Kettlebells have grown up. They're no longer seen as the annoying little brother of the barbell. People have started to respect that they have their own unique personalities and have developed strategies to train with them to make progress. That's generally a good thing.
However, with this hard-earned respect, training with a kettlebell has also become…kinda boring. Swings, get-ups, squats. Squats, get-ups, swings. Rinse and repeat.
These moves are great, but in our passion for them, many trainers have forgotten some of the unique attributes that made the kettlebell so special in the first place. We've outgrown—or think we have—the old drills that built coordination and timing in three dimensions, not just things like strength, speed, or conditioning.
Let's dig up a few of these movements that are in semiretirement and look at how to use them. They're not as esoteric as you might think.
Kettlebell Around-The-Body Pass
How to do it: Just like the name implies, you transfer the kettlebell from hand to hand in a circle around the body. The goal is to keep the arms as straight as possible, and to resist rotating the trunk as much as possible.
Why you should do it: It develops strength through the grip and biceps and teaches core stiffness during dynamic movement. It also helps teach you how to transfer the kettlebell from hand to hand (you'd be surprised how much that freaks out some people). Heck, even Louie Simmons teaches an antirotation-focused version of this to his lifters.
Kettlebell Figure 8
How to do it: From an athletic stance, you'll pass the bell through your legs to the other hand, using the momentum to swing the bell in a tight circle around the front of your leg and back through, transferring back to your original hand. Continue tracing figure 8s around your legs in a continuous smooth motion.
Once you've got the basic move down, you can also integrate the figure-8 motion into all manner of swings, catches, and holds.
Why you should do it: This move teaches several vital components of the kettlebell swing. A trainee is forced to keep the bell close, in what we call "the triangle." Imagine that there is a rope connecting your knees. That rope creates the bottom of the triangle with your legs being the other two sides. In order to produce the most power safely with the swing, it is important that the kettlebell pass through this triangle, thus transferring weight to the powerful hips.
A common fault with beginners learning to swing is allowing the bell to pass below the triangle on the backswing. I've never seen somebody perform figure 8s longer than 10 seconds that hasn't figured this out.
Trainees tend to round their backs when executing this move initially, so the key is to slow the movement down and work on mastering the transfer of force from your feet to your hands through a braced core. Sounds like a lot of athletic events, doesn't it?
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, rotate your feet to one side about 45 degrees to the right (you may be need to more or less turn out, so experiment to find the right amount for your anatomy). From here, place the hand that is on the same side as your rear foot up in the air. Get as tall as possible. Place the back of your free hand on your leading leg, and push your hips back as you rotate to look up at your top hand. Your weight should be over your back foot. Keeping a long spine, shift your weight into your rear foot and slide your front hand down the inside of your thigh toward your front foot.
The effect will be similar to a triangle pose in yoga. Squeeze your buttocks to reverse the motion to standing. Once you are comfortable with the basic movement, you can add weight to either hand—or better yet, both.
As an advanced goal, performing alternating windmills "anyhow"-style, even with light weights, is one of the cruelest exercises I've ever tried. It involves a curl at the bottom, an alternating press at the top, and all the core stiffness and coordination you can generate. Definitely a worthy strength feat to aim for.
Why you should do it: The windmill is still one of the more popular kettlebell exercises, but it is often taught only to advanced students. This is a shame, because its benefits are ones that every trainee could benefit from. The windmill provides a great stretch for the lateral hip and hamstrings, helps with squat depth, strengthens the obliquess and creates stability in the shoulder. That's a lot of payoff for one move.
How to do it: There are many ways to do this. You can flip or rotate the kettlebell at the top of swings, or "simply" let go of the bell in mid-air and tap the handle with your palm before regripping the weight. But this manipulation of the bell can be added to any kettlebell movement, not just swings, cleans, and snatches.
Try this: Clean a light kettlebell, but when the bell is weightless at the top of the movement, release the handle and catch the bell with your palm on the ball and the handle pointed down. Press the bell forcefully overhead in what's known as a "waiter's press," with the intent to throw the bell in the air. Then, try to catch the kettlebell by the handle in the bottom-up position. Freeze for a second before reversing the movement.
Just remember while you do this that fast feet are happy feet. Get them the hell out of the way if you lose control. Athletic training at its best, right? After all, "if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball." Once you have mastered a few releases, you might even invite a friend along to play
Why you should do it: Years back, I learned the basics of juggling from Gus Peterson who has a fantastic system that uses kettlebell juggling to develop athletes' hand strength, timing, coordination, and the ability to absorb force. In other words, this is working-man strength.
It's also a great way to release stress and get into the zone. If fact, it remains my favorite thing to do before a workout if I'm feeling stressed, or as a stand-alone workout on active-recovery days.
Hopefully, you can see some of the hidden potential waiting within the kettlebell. It's great to train and it's great to play, but being able to play heavy—that's a special thing. Take a few of these moves for a spin as a teaching progression, warm-up, or finisher. Perform a set during your rest breaks. Heck, go outside and throw them around—you can't go wrong. Let these kids out to play.