(Kettlebell) Swinging Your Way To Strength

This article was written by Tom Barrett.

I was pretty excited about the arrival of my 24 kg kettlebell. When I got home from work, there it was still in its cardboard wrapper waiting for me to start playing with it. Shredding the carton, I freed the iron and dusted it off. “I shall call you ‘Boris’,” I told it and stood up to look down on it for the first time. I figured a little grip and heft test was in order just to check the difference between it and the 16 kg version.

What better way to check that is there than a single dead-hang snatch?

I bent at the waist keeping my eyes on the ceiling and squeezed my hand around the handle. It felt really good in my grip, larger than the 16 kg, nice and solid. I took a few deep breaths, squeezed hard with my hand, glutes, and abs and exploded upward with a powerful thrust of the hips.

The kettlebell gliding up and up reached the top and rotated in my hand. It impacted on the back of my forearm about twice as more solidly as anything I’d ever felt with its smaller brother, but I didn’t care. I had snatched the 1.5 pood with beautiful form, and that’s all I cared about. I lowered the weight and repeated the exercise on my right side.

Yes!

It was a good time to take a breather, so I stepped back, put my hands on my hips, and relaxed for a few minutes. My mind raced over the techniques of the knee dip and hand scoop that I’d have to develop if I wanted not to have bruises and knots on my forearms. No big deal. I knew in a couple of days I’d have the technique down pat.

OK, Tom, how about a grind exercise now? Ah, the good ol’ clean and jerk with several military presses to round out the exercise. Since I had just a moment earlier snatched the sucker with no problem I knew the clean would be even easier.

Once I got the kettlebell to my shoulder, I sucked in a deep breath and pushed skyward.

Nothing happened.

I relaxed, took another breath, and pushed again.

Nothing happened.

I switched hands and tried with the right, but no matter how hard I pushed, how hard a strained, how loud I grunted…nothing was getting that iron off my shoulder. I wasn’t even going to try a side-press at all. I knew if the military press wasn’t working for me, there was no way I’d be able to perform a clean side press.

Resting the ‘bell on the ground, I sat down and stared at it for a while wondering what I could do to fix this situation.

I then remembered reading about the recommendation that Pavel made about swinging the kettlebell until you can get it nice and high for a high number of reps. That was going to be my plan of attack. I would continue my swinging until my back and shoulders got strong enough to lift in a solid grind exercise.

Over the following weeks I performed high-volume two-handed swings with the 24 kg and continued my snatching and cleaning. To check my progress I tried singles every couple of days, and while I could feel I was getting stronger, the full press still eluded me.

It was in the third week that the muscles in my shoulders and upper back had finally strengthened to point that I was able to fully press the kettlebell. I was elated, so I switched hands and tried the same movement on the right side and met with success again. I immediately extended my right leg, bent that knee, leaned sideways and tried for a side-press, but I was still sadly denied that move.

Back to more swings.

At five weeks after performing hundreds of thousands of two-handed swings, I was able to clean and jerk for multiple military presses. I was doing five reps on each side for the first set, then three reps on each side. I was also finally able to complete one set of five side-presses.

Now I’m performing multiple sets of the side press, military press, and floor press. I owe it to the swings that built up the muscle tissue, strengthened my tendons, and activated nerves that had lain dormant for too long.

In a nutshell, comrades, if you’re struggling in your grind exercises, give in to the old tried and true two-handed swing. I promise you’ll be pressing in no time.