Sunday, December 16, 2012

Kettlebell Swings: Lateral Relay Drill

One of my favorite activities in a group exercise setting is the Lateral (Side-Pass) Relay Drill. This activity forces participants not only to lock in correct biomechanics - it challenges balance, hand-eye-coordination, footwork, timing, and teamwork.

The concept is rather simple, you swing a kettlebell and on the top of the swing, you release the kettlebell laterally and make a pass to one side where your partner is ready to receive the kettlebell in mid-air. Once you release the kettlebell, you run behind your partner to receive the kettlebell in mid-air just as you passed it a moment ago. This drill can be done every other swing, every three swings (for beginners) or during every swing (for advanced participants).

Here’s a video of the Lateral Relay Drill:
At this time, I’d like to introduce Elinor Smith who was featured in the above video. Elinor is a senior fitness instructor extraordinaire. She teaches senior fitness classes and one-one-one sessions in America’s Finest City - San Diego. During the making of this video, Elinor had just turned 79 years of age!! I hope many of you reading this blog are thinking: “Wow. I have NO excuse.” In fact, Elinor is in such good shape that there are times I fear I can’t hang with her during a one-on-one workout session – she is truly an inspiration. If you’d like to contact Elinor, she can be reached at:

Here are a couple pointers for the Lateral Relay Drill:
  • Avoid wrist flicking during your release. If you suddenly flick or extend your wrist when you pass the kettlebell to your partner, what tends to happen is that the kettlebell will flip in mid-air. This makes it difficult to make a successful relay and the kettlebell will be dropped. Now for advanced groups, the flip becomes a new variation of this drill – if you’re learning this exercise, keep it simple. No wrist flicking… No flips! Do your best to keep the kettlebell handle level during the mid-air pass.
  • Stand shoulder to shoulder! After all, this is a team building exercise. You need to be very close to your partner in order to pass AND receive the kettlebell successfully.
  • Run behind your partner the very moment you release the kettlebell for the mid-air pass. Most beginners tend to freeze right after the pass. By that time, you’ll be too late to receive the bell as it will already be on its way to the ground. If the run behind becomes too quick for beginners, you can add a third or fourth participant to allow for more lag time.
  • DON’T SAVE THE BELL! If you feel you’ve made a bad pass, or, will be unable to receive the bell… do NOT lurch forward and try to save it. That’s a great way to break biomechanical discipline and wreck your back (or shoulder … or neck… or wrist… or elbow… you get the point) – don’t do it! If a bell goes out of control, yell out to your partner (or group) and say “DROP!”  Let the kettlebell thunk against the floor and start over. No harm done.
  • Communication: You heard in the video that Elinor and I constantly said “One and PASS”. This cued the both of us to be ready for the pass as passer and receiver. This communication helps eliminate mistakes and primes participants to help each other out if the unexpected flipped kettlebell were to take flight. Communication is key to all forms of team building activities.

I hope you enjoyed this variation on the kettlebell swing and team relay activities. I want to make a comment in that individuals like Elinor are great examples of what true health and fitness can look like. She is a model of what society's future in public health should be. If we don’t influence each other to commit to the health she exhibits, we are all in for a lot of trouble in the next 50 years.

As we come across the holidays and usher in 2013, let this be an encouragement to you in refocusing not only your efforts, but the efforts of your family and friends – choose to be well, choose to exercise, choose to make healthy life choices. This exercise can be a way to lock in a positive new habit. Fitness goals are always better achieved through camaraderie and group accountability. Commit yourself to do this exercise weekly with a group of friends or family – you’ll be shocked and encouraged as to your progress in meeting your New Year’s fitness goals.

My Best to You All with the Warmest Season’s Regards!
-Dr. Ben Fung

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