By Jack Reape
Most of the truly gifted powerlifters I know use the most basic of Training approaches. They just Squat, Bench and Deadlift for the most part, with maybe some pause squats, close grip benches, and stiff legged deads thrown in. They are great because they are gifted genetically and work very, very hard and very, very heavy.
It must be great to be them. For the rest of us, we have to find ways to make up with assistance work and careful planning what we lack in talent and choice of parents. Kettlebells are not the sole answer to every weakness, but they are an absolute must have in the average Powerlifter’s bag of assistance tricks. Kettlebells are different in center of gravity, gripability, and in planes of possible movement. Anything that is that different has a great potential to make an improvement in your training. They are amazingly effective for improving General Physical Preparedness, for Prehabilitation and Rehabilitation of Injuries, and for Dynamic/Explosive work. You can also mix them in instead of Dumbbells in many exercises for an effective change of pace.
The Kettlebell swing or snatch can be done either for higher reps or in interval type workouts to increase overall conditioning. I like to use them for Farmers walks for long distances. Farmers walks are great for improving conditioning and about the best grip work for holding a Deadlift I know. The fatter and smoother handle makes the hand work harder to hold the Kettlebell. I think the KB is great for throwing on a sled (I use a garage sale metal round flexible flyer) and using for sled dragging. Putting a group of KB movements together back to back in a complex is also a great conditioning approach.
The heavy single KB swing, or double KB swing is tremendous for Glute and Hamstring strengthening. This is very good especially for wide stance squatters and sumo pullers too. For narrower squatters I like heavy one arm snatches in the squat stance. For Powerlifters with less flexible shoulders or wrists or arms too big for front squats, the double KB front squat is fantastic. Some might say even with double 106s it could never be heavy enough. When I can handle double 106s for reps I will let you know. For me 495×3 in the squat raw is easier than double 88s for 8-10. Not sure why, but like I said different is good and what helps make the biggest changes in your lifts.
In the bench press Kettlebells are not direct assistance, but are best for change of pace on back off weeks, for the best shoulder prehab work I know, and great for single arm and Renegade Rows. On back off weeks I include KB high rep single arm pressing for higher(20+) reps, and as extra workouts after bench pressing. I warm up with bottom up pressing to recruit all the shoulder stabilizers then do one arm or see saw presses for medium rep, medium intensity work. The center of gravity of a Kettlebell and better plane of motion for a natural overhead range of motion far exceeds Dumbell work. Doing double military presses will hit your chest if you lean back a bit. Westside Barbell uses Kettlebells for tricep extensions. I have also used KBs for floor presses instead of Dumbbells. Floor pressing a KB is easier to get into position yourself but much harder to handle weight wise. Finally, the KB arm bar is not only a great low back adjustment but fantastic for prehabilitation of bench press shoulders. A word of caution on Turkish get ups;if you have shoulder issues and/or you have not done much overhead work, you could easily strain a rotator or rear deltoid. Your shoulder will need a careful build up in the Turkish get up. In other words you will have to use a bell that feels very light as you start to recruit external rotators to hold the bell overhead. Be careful and slow on the Turkish Get Up.
The previously mentioned wide stance swings and snatches work well here for the DL and the farmers walk is great for grip work. The front squat with KBs is great for building the conventional pull start off the floor. I have only done close stance KB cleans a few times but some narrow stance Deadlifters swear by this movement. The margin of error is narrow here because hitting yourself in the shin with a fast moving heavy KB will leave a mark.
The single best ab exercise I know is the renegade row. Do it. Do it again. Don’t whine.
After Squatting: Double KB Swing Heavy 3-4 sets of 7-12 reps. Renegade rows 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps
After Benching: See saw Press or one arm Military Press 3-4 sets of 7-12 reps. KB one arm row 3-5 sets of 7-12 reps
After Deadlifting: KB Front Squats 2-5 sets of 7-12 reps, KB snatch conventional stance) or double KB swing(sumo stance) 3-4 sets of 7-10 reps.
Conditioning/Extra Workouts: KB snatch 7-10 reps per hand x8-12 sets with 30-60 seconds rest. Doing reps higher than this quickly turns into a conservation of energy; great for GS but not great for Powerlifters. Farmers Walks, 2-6 trips of 50-100 yards as heavy as you can handle. KB complexes-just mix together 5-7 exercises and do them nonstop for 1-2 giant sets of 7-12 reps per exercise. Example: KB renegade row L+R/KB See Saw Press/KB snatch/KB alternate lunge/ KB Swing/KB Front squat. This will leave you a bit tired.
CONCLUSION; I am not sponsored lifter, so every bit of gear or equipment I buy and then give a review of is measured in Return on Investment. If you are a powerlifter who is not a freak, it is well worth it to have Kettlebells in your arsenal.
About The Author
Jack Reape is a Career Navy Pilot whose passion is his kids. The lessons he has learned in a life of Military Aviation and high level athletics, and tested on himself and his kids, are available to anybody who needs some help or new ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org