Flexible Strength With Russian Kettlebells
By Andrea Du Cane, Senior RKC
I’d like to share a conversation
I had recently with a friend of mine, Adam. Adam
is a set designer and Prop Master in the film industry.
He is in his mid to late 30s and is fit and athletic.
He has been practicing yoga on and off for a number
of years and also races bicycles in the summer. He
was commenting on (or lamenting?) the fact that he
can’t seem to train for both flexibility and
strength. When he is mainly practicing yoga he feels
good. He has greater flexibility, however he lacks
strength and stamina. During the summer when he trains
for road racing he feels strong and has lots of endurance,
but he is tight, inflexible and muscle bound. He
feels the loss of flexibility, especially in the
hamstrings and hips. Surprisingly, his shoulders
also tighten up, most likely caused by the isometric
contraction for long hours. He believes as most people
that you can’t have – or train – for
both flexibility and strength.
Well, in a sense they are right. THEY can’t train
successfully for both flexibility and strength, but
those using kettlebells not only can, but do every
single time they pick up a kettlebell.
It is the unique design that achieves this goal. The
off-set weight and the design of the handle allows
full-range of movement and full body exercises that
challenge the muscles, tendons and joints, in a way
that other strength training cannot accomplish. Using
weight machines in a gym not only isolates the muscle
from the rest of the body, but also restricts the range
of motion. This results in controlling the extension
of muscles and joints, hence inhibiting flexibility.
Unlike kettlebell training which effectively increases
muscle strength and flexibility simultaneously.
Before I go further, if you have flexibility issues
you may want to purchase Pavel’s “Super
Joints” or “Relax Into Stretch” books
or DVDs. Another video I’d recommend is Steve
Maxwell’s “Joint Mobility/Recharge”.
You need to have some flexibility before you can develop
Let me give you some examples of exercises that increase
both flexibility and strength and how and why they
work. I will also highlight exercises and drills that
specifically target the shoulders, spine, torso, hips
Good Mornings are a great drill for hip and hamstring
flexibility, along with building rock hard legs and
butt. Again, as you fold forward you tighten your gluts
and hamstrings at the same time you are stretching
them. The goal is to go as far forward, with knees
as straight as possible, for as long as possible. Good
Mornings work your flexibility more than, say, a regular
Dead Lift. Other exceptional exercises targeting the
hips and legs are: Windmills, Bent Press, One-Legged
DL, Pistols, TGU, Snatch, Hack Squat, Front Squat,
Overhead Squat, Dragon Walk, Wall Squat. All these
drills utilize the same eccentric contraction and extreme
range of motion of the joints to achieve flexible strength.
Exercises that target the shoulders and torso are the
Windmill, Overhead Squat, TGU, Bent Press, Side Press
even the Jerk. These drills work the flexibility of
the shoulder more by isometric contraction and extreme
range of motion of the joint. The Kettlebell allows
you to twist away from the weight, requiring the small
stabilizing muscles to “hold” the rotator
cuff muscles in place while the weight puts maximum
pressure on the joint. At the point that you are putting
the most “stress” on the joint is where
you are contracting the stabilizing muscles and retracting
the shoulder blade into place. It requires an enormous
amount of flexibility and strength to perform these
drills correctly, in particular the Bent Press and
Windmill. People do not think it is injuring the shoulder.
In fact, it creates a very strong and stable shoulder
joint and in the long run prevents injury and increases
your athletic ability.
Again, it’s the ability to put the body into
the most extreme positions, while maintaining a deep
contraction of the stabilizing and dominant muscles
that builds the flexible strength. There is nothing
better for the shoulders and back and hips. Increasing
flexibility along with strength is like taking a vitamin
pill for your muscles and joints, it is a proactive
way to prevent injury and increase your athletic ability.
Another benefit not often mentioned is the increased
mobility of the spinal vertebrae. The spinal rotation
that is necessary for a perfect Windmill and Bent Press
must be worked at to be achieved, but the benefits
are tremendous. As we age our vertebrae become more
and more fixed and immobile. It is very important for
overall and long-term health to keep your spine and
back fluid healthy.
The chest, torso and shoulders also benefit from the
Overhead Squat, Windmill, Bent and Side Presses. A
great practice drill for tight shoulders and back is
the Wall Squat. To increase flexibility and strength
of the hips and hamstrings, do Cleans, Snatches, Good
Mornings, Front Squat, Overhead Squat, Dragon Walk,
Wall Squat, and the Hack Squat.
Come to think of it I have mentioned almost all of
the core Kettlebell exercises. Isn’t that amazing!
You cannot pick up a KB without training your entire
body for flexibility and strength! No wonder it is
the most efficient full body workout around.