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The kettlebell is a killer training tool for forging a cast iron core. It’s like an anvil over which we can beat, shape, and sculpt abdominals that are both strong and shredded.
But because of the functionality of kettlebells, you’ll get more than just a core workout. Many of the exercises selected engage multiple muscle groups. Take the overhead lung as an example. All you’re doing is performing lunges with a kettlebell suspended above your head. Nothing radical about that. Yet, in addition to activating the full register of our abdominal muscles, the exercise also involves the quads, hams, glutes, lower back, shoulder, and too many stabilisers to mention.
As well as developing a Teflon-coated core, this kettlebell workout is completely modifiable. Any exercise or training task can be chopped and changed to suit your fitness goals. I’ve outlined a few ways to do this in the hints and tips section below.
Kettlebell core workout benefits
As noted in the NSCA’s Essential of Tactical Strength & Conditioning, when compared to conventional abdominal movements, ‘Core exercises recruit more large muscle areas [and] involve multiple joints.’ These attributes make them effective at improving general fitness conditioning. This explains why the authors of the above quote maintain that core exercise should be a ‘priority’ in any training program ‘because of their application’ to improved athletic performance.
But how do core exercises improve performance and why should we develop our core strength? Let’s start with the first part of that question.
Real world strength
Your core muscles act as a ‘central link in a chain’ that connects ‘your upper and lower body,’ (Harvard Health, 2012). Strengthening this central link helps to improve stability and control. These fitness outcomes enable you to handle your body through multiple planes while executing a complex exercise – such as the overhead barbell lunge.
An additional reason that we should strengthen our core is that it is involved in a vast array of activities. It’s hard to conceive of a … ‘No matter where motion starts, it ripples upward to adjoining links in the chain.’ Thus, forging a robust core can translate to the facilitation of ‘real-world’ tasks.
Ease lower back pain
The previously cited Harvard Health article claims that a ‘strong, flexible core underpins almost everything you do.’ Such things, we are told, include ‘everyday tasks’ and ‘on-the-job tasks.’ Other justifications for developing our core involve ‘reducing back pain’ and ‘promoting a healthy back.’
In support of the above benefit, that core training promotes a healthy back, Matt Lawernce, author of The Complete Guide to Core Stability, explains the reason. Apparently ‘strength and endurance gains in the core’ can help rectify poor postural alignment which is a ‘fundamental’ factor for ‘overcoming injuries in the lower back and spine.'
A strong core benefits sport performance
But the benefits of augmenting core stability don’t stop there. According to Lawernce, strengthening your core ‘can improve your power, agility and balance in sport.’ Need more reasons to get this kettlebell core workout into your training diet? Here are six:
Improved agility and balance
Improved back posture
Enhanced sports performance
Sharpened abdominal definition
Promotes real-world strength
Augments general physical performance
Kettlebell core workout
Before starting the workout, it’s important to warm up well first. Participating in a proper warm-up routine not only prepares the body for the demands of training but also reduces injury risk (NSCA’s Guide To Program Design). Don’t worry if you haven’t brought a warm-up. I’ve provided one for you.
Once you’ve elevated your core temperature and tuned the muscles to the technical requirements of the coming training tasks, you’re ready to start the workout.
You’ll notice that the plan is comprised of a mixture of classic core exercises and ones adapted to include kettlebells.
Exercises have been organised in a descending complexity sequence. That is, the more technical, multi-joint movements feature early on in the plan. Performing complex exercises when you are least fatigued yields ‘greater rates of force development, high repetition number, and greater amounts of weight lifted,’ (NSCA’s Guide To Program Design).
To diversify the fitness outcomes, two training methods have been applied. The first, which involves a series of sets, aims to develop muscular strength. Thus, greater loads should be selected and longer rest breaks taken.
The second method aims to advance muscular endurance. To achieve this outcome, the exercises are to be completed as a circuit. Because this method involves extensive exposures of outputs, with diminished rest periods, it is advisable to use lighter loads.
Ensure to warm up before starting the workout.
Select the training method most suited to your fitness goals. To recap the two methods on offer:
The first aims to increase strength in the core and surrounding muscle groups. Resistances and rests are high while volume and output are low.
The second method shifts focus along the training continuum to muscle endurance. Resistance and rest period are reduced but volume and output are high.
1 to 2 min mobility exercises (try air squats, controlled trunk rotations, and shadowboxing) → 4 min cardio (rowing or cross-trainer) → 1 up to 5 reps air squats to side rotations → 2 min cardio → 1 up to 5 reps press-ups to step and reach → 1 min cardio → 1 up to 5 reps kettlebell swings to plank (reps as seconds) → Start the kettlebell cardio workout!
Core strength training exercises
Overhead lunge. This is a versatile exercise that boasts a broad range of progression variations. Here are three to have a go at. 1) Suspend two kettlebells above your head. Increasing the load promotes greater strength gains. However, using two bells reduces the instability of the exercise which decreases core engagement. 2) Execute a snatch on concluding each lunge, then perform the next lung on the opposite side. In addition to increasing core engagement, snatching involves many more muscle groups, and it will send your pulse rate through the roof. 3) Step onto a Bosu Ball. This is an advanced technique and should only be performed by experienced trainers.
Turkish get-up. Beginners would be wise to modify TGU. It’s a challenging exercise comprised of multiple moving parts. This makes it a high-risk exercise. But that’s not to say that you should avoid it completely. There are a couple of simple ways to make TGUs much safer. Get-up first-timers should drop a kettlebell weight. If you can comfortably snatch a 16 kg, perform TGUs with an 8 kg. Also, consider splitting the exercise into two halves and practice them separately before piecing them together. The first half: from the prone position to kneeling. The second half: from kneeling to standing.
Passes are performed pretty much as they sound. Gripping the corner of the kettlebell handle – to create plenty of space for the receiving hand – proceed to pass the kettlebell around your body. Your feet are positioned close together and your knees are bent. A complete orbit of your body constitutes a single rep. Typically, all the reps in a set will be performed before you change direction. So, let’s say that you’re passing the kettlebell clockwise around the body and there are 10 reps in the set. On the final rep raise the kettlebell level with your torso and arrest its orbit with your free hand – the body of the bell should forcefully press into your palm. Now, physically push! it in the opposite direction to start the next set of 10 reps.
Kettlebell core workout hints and tips
You can modify the plan to suit your training preferences. For example, if you want to focus exclusively on the core, you could either replace or remove the two posterior chain movements – Romanian deadlifts and swings – and cardio finisher. These exercises could be substituted for hanging leg raises, cable rotations, or stability ball . . . However, it’s imperative that we balance the body. If you have a core-only workout in your weekly training routine, it’s wise to include a posterior chain-only workout also.
I’ve applied two training variations to the kettlebell core workout – one to develop strength (conventional sets-reps-rest) and the other to promote muscle endurance (circular circuit). But what if your goal is to increase fitness conditioning or enhance performance in your preferred sporting discipline? To tailor the plan to suit these goals is relatively straightforward.
For the first, you could AMRAP the exercises. Setting a 5-minute timer, your objective is to perform as many repetitions as possible. Because the training volume is much higher, your aerobic system will be much more involved – thus conferring fitness conditioning gains. (These gains could be further compounded by factoring in extra cardio stations.)
Concerning sports performance, you have the option of including drills, exercises, and tasks specific to those of your sport. A golfer might modify cable twists by lowering the pully arm so that, when they perform the movement, it simulates the action of swinging a club. As well as working the core, this modification would afford the golfer additional training opportunities to hone their skill set. The same strategy can be applied to every conceivable sport.
Depending on your training objectives, you might not want (nor need) to dedicate an entire session to core development. That’s understandable. After all, if you prioritise functional exercises in your workouts then your core will be indirectly engaged anyway. A quick 10-minute top-up through the week would likely be sufficient to meet your needs. The most effective way to use the kettlebell core workout in this capacity is by selecting the circuit option and completing one lap at the start or end of your prescheduled session.
Enjoyed this kettlebell core workout?
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