Why Kettlebell Kickboxing™ ? Why kettlebell motion… and a few other q & a’s
Hi all! Thank you for taking the time to read this as I think it might help many of my KB enthusiasts understand what Kettlebell Kickboxing™ is and why it is I do what I do 🙂
First and foremost, I would like to say that above all else, all of my inspiration and influences come from the Martial Arts. I am a martial artist – I train, practice, study, actively pursue, spar, and explore martial arts daily. In my own workouts, Kettlebell Kickboxing™ classes, and in the DVDs, I teach “martial motion.” We view this as the time-tested concepts, movements, and time intervals of martial arts. Please note that martial arts training is vast. In no specific order, it includes: practice, collaboration with a partner, solo training, mental training, body awareness, self discovery, conditioning, sparring, combat, teaching, self-evaluation, refinement, evolution – just to name just a few key aspects. There are more details to actual martial arts, but this blog post isn’t about that.
This post is about the kettlebells I use in my workouts and how I use them. Why KBs? Why Kettlebell Kickboxing™?
You’ll see that I chose the kettlebell specifically for two reasons:
The first reason I use the kettle bell, or povide kettlebell motion w/ dumbbell for those that do not have kbs:
It’s not like the Dallas Cowboys are hoping to learn the art of kettlebell – their strength and conditioning coaches use the kettlebell as a tool to train the body in order to achieve a maximum conditioning result. In the case of most pro athletes, by using kettlebells, they are looking to correct muscle imbalances and engage regions of the body like the posterior chain (KB swings) or the transverse abdomens (KB abs drills) in order to run faster, cut better, jump higher, kick harder, and so on. Basically, they’re looking to enhance their sports specific motion and performance, decrease injury potential, and “have the best edge to win the game.”
One of the main reasons I use the kettlebell is for that same purpose. Let me expand:
Fitness, like everything in life, goes through its phases, it’s always evolving. For example, as conditioning coaches and fitness professionals we are still fighting the “beach muscle” craze, the “cardio” craze, the “weight training makes you bulky” myth and so many other pieces of misinformation. As new research comes out yearly, new workout tools (kettlebells, bands, suspension straps), new time intervals (HIIT, Tabata) and new workout fusions (Zumba, Bar, Kettlebell Kickboxing™ to name a few) are making their way and taking their place in both professional and recreational fitness and conditioning. For me, using the kettlebell swing enables my clients and students and “kettlebell kickboxers” around the world to engage a region of the body commonly overlooked by more traditional training and a sedentary life. Kettlebell swings for example uniquely teach us to engage and use the posterior chain. This includes waking up long under-engaged muscles like the gluts, hamstring, and the back.
Let me further elaborate:
You see, the more we sit, the more this type of posture (sitting) disables our body. Sitting tightens up the hip flexors, changes the natural curvature of the back, and weakens your posterior chain muscles while simultaneously tightening up the hip flexors and basically disabling your body. Then, after hours of sitting, we get up and go run, and instead of working our entire chain, we are now running dominantly with our quadriceps, which is not a muscle group that is made to propel one’s running motion; your gluts and hamstrings should be the key muscles in propelling you forward, while your quadriceps work to run down hill and also work as a stopping muscle group.
Once you reverse that process, your quads (the front of your legs) become tight and overactive, not only overdeveloping, but also creating knee injury, instability in the body, causing pain and overall muscle imbalance. Commonly the same thing happens in squats, lunges, planks and other motions where the body is engaging the incorrect muscles and creating further muscle imbalances. This is why so many people out there are suffering from knee issues, back pain, shoulder injury and over/under-developed disproportional body composition (i.e. “I have large bulky legs when I run or weight train”) – it’s actually our overall life routine that is causing these issues.
The kettlebell swing is a perfect tool to help battle some of these issues. Once performed correctly, the KB swing is a perfect weapon to use to wage a war on these imbalances. Once learned (I find that students get the swing with in 1-3 DVDs or class sessions), you are now “firing” at your gluts and hamstrings and “reactivating” them, or teaching them to work, and “pitch in” during simple motions like walking, running, jumping, kicking, lunging, squatting, and so on.
You see, after I obtained my Master’s Degree in Sports Science and my many other certifications, I began to work with fighters and pro-athletes. The key was never to teach them the art of kettlebells – it was to use whatever tools necessary to actually help them achieve success in their art or sport. The kettlebell, as I knew from my childhood in Russia with my grandfather, my time spent studying the human body in my MS classes and on the training floor, and from training privately with Steve Maxwell (one of the original founders of RKC, friend of Pavel and now founder of MKC), was the perfect tool to get athletes to engage their posterior chain (commonly a missing link even in pro athletes like fighters, football, baseball, and hockey players). In the same manner, I used other tools like balancing balls, Bulgarian bags, traditional weights and body weight motion, power lifting, joint mobility, foam rollers, speed bags, SAQ ladders to help them produce the results they needed to succeed.
Soon after seeing success in the martial arts community, writing my column for FIGHT and Blackbelt magazines, and enjoying my own learning and development with these tools, I realized that I wanted to help make an impact on the fitness routines of the general public. Specifically my favorite sector – a community of strong and determined females that wanted to identify the best of themselves in marathons, motherhood, martial arts, swimming, soccer, friendships, family, career, mud races, triathlons – whatever!
Women of all types have always been my inspiration, pioneers like Betty Ford who fought her own husband President Gerald Ford for women’s rights to the women I encountered in other countries: refugees and volunteers who embody more strength through their determination than any machine, government, and social situation. Women are incredible, strong, sexy, witty, and smart and too many of us still battle with our own body image. I wanted to somehow create an awareness surrounding how we as women view fitness – I wanted to bring it back to enjoying our bodies and experiencing them instead of fighting and fearing our God-given shape.
It took years to conduct my research. I watched women in gyms, on videos, in my own martial arts facility, in our gym at the academy, with their kids, at their work desks, and in the park. I spoke to women, I listened – often listening to women at a girls’ brunch or dinner saying things like “I feel fat. I gained weight. I should not eat that. Tomorrow I will starve myself. I have knee pain. I hate my body. I can’t wear that. I can’t do that.” I talked to many of my friends, their mothers, professionals, those that were recreationally active, and female athletes like my best friends – one who played pro-tennis and another who played semi-pro ball. Then I spoke to my clients, to actresses, supermodels, businesswomen, busy successful women. I consulted with incredible instructors, athletes, and rehab specialists. I spoke, I listened, and I tested on myself constantly. Then I realized, after much research on my own body and on others that the kettlebell would be the perfect tool. Kettlebells are an ideal tool to help the growing number of women that are transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one. It’s ideal for all ages, goals, shapes and sizes. The bell is ideal for busy moms and professionals that do not have hours for the gym.
I realized that the kettlebell swing could be attained much easier than other posterior chain motions like leg and back extension machines housed at the gym. KBs don’t require a gym membership and a personal trainer to understand. Kettlebells can also be used for dual purposes, and they can help the masses of people whom I spoke to daily that suffered knee and back pain, overdeveloped large bulky legs, shoulder issues, quad dominance, back weakness, and an inactive posterior chain. That is the first reason I began to use kettle bells with my clients, my classes and myself. I wanted to be a better person in my own body, in my own activities and in my sports (Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Jeet Kune Do and Kali). I also wanted to be a great instructor – I wanted to create change and help people attain the results they work so hard for. The kettlebell was/is one of the tools that helps me do that.
Second reason I use the kettlebell: The second and equally as important reason for the kettlebell came out of the KBs’ unique anatomy. I knew early on in my career that some how, some way, I wanted to bring the benefits of “martial arts motion and mentality” to the fitness community. Yes, people have been using punches and kicks in their workouts way before I came along – we can look at pioneers like Billy Blanks and Denise Austin – but, there are other arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, whose motions, warm-ups, and drills provide limitless fitness benefits. There is also Savate, Muay Thai, Silat, Kali, Jeet Kune Do, Wushu, Tai Chi, and Capoeira just to name a few. All of these arts are unique in the ranges of motions, the level changing, balance, and muscle activation that they demand and they are versatile. They also all have value in fitness, and as I said, many of the motions from these arts were never prevalent in home or gym workouts.
Basic Examples: I know, as many well educated trainers and fitness professionals, that mortality rate is directly related to how fast and efficiently a person can get off the ground. I also know that balance is a key component of longevity – once we lose balance, we fall; once an older person falls and breaks their hip, their mortality risk doubles. I also know that martial arts is unique in its ability to develop the body and the brain equally, and even though “martial arts motion” is just one part of being a martial artist, it has its place in fitness and it has value far beyond what many can even imagine. Martial motion is arguably the most authentic form of fitness, with built-in joint mobility, strength, and flexibility. Similarly, it is undeniable that martial arts is the oldest source of fitness, way before KB, dumbbells, and anything else, humans had to be active and fit in order to survive.
It was my goal early on to find a tool that I could use to create the most complete and accessible workout possible, utilizing both traditional and non-traditional weight training, balanced strength training (like a KB swing), body weight training, and areas like balance, stability, mobility, flexibility, joint mobility, reaction, timing, speed, quickness, and agility. In my research and opinion, the kettlebell was and still is the only tool that (because of its unique anatomy) can be used to mimic and compliment martial arts motion seamlessly, efficiently and safely (not martial arts training – martial arts motion).
This is why I took the traditional aspects of kettlebells like the swing and paired them with non-traditional KB motions like Muay Thai knee skips, cat squats, Wushu walks, and more.
In my system, you will also see variations of the swing that have not yet been introduced like the single-sided figure 8’s, high-pull figure 8’s, and much more. The reason you have not seen this from more traditional KB workouts is not because I am better or they are smarter or one of us knows something the other doesn’t. It is simply because more traditional KBs have a system and are often used for competition. So basically, our goals are different.
In most cases, traditional KB training wants you to gain strength and continue to upgrade weight and develop your reps. This leads to choosing movements that would best be executed through a variety of specific moves. The goal of traditional KBs is not to add a new spin on a swing, it’s to get you to swing heavier or more efficiently. For me, that is important as well, but I also try to create a martial art influenced workout which has a development to the art and the motion itself (watch a Bruce Lee movie or a UFC fight and you will understand). My students will get a variety of movements that are true to form, biomechanically safe yet new and unique – it’s the martial artist in me! Some of those motions will not require a traditionally heavy kettlebell.
The concept is simple: If you can head kick perfectly, why not learn how to perform spinning head kick too (it’s the development of the art) – get it?
Having said that: There is a wrong way to teach fitness – if your movements do not adhere to a biomechanical structure, then you cannot teach them. You cannot (or should not) be doing spinning twirls and spinning back jump kicks with a KB. But, in the circus, a place where kettlebells were reborn in the 1900’s in Russia, they are doing all of those things.
There are people teaching KBs incorrectly. I have personally seen the swing being taught as a squat or a back extension or an arm dominant lift. But I have also seen people misuse treadmills, dumbbells, squat racks, weight bars, TRX, heavy bags, spin bikes, and many other tools.
For all the kettlebell users, teachers, and enthusiasts out there – first, I commend you for being active and for living a healthy lifestyle. I commend you for your love of fitness and for picking up such a wonderful tool (the KB) to get your body strong, capable, and healthy. Second, I would say to anyone in KBs – look at kettlebell history, look at all of the diversity within the kettlebell community. Some people argue for the sport of KBs, many say there is no sport in KBs; many argue against the cross-fit module, and many say their lives are transformed because of cross-fit. Countless men and women have transformed their bodies with a lighter KB, countless others with a heavier bell, and others with no KB at all.
As a martial artist (because that is who and what I am first and foremost above everything else) I say to everyone – relax. One person will always gravitate to one thing and see its value and benefit, while another person will find value in something else. We cannot bash one another. We can however, and should, discuss – even have occasional educated disputes – of the nicest kind. Once we start to discourage others from what they are doing, discourage others from fitness, tell them that their system or their style is better, then we are no longer being true to the gift we have been given – the gift of giving others the capacity for Self Discovery, Longevity, Health, and Strength. The gift of being leaders, pioneers, teachers and fitness advocates.
In my humble opinion I think that, it is our goal as fitness professionals to:
- Keep learning
- Promote self discovery
- Educate proper form and body awareness
- Support one another and continue to get our communities to “Keep Moving” (which ever way they choose)
And we should do this because it’s not KBs, weights, horses, or even unicorns that will keep us healthy and happy – it’s MOTION, it’s the gift of human movement that will keep us alive.
-XoKb Dasha Libin Anderson