You want to learn to lift?
Lets start with the kettle bell swing, an exercise which takes some getting used to. Done properly kettlebell swings can torch fat, tone your glutes and make you more competent with other lifts.
The kettle bell swing is a hip hinge movement. This movement pattern is different to a squat which places more emphasis on the knee joint. A hip hinge will start at the hip and place more emphasis there.
Fine tuning the difference between these movements is essential to build a solid foundation of movement competence before we load resistance. Performing these exercises with perfect form and control can be a challenge resulting in high injury rates in hinge based exercises like the deadlift and kettle bell swings.
The Wall & Dowel Drill
1. Stand about a foots length away from the wall. Feet hip width apart, neutral stance.
2. Unlock your hips first and hinge back by pushing your gluten towards the wall. The hips lead the movement.
3. Drive the hips back towards the wall, tapping the wall and returning to starting position.
4. Allow some natural flexion at the knee.
5. Take one step forwards and keep repeating movement pattern until you no longer touch the wall.
Once you have mastered your hip hinge it is important to make sure at all stages of the movement you are maintaining a neutral spine.
1. Position a dowel on your back running vertical with your spine.
2. The dowel should stay in contact with 3 points on the spine, tailbone, mid-back and back of head as you hinge at the hips.
I personally like performing this exercise side on to a mirror so i can see my neutral spine position.
So now you can bodyweight hinge like a boss. This doesn’t mean you should start adding too much weight. There is an intermediary step, lets talk about the deadlift.
In my opinion the best place to start a deadlift is with a single dumbbell or kettlebell. Putting a kettle bell directly under your body’s centre of mass. Unlike the anteriorly loaded barbell, this position allows your hips to stay posteriorly directed at the hips. Using a kettle bell will help you to keep tension and torque through the shoulders with the arms close to the body, working as a strong a stable unit preventing you from loosing tension in areas such as the lumbar spine.
If you are unable to keep a neutral spine throughout this movement pattern I would advise to place a yoga block under the kettlebell, increasing the distance between the top of the kettle bell handle and the floor will help in practising the hip hinge movement and reduce your risk of injury.
Lastly lets talk about squat form and how you can improve it.
The most important things to think about when you squat are keeping your chest up whilst hinging at the hips and driving your knees out. One of the main reasons I use resistance bands is to ensure the knees are being pushed out in both the eccentric and concentric phase of the movement.
Drills to help with improving squat form involve wall squats which will load your posterior chain to a greater extent.
Face a wall about 6” away and squat down without touching the wall.
In my opinion the best exercise to improve your squat form is the goblet squat. A goblet squat involves holding a dumbbell around the chest area. The goblet squat is primarily a mobility exercise and we use it to reinforce the movement pattern before we add more load.
If we want to be more mobile we need to create space. That means we need to push the knees out to make that space. This helps the knees track the toes, but the main point is that we’re trying to sit our hips into the space between our feet.
As you squat down I want you to think about putting the point of your elbows onto the insides of your knees. When you’re in that position – feet flat on the ground, elbows inside knees, and knees pushed out to make space and tracking over your feet, I want you to use your elbows against your knees as a lever to pull your chest up and forward and really get your spine flat. Thinking about using this lever to rotate the entire body so that it is more vertical and your hips are more in line with your feet than behind them. The beauty of the goblet squat is the counterbalance of the kettlebell allowing you to more easily get a feel for what the movement should be like. And for those who can now boss a squat it allows a measure of freedom without having to worry about falling over backwards whilst ensuring one’s best form with maximum depth, comfort and stability. If you want to start loading heavy weight it is important to practise performing the goblet squat for these reasons. Generally in females and especially newbies a weighted bar on the top of the spine can be uncomfortable, compress the spine and lead to improper technique unless a foundation movement pattern has been estabilished first. If your core is weak then you will be more likely to fall forward when you squat. Using a kettlebell goblet squat almost elminates this problem. Setting the tension in the torso starts with breathing. Take a full deep breath before going into the squat, expanding your abdomen and chest and hold it to set intra-abdominal pressure. Starting the squat movement with a better position at the hips and with good intra-abdominal pressure will be essential to moving through a great range of motion with a more vertical torso angle. Breathing out as you return to the starting position.