06 Mar How To Use Kettlebells For Injury Prevention.
As a former physical therapist, I was immediately attracted to the kettebell for a long list of reasons.
Things like the unique blend of human biomechanics, cardiovascular fitness, and strength training applications for starters.
And, the results were outstanding.
After decades of training, this tool “had me at hello” for all the strength and performance benefits it offers.
But, what about the kettebell as a rehab or injury prevention tool?
You kiddin’ me? Abso-frickin-lutely!
There may not be a better tool on the planet for shoulder and back health than the Russian kettlebell.
I expect some resistance with this concept, but this is my experience and what I believe to be true.
And, unfortunately most of the PT’s (physical therapists) out there haven’t discovered how truly effective this tool is and are probably still doing the same conventional stuff I used to do when I was in the clinic. Sad, but true.
Now, of course, there are the innovators and pioneers out there, too.
As a matter of fact, I have a good buddy, who happens to be a PT.
I speak to him frequently about using the kettlebell as a rehab tool.
I’ll call him Chet. Chet gets it.
He understands the value of this tool with his patients and, more importantly, he understands how to use the tool correctly to achieve the movement, function, and performance goals he sets.
He’s a maverick in the clinic as he uses the kettlebell, in some capacity, with his diverse population of youth through geriatric.
He’s not afraid to be different and use something that will get his patients moving better and moving stronger.
For improvements in strength, mobility, and stability the kettlebell is an exceptional tool to restore function and improve movement patterns.
A tool to reduce the risk of injury.
I’m talking about movement patterns such as the Deadlift and partial Turkish Get Ups (TGU). And, eventually, the kettlebell swing and goblet squat, if appropriate.
Of course, there are many variables that will depend on progressions and treatment approaches, but I would strongly argue on behalf of the kettebell as an injury prevention tool.
What other exercise can work on shoulder mobility, dymamic stability, and rotator cuff strength like the TGU?
This is an outstanding, effective, and very powerful exercise, not only for the rotator cuff (RTC) musculature, but the entire thoracic spine and shoulder girdle complex.
Why is this so effective for the RTC?
The RTC is a group of 4 muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor) that are responsible for many functions and movements in your shoulder joint, but it’s primary job is to stabilize and hold the humoral head (ball) in the glenoid (socket).
When I was a PT, we used to do all sorts of RTC strengthening exercises that reportedly isolated the all important RTC musculature.
Lots of the those exercises were done with rubber tubing, bands, and other gadgets.
Do these exercises work?
Yes, they do work on the cuff muscles and may improve the muscle firing so that the RTC does what it is supposed to do: stabilize the humoral head for efficient shoulder joint biomechanics.
But, what I have discovered is that the TGU is one of the most highly effective exercises I’ve ever done to fire the RTC through a dynamic range of motion in multiple planes.
It’s better than what we used to do in the clinic for improving the function of the RTC.
As you move from the ground to the up position and back down again, the RTC is firing, stabilizing, and moving through a complete range of motion. And, when you add a load to it, it takes things to a whole new level.
The demand is high on the RTC. Again, it’s doing what it is supposed to do: stabilize.
Early on, when I discovered this exercise, one of the thoughts I had racing through my mind was how insanely effective this exercise was for the RTC strengthening.
This was a major “A-ha” moment for me, with regards to the applications of kettlebells.
Now, what about kettlebells for back injury prevention?
Let me share a quick, personal story with you.
I intimately know all about back pain and injury.
I blew my back out when I was younger.
No, let me re-phrase that. I blew out my back “big time” when I was younger.
What exactly do I mean?
I injured my back in May and had surgery in July because I couldn’t walk.
I literally couldn’t function and was flat on my back for a couple months in excruciating pain.
I had a severe disc herniation (extrusion) at level L4-L5 which required a rapid surgery to repair the disc.
At the time I sustained the injury, I didn’t really know the severity, so I kept lifting and training for a few days.
I didn’t listen to my body.
I’m very familiar with severe back pain on a personal level.
I know what it’s like to go through physical therapy as a patient, aside from my own background as a treating physical therapy clinician in the orthopedic setting.
Based on my own experience and training, I can tell you there there is no better exercise for strengthening the back like the properly performed Russian style kettlebell swing.
The kettlebell swing (KBS) not only addresses strength, but muscular endurance in a very unique and beneficial way, unlike any other exercise.
This combination of muscular strength and muscular endurance is a key for injury prevention, as reported by Dr. Stuart McGill (Spine Biomechanics authority).
The KBS is a hip hinge pattern and when executed properly, there are great benefits.
If someone feels back pain while doing this exercise, they are usually doing the exercise incorrectly and haven’t learned the proper movement pattern yet.
In fairness, there is a very small number of patients that would experience a problem with this exercise, even if done correctly, according to published data by Dr. McGill.
The group of patients would have a condition called spondylolisthesis, which is type of spinal instability and the shearing force of the KBS may cause discomfort.
Other than this population, there should not be an issue with the exercise.
What we know is that there are countless benefits with the KBS.
But, one of the key hidden benefits is that it will help to prevent back injuries from occurring in the first place, when executed properly.
Here’s a general injury prevention progression for the back and shoulder.
Keep in mind, this will depend on many variables, of course.
Progressions For the TGU:
- 1st learn the 7 steps of the movement, breaking down each step, before attempting the entire movement pattern
- Once the entire up and down movement pattern is established, now “load” the exercise with 1/2 cup of water on the fist and attempt a “clean” TGU for 5 reps each side. Don’t let the water spill. (1/2 cup of water is an outstanding way to learn a smooth and controlled movement pattern, before using a weight).
- Once safe, clean, efficient movement is established, it is now safe to begin to load the exercise with an appropriate weight to begin to challenge the RTC musculature.
- *NOTE: If the entire movement cannot be performed, it may be acceptable to do 1/3 or 1/2 TGU’s in a loaded manner for the benefit of RTC strengthening, if this is the goal of the exercise.
- And, there are many drills within the TGU to correct dysfunction. For great drills with this exercise, get the great DVD Kalos Sthenos with Gray Cook and Brett Jones.
Progressions For the KBS:
- The 1st step is to establish a proper hip hinge pattern. This is unweighted and focuses on proper movement mechanics.
- Once a proper hip hinge is established, it is now acceptable to begin a KB deadlift with an appropriate sized KB, performing sets of 5 to 10 repetitions.
- Now comes the progression to many different types of associated drills to build an effective swing pattern. There is an extensive list of drills and progressions that will help to build the pattern of the Russian style swing. Practicing these drills will yield massive benefit to learn how to swing a KB properly. For step by step video training on this, see Kettlebells for Beginners.
- Once a safe, effective KBS pattern is established, it is now appropriate to begin with sets of 10 to 20 reps, completing 3 to 5 rounds of swings, for those new to kettlebells. Again, this should be completely pain free, if executed properly, and will be one of the most important, beneficial exercises for total back health you will ever do.
Is the kettlebell an injury prevention tool?
I rest my case.
I have to tell you, these are only 2 examples of how the kettlebell can be applied to reduce the risk of injury.
There are many other exercise examples, as well. This just scratches the surface, to be honest.
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