The Many Uses Of Kettlebells
I am very pleased to share with you contributions from a wide variety of people who use kettlebells, each for a different purpose in their training.  Two of these are world-record-breaking lifters, one in traditional powerlifting, the other in all-around lifting.  The third contribution is the humblest, from me.  Others will follow in the months to come.

Click on the person whose article you'd like to read or just scroll through the page to read them all.

Garm Olafson - AAU masters lifetime drug free raw world champion

Andy Komorny - USAWA National Champ, IAWA World Champ

Steve Freides- Author of this web site, RKC, NSCA-CPT


Garm Olafson's Article

Garm Olafson, BS, MA, MS

Multiple ADFPA/USAPL state champion, multiple state records

AAU masters lifetime drug free raw world champion, current WR in squat.  AAU Powerlifting home page:

Certified RKC instructor

ISSA certified Specialist in Sports Conditioning, certified Specialist in Martial Arts Conditioning

Teaching certification in 3 traditional Chinese martial arts

Kettlebells and Powerlifting

Most athletes are always on the lookout for a new training idea, tool, or routine that will give them a competitive edge.  The kettlebell is not new, of course, nor are the exercises that use them and are regaining popularity.  However, most American powerlifters have only heard of these tools recently, and most have not tried them.

Most strength athletes are self-coached most of the time, have jobs, families, and other responsibilities.  Small sponsorships and prize money are available to a very few of us, and typically not enough to do anything except help defray travel costs.  We do not have time or money to waste on newfangled silliness that may not translate to actual improvements in pounds lifted in competition. 

Enter the kettlebell.  If you have found your way to this site, you probably know what they are.  You may even know a bunch of exercises that use them.  You may remain skeptical that their use will help you lift more, and the rest of this article will show you how to add to your total with these tools.  There are four basic categories of physical attributes that you care about that can be increased with kettlebells:  grip strength, strength endurance, core strength, and explosive power. 

Grip strength – this is key to deadlift, of course, and contributes to a big bench.  Given the extra-large handle of ‘regulation’ sized kettlebells and the ballistic nature of many exercises that use them, grip strength improvements are an adjunctive benefit to each and every exercise – as long as you have a heavy kettlebell in your hand, your hand is receiving a training effect.  If the thing is moving fast and changing direction in rapid manner, the effect is increased.  All of the exercises listed below will improve your hand strength, provided you are using a heavy enough kettlebell.

If you really want to get serious about grip training with kettlebells, try one-hand rows with two kettlebells in your hand.   I can do 8 rep sets of dumbbell rows all day long with 150 pounders, but using 2 72-pound kettlebells is another matter entirely. 

The bottoms-up clean and the bottoms up press are first and foremost coordination ‘tricks’.  Instead of cleaning the kettlebell so it flips over, you have to catch it with the handle down and the weight up.  Once you master the trick with a light kettlebell, move up to a heavy one and clean away.  Overhead presses are not recommended for most powerlifters, bottoms up or otherwise.

Wrist curls and reverse wrist curls are serious grip-busters with the large kettlebell handle.  If you have a very light set, try ballistic wrist curls.  Relax at the bottom and snap the KB up as fast as you can.  Take your time and work up slowly to the heavier ones.

Did you ever blow out a bicep on deadlift or know anyone whose DL career ended because of a bicep tendon rupture?  KB hammer curls are the preventative medicine.  Hold the bell at your side with a neutral grip, squeeze the handle hard, and curl up. The extra grip width and weight projecting straight out will work the deep musculature of your forearm and upper arm, increase your deadlifting power and margin of safety.   Do not do these fast!

Strength Endurance – Whether you call it general physical preparation (GPP), strength endurance, work capacity, or simply being ‘in shape’, the ability to survive (and thrive) high volume training is a must for those of us with weaknesses that must be overcome.   Here’s the skinny – your squat hasn’t moved in a long time.  You’ve decided that the problem is hamstring strength, and need to add some direct loading to bring up this lagging muscle group.  Since you need to continue to squat to keep what you’ve got, you must increase your workload every time you add exercises.  Throw in some extra speed shrugs because you have trouble with DL lockout and heavy Williams plate raises [1]for your front delts, and it’s easy to double the weekly training volume of many powerlifters.  If you can hardly hack your reps for the Big 3 only, you cannot add more exercises.  Kettlebell training is one of the most efficient methods to increase whole-body strength endurance.

The key exercise for powerlifters is the 2-kettlebell swing.  If you lift conventional, the ‘bells must pass outside your legs, inside for sumo.  In either case, be careful not to smack your legs with the iron!

Address the ‘bells in your deadlift stance.  Imagine that they are connected, like a barbell.  Pick them up with a slight forward swing, let them rock back as deep as you can while maintaining correct back positioning, end explode your hips forward, transferring momentum to the ‘bells.  Let them project through an upward arc to about eyebrow height, control them down, and snap them forward again until you have completed your reps.  For strength endurance, I’d advocate building up to a reasonably high rep count and minimal rest between sets.  If you can swing 2 72-pounders for 20-40 reps and 5 sets with minimal effort, you are in pretty good shape.  Start with 5 reps and work up to 20 or more slowly over time – endurance takes much longer to build than strength does, at least for beginners.  Give yourself a few months to get your work capacity up, maintain perfect form for each rep, and do this at least twice a week. 

Another, more advanced exercise is out-of-phase 2-KB swings.  One arm moves forward while the other moves back.  It takes a while to get the trick of coordinating the movement, but the pace of the hip snap is doubled and the forces you must control are outlandish.

Snatches and cleans may be more difficult than swings, but the toll on the shoulders will reduce your bench numbers.  Swings, only, please, for high-rep GPP work.

Core Strength – Your ‘core’ muscles include everything from the top of your legs to the bottom of your chest – erector spinae, abs, and the large number of small muscles throughout the middle of your body.  When you hear the crowd yelling ‘stay tight!’ to someone about to attempt a big deadlift or squat, it’s because they know that a solid and stable core is the key to success.  This is why nearly every article you read by Louie Simmons is practically begging you to spend more time on side bends, standing cable sit-ups, good mornings, and glute-ham raises – stronger core muscles equals bigger numbers in all three lifts.

My favorite core exercise with kettlebells is passes.  Assume a wide stance and circle the ‘bell around your body, passing it from hand to hand as you go.  Do figure 8’s between your legs, and reverse direction often.  With a big kettlebell, you can easily work up to 50-100 reps per set.  The faster it moves and the more often you quickly reverse the direction of the kettlebell, the more ballistic effect is imparted to your core muscles.  It is the ballistic effect that causes rapid gains – deep shocklike training effect to the small muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout your core.  As with all new exercises, be careful and work up the rep count and ballistic intensity slowly.

You can also do hanging leg raises with your feet through the handles of light kettlebells, but this is very difficult.  If you have dogs the size of mine it cannot be done, but folks with smaller feet may wish to give this a try.  Side bends are great core exercises and the large KB handle will work your grip while you do them, saving time.  Overhead squatting is another superior core strengthener, with the side benefit of promoting shoulder flexibility.  I’ve been battling a nasty case of bursitis that is the result of poor flexibility on one side that forces me to take a wider grip than I’d like when squatting.  OH squats are part of the rehab plan, and the results are positive.

A word on windmills – if you have back problems, do not do them.  They may be an excellent core strengthener, but I reinjure my old herniated disk every time I try them, no matter how light I go or how limited I make the ROM.  Any exercise that hurts you should go on the scrap heap, permanently.

Explosive Power – The Swing, Snatch, and Clean, preferably with a kettlebell in each hand, will serve to increase explosive power as rapidly as any other training modality.  Even long-time holdouts like Ed Coan have added speed training to their workouts, and legends like Hatfield and Simmons have been preaching that ‘speed is king’ for longer than many lifters have been out of diapers.

Can you replace your Dynamic Effort or Compensatory Acceleration training with kettlebell work?  Absolutely not.  These are adjunctive tools and exercises meant to improve your fundamental physical attributes.  If you stop squatting, it does not matter how generally fast you are – you will lose squatting power.

If you are on a standard Big 3 Split, add one day per week of explosive kettlebell training.  If you are on a Westside program, add the kettlebell work after your normal speed squats or in the general ‘extra workouts’ category.  If it is your ‘off season’, experiment with short cycles of switching between standard powerlifting training and kettlebell lifting – one recommendation is 2 weeks of the Big 3 followed by 2 weeks concentrating on power and speed with kettlebell training.  Those on the ultra high volume Russian powerlifting programs can replace some of the related assistance work with explosive kettlebell work.  Once you find the right mix for you, you will make gains.  It is the explosive lifts that cause the greatest forces to be transferred to the hand, core, and posterior chain – this is the gold mine that’s not panned out, so spend your time and energy wisely:  2-handed swings in your deadlift or squat stance, with as much ‘snap and pop’ as you can muster while remaining in control of the kettlebells and in perfect form should constitute the majority of your training.  I’ve heard multiple veterans report 50-pound DL gains within a few short months after incorporating this type of training.

Remember that it is hard and new to you.  Eat right, get enough rest, and slowly work up to the demands of the new exercises.  You’ll be stronger and in better shape, and that’s what it’s all about.

[1] The ‘Williams Raise’ is named after powerlifting legend Jim Williams.  Take a 45-pound plate in your hands and hold it in front of you (Williams used a 100 pound plate).  The motion is basically the same as a front raise with dumbbells, but extend the motion so that the arc ends with the plate directly over your head.  If you want to try it, make sure you keep your elbows locked and don’t cheat the weight up – a big half circle from the plate resting against your thighs to the overhead position.  If you have shoulder problems, this exercise may be either harmful or just what the doctor ordered.


Andy Komorny's Article

I'll be 70 years old in September. About the time I was turning 68 and feeling quite deconditioned and typically aged I decided it was time to do something radical for an old guy get into good shape. Luckily I ran across Pavel Tsatsouline's "Power To The People". The gist of it is heavy weights with one pushing(side press) and one pulling exercise(deadlift). Low reps, low sets, and never taking anything to failure. It sounded like just the thing for my lazy ass if it would work so with nothing to lose I gave it a shot. Simple and uncomplicated I noticed rather quickly that my strength was waking back up and after about 3 months at a bodyweight of 180, I pulled a 600# partial deadlift!...I had never even tried deadlifting before in my life. So for building or restoring overall basic limit strength I find this kind of training to be just what any doctor should order for anybody at any age.

Kettlebells - While working on that limit strength, I couldn't help but notice all the ads for Tsatsouline's kettlebell training so I got his book and video on "Russian Kettlebell Challenge", bought a couple kettlebells and went to work on restoring the overall fitness that I had as a youngster. These ballistic and grinding drills with a kettlebell or two hit every aspect of fitness required for any sport or physical endeavor....sounds like BS? isn''s brutal.... and I'm in pretty damn good shape now...much better than the majority of young kids out there today.

There are an infinite number of drills that could be concocted with kettlebells. Reps, sets, frequency, intensity and choice of drills depends on individual needs and the goals and purposes. I use them for what I think will help with the conditioning, assist work and active recovery. I need to lift heavy. The key is to assess one's own goals and sport and tailor an appropriate custom program for oneself.

My chosen sport...All-Round lifting - I was intrigued by the United States All-round Weightlifting Association (USAWA) and the International(IAWA). I went to the National Championships for 2002. It was my first lifting
meet of any kind in my life even as a spectator. Walked away with a gold medal and the class world record for the trap-bar deadlift. There also I shocked myself with a 1000# hip lift. It was the first time I ever even saw anybody do that one. In September 2002 I got the gold and 4 more world records at the World Championships. This year I took the Nationals again and 4 more records...I have 9 now to date.

Kettlebells and secret weapons - Why use these tools to train for competitive lifting? Answer: Overall speed, muscular and aerobic endurance, superior joint srength and flexibility, awesome power and explosiveness and a fun way for something to do during the commercials while watching TV. If you don't believe me and don't care to try it, I really don't care because I would like to keep my competition at a disadvantage anyway.

When I grow up, I want to be a good deadlifter.

Andy Komorny, age almost 70, 5'9", 190#

Rehab Counselor


Russian Kettlebell Instructor

Jump Stretch Rubberband Instructor

USAWA National Champ 2002, 2003

IAWA World Champ 2002

9 World Records so far...trap bar DL, 1 arm DL, 2 barbell DL, Continental to the Belt,
Steinborn lift, Hack Lift, Zercher, Stiff Leg DL, 2,2" vertical bar DL


Steve Freides' Article

What are my training goals and which, if any, are most important?
I enjoy many different sports and physical activities besides lifting, including bicycling, running, swimming, and martial arts.  I enjoy my work with kettlebells both for its own sake and for the benefits it provides to my performance in other areas.

I consider my personal ideal physique to be that exemplified by the late martial artist Bruce Lee - small, lean, but taking advantage of every ounce of strength and power that can be achieved by a small body.  Because all my chosen sports reward light weight and punish excess, I have chosen not to add to my muscle size, only to increase my strength and power.  My weight is the same as it was when I started training in earnest with kettlebells and other free weights in 2001: 153 lbs. at a height of 5 feet, 7-1/2 inches.  My, body fat percentage was approximately 13% when I started and remains unchanged.  (I am 48 years old.  13% body fat, because of the increase in body fat around the internal organs that cannot be seen from the outside that comes with aging, has the same appearance as about 9% in a male in their early 20's.)   Senior Russian Kettlebell Instructor Rob Lawrence once described me as looking like a cross between a runner and a wrestler - I'm happy with that description.

How do I train and where do kettlebells fit into my training?

I train almost every day.  If I am going for a long bike, run, swim, or martial arts class, I will keep my lifting workout on short side; if the bike, run, swim is only an easy effort, I will usually lift longer and harder.  My typical schedule is to take martials arts class in the evening on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with a long bike ride on Saturday or Sunday.  I usually do a brief morning training session on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, often followed by a short run, swim, or bike ride, followed later by the martial arts class.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays I workout as my day's main physical activity but again often follow my workout with a short run, swim, or bike ride.  If I'm taking a long bike ride on Saturday or Sunday I will usually do at least a single set of light kettlebell swings before I go out and, if I feel sufficiently rested, I will do a workout on the other weekend day as well.

My workout are divided roughly into two sections: strength training with heavy weights, and strength/endurance training with kettlebell Olympic-style lifts, performed in that order.  After these two sections I almost always do some abdominal work to finish off.

For strength training, I  use short sets with heavy weights and long rest periods, the long-accepted protocol for building strength without increasing muscle mass.  On a hard day, strength training will typically consist of a heavy weight for 2 or more sets of 5 or fewer repetitions on long rests, done for 2-5 different movements, most with a kettlebell, some with a barbell.  A typical Tuesday or Thursday strength section might look like this: kettlebell military press, 3-6 doubles or triples; kettlebell windmill, 2 sets of 2-5 reps; barbell deadlift, 1 set of 3-5 reps, kettlebell front squat, 2 doubles.  And easy day's strength session might consist of 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps each with a moderate weight in the kettlebell military press and windmill, the barbell deadlift for 2 or 3 reps of the same weight I did for 5 reps the day before, and nothing more.  (I don't find much benefit from deadlifting light and I also don't like loading and unloading the bar, so I choose to make the deadlift easy on easy days by lowering the reps and not the weight.)

In Olympic-style lifts for strength/endurance, I like the kettlebell snatch and the kettlebell clean and jerk, the two movement of the official Girevoy (Kettlebell Sport) competition, followed by the 1-arm swing.  On a hard day I will either do 5-20 sets of 5 or fewer reps on short rests, or a single, non-stop, multi-set bout of perhaps 15-30 reps total each side, switching every 5 or so reps, or a single long sets of 10-20 reps, all this for snatches, jerks, or both, usually emphasising one lift or the other.  I always end my workouts with 1-arm swings, usually performing only a single set, and varying both the weight, the height of the swing, and the number of repetitions.  The 1-arm swing is the king of kettlebell ballistics when it comes to teaching the basics of good form, and someone who has good form in the 1-arm swing will almost always be able to carry that good form to the snatch and the jerk.

My abdominal work consists of a set or two chosen from the wide variety of movements shown in Pavel Tsatsouline's "Bullet-Proof Abs."  These include standing wheel rollouts, the Russian (also know as the Full Contact) twist, Janda situps done on a Pavelizer I 'machine', and standing 1-arm static holds with a heavy kettlebell of 45 to 60 seconds each side with a 30 second rest between.  I have had troubles with my back when I do too much abdominal work early in the day - my abs get so tired that they cannot properly support my back for the rest of the day.  Short and sweet is my motto here, usually a single set of 4 or fewer reps on two different exercises and no more.

In short, my training consists of various presses and overhead holds with kettlebells, barbell deadlifts, kettlebell snatches, jerks, and swings, followed by abdominal work, all done in short sets with heavy weights on long rests.

Recommended Resources?

Power To The People!, also by Pavel Tsatsouline, is considered by many to be his "core" book, one that puts forth the principles that are built upon in the other books.  Also Russian Kettlebell Challenge and Bullet Proof Abs by the same author.  Relax Into Stretch, again by Pavel Tsatsouline, for stretching, which I do during my martial arts classes but following the principles taught by Pavel, and Super Joints, yet again by Pavel Tsatsouline, which I do every morning before any other 

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