques and apply training strategies specific to that sport. 

Mike and I are in the early stages of producing a Barbell Strategy Kettlebell course: "Kettlebell Strategy", perhaps? Stay tuned.

In his book, the Russian Kettlebell Challenge, Pavel Tsatsouline discussed several populations that have used kettlebells as a part of their training. Among those discussed were Russian Olympic Weightlifters. Since Olympic Weightlifting is a serious hobby of mine I was very interested in which kettlebell lifts and set and rep schemes the Russians might have used.

Pavel didn't go into great detail in RKC about what exercises the Russians used, but he did mention the great Russian weightlifting coach and sports scientist Medvedev recommended 24 shoulder and arm exercises and 29 leg and torso exercises. Although I plan a more thorough treatment (one in which I hope to combine Medvedev's, Rodionov's, Verkoshanksy and Vorobyev's kettlebell recommendations with current American Weightlifting training methods) here is brief summary from A.S. Medvedev's chapter from the 1986 textbook Weightlifting and It's Teaching Methodology. Part 2 will cover additional exercises.

Shoulders and Arms

  1. Double KB Clean, 10-12 reps, medium tempo
  2. Double KB Clean + press, 6-8 reps, medium tempo
  3. Double KB Press, 8-10 reps, medium tempo
  4. Double KB Curls, 5-7 reps, slow tempo
  5. Double KB High Pulls, 5-7 reps, medium tempo
  6. Double KB Upright Row, 4-6 reps, slow tempo
  7. One arm press from shoulder, 3-5 reps, medium tempo
  8. One hand x 2KB press (overlap handles) 3-5 reps, medium tempo
  9. See Saw Press, 3-5 reps each side, comfortable tempo
  10. Bent over row, two hands x 1 KB, 6-8 reps, comfortable tempo, relax/stretch at bottom
  11. Double KB Bent over row, 4-6 reps, comfortable tempo, relax/stretch at bottom
  12. Double KB Alternating Bent over row, 4-6 reps each arm , comfortable tempo, relax/stretch at bottom
  13. Double KB Shrug, arms to side, 8-10 reps, slow tempo, relax/stretch at bottom position
  14. Shrug, One Arm, 8-10 reps then switch sides, slow tempo, relax/stretch at bottom position
  15. Shrug, 2 Hands x One KB, bell in front, 9-11 reps, slow tempo
  16. Double KB Circular Shrugs, arms to sides, 5-7 reps forward, the 5-7 reverse, slow tempo
  17. Floor Press, 1KB, legs spread apart, 6-8 reps, medium tempo
  18. Double KB Floor Presses, legs spread apart, elbows tight to body, 6-8 reps, medium tempo
  19. Alternating Floor press, 2KB, legs spread apart, elbows tight to body, 5-7 reps each side, medium tempo
  20. Pullovers, reclining, 1 KB 2 hands, legs spread apart, 5-7 reps, easy tempo
  21. Reclining Shoulder Girdle "Twists", 1 KB 2 hands, legs spread apart, set kettlebell on each side 5-7 reps, easy tempo
  22. Pullovers + Reclining Shoulder Girdle "Twists", 1 KB 2 hands, legs spread apart, 5-7 reps each side (pullover set KB to one side, then pullover set KB to the other side) easy tempo
  23. High Bench Rows, (lying on stomach) 2 KBS, 6-8 reps easy tempo
  24. High Bench Alternating Rows, (lying on stomach) 2 KBS, 6-8 reps easy tempo

Medvedev's instructions for beginners is to begin with the 16kg bells and afer 4-6 weeks move up to the 24kg bells. "Later" move up to the 32kg bells. No more than 3 "lessons" a week for beginners and no more than 30 minutes per lesson. Lessons should be at the same time each day. Beginners should also start with a conservative set and rep scheme: 3 sets x 3 reps per exercise. As strength improves over the 4-6 weeks, beginners should have worked up to 5-6 sets of 3-4 reps. The recommended rep ranges for the above exercises are for more advanced athletes.

Legs and Torso

Medvedev recommends using 5-6 exercises performed in circuit fashion with no rest between exercises, but beginners may take up to one minute if necessary. As fitness levels improve, more exercises can be added. To assure improvement and development of leg muscles always include some squats. Either with one KB on one shoulder, or squats with a KB on each shoulder, or perform suitcase squats "hindu squat" style.


  1. Good Morning (note: what we call RDL these days), One KB held in front, shoulder width stance, straight legs, slow lowering, quick raising, 8-10 reps. Repeat with 2 KBs, one each hand, 8-10 reps
  2. Squat, 1KB held by handle behind head w/ both hands, 8-10 reps, easy tempo
  3. Snatch High Pull, 1 KB, two hands, from ground to overhead, 8-10 reps, easy tempo
  4. Pistol Grip KB Clean to Shoulder (Bottoms up clean) from ground, 5-7 reps each side, medium tempo
  5. Snatch, from ground, 5-7 reps
  6. Double KB Clean to shoulder, from ground, 4-6 reps, easy tempo
  7. Double KB Snatch, from ground, 4-6 reps
  8. Squat + Press From Shoulder (clean 1 kb to shoulder, squat recover to standing position and press) 4- 6 reps, slow tempo, repeat opposite side
  9. Side Bends, KB each hand hanging to side, feet together, bend side to side, 8-10 reps slow tempo
  10. Alternating Side Bend + Row, KB each hand hanging to side, feet together, bend to one side while opposite arm rows upwards; KB tracks alongside body, 8-10 reps each side, slow tempo
  11. Trunk Rotation w/ KB held behind head, 3-5, reverse direction & repeat, slow tempo
  12. Squat + Jump (no weight) 3-5 fast tempo
  13. Twisting KB Pickup, KB outside left leg, bend and twist to pick up with right arm, replace, repeat for 5-7 reps and then switch sides, slow tempo
  14. Kettlebell Swings, 2 hands 1 KB, swing above head height, 8-10 reps fast
  15. KB Hip Abduction, affix kb to foot, bend knee, abduct leg, 8-10 reps, switch sides, slow tempo
  16. One legged Squat, 1 KB held behind head, 4-6 reps each leg, medium tempo
  17. Side Lunges, 1 KB behind head, 5-7 reps, slow
  18. Lunges, 1 KB behind head, 6-8 reps per side, medium tempo
  19. Toe raise, 1 KB behind head, 8-10 reps, high as possible, medium tempo
  20. Toe raise on blocks, 1 KB behind head, 8-10 reps, high as possible, slow tempo
  21. Single Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to foot, Sit on High Bench, 3-5 reps each side, slow
  22. Double Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to each foot, Sit on High Bench, 3-5 reps, slow
  23. Elevated Single Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to foot, Sit on High Bench, elevate thigh off bench and extend knee, 4-6 reps each side, slow
  24. Elevated Double Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to each foot, Sit on High Bench, elevate thighs off bench and extend knee, 4-6 reps each side, slow3-5 reps, slow
  25. Seated Good Morning, 1 KB behind head, straddle bench, fold forward, 6-8 reps, slow
  26. Seated Side Bends, 1 KB behind head, straddle bench, 8-10 reps, slow
  27. Seated Torso Twists  (face front, turn to side, return to face front all reps to one side first, then switch) 10-12 reps each side, medium tempo
  28. Seated Full Twists, complete twist right to left then left to right, 7-9 reps each side
  29. Roman Chair Situps, 1 KB held on chest, 6-8 reps slow

Bonus Material:
Verkoshansky has a chapter in this same text book with an extensive list of mostly dumbbell exercises for the general weight training of athletes and "developing strength endurance and power for athletes of different classifications."
Here is an interesting KB drill paraphrased as closely as we could get it:
Most athletes need to get from point A to point B as explosively as possible. Here is an exercise for improving explosiveness. Hold 2 kettlebells of equal weight (16, 24, or 32kg) one in each hand. Position two benches of equal height on either side. Benches should be between 60-75cm (24 - 30 inches) in height. Stand between the benches and jump up, landing one foot on each bench. Step down and repeat.

Much thanks to Vladimir Garbovsky for his patient help translating the text with and to Pavel for taking time out of his busy schedule to provide photocopied pages of his original Russian text. Vladimir is of Ukrainian descent and speaks Russian fluently. Even though he is no stranger to the weight room (he plays defensive end for West Chester University football team) much of the translation was nonetheless difficult to put into English weight room idiom. There were no pictures, and the exercises were rarely named, just descriptions so we had to use "translators license" quite a bit and no small amount of pantomime which raised some eyebrows from the students in the Library trying to get some studying done. Any errors are surely mine, but I think we got it pretty close.