After such great feedback from our previous post on the importance of core strength, we decided to expound on the subject a bit more. If you haven’t read it already, please go to 3 Reasons Not to Ignore Your Core to understand why you need to have a strong core as a runner or triathlete. A few readers suggested that while they know core work is good for them, the biggest struggle is how to keep it interesting.
This week we have solicited the help of an expert in this area, Andrew McConnell. Andrew is a coach and trainer at CrossFit Rehoboth and is a certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Gym Jones Level 2 Trainer and a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. So he knows a thing or two about core strengthening!
"With one or two kettlebells, it is possible to mimic almost every compound movement, which are key in developing functional core strength and stability. With simple guidance and cues, a beginner could reap these "core" benefits of kettlebells from the very start and continue to progress themselves with the addition of weight or added movements" says Andrew.
You’ve probably seen this odd-looking “iron cannonball with a handle” skulking in the corner of your gym but have been too intimidated to pick it up. Don’t be afraid, a kettlebell can be your best friend as you look for more interesting ways to strengthen your core. This little devil is designed to keep you off balance, forcing you to engage all of the core stabilizing muscles you’ve been ignoring by doing ONLY sit-ups and crunches.
Hundreds of interesting exercises can be performed with kettlebells to improve strength, power, stamina and even cardiovascular endurance. Need to improve mobility and flexibility? Yup, there are kettlebell exercises for that. Common kettlebell exercises involve swinging, squatting, and/or pressing with either one or two kettlebells at a time.
Benefits – to endurance athletes
Core-focused kettlebell workouts will burn tons of calories as you get your heart rate up – and because you’re building lean muscle in some of your body’s largest muscle groups, your body will continue to burn calories even after your workout.
In fact, many studies have proven this. A study published in February 2010 by the American Council on Exercise showed that kettlebell training builds cardiovascular fitness and aids in weight loss. Led by John Porcari, Ph. D, this research showed that after only a 20-minute kettlebell workout, research subjects burned an average of 272 calories. However as, Dr. Porcari states in his research conclusions: “We also measured the blood lactate, so anaerobically they were burning another 6.6 calories per minute, which is off the charts. That’s equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace.”
Now that we have your attention… how do you start using this thing?
Kettlebells are great workout tools, but they can be dangerous if the movements are performed incorrectly. Especially since all the movements are dynamic vs. static (like bench presses), they can easily get out of control. Consider working with a personal trainer to ensure you understand proper technique. Below are things to keep top of mind as you start kettlebell training.
"Even though the kettlebell(s) is always in your hand, most movements' power will be generated by your lower body. This stresses the importance of form to transfer that power safely and effectively with the help of the core. While form varies a bit depending on which movement you are performing, basic cues to keep in mind are: Head/chest up, lower back flat or slight arched, soft knees and the heels are driving into the ground." says Andrew.
Take it Slow
If you’re new to dynamic strength training, you’re lower back and stabilizing muscles are most likely unaccustomed to the type of strain you’ll be putting on them. If you do too much or try and push through pain, you’re more than likely going to pull a muscle and derail your run or triathlon training for days or even weeks.
Allowing the Kettlebell to Bang Against your Forearm
Many kettlebell exercises have you flipping the kettlebell over as you lift it. Don't allow the kettlebell to just slam into your arm, over the long term this may result in wrist and elbow injuries. To prevent this, focus on a tighter grip on the kettlebell as it rotates in your hand. As you naturally strengthen your wrists, forearms and grip, this technique will become easier - just be careful not to get into this bad habit as you start out.
Know Where the Kettlebell is Going at All Times
Own the kettlebell - you must direct the path of your kettlebell by either using gravity or your muscles. If you lose focus as you're doing a kettlebell swing, you're likely to knock a kneecap and now that long run you have scheduled tomorrow is going to be more painful than usual!
Also, swings and other dynamic exercises can put a lot of strain on your lower back. If your kettlebell is out of control, it's very easy to pull a back muscle as you attempt to bring it back under control.
The Top 5 Things to Keep in Mind During Your Workout
- Safety First - Respect even the lightest of kettlebells - these little buggers are heavier than they look. Always practice perfect for when picking them up and setting them down. Keep your focus until the kettlebell is safely parked.
- Focus on Form - Quality over quantity! Andrew points out that form starts to falter with fatigue. When you’re no longer able to perform the exercises with proper technique – STOP.
- Be Aware - Make sure your area is clear of obstacles and the surface of the floor is non-slippery. Depending on the length of your arms and the exercises you’re doing, you may need as much as a 5-foot circumference of clear area to workout.
- Wear Proper Shoes - Training barefoot is ideal because it promotes stronger feet and arches and if you’re a regular reader of our blog you know that strong feet are happy feet – especially for a runner. For a more practical alternative, consider shoes that have thin soles that will promote foot strength, balance and coordination. Vibram Five Fingers, Topo Athletic, or Vivobarefoot are all good choices.
- Keep Moving - A hard set will get your heart rate to an optimal state for endurance training – you want to make sure it doesn’t dip too low by keeping active between sets. Walking and moving your arms to keep your blood flowing are important aspects of your workout. Also consider wearing your heart rate monitor during these workouts.
Andrew’s Beginner Core Kettlebell Workout
The exercises in this plan will build abdominal strength, burn fat and create a powerful core that will make you a stronger and faster runner and triathlete. Use a 10- to 20-pound kettlebell (whatever you feel comfortable with), and concentrate on engaging your stomach muscles every time you lift the weight off the ground. For maximum benefit, perform four sets with 3-4 minutes of rest between sets, two to three times per week.
- One-arm kettlebell clean and forward lunge (same side) 6 times each side
- One-arm swings 10 times (each arm)
- One-arm clean, squat and press 8 times (each arm)
- Floor kettlebell crunch with 2 second pause at the top (12 times)
That’s all for this week’s post on how to keep your core workouts interesting. Remember that kettlebells, when used properly, can be your new best workout friend! A special thanks to Andrew McConnell for his expert advice this week. Find him at the Crossfit Rehoboth Gym located on Oyster House Road (Route 1) in Rehoboth Beach DE.
Keep on Running!
Julia, Patrick & Jo-Jo
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