The Benefits of Kettlebell Training for Athletes

Kettlebell training will burn calories, build strength, help users move better in daily life, and even improve performance for athletes. Although many athletes are skilled and exceptionally fit in terms of strength, low body-fat, and endurance, this does not constitute total-body health. Many athletes and fit individuals struggle with injury, and may even find performing everyday-movements challenging.

Athletes often train only the individual muscles associated with performing their specific sport. But the body naturally functions as a coordinated unit, and one weak muscle can impact the entire unit. Consequently, poor movement patterns in everyday life can effect poor movement in sport.

By training the body as a single unit through functional movement exercises however, athletes can improve their movements patterns for success in sport. Functional movement training using kettlebells works multiple muscle groups at once, developing strength holistically and supplicating the body to work as one entity. Since several muscle groups are used simultaneously, coordination and neuromuscular control improve as well.

By using a functional workout sequence that emulates the body’s natural movement, athletes can train their bodies to move as a single unit by linking multiple muscle groups and joints.

Kettlebell exercise programs for athletes are based on six functional movement patterns: Carry, push, pull, squat, hinge, and lunge. An efficient way to sharpen sport-specific skills, kettlebell training also perfects an athlete’s balance, coordination, mobility, strength, and stamina.

Kettlebells can be used for a constructive warm up before a workout or competition. Warming up the body is critical for professional and recreational athletes alike. Not only does a warm up prepare the body for high-intensity performance, but it also helps the athlete avoid injury.

Coaches and trainers often use kettlebells in warm ups to create motions that engage groups of muscles in a solitary exercise. Blood flow is boosted when several muscle groups are activated in a constant motion, which will better prepare the athlete’s body for the physical demands of sport.

Adding kettlebells to ballistic exercises offers a productive workout for athletes who rely on a strong cardiovascular system for success in their sport, such as cycling, running, and swimming.

These exercises require that the body shift the added weight between diverse muscle groups in a given timeframe, which elevates the heart rate. A combination of aerobic movements and ballistic kettlebell exercises, such as jump roping combined with the kettlebell swing, is a popular cardio routine among athletes. Even a simple workout of ten rounds of substantial kettlebell exercises will significantly advance an athlete’s cardio conditioning.

Kettlebell exercises are often incorporated into a trainer’s program for their athlete to improve core stability and mobility. When practiced with a focus on proper form throughout the kettlebell exercise, performance can be enhanced too. Exercises with kettlebells have also been used to prevent injury in athletes by broadening range of motion and increasing flexibility.

Athletes depend on proprioceptive awareness for success in sport. Proprioceptive awareness is an awareness of the body in space, and is needed for foot placement, shoulder positioning, and other sport-specific movements. In kettlebell exercises, athletes are on their feet performing movements with the weight that develop the proprioceptive awareness required to catch a ball, defend a goal, explode out of the blocks, swing a bat, and throw a pass.

In exercise, there are three phases of muscular contraction. The concentric lifting phase is when the muscle group shortens under tension. The isometric phase is when the muscle group is under tension, and is not shortened or lengthened, but paused. The eccentric lowering phase is when the muscle is under tension and lengthened (Credit: https://www.longevitylive.com/health-living/fitness/muscle-phases-impact-training). Unlike barbell and dumbbell exercises, which mostly train the concentric phase, kettlebell exercises train athletes in concentric lifting, eccentric lowering, and the isometric phase, which are all used in sport.

An athlete’s body can become conditioned to barbells and dumbbells, leading to a plateau in training progress. As kettlebells differ from traditional weights in their weight distribution, kettlebell exercises challenge the body to continually adjust to the unfamiliar effort. Since the kettlebell’s weight is in front of its handle, even basic kettlebell exercises can develop flexibility, and make significant changes to a stagnant exercise routine. In addition to strength conditioning, using kettlebell exercises in a workout provides the athlete with anaerobic and aerobic conditioning, and offers a total-body workout.

During kettlebell training, the brain creates links that connect the body as one unit as the weight transitions from muscle group to muscle group. Many professional athletes use kettlebell exercises in their workouts because of this smooth shift from one group of muscles to the others. With growing communication in the body’s neural networks, the chance of injury in sport decreases.

Not only can functional fitness training through kettlebell use make athletes less prone to sport-related injury, but it is also ideal for use with athletes recovering from an existing injury.

Improving blood flow is important for recovery since the blood circulates critical nutrients around the body to assist the recovery progression. Recovery time can be accelerated by increasing blood flow to the injured area through light workout programs when possible, rather than complete rest.

Because of the potential that kettlebell programs have to address injury and improve performance, kettlebells are used by college and professional athletes, competitive weight-lifters, and individuals that simply want to get and stay fit. Depending on the sport, certain kettlebell exercises should be emphasized over others.

Using kettlebells to train muscles will enhance the flexibility of basketball players, positively impacting performance on the court through movement patterns that are essential to the game. Kettlebell exercises that focus on hip extensions are beneficial to basketball players, as this is an integral feature of jumping, running, turning, and other movements used on the court. The kettlebell snatch can train the player for a powerful triple extension, as they raise the kettlebell completely above their head in this exercise. A hip hinge-based exercise, the kettlebell swing will strengthen the posterior chain as the athlete swings a kettlebell to eye level. A workout that includes rounds with variations of the kettlebell snatch and the kettlebell swing is well-suited for basketball players.

Baseball and softball players can use kettlebell training to improve grip strength and proprioceptive awareness. Enhanced body awareness will lead to success in positioning of the shoulders, swinging the bat, catching the ball, and sprinting off the base. To focus on stabilizing the shoulder and strengthening the core, athletes can perform the tall kneeling one-arm kettlebell press. To engage the core, fine-tune their balance, and enhance hip flexibility, front squats with the kettlebell are ideal. The deadlift with kettlebells can help baseball and softball players with the core engagement and grip strength necessary to improve their ability on the field.

Kettlebell training is adaptable, enabling football players to focus on several aspects of their performance on the field by using one kettlebell for various exercises. The kettlebell deadlift helps with forceful acceleration, while the lunge and press increases speed and enhances the ability to jump. To develop upper body strength necessary for defending against the opposing team, players can practice the kettlebell press up and pull, and practice the Romanian deadlift to help avoid injuries (Credit: https://www.fourfourtwo.com/performance/training/ultimate-kettlebell-workout-football#H3Lws5p7tcc5UH54.99).

Golfers can make progress in their game by focusing on mobilization and building strength through kettlebell training. Using kettlebell exercises for mobilization will improve the athlete’s swing quality. Kettlebells can also be used for overall strength training, leading to more power in the golfer’s drive, and a faster, more controlled golf swing. Golfers are prone to lumbar spine stress from the repetitive motion of rotating through the lumbar spine, and lower back pain, perpetuated by being in a bent-over, fixed position for several consecutive hours. Using kettlebells for exercises like the swing strengthens the lower back and the glutes to reduce risk of injury from high levels of flexion and rotation. Golfers should practice the farmers carry to create grip strength, improve posture, and build trunk strength.

Tennis players can benefit from kettlebell training because it demands a broad range of motion.

The kettlebell’s offset center of gravity encourages stability, requiring that the athlete remain balanced as they hoist the weight, and recruit stabilizing muscles. Kettlebell training is performed with momentum, which promotes muscle reaction, and eliminates the chance of twisting an ankle or knee. The momentum from kettlebell training conditions the tennis player’s body to accelerate and decelerate during the game. Exercises such as the Russian twist develop this ability to decelerate, along with core strength, dynamic stability, and rotational power. Including the kettlebell swing in an athlete’s strength and conditioning workout will build endurance, while performing the wood-shop lunge will develop power for lateral and rotational movements in ground strokes (Credit: http://www.tennis.com/your-game/2009/08/saved-by-the-bell-using-the-kettlebell/17691/).

Kettlebell training is well suited for runners seeking to diminish the chance of injury while ensuring performance gains. Road runners expose their bodies to detrimental impact with every foot strike, which causes the muscles and joints to wear down over time. The kettlebells off-center design offers optimal flexibility and strength training of the joints, which is particularly important in the injury-prone major joints of endurance runners. Tight or weak core, gluteal, and hip muscles can often lead to overuse running injuries, but strength training can prepare the body to resist running injuries.

Kettlebell training simultaneously focuses on typically weak areas that are susceptible to injury in runners, such as the back, core, glutes, and hamstrings. Athletes using kettlebells for strength training can avoid such injuries, as well as making gains in power, speed, and muscular endurance in their running. Runners who perform the kettlebell plank with one-arm row can both improve balance and posture, and strengthens the abs, delts, and stabilizer muscles. Athletes can practice the shoulder bridge with kettlebells to reinforce strength in typically weak glute muscles. Additionally, performing the kettlebell warrior windmill will build up the back, shoulders, and thighs, with the added benefit of improving lung capacity (Credit: https://blog.kettlebellkings.com/topic/kettlebell-workouts-for-running).

Trail runners and hikers will benefit from kettlebell training, as both sports challenge the athlete to quickly change direction when they approach roots, rocks, and other uneven terrain, while depending on their arms for balance. Hikers and runners need to train in a fashion that enables them to avoid falling as they leap over obstacles on the trails, which demands agility, balance, coordination, endurance, power, and strength. To fine tune all these skills and prevent injury, athletes can practice several kettlebell exercises.

As trail runners are in essence performing a series of one-legged squat jumps, the kettlebell Bulgarian split squat is well-suited preparation for the trails. The Bulgarian split squat can be used to improve necessary balance and ankle stability, while the kettlebell swing can foster endurance. To build hamstring strength, endurance, and eccentric squat strength needed on descents, hikers and trail runners should learn kettlebell bootstrapper squats (Credit: https://www.onnit.com/academy/top-6-unconventional-exercises-trail-running/).

Kettlebell lifting is, of course, a sport in itself. Know as girevoy sport, competitions are based on the jerk, snatch, and long cycle, and girevoy sport athletes are ranked by how many repetitions they can compete within a ten-minute time limit. A girevoy sport athlete’s success is dependent on efficient lifting technique, which results from the lifter developing muscle memory for each movement’s proper sequence. Girevoy sport lifters’ kettlebell training should include kettlebell half swings, one-arm cleans, one-arm jerks, kettlebell jump squats, and kettlebell bridge press for gains in endurance and strength.

Kettlebell training is beneficial for athletes of all sports since it provides functional fitness through kettlebell movements that emulate athletic movements. Exercises with kettlebells offer anaerobic and aerobic conditioning as well, helping athletes become more dynamic in their performance on the courts and fields, and move better in daily life.

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