Activation Drills for
Safer Kettlebell Workouts
Kettlebell Workouts deliver exceptional returns in health and fitness.
But in order for you to achieve the best results. It is absolutely essential you know how to recruit both the CORE muscles and the HIPS. Together with knowing basic kettlebell mechanics.
If you are quite new to kettlebells and kettlebell workouts. Or for that matter, just starting out on a fitness regime. It is imperative you perform the activation drills below before attempting any of the Basic Kettlebell Exercises.
This will set a strong foundation from the beginning.
CORE ACTIVATION & NEUTRAL SPINE
The Core consists of 29 muscles that act as a transmission system between your lower and upper body to transfer power from one to the other. But more importantly it stabilizes the whole body.
For instance, when you perform an upper body movement or visa / versa, it eliminates inefficient movement patterns throughout the two regions. Therefore creating rigidity, and reducing over compensations and injuries.
When participating in kettlebell workouts, the engagement of the core is even more important.
In the Kettlebell Training benefits section, it explains how the kettlebells design, harbours a displaced centre of gravity. Thus destabilizing inertia when in motion.
This means the natural movement patterns that you would normally associate with using conventional weights in the same way, then become more distorted.
Under normal circumstances, those muscle groups don’t always function at their optimum capacity. But a sudden or abrupt deviation of an infamiliar movement pattern with a kettlebell, fires these deep stabilization muscles of the core into action to support the entire kenetic chain.
Normally during a (CLOSED) kenetic chain exercise throughout the movement.
At the very least, and more often than not. The shock effect can lead to a severe case of DOMS (DELAYED ONSET MUSCULAR SORENESS), for even the most experienced trainer. But for someone unexperienced, who has a weak core, or does not know how to activate it. It can also lead to serious injury.
Please follow the drills below, to help you fully understand these vital pre requisites.
FINDING YOUR NEUTRAL SPINE
Core activation starts with finding your Neutral Spine. Which is a safe postural position of the spine, between flexing to far forwards or backwards.
To find neutral spine lay on your back (supine position) with your knees bent.
- Rotate your pelvis forward (anterior tilt) while keeping your backside in contact with the ground. There should now be a large gap between the middle of your back and the floor itself.
- Now reverse the movement by rotating your pelvis back towards the ground (posterior tilt) , so that your back is totally flat with no gaps.
- Rotate the pelvis forward again, but this time only raise it enough so that you can just about get your hand or a pencil underneath your back and the floor.
- That half way house position is Neutral Spine.
The Neutral Spine position must be stabilized constantly, whenever performing any exercise (with or without weights).
HOW TO ACTIVATE YOUR CORE
If I warned you that I was about to execute a light punch to your midsection, invariably you would prepare for this action by tensing your abdominals to absorb the impact.
By doing this you would be activating your Transverse Abdominis (TVA.)
The Transverse Abdominus is also known as an inner unit mechanism and works in conjunction with 3 other inner unit muscles that are:
Together they form the centre of the core.
As you contract the TVA it tightens and squeezes around the spine. Just as a Boa Constrictor would its prey. Therefore restricting the spines movement, and increasing stability.
Below are three more basic functional core tests which can help you to understand this concept better.
FORWARD BEND TEST
This test helps you to understand how to stabilize the spine by consciously activating the TVA. Eventually this should happen automatically without thinking.
- Inhale and draw in your bellybutton towards the spine, as if to brace yourself for a hit to the stomach.
- Proceed to tie a piece of string round your waist just above the hips. If you relax and breath out the string should be tight.
- Place an object, such as a medicine ball or something which is not to light or heavy down near your feet
- Slowly bending over, try to pick up the object while keeping the string as loose as you can, on the way down and back up again.
- Should the string become tight while attempting to pick up and lift the object, this means your core is weak. And specific core exercises to strengthen this area, need to be implemented.
Below is a test that can help to address this problem.
TVA ACTIVATION TEST
If you have access to a blood pressure gauge (Aneroid sphygmamomitor) this test is a great way to attain a better idea of how to activate your TVA.
This instrument also acts as a barometer as to how strong you can contract the core muscles. You can also include it in your kettlebell workouts. As part of your core training exercises or conditioning program overall.
- Lying face down on the floor, place the armband of the gauge under your bellybutton, with easy access to the rubber pump so you can easily inflate it with your hand.
- Breath out and inflate the armband to 40mmhg, allowing the complete weight of the body to push downwards onto the armband.
3. From there visualise a punch to the stomach, as you suck your bellybutton in towards your spine. The gauge should decrease from 40mmhg.
- Do not hold your breath and breath normally.
- Your main aim is to decrease the pressure by 10mmhg, or more down to zero.
- Try to hold for between 6 – 20 seconds +
SUPINE STATIC KNEE CRUNCH
This drill / core exercise is a great way to emphasise Core Activation.
- Lay on your back with your feet off the floor and knees bent at 90°
- Place the heel of your palms on the top of your knees.
- Take a deep breath into your stomach, and begin to press your palms against your knees and knees against your palms hard and aggressively.
- Breath OUT through your teeth slowly and in control
- Perform for a minimum of 15 seconds
IF YOU SUFFER FROM HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, IT IS NOT ADVISABLE TO DO THIS DRILL / EXERCISE
BASIC HIP MECHANICS & GLUTE ACTIVATION FOR
PRODUCTIVE KETTLEBELL WORKOUTS
The kettlebell Swing is the foundation exercise you must learn correctly. Before you can even think about moving on to other kettlebell exercises, and more advanced kettlebell workouts.
Without mastering this basic movement pattern, you risk undermining any future progression.
To perform this drill, first adopt a Good Morning Stance.
The best way to achieve this is to imagine that you are a Gorilla at a fancy dress party.
Or Gorilla Mode ! as I call it.
- From a standing position, push backside back with knees slightly bent, back straight (neutral spine), and lean forward slightly.
- Place your hands in the crease between bottom of your torso and top of your thigh.
- Take a deep breath into your stomach
- Breath out slowly on the way down, while engaging core.
- Proceed to lower your upper body into a horizontal position.
- At the bottom of the movement, Inhale, and while still engaging core. Exhale, and return back to the beginning.
- Perform 1 x 5 -10 reps.
This movement pattern should be adopted throughout the swinging action
GLUTE AND HIP ACTIVATION
Effective kettlebell workouts depends on the Hip being a dominant force when in free flow of either a single exercise or combinations.
Without it, you put unessessary stresses on different parts of the body which will adversely and prematurely shorten the workout through fatigue and injury. This will also eventually lead to muscular imbalances.
To encourage a powerful Hip extension, the Shallow Knee Hip Thrust (below) is an excellent drill in preparing you for all kettlebell workouts.
- Take up the same position as the Hip Hinge, but with arms extended outwards.
- Engage core
- Simultaneously straighten legs (Tense and draw thighs up to straighten legs fully for more powerful hip extention) and squeeze backside (Glutes).
- lean back in neutral spine with no arching of back.
- Lift toes and press heels hard into the floor.
- Slowly return to Hip hinge position with shallow knee
By keeping the knees in a shallow position, the hip has less distance to travel. Meaning the glutes produce a more dynamic and explosive contraction.