18 Mar Can Kettlebells Improve Olympic Lifting And Powerlifting Performance? The Latest Research In Kettlebell Training

Olympic LiftIn a recent published study about kettlebell training, the body of evidence continues to grow.

In the February, 2013 Issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Vol, 27, No. 2, pp.477-484), a study looked at kettlebell training and the transference of strength and power to Olympic lifting and powerlifting.

The question is can training with kettlebells enhance the performance in other lifts?

Very interesting.  I’ll give you my perspective on this at the end.

Let’s take a quick look at the details and what this study actually found.

In this study, 37 subjects (age 18-72) were randomized into 2 groups, an experimental group and a control group.

All participants were engaged in some type of strength training program, 2 to 3 times per week for at least 6 months prior to the study.

The experimental group performed a 10 week, progressive kettlebell training program.  The control group did not.

All participants were required to have baseline strength assessments including:

  • a barbell clean and jerk,
  • barbell bench press,
  • maximal vertical jump,
  • and 45 degree back extension to volitional fatigue.

Data was collected prior to and after completing 10 weeks of progressive kettlebell training.

There were 5 micro-cycles in the 10 week training period, in which intensity and complexity increased every 2 weeks.

The study found that after the 10 week progressive training protocol, the experimental group demonstrated an improvement in strength and power with the barbell clean and jerk and the bench press.

No significant difference was noted in the vertical jump (which was somewhat surprising) and the back extension to fatigue.

The study demonstrated that there was strength and power transference to Olympic lifting and powerlifting activities.

Overall, the subjects improved their clean and jerk by 10% and bench press by approximately 30%.

Of course, like any other study, there are limitations such as the small sample size and strength assessment measures.

Also, looking at the 10 week training protocol, program design could be improved that would very likely influence the outcomes even further in this study.

I will say that one of the first things I look for in these kettlebell studies is the weight used in the protocol (as most previously reported studies have used too light of a load, however, have still shown benefit.)

This trial used a weight load that was progressively increased with each phase of the 10 week training program.

Compared to most previous studies which have used a 16 kg kettlebell throughout the duration, which is considerably light for an accurate assessment of kettlebell strength training benefit.

But, as with previous studies, this study demonstrated strength improvement using kettlebells.

What is very interesting is how the kettlebell training actually transferred to barbell lifts.

It only makes sense that if this tool is used the correct way and the load is progressed appropriately, there should be a transference of benefit to other strength and conditioning methods.

Kettlebell training is a unique and dynamic training tool that offers massive benefits, when used properly and when the instruction from a properly trained fitness professional (as was reported in this study).

The body of evidence continues to build with kettlebell training applications as a viable tool for strength and conditioning coaches to improve athletic performance.

The key is that the strength coach or fitness professional MUST be trained in proper use of the tool, to teach safe and effective technique so that the athlete or client can maximize the results.

Since the kettlebell is a unique and dynamic training tool, proper training of the instructor is not only suggested, but required to optimize the results.

I view the kettlebell as the ultimate, all-around fitness and performance training tool and it’s great to see data continuing to emerge showing strength and performance benefits of using kettlebells.

It may have been interesting to see a larger sample size and how this may have made a difference in the other 2 measures in this study (vertical jump and back extension), however, the strength and power benefits were still impressive.

More data and larger trials will be necessary to better understand the performance benefits, but things are looking favorable to support the utility of kettlebell training in a broad population with numerous benefits (as demonstrated by this and other previous trials).

I can tell you that these findings are not surprising.

From a purely practical standpoint (my own experience), I have found that kettlebell training can add signfiicantly to the transference of skill, power, and strength to other lifts, if learned correctly.

I’ll have more on this in future articles.

The explosive ballistics (swing, snatch, and clean) and the slow, steady grinds (presses, squat variations, and turkish get ups) can contribute greatly to athletic performance and improving other strength training methods.

It is nice to see data that supports this.

What’s the key take-away with all this information?

Learn to use a kettlebell the right way and this can translate into great benefits with your coaching, training, and performance with other training methods.  Always continue your learning and keep improving to get better results, whether for yourself or for your athletes and clients.

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