Friday, January 13, 2012

Kettlebells – Bottoms Up!

The Bottoms Up grip with kettlebells is another great example of how the unique physics innate to kettlebell exercise gives a distinct advantage over traditional weight training and uni-dimensional gym machines.  The Bottoms Up grip can be applied during Cleans, Snatches, Presses, Windmills, Turkish Get-Ups, … in any exercise where stability and controlled movement needs to be attentively combined.

While one of the big draws to kettlebell exercise is high rate of carryover to “function”, sometimes the performance and even completion of a functional task gathers more attention than the quality & control of movement during function itself.  Here’s the classic example: Lifting a 25 lb box from the ground to a waist high surface.  This can be done in a near infinite combination of sequences at all the various major joints and kinetic chains.  However, there are several general rules that keep the human body’s biomechanics at minimal risk for excessive tissue stress (such as maintaining neutral spine) and resultant injury from the poor biomechanics. Typically, we call this “ideal” biomechanics. It is this conceptual detailed attention to the quality and control of movement that Bottoms Up specifically addresses for the upper quarter.

Most upper quarter functional tasks we perform as humans requires grip. As discussed in my article “Restoring Movement with Natural Physics” (as published by the Physical Therapy Web Space & The Manual Therapist), kettlebell physics work with the body rather than against it.  This is particularly advantageous during grip based exercises.  Combined with the strength training “overloading principle” which we all use during exercise, the Bottoms Up grip provides several distinct overloading factors:
  1. The center of gravity of the gripped object (kettlebell) is at the least stable position during exercise. This means that any deviation from a controlled and precise movement during exercise will cause the kettlebell to lose position and naturally drop.
  2. To maintain a stable Bottoms Up, a natural and neutral wrist position is required during the entirety of exercise. This is different from the usual extended wrist position as seen during barbells and dumbbells.
  3. A strong manual grip is required to be simultaneously balanced dynamically with muscles of the hand/wrist for infinitesimal adjustments to movement & effect of gravity during exercise.
  4. The position of the wrist and elbow must be constantly accounted for by the position of the shoulder girdle during exercise.
  5. This requires that the position of the shoulder girdle must not only be strong but dynamically stable during exercise, otherwise, the elbow will be out of position which will cause biomechanical weakness at the wrist which causes the bell to drop.
  6. A strong and dynamically stable shoulder girdle requires that the core is also in a stable position (otherwise, again, the kettlebell naturally drops due to it being in the least stable position possible during grip)
  7. Not only does Bottoms Up require for the core to be in a stable and in a biomechanically sound position, it requires the core to transition between required postures during exercise in a controlled manner as well.
  8. Bottoms Up requires for the body to react to all three dimensions of movement for all the involved kinetic chains throughout entirety of exercise.

The result from training in Bottoms Up is a Upper Quarter and Core which work together in various postures, throughout dynamic movements, and in multi-planar arrays.

Below is a short video on the Bottoms Up grip during the clean and press and windmill.

For the higher performing populations, I frequently prescribe the 'supine to sit' (punch & crunch) segment of the Turkish Get Up with a bottoms up light kettlebell to normalize dynamic control at the shoulder girdle – especially for those with Serratus Anterior deficiencies (which can contribute to Scapular Winging, Shoulder Impingement, Limited Range of Motion, and Pain).

As you can see, Kettlebells Bottoms Up is a versatile tool to engage in multi-planar dynamic stability of the upper quarter.  This naturally requires the core to be not only engaged but controlled. I would suggest that in many cases, the ability to control movements as segmented parts of a functional task precedes the completion of the task itself during training events.  I have used this concept with much success for many cases especially for the shoulder girdle.

Coming Up Next: Resolution Reality Check & The Five Star Kettlebell Routine. Having a busy day and needing to squeeze in an effective workout? In my next post I will discuss the Resolution Reality Check and introduce my "Five Star Kettlebell Routine".

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