Sunday, April 24, 2016

From Bodyweight To Kettlebells

When I perform a consultation for a new client I like to lay out my programming method so that the individual can understand the track that we will be on. When I discuss starting off with bodyweight exercises I can sometimes tell they’re a little disappointed, perhaps because they had visions of doing endless kettlebell swings or throwing a barbell over their head. This is all reasonable enough, and can occur later in the training cycle, but prior to that I want to clear all of the basic movement categories as well as establishing a decent baseline of strength. What is the purpose of putting a weight in someone’s hands to do a bench press if that person cannot even manage a handful of strict push ups with good trunk stability? Why lift a pair of kettlebells (or a barbell) to do front squats if the client cannot even squat below parallel with no weight?

The possible disappointment on the part of the client in hearing that I start off only using bodyweight exercises is quickly dissipated once they discover how challenging these exercises are, that they are infinitely scalable and that the client does not experience the joint discomfort they may have felt in the past with traditional gym exercises.
“But I can’t even do one push up… “
When I start talking about doing push ups this is often the response. The key to learning anything is having a good teacher and a proper progression. It won’t help you if I just keep telling you to push harder, but if I cue you to push the floor away from you that may be a usable cue. That is the difference between a good cue and a bad cue and can be the difference between you doing a push up and not doing one. If you can’t possibly do a push up on the floor no cue is going to change that, but if you can do one vertically facing a wall, you can being the skill practice required to eventually perform one on the floor.
Step by step we begin establishing or re-establishing basic human movement principles that will later carry over to training with kettlebells. This way by the time you’re ready to perform a Turkish Get Up or a Swing with the kettlebell you already have hundreds of reps of practice on the basic movement mechanics required to perform these lifts.

Understanding the value of properly constructed bodyweight training involves the below ideas.

1. Don’t be an absolutist. You don’t have to focus on bodyweight training forever, and you can integrate it into your kettlebell or barbell program. Exercises are not a trap you fall into, but tools you use to reach a specific goal, even if that goal is a different (more advanced) exercise.

2. If it’s hard it’s hard. If you finish a grueling workout that did not involve weights, it was still hard. This might seem like a strange admonition, but it’s not usual for a person to feel that a bodyweight focused workout somehow wasn’t as ‘difficult’ or ‘useful’ as one with weights.

3. Give yourself permission to make your mistakes small. Part of my process in the beginning revolves around observation, looking for movement asymmetries, joint dysfunction, lack of core activation etc. Finding these things during the course of a workout using only bodyweight (in my opinion) is preferable to finding them during a weight lifting based training session.

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