Make Friends with Kettlebells

rack of different colored kettlebells of various weights

I know, these funky-looking weights can seem a little weird if you’ve never tried them before.  And I guarantee you don’t have to have a certain qualifying percentage of Eastern European heritage in order to use them effectively!  Kettlebells are lean, mean fat-burning machines (well, technically you are the machine in this equation- but you get the gist of it) so I encourage you to make friends with them.

And hey, if you’re designing your own home gym, I encourage you to add a kettlebell or 2 (if not a whole set) into the mix. These bad boys are not just great strength and muscle builders but also provide that much-needed variety for your stale cardio routines – especially for folks that experience cold-weather winters and go stir crazy on the treadmill or other types of indoor cardio equipment.  Kettlebells are that fresh spin your body’s been craving. Calorie-incinerating, arm-toning, ab-tightening – what’s not to love?  If you’re new to kettlebells and not sure where to start, here are several standard exercises to get your muscles pumping.

Kettlebell Deadlift

  • Put some arch in your low back, pivoting slightly at the hips
  • Squeeze your glutes as you squat down, ensuring your back keeps its form
  • Grab the kettlebell with a full belly of air
  • Keep your arms at full extension as you rise

Around-the-World

woman does around-the-world kettlebell exercise

  • Hold the kettlebell in your right hand
  • Swing the bell out in front of you with an extended arm
  • Grab with your left hand as the weight passes your naval
  • Swing it behind you, grabbing the weight again with your right hand
  • After 4-6 rotations, switch the direction for 4-6 more
  • Try not to whack your butt too much!

Front Squats

  • Clean the kettlebell up to your chest and hold with both hands
  • Stand with your feet slighter wider than shoulder-width
  • Put a mild arch in your back (like the deadlift above), and point your chin up slightly
  • Descend until upper legs are right at parallel with the ground
  • Stand back up, avoiding lock-out in your knees

Two-Arm Kettlebell Row

  • Pick up 2 bells and hold them against the front of your thighs in an upright position
  • Hinge at the waist while keeping the upper back flat, bend knees a bit
  • Draw the kettlebells up to your waist together, keeping arms close to your sides
  • Hit 8-12 reps

Kettlebell Half-Get-Up

woman does get-up exercise with red kettlebell

  • Lie down on your back with legs out
  • Grab the kettlebell and then extend your right arm fully
  • Bend the left knee and surge up, with your left arm propping up your body in a triangle
  • Transition to sitting, then carefully reverse the movement; repeat 8-10 times

Kettlebell Swing

  • Grab the kettlebell handle with both hands, while keeping your feet wider than shoulder width apart
  • Start the movement by thrusting the hips forwards (as opposed to using the arms) and pinching the glutes
  • Let the arms continue the swing’s momentum until the bell comes up to face level
  • Control the swing in the downward motion too for safety and eccentric muscle training
  • Go for time: start with sets of 20 seconds – even go with a Tabata routine once you’re comfortable with the movement

woman swinging kettlebell

An efficient kettlebell circuit offers you a fantastic complete body blast leading to a bullet-proof core and excellent recruitment of multiple muscle groups for functional fitness training.  Prepared to give these monsters a shot? Trying putting the exercises above to work for you next time you’re bored with your tired old cardio routine, or if you need a change from the weight routine you’ve been using since high school.  You might just reap some impressive results in much less time than expected – and just in time for summer!

Work these individual exercises in here and there, or even try a full kettlebell-only workout up to 3 times a week to guarantee a nice metabolic shake-up to usher in some new weight loss.

 

How Do You Use the Trap Bar?

 

For those gym-goers that are looking to build the most size and muscle possible, a good plan is to turn to the so-called big three lifts. These three major movements are the bench press, deadlift, and squat. With just these three exercises a relative novice could become an absolute monster with enough dedication and time. And the nice thing about these mass-builders is that you don’t need much by way of equipment, usually just a basic Olympic style barbell and a rack or bench-combo system of some sort.

But did you know there’s another often-overlooked apparatus you could be incorporating into your training?  The trap bar. Most gyms I’ve belonged to had one, though it was usually pushed off into a corner somewhere and only occasionally used by someone – and usually the wrong way.  Let’s try to better understand how to use the trap bar, and you may find that it’s a tremendously useful way to switch up the motor patterns you’re engaging with your weight routine.

trap bar

The Deadlift

 

With a modified trap bar deadlift, you’re engaging several different parts of your thoracic chain that otherwise wouldn’t get worked by the traditional deadlift. While the deadlift is an amazing exercise, it is more or less primarily geared for those looking to powerlift (and maybe a few masochists who just like the lift). If you’re someone that is an athlete, soldier, or law enforcement officer, you need an exercise that is not only going to engage the back and lower body, but you want to ensure that it’s capable of really putting in the work that will translate to usable skills. Form is massively important with this movement but by keeping an eye on it, you’ll be able to see that with the trap bar deadlift, you’re tackling the lift with a slightly different range of motion.

 

With a traditional deadlift the bar is in front of you and the goal is to minimize that by dragging the bar against your legs on the move upwards. With the trap bar deadlift the bar is basically aligned with your spine and you’re able to stand straight up with it instead of leaning over the bar so much.

trap bar dead lift

Unlike the deadlift, you’re going to be engaging your low back less and your quads and hamstrings more, especially your quads. So instead of getting a primary glute or hamstring-oriented stretch when doing the exercise, it’s going to really emphasize your front of your legs . So essentially, the trap bar deadlift is taking the traditional deadlift range of motion and enabling you to follow more of a dynamic, sports-oriented pathway. This is a unique exercise and if you stick with it, it can even carry over and improve your numbers on the squat and regular deadlift, while possibly sparing your back from too much compression.

 

And without a doubt, it’s the most popular exercise people do with the trap bar. Aside from that, there are other great ways to get in shape via the trap bar.

 

Trap Bar Press

 

Most people’s chest training often suffers from lack of variety.  A great way to mix it up and stimulate new growth is to engage your pecs via the trap bar. Most have only ever bench pressed with either dumbbells or a straight Olympic barbell, and while this is a classic and effective exercise, with the trap bar you can attack your muscles from new angles. Because of the shape and length of the bar, you’re getting a very dynamic and unique stretch on the shoulder capsule and the triceps. This will enable you to not only press more weight if you do the exercises consistently, but you’re truly exposing your muscles and body to new stimuli that will result in much greater muscle hypertrophy.

 

So whether it’s just a basic press or the classic deadlift, with the trap bar you can incorporate new muscle emphasis to break up the monotony of your routine and even improve upon your time-tested, big three lifts.

How to use Floss Bands for Rehab

I’ve been through all kinds of rehab treatments for the many times I have busted up my body in training and on race day.  A round of epidurals in the old back, chiropractic, “rolfing” and other deep tissue work – they all have their place and DO work, but at different speeds and the extent of recovery will vary with each individual.

And then in the second phase of treating an injury active recovery methods like yoga and Pilates tend to help once the initial inflammation of a pull or strain has subsided a bit.

floss bands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I came across a new methodology about a year-and-a-half ago that’s nothing short of amazing for both injury prevention AND treatment – band flossing, or simply “flossing” among the in crowd.

First seeing this used by competitive cross-fitters and power lifters, I had to give it a go with a recent nagging knee strain that wasn’t responding to my other attempts to get the pesky join back in line.  Short story: it worked pretty well and is now a part of my warm up and cool down regimen.  Here’s some more about this cutting edge rehab modality.

 

When you can use Floss Bands?

 

Floss bands aren’t going to be much use with spinal issues, but seem to be well-suited to the following:

  • ankle mobility
  • shoulder internal rotation
  • anterior knee pain, lateral knee pain
  • infra-patella pain or pain under patella
  • upper thigh, hamstring
  • upper arm, forearm and elbow

Each of these areas and their relevant functions call for a distinct way to wrap the floss bands. If there is a problem with how the compression bands are wrapped, the whole process will be ineffective. Wrapping the floss bands too loosely or tightly is not recommended. And definitely don’t use floss bands on bruises or open wounds, even if there is a bandage. Do not use these bands in case of severe injury such as fractures or torn ligaments. Use floss bands for very short periods of time, usually 45 seconds to two minutes at a stretch and you should unwrap the bands if there is any tingling sensation, if the skin turns pale or if there is any indication of increase in blood pressure. Floss bands work best when used sparsely and only around the affected muscle, joint or tissues.

 

How to use Floss Bands for Rehab

 

Always opt for optimal tension while using floss bands for the first time. You don’t want it to be loose and you definitely don’t want it to be too tight. Just have enough tension to allow the range of motion or the workout you are about to undertake. When you are using floss bands on shoulders, wrap away from your body so you should go clockwise on the right shoulder and anticlockwise on the left shoulder. Start wrapping at the top of the shoulder and continue wrapping till about mid arm. Tuck the end when you are done with the length of the band. Rotate your arm and test the motion. Remember to keep the time-under-tension below 2 minutes. Finish the shoulder exercise and then remove the band before moving to any other joint or muscle where you may need the band.

 

When you have to use floss bands on the elbow, start above it and ensure fifty percent tension on the compression band, wrap the band away from your body and ensure seventy five percent tension, wrap till just under the elbow and then move up wrapping the arm till above the elbow. Tuck the tip of the band. Straighten the arm and bend it to feel the range of motion and adjust tension if needed. Wrists and hands can be wrapped in the same way. Start with the hand, wrap the band two to three times and then bring it towards the wrist, wrap it around the wrist a few times depending on the length of the band and then go back to wrapping the hand. Tuck the tip of the band under itself at your palm. Grip this part if you want and test the range of motion of your wrist by bending it up and down as well as sideways and circular motions. Flex your hand and form a fish to see if you have any pain or discomfort due to the tension.

floss bands on thigh

Wrapping techniques for thighs and hamstrings are the same. Start wrapping the lower quad to the middle part of the thigh and back to where you started. Do squats and check how you feel. When you wrap floss bands around knees, do not cover the whole knee. Focus on lower or upper parts of the knee depending on the focal point of the pain. Use the back of the knee to go up or down the knee cap. The same technique must be used for ankles. Do not cover the entire ankle.

For a more visual walk-through there are a couple of great videos on YouTube when you search “how to use floss bands”.

Dumbbells vs. Barbells – Is One Better Than the Other?

 

This argument never goes away – and it’s just as prominent on bodybuilding and fitness forums as the old “machines vs. free-weights” debates. While most people use a combination of both, there are die hard fanatics who claim one’s superiority over the other.

Is there anything to it? Let’s look into the pros, cons, and possible limitations in each case.

 

So First we have Dumbbells

 

While some “experts” claim they’re potentially the more dangerous of the two, I think that dumbbells are just right for newbies. If you’re getting started with weight training, dumbbells will probably be better for you than barbells depending on your strength level. With dumbbells, you can start out as low as 2.5lbs in each hand and incorporate stabilizing the weight as well as just pushing or pulling it. This will assist you with improving your coordination and activating a range of muscle fibers. Consider that a standard Olympic barbell is going to weigh 45lbs with no weight added to it – this can be a limiting factor for noobs.dumbbells

 

Also dumbbells assist with evening out strength imbalances in the arms and legs. These strength imbalances are quite common among newbies and can actually be reinforced by the use of barbells.

 

Safety does play a part here too depending on the exercise. For example, if you find that you’re unable to make it through a rep because of muscle fatigue, you may simply drop your dumbbells. You’ll never get pinned under them, as you might during a failed bench press or failed squat with barbells.

 

In terms of drawbacks, a lot of commercial gyms have a limited supply of dumbbells handy, and they may not be in the weight increments you need at the time. If you’re trying to equip your home gym with all the dumbbells you’ll need for various exercises – and especially if you’re a big burly man – be prepared to shell out $1,000=plus for a comprehensive set.

Forget adjustable dumbbells – they’re a pain in the butt, especially when you need a quick-change like with conditioning-type workouts.

 

And now for Barbells

 

If you’re going for massive lifts barbells are going to be a requirement for your training, arguably more so than dumbbells. You simply can’t build your bench press without doing bench press. And while I’ve seen dumbbells go up to 200lbs apiece – have you ever seen someone try to wrangle one in each hand?  That’s the territory of the super elite – and event they usually require 2 spotters.

Think about trying to do lunges with heavy dumbbells – the bruising and friction of those things banging into my thighs is not what I call fun!

However, as we mentioned ease for noobs with dumbbells, there is a component to that with barbells as well. The fixed range of motion of barbell lifting allows a relatively stronger noob to work out proper exercise form without dumbbells swaying from side-to-side.

 

One key “pro” of barbells is their versatility. You may perform rack pulls, cleans, dead lifts and squats all with barbells. When you try to same moves with dumbbells, you may find that the weight is too difficult to hold. Barbell design means that it’s possible to use bigger weights with a higher degree of comfort.barbell

 

Barbells are awesome when it comes to doing exercises of the “explosive” type, including snatches and power cleans. You just can’t get this type of explosive action on dumbbells.

 

In terms of the downside, using barbells can be dangerous. We don’t recommend using them alone. It’s always better to have a fitness buddy to spot you while you train with barbells.

 

Which “Bell” is Right for You?

 

Now you probably see that the argument is a silly one – both should make their way into your workouts. Most gyms have plenty of both. If you’re not currently a member at a gym, check out a free intro class trying out dumbbells and barbells – especially if the gym will give you access to a trainer, which is a fairly common “hook” these days. This will be helpful even if you plan to buy this kind of equipment for yourself in the future. You’ll be able to try before you buy.

 

Your fitness level and level of experience with weight training, as well as your fitness goals and current programming, will be important factors to dictate when and how often you include dumbbells or barbells.