Yesterday, in the sultry middle of the afternoon, I visited the gym to film a series of kettlebell techniques including the swing, the squat, and the press. It was hot weather, and the only kettlebells I had available were of an ancient vintage, but I made the best of things.
The major function of this post is to help you understand what I look for when assessing a client’s movement, and what standards I hold and aspire them to. The minor function is to provide you with a point of reference from which you can measure the quality of your own movement.
Standards: We need them for movement as much as we need them for music; otherwise people will exercise on the level of pornogrind, and with very poor taste. No movement will ever be perfect, and even Beethoven’s 5th symphony had its bad parts, but we should do our best to try.
What I Look For:
1. Hinge (not a squat)—Hips back, not down; shins vertical (or very close to), and knees in line with toes. Your butt should be above your knees but below your shoulders.
2. Start and finish the same way—start from a strong hinge, finish in a strong hinge. Hike the kettlebell back like a football to load the hips before you swing.
3. Flat back—Straight line from the back of your head down through your tailbone. No excessive extension of the neck, or over-arching of the low back. Best to keep your eyes focused on the horizon (where the wall meets the floor) or about six to seven feet in front of you on the ground.
4. Powerful hip snap—Imagine you’re “jumping through your heels”. The hips power the movement, not the arms or the shoulders, and certainly not the biceps.
5. Biomechanical breathing match—Inhale on the backswing, sharp exhalation on the upswing.
What I Look For:
1. Squat (not a hinge)—Butt goes down, not back, as if you’re setting on a curb. Imagine you’re pulling yourself between your legs.
2. Back stays flat, chest is proud, and the tailbone doesn’t tuck.
3. The movement should be slow and controlled through the descent, explosive on the way up.
4. Breathing should match the movement—inhale as you go down, power breathe on the way up.
5. Heels planted.
6. Elbows come inside the knees, not on top of.
7. Knees in line with the toes.
What I Look For:
1. Organized rack position—kettlebell is on the forearm, and the wrist is straight.
2. Vertical forearm through the entire press.
3. Full lockout—bicep should be next to, or even slightly behind the ear.
4. Grind—not a push press. No movement below the knees, solely an upper body effort.
5. Space between the shoulder and the ear—Imagine the shoulder, for whatever reason, is poison to the ear. Think “anti-shrug”, and push your shoulder away from the kettlebell as you press, towards the ground.
6. Minimal lean—as the effort gets heavy, some leaning will eventually occur. Do your best to minimize this, however, and stay tight.
7. Just enough tension. You should be tight enough to enhance the lift and improve your position, but no tighter than that.
Did I Miss Something?
By no means are these lists exhaustive, and perhaps I missed something. So if you have a question about any of these techniques, leave a note below, and we’ll chat.
The Ultimate Guide to Kettlebell Techniques
I’m putting together a guide for Inner Circle members which will teach you all of the fundamental kettlebell techniques. This will include standards, like you see above, but also specific drills, progressions, cues, and corrections to help you master each movement as quickly as possible, so you can get the most out of your training while dramatically reducing your risk of injury.
The movements I’m going to teach in this guide include:
The Turkish Get Up
Single Leg Deadlift
…And a considerable amount more, including many double kettlebell movements, too, like the double clean and press, double snatch, and double front squat.
I’m sending this guide out to all Inner Circle members shortly, and I’d love for you to have it, because proper technique is of the very first importance. CLICK HERE, come join the Inner Circle for a month, and let me share some of my best ideas with you.