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Incorporating Kettlebells into a Training Program

November 10, 2016

 

A colleague and I recently published a paper in the Journal of Sport and Human Performance reviewing the current evidence surrounding kettlebell (KB) training for various components of fitness. In this paper, we discuss what the evidence shows us related to the effects of KB training on muscular strength, muscular power, muscular endurance, and aerobic capacity. To read a more in depth review of what the science surrounding KB training says, click on the link below to access the full-text journal article:

 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311595070_Kettlebell_Training_A_Brief_Review

 

Essentially, implementing KBs into a properly periodized training program is much like implementing any other training modality or piece of equipment into a training program, it comes down to the specificity of training. Specificity is a basic training principle that refers to the very specific physiological, metabolic, and biomechanical adaptations that results from various types of training. When training for endurance sports, an athlete would need to be sure that the type of training that they do is specific to the demands of the endurance sport that they participate in. For example, a marathon runner, would spend much of their training time devoted to developing and improving their aerobic capacity, lactate threshold, and running economy through various types and intensities of running sessions. They might also include a variety of other types of training, such as strength training and mobility exercises in order to maintain strength and resilience to injury, but in general, the training that they do is very specific to the demands of a marathon.

If an athlete decides to implement KBs into a strength training program, which all athletes should be incorporating regular strength training into their training program, then it is important to remember this principle of specificity. It has been demonstrated that KBs can be effective for improving a variety of components of fitness, including muscular strength, muscular power, muscular endurance, as well as aerobic capacity. Therefore, KBs can have their place in just about any phase of a strength training program.

 

Most athletes have heard of or seen KBs being used for a variety of swinging type movements, such as the traditional KB swing. This is a unique feature of the KB in that it allows the athlete to perform a variety of ballistic movements, including swings, cleans, push-presses, and jerks. The KB can also be used as a replacement for dumbbells when performing more traditional strength training movements, such as chest presses, squats, lunges, rows, etc. The versatility of the KB allows it to be used in training for a variety of purposes. The following provides a summary of ways in which KBs can be used in order to target different components of fitness:

 

1. Muscular power

  • Perform ballistic KB exercises (e.g., swings, push-presses, clean & jerks, snatches, etc.)

  • Light/moderate loading with an emphasis on the speed of the movement

  • 3-5 sets of ≤6 repetitions; 2-5 min rest between sets (1)

2. Muscular strength

  • Perform more traditional resistance exercises (e.g., squats, presses, rows, etc.) with the KB acting as the form of external resistance

  • Higher loading and lower repetition ranges target strength best

  • 3-6 sets of ≤6 repetitions; 2-5 min rest between sets (1)

3. Muscular endurance

  • Perform more traditional resistance exercises (e.g., squats, presses, rows, etc.) with the KB acting as the form of external resistance

  • Lighter loading with higher repetition ranges targets endurance best

  • 2-3 sets of 12+ repetitions; ≤30 sec rest between sets (1)

4. Aerobic capacity/endurance

  • Incorporate lightly-loaded ballistic KB exercises (e.g., swings, push-presses, clean & jerks, snatches, etc.) into a circuit that lasts ≥10 min in duration

  • In order to target aerobic endurance, a longer circuit of total-body based exercises is needed in order to elevate heart rate for a prolonged period of time

  • Example:

          1. KB swings x 10 reps

          2. KB push-press x 10 reps

          3. KB stiff-leg swing x 10 reps

          4. KB thruster (see link: http://bit.ly/KBThrusterArticle) x 10 reps

          Repeat circuit for 10 minutes; rest for 2 minutes; repeat circuit for another 10 minutes

 

To conclude, KBs are an incredibly versatile piece of equipment, allowing athletes to target a variety of components of fitness. When making the decision to incorporate KB exercises into a training program, keep in mind the principle of specificity. The choice of exercises and the intensity of those exercises should be specific to whatever an athlete’s sport demands or specific to the phase of training that an athlete is currently in. KBs can be used to target the development of just any muscle group in the body as well as just about any component of fitness (i.e., muscular strength, power, endurance and aerobic capacity). Identifying the goal of an athlete is the first step, as this will ultimately lead to the decisions as to what types of training will help that athlete achieve his/her goal. Then, KBs may be successfully incorporated into comprehensive and properly periodized training program.

 

References:

1.      Baechle TR, Earle RW, editors. NSCA’s Essentials of Strength and Conditioning. 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2008.

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