The sporting world is getting more and more competitive, one evidence is the emergence of specialised coaches like Strength and Conditioning Coaches. Training methodologies too are becoming more and more results oriented and it makes sense that a lot are patterned after training methodologies from sports that train with weights. These “weight training” sports embody the result of their particular training methods. Weightlifters are known for their explosive power, bodybuilders for their muscular development, and powerlifters for their strength. Explosive power is very vital for a lot of sports events like 100 meter sprints, boxing, swimming, and any other sport that demands explosive power. That is why the Olympic lifts and their variants are used to train athletes by their Strength and Conditioning Coaches. Moving up in a weight category is better attained by increasing muscle mass rather than by increasing fat mass, and when you think of muscle mass, the bodybuilding routines come to mind. Now, kettlebells and Kettlebell Sport are becoming popular. Is there something that Kettlebell Training will offer to athletes of other sports? Or is athletic training already well covered by the lifts and exercises using barbells and dumbells?
A quick look in Kettlebell Sport:
Kettlebell sport demands the following fitness components: a good strength foundation, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance, some degree of flexibility, and a good deal of mobility. In competition, an athlete has to perform as many good repetitions as possible in the long cycle event or in the biathlon. Time limit is 10 minutes. Load lifted for men can be a pair of the following kettlebells: 16kg, 24kg, & 32kg. For women it would be 12kg, 16kg, and 20kg. There may be some other kettlebell weights used and some other lifting events. Good kettlebell athletes are able to perform good technique from the first repetition until the last moment of the 10 minute time limit. The winner is the athlete who is able to do the most number of good repetitions within his/her weight class and KB category. What is good about Kettlebell Sports is that there is also an international ranking system.
The basic (anatomical and physiologic) requirements:
Sufficient flexibility, mobility, and stability:
A good technique in the jerk and in the snatch requires good flexibility of the shoulder girdle as well as sufficient stability to hold the kettlebell in a stable position for a moment before starting the next repetition. The torso should also be able “yield” enough when needed but should not “collapse” as the lifter holds the bells overhead or in the rack position. The hips, knees, and ankles move in a coordinated manner. The elbows should be able to be “locked” straight when the bells are in the overhead position. Try holding both arms overhead, elbows straight and touch your ears with your biceps. It is easier said than done. Now, try it with a pair of kettlebells. Now you can feel your torso musculature, which is commonly referred to as “core”, work to be able to support the shoulder girdles, so that they in turn can support the arms in a straight position overhead while supporting a kettlebell with each hand.
To be able to lift two pieces of kettlebells or to snatch one overhead requires some strength. Two 24kg kettlebells is only 48kg right? Not that heavy as compared to what a regular gym rat would deadlift or press, but try jerking it overhead in good form for at least 5 minutes. Then you get to understand why strength development is important in kettlebell sport. Good Kettlebell Sport Athletes do 10 minutes, to be followed by snatching one Kettlebell for a total of 10 minutes in the biathlon. Then you get to realize that a good strength foundation enhances endurance.
Kettlebell Sport is an endurance sport and it is cyclic in nature. The key is to be able to sustain the movement (repetitions) as much as possible for ten minutes. The limiting factor is the time, but do as many good repetitions as possible, as opposed to some sports wherein the limiting factor is the distance, but cover it in the shortest possible time. Since the kettlebells are lifted overhead and it is not that light, expect the blood lactate levels to increase. Good Kettlebell athletes then should have the ability to tolerate high blood lactate levels or be able to do the lifts without increasing lactate levels to a relatively high level or, if actually possible, be able to lower it in between reps. A strong cardio-respiratory system supports the sustained effort of the muscolo-skeletal system.
Somebody training with Olympic Weightlifting has the required strength, flexibility, mobility, and stability but probably not the endurance of a kettlebell athlete. A middle distance runner may be able to tolerate the high blood lactate levels when needed, but probably does not have the required mobility. In short, training for Kettlebell Sport provides a unique combination of fitness and performance related components which may not be developed by any single training method aside from kettlebell training itself. This is then a good window of opportunity. It creates another training option.
A knowledgeable Strength and Conditioning Coach would be able to train athletes of other sports using kettlebell lifts so as to make them better at what they do. Since kettlebells can be used unilaterally, the torso musculature receives a very good stimulus to be stronger and be more stable. It also creates tension in the sagittal axis which may not be emphasized in bilateral symmetrical lifts. Another big factor in the effectivity of any training system is the knowledge and skills of the coach in implementing the training program. A basic qualification is that these coaches should be recognized by leading international bodies. And what is more important is that these Fitness Professionals have actual coaching experience, and not just any so-so coaching.