Warm Up and Cool Down Flow

by Paul Britt on March 22, 2017

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Senior RKC Paul Britt

How do you warm up for training? Is there a flow and/or pattern to it? How about the cool down afterwards? I like to consider economy of movement in my warm-ups because it tends to speed up my prep and my cool down. I want the warm-up to systematically prepare me for the session ahead—and I have designed it to work on my mobility and stability issues. In our modern society, we all seem to have similar thoracic restrictions, core stability, active straight leg raise restriction, and toe touch difficulties.

I perform the warm-up in a circuit for one or two sets. Even though one set is typically enough, if I am not warmed up appropriately when I get to the end of the first set, I will add a second. I want to make sure that nothing is left out of my full-body warm-up. The same goes for the cool down—I want to make sure that I hit all my issues that need work. I use this particular flow because my issues are thoracic mobility restriction, ankle mobility. Since I am sitting a lot in class, those are the areas where I concentrate at the start and finish of my workout session.

I start my warm-up with a minute or two on the foam roller. If you have to spend a lot of time on your foam roller or if you’ve named it, get checked out by a professional of some type. I really do a quick run through with it to scan and work through any major trigger points. After the roller, it is time to start moving and warming up.

Perform the following in a circuit:

  • Tall kneeling halo x 10 each way with a light kettlebell
  • 1 RKC armbar on each side
  • Bretzel left and right
  • Pump stretch x 10
  • 1 Get-up on each side
  • 5 Prying goblet squats with same weight as the Halo

After one or two times through my warm-up circuit, I perform five kettlebell deadlifts. I stand up and reset on each lift to perfectly set the groove. In general with my warm-up, everything starts on the ground and moves upward. It is easy to transition from tall kneeling to lying to the deadlifts at the end. It tends to flow well for me.

My cool down follows the same progression, and also moves from the ground up:

  • Supine piriformis stretch, 10 seconds left and right
  • Bretzel left and right
  • Shin box stretch (video)
  • Heel sit stretch
  • Child pose
  • Frog stretch
  • RKC hip flexor stretch
  • Hip flexor stretch with a twist
  • Elongated hip flexor stretch
  • Standing hamstring stretch
  • Cossack stretch
  • Shoulder stretch left and right
  • Pull-up bar hang

Just like the warm-up, I like to move in a flow from the ground up. I did not specify any particular reps for the cool down, instead I typically use my breath to move through the stretches. I find that 3-5 diaphragmatic breaths will safely move me to the edge of my range of motion. I designed the warm-up and the cool down to flow from one position to the next with economy, this makes it faster than if I just did random stretches and warm-ups. Find out the issues you need to address and create a flow that allows you to move smoothly and quickly through the series.

If you are pinched for time, for a workout you could actually load the get-up and squat with a kettlebell and move through the circuit several times. You will benefit from the mobility work and build strength on an open frame. But only load those two exercises in the series. The kettlebell halo and RKC armbar are not strength exercises, they are movement prep and mobility/stability work, so a heavy load is not appropriate or safe.

 

***

Senior RKC Paul Britt has been an RKC kettlebell instructor since 2006. Paul trains people at workshops and privately. Paul is currently attending Parker University working on his Doctor of Chiropractic degree Paul has served as an assistant instructor at many RKC and HKC Courses, is a Certified Kettlebell Functional Movement Specialist (CK-FMS) and works with some of the top Chiropractors in North Texas. Please visit his website for more information or to contact him

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Sebastian Muller Overhead 40kg kettlebell press

Kettlebell exercises are much more common in fitness these days because of the RKC, CrossFit, strongman and functional training. But, only truly strong athletes will be able to lift heavy kettlebells overhead without risking injury.

When I began my training a few years ago, I hated it. No matter where I looked, everybody was stronger than me—at least that’s what I thought when I saw what others were lifting. But, the further I went down the path of strength training, I discovered a real secret. I learned why—after months of training—I still lifted lighter weights than the other guys (and girls).

The difference was that I pressed the weights with very strict form. I would clean a kettlebell and then press it until my arm was straight overhead. While this is an extremely effective way to train your body, it is not really useful for lifting very heavy weights.

If you want to move big kettlebells, you have to be creative. You’ll need to look for effective exercises and movements that allow you to use more of your muscles. This post will outline the four best exercises I’ve found for this purpose.

1. The Get-Up

Turkish wrestlers and aspiring athletes who trained with them used this exercise to prepare for the hard and demanding sport-specific wrestling training. If an athlete couldn’t “get up” with at least half of his body weight, he wasn’t allowed to participate in wrestling training. Being able to lift a lot of weight is just one advantage of the get-up. Your body will learn to work as a unit, and every muscle is involved with this movement. When I first did the get-up with a kettlebell, I chose the same weight I was using for strict presses. After a few weeks, I increased that weight by 100%.

Since one arm is holding the weight straight overhead during the entire get-up exercise, it strengthens and stabilizes your shoulder muscles. When you’re able to do the movement correctly and smoothly, then the goal of using half your body weight is absolutely realistic.

Sebastian Muller 40kg Get-Up

Performing the Get-Up

  • Start on your back, lying on the ground.
  • Safely pick up the weight, and extend your arm to press the weight overhead.
  • Push with your supporting leg to the side and roll up on your elbow.
  • Sit up straight.
  • Bring the knee of the extended leg under your hip.
  • Be sure your upper body is upright, and rotate it straight forward.
  • Stand up into a shoulder-width stance.

2. Bent Press (Advanced)

Old time strongmen and athletes of the 19th century did tremendous feats of strength with this exercise. You don’t see it very much these days, despite its many advantages. (The bent press is a very advanced exercise and should only be attempted when the kettlebell lifter is ready. Find an RKC-II instructor near you for help and coaching with this movement.)

But, if it is safe and appropriate for the trainee, the carryover from the bent press to other movements is gigantic. It also enormously improves hip and thoracic spine mobility. Another special thing about the bent press is that it has no “perfect form”. Everyone does it a bit differently. Although the process is always the same, there are three options: hip dominant (similar to the windmill), thigh dominant (closer to a squatting pattern), or a version that incorporates both movement patterns.

Sebastian Muller Bent Press 40kg

Performing the Bent Press:

  • Bring the weight up to the chest safely (the “rack position”).
  • Position your arm onto your big back muscles and let it remain there.
  • “Sit” under the weight by opening or hinging the hip and rotating the upper body until the arm holding the kettlebell is completely straight.
  • Straighten the hip and legs to return to the standing position.

3. Push Press

The push press bears the most resemblance to the strict press. But with the push-press, the upper body muscles only start to work when the kettlebell is already on its way up. The force of the push press comes from the legs and the hips. A small knee dip followed by an explosive hip extension transfers the force to propel the kettlebell overhead.

Sebastian Muller Push Press Bump with 40kg kettlebell

Performing the Push Press:

  • Bring the weight up to the chest safely (the “rack position”).
  • Hinge the hips and bend your knees slightly (about one quarter of a squat).
  • Explosively extend legs and hips (“bump” see the photo above).
  • Straighten the arm. After the bump, the handle of the kettlebell should be at about the height of your forehead, before you straighten the arm.

4. Jerk

The jerk is an exercise to bring up the most weight overhead with two kettlebells. It takes the upper body muscles responsible for the press almost completely out of the game. Everything in the jerk is similar to the push press up until the bump. When the kettlebells are forehead height, you have to do another dip with the knees and hips—and simultaneously extend both arms.

This exercise is super complex, but also allows you to use a lot of weight.

Performing the Jerk

  • Safely clean the kettlebells up to the chest (the “rack position”).
  • Hinge the hips and slightly bend your knees (about one quarter of a squat).
  • Explosively extend your legs and hips (“bump”).
  • Bend your knees and hinge your hips again when the kettlebell reaches your forehead. Simultaneously extend your arm.
  • Extend your legs and hips to stand up straight with the weight overhead.

Prerequisite Requirements for Safely Lifting Heavy Kettlebells Overhead:

Before you try these exercises, there are prerequisite requirements for lifting heavy kettlebells overhead—which include a certain level of mobility and stability to prevent overtraining or injury.

Sebastian Muller Overhead Reach Test

Test your overhead lockout position:

  • Stand with your back facing a wall with your heels about 5cm (about 2 inches) from the wall.
  • Your buttocks, upper back, shoulders and back of your head are touching the wall.
  • Hinge the hip so that you ‘’pinch’’ your hand to the wall. The pressure on the hand should be there during the entire exercise.
  • Put your other hand straight up overhead.

When the wrist of your fully extended arm touches the wall while your back remains stable, you will have fulfilled the mobility requirements. If you’ve run into trouble here, first work on your thoracic spine mobility and shoulder joints. To safely lift heavy kettlebells overhead, you will also need stable shoulder joints and a strong core musculature. You should have also mastered the basic kettlebell movements: swing, get-up, clean, press, squat, snatch.

The get-up is the best exercise to prepare your shoulders for heavy weights. When you master the get up, you will build a strong foundation for lifting heavy kettlebells. You can even increase the effectiveness of the exercise by adding overhead walks to your get-up sessions. For example, walk with the kettlebell overhead every time you are in the standing position of the get-up.

When a get-up with half your bodyweight is no problem for you anymore, and you are safe in the kettlebell basics, you are ready for the bent press, push press and jerk.

When Training with Heavy Kettlebells, Movement Quality is Essential

The movement patterns of the get-up, bent press, push press and jerk are complex. Many joints and big muscle groups have to work together perfectly. Before you can load these movement patterns with heavy kettlebells, you should master the movements. You simply can’t afford to stop and think about what you have to do next while you are holding a heavy kettlebell. The best way to avoid mistakes is to do everything correctly from the start. Be a professional and learn the exercises from a qualified coach.

Sebastian Muller Rack Position 40kg

How to Use These Exercises:

The movements we’ve discussed in this blog post can be divided into two categories: skill and power. Skill and power exercises belong at the beginning of your training routine. They require high focus, and we want to lift heavy kettlebells with these exercises. It’s a bad idea to tackle this combination while fatigued.

The get-up and bent press are in the skill category. They are complex movements that involve many muscle groups and joints. They are also performed slowly and under high tension. After warming up, do perfect repetitions in turns, always starting with your less strong side. One to a maximum of five sets will do a fine job. After ten total repetitions (five for each side), move on to other exercises.

The push press and jerk are power exercises. While these movement patterns are less complex, you need a lot of explosiveness and power. After warming up, do perfect repetitions in turns, always starting with your less strong side. One to a maximum of five sets will do a fine job. After ten total repetitions (five for each side), move on to other exercises.

Important Rules:

  • Be sure to fulfill the stability and mobility requirements for the overhead movements before attempting them—especially with heavy kettlebells.
  • Master the basics!
  • Learn all of the described movements from a qualified coach.
  • Always practice while fresh, with high focus. Aim to improve a little at every training session.

If you follow these rules, you will surely draw the admiration of others and have the best workouts of your life. Now that you know four exercises for lifting heavy kettlebells, go and lift your training skills to the next level.

 

***

Sebastian Müller, RKC Team Leader, and PCC Instructor is a personal trainer in Erfurt (Germany) and teaches seminars all over Germany. After 16 years of training he founded the first kettlebell studio in his federal state. He is the head coach of KRABA Erfurt (“Strength and Movement Academy”) and a passionate blogger. His focus lies on what he enjoys the most: to inspire people for simple training and making it an important part of their lives!  Translation by Martin Breternitz HKC, KRABA Erfurt

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