Before You Lift Those Kettlebells, Try This...

Double Arm Jerk and Double Arm Long Cycle are challenging events in and of themselves, requiring an immense amount of strength-endurance and shoulder stability. Arguably the most important aspect of safely and effectively lifting double bells for long sets is having the proper mobility and flexibility - in the shoulders, back, and legs. Without these qualities, the rack and overhead positions will not give you the rest needed to endure.

In my interview with Jason Sanchez, we discussed the issue of flexibility for double bell lifting - a concern that often comes up with men who want to start doing Kettlebell Sport. To address this problem, I asked Jason to write an article specifically geared towards double kettlebell lifters that need to improve their flexibility. As a Candidate for Master of Sport level lifter, Jason Sanchez has lifted 24 kg, 28 kg, and 32 kg kettlebells in competition. As you can see in the above pictures, his rack position has greatly improved over the past five years (2009 on the left, 2014 on the right).

Here are Jason's two cents on building flexibility for Kettlebell Sport: 

One of the biggest issues for men when learning the Jerk is the rack position. The rack is the place to rest and recover from each rep, enabling you to duplicate and complete another rep (refueling station). What most men and/or women that lift double kettlebells find difficult is to find that area of rest. So, in breaking down the rack position we can look at areas to improve to make the rack position comfortable and tolerable.

In the above picture the lifter is in perfect rack position to perform the jerk. The body needs to be prepared for each repetition, so rest and recovery is what we are looking to achieve in rack. The spine needs to allow the upper body to deviate from the straight line in order to have a place for the bells to rest. If not the body will go under tension trying to support the bells.

In rack position the upper body (shoulders and trapezius) must be able to relax. Through this relaxation, the arms (elbows) will be able to reach the hips and allow the legs to support the weight of the bells. When the elbows can’t reach the hips and the knees bend an area that is analyzed is the flexibility of the hips and hamstrings. When the area that needs to be worked on is the flexibility of the upper body particularly the spine. The back (upper and lower) plays a key role in allowing the elbows to reach the hips or at least get close (depending on body type).

First thing is to get the T-Spine (thoracic) mobile and flexible. A tool I use to enhance the mobility of the spine is a foam roller.

I use the foam roller to help loosen up the muscles and work range of motion. Working my way from the low back to the upper back continually working flexion and extension. I also use the roller to loosen up the shoulders and latissimus dorsi.

The second exercise I continue to work on and improve is the gymnastics bridge. The bridge is a full body stretch targeting the upper body, shoulders and forearms also the quads and hips. If you can't get the bridge in the beginning don't worry. Here are a few ways to build up to the full gymnastics bridge. Start by increasing the range of motion of each stretch and the length of time in the stretch building up to a minute per stretch:

1. Wall walks

2. Bridge on head

3. Full bridge with small ball (not shown)

4. Back bridge press ups

5. Cobra position (yoga low back stretch; not shown)

The next areas to increase flexibility are the hips. This is a large area because we not only need to look at the hips but the low back, glutes and hamstrings.

Great mobility exercises for the hips include the Cossacks squat and the rock bottom squat (Ass To Grass or ATG squat).

Some stretches I recommend for the low back, glutes and hips are the pigeon stretch, butterfly stretch, hurdler stretch and straddle stretch, lunge and quad stretch.

These are just some of the ways to increase your overall flexibility. As flexibility in the thoracic spine and lower body increase you’ll be able to feel comfortable in the rack position allowing you to last longer and complete the ten-minute set.