I’m doing this post today to share a cool trick I’ve learned while doing kettlebell swings. To be completely honest, it IMMEDIATELY fixed my lifting technique. I’m talking a matter of seconds. The kicker here is that this “trick” might save my back from injury in the long run.
But first, let me tell you a quick story.
One year ago, I purchased some kettlebells in hopes of getting my injured-self back into fighting shape. I watched a few RKC videos and read an article Dan John regarding the technique of the kettlebell swing. For those of you who don’t know, RKC stands for “Russian Kettlebell Challenge”, which is one (and the first) of the certifying organizations for kettlebell instructors; Dan John is an athletic coach who’s worked alongside Pavel Tsatsouline, the man responsible for introducing kettlebells to America.
After some reading and watching, I felt pretty prepared to start swinging this cannonball around.
Day One – did 20-30 swings and felt great. Man, what a great workout I’m getting here.
Day Two – did another 30 swings. Still feeling like a boss.
Day Three – rested.
Day Four – did about 30-40 swings. Back starts aching a bit.
Day Five – rested.
Day Six – rested.
Day Seven – did about 20-30 swings. My lumbosacral region was on FIRE!
Not only did I give up on kettlebells after a week, I added another injury to my list: lower back pain. Looking back at it now, I was dumb to immediately starting swinging and not practice different drills to ensure proper technique beforehand. The volume in the one week alone was excessive for a beginner, too.
So, for the past few months, I’ve been conditioning my body, drilling technique and core-stiffness into my muscle-memory, and working on my mobility. I’m pretty darn good now at replicating a swing without using a kettlebell. My torso is rigged, and my hip-snap is strong. Now I feel pretty prepared for performing kettlebell swings again, and I’m excited. So, I started again, albeit slowly, these past two weeks.
How has my back held up thus far? Meh. It still feels a bit “off”. Not necessarily painful, but a tad achy. This is not something I’m happy about.
I’m still taking it slow, but today, I had a slight epiphany. Here’s where the “trick” comes in. I remembered watching a video of Tim Ferriss describing progressions to learn the kettlebell swing. He says to simply deadlift the kettlebell as the first progression.
What stood out to me was a little note he said on what the deadlift is…”The deadlift is ‘hips back’ – almost like you’re trying to close a car door with your ass.”
Here’s the video if you guys like to see what I’m saying.
“Close a car door with your ass.”
There’s something about this mental image, or perhaps, mental cue, that made me want to swing the kettlebell again. With that image/phrase/whatever in mind, the entire movement of the swing felt much more natural and powerful. It was as easy as closing a door with my ass, and snapping my hips back up again.
Why did this make such a difference with my swing? Well, in Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd Edition on page 58, the author talks about how mental cues allow the trainee to fix his/her technique with whichever lift they are attempting (the one specifically being discussed in context of the book is the back squat). Anyway, here’s the passage..
“By giving the body a general task instead of a specific one, you move your brain out of the way and allow your accumulated motor skills to solve the problem.”
Now, I can see I was over-thinking the process and making my movement less fluid.
Which cue do you think allowed my body to take over for my brain…?
“Tighten your abs.. no, your lower abs.. bend at your hips and approach parallel with your torso.. avoid bending the knees.. squeeze the glutes on the way back up and stand tall..”
“Close the car door with your ass and snap your hips back up..”?
I’m sure you can see which cue is more appropriate. It simplified my thought process and allowed for my muscle-memory to take over. My mind and my body can work more easily together.
With that said, take a gander at this quote below.
“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.” – Swami Vivekananda