Ask Greg: Issue 75
Greg Everett

Mike Asks: I have been swinging kettlebells for about forty years. I have old Milo kettlebells that were at least forty years old back when I started. I have a pretty good collection of old books, magazines and "courses" going back more than 100 years. Until the recent "Russian" kettlebell training rebirth I was never aware of anyone swinging one kettlebell with two hands. I have never seen a kettlebell with a handle made to fit two hands.

Swinging a pair of kettlebells outside the knees (as one would swing a pair of Clubbells) allows one to keep the back "flat" and the shoulders back/tight allowing for a better focus in the hip snap in the swing. If someone has short arms and/or a long torso it is nearly impossible to hold one kettlebell with two hands swinging it beneath the crotch while maintaining proper back and shoulder position. Where did this two-hands on one kettlebell come from? And, why?

In the old days the dumbbell swing was a popular exercise, but it was done with one hand, and the dumbbell was swung to an overhead, locked-out position. I have seen a photo of a swing done with a short barbell or long dumbbell with two hands, but it was never prescribed this way as an exercise that I am aware of.

Greg Says
: Great question. Short answer: No idea; I’m not much of a historian. I would assume the two-handed swing was popularized because it’s easier to do “safely” than a one-arm swing, and particularly a one-arm swing outside the legs. While it may be a bit crowded for bigger guys, you have no lateral rotational force to contend with, so you have less concern for people getting squirrely and hurting their delicate little backs. The Strength & Health era is much different than the RKC era—back then, the people who wanted to train wanted to train, and they weren’t poised to hire a lawyer to sue over a back injury.

With a one-handed swing outside the legs, there is also the potential for careless or uncoordinated people to wrecking-ball their own knee—also not recommended. Finally, with this kind of swing, it behooves one to use a narrower stance to avoid said wrecking-ball action, and most people have more trouble setting a solid back arch with a narrower stance.

Maybe the above is a fairly cynical interpretation. It may just be that over time the exercise naturally evolved into what it is today based on people’s experiences training, and the two-hands swing was viewed as a bit more useful or effective. I like the two-hands swing, but I also really like the one-hand swing between the legs—great trunk and hip stability exercise.

You might want to contact Jim Schmitz or Chip Conrad—one or both may know the history better than I do.

Erik Asks: As someone who primarily Olympic lifts, what are the most proactive and/or least detrimental things I can do if I want to "workout" when I can't get to a gym for up to a week?

Greg Says: That’s a tough one. Unfortunately there is really no way to train optimally for weightlifting without a barbell. But it’s not completely hopeless. I would spend time on explosive bodyweight exercises, particularly jumping exercises, and core work.

Tuck jumps, bounding, broad jumps, and squat jumps are all good exercises that will keep you firing quickly when you’re not training. Obviously there are an endless number of ab exercises you can do without equipment, and you can figure out some back exercises without equipment, even if it’s just doing supermans on the floor; also try hyperextensions or reverse hypers on a variety of furniture or similar.

General bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges and push-ups won’t hurt either. They’ll be good for maintaining mobility and keeping you moving; just don’t turn it into a bootcamp session. I would keep rep numbers to 10-15 at the most and don’t rush through sets or exercises.

Jake Asks: I have a horrendously weak trunk/back stemming from ignorance in training and a couple fractured vertebrae (L4/L5) in high school (I'm 26). I found the "Back Training for Weightlifting" article and am starting it tomorrow with the only limitation being lack of access to reverse hyperextensions. What would be a good substitute for these and do you have any suggestions for a similar work out program for the rest of the trunk (obliques, abs, etc)? I'm not going for a six-pack, but like I said I've just recently gotten into lifting and know this is a weak area that is limiting my lifts and increasing my likelihood for injury, which I seem to have a tendency for already.

Greg Says: Reverse hypers can be done on a number of things such as tables—you may not be able to drop your legs to a completely vertical bottom position, but it’s better than nothing.

With ab training, I like a lot of variety. Each training day, pick an exercise for static holds, trunk flexion, lateral trunk flexion or trunk rotation as your primary exercise. Do 3-5 sets, and vary resistance and rep-range: 8-10 reps with weighted exercises, and 20-30 or so with unweighted exercises. Then if you want to throw in another exercise on a given day, pick another movement type (I would recommend doing some kind of plank variation if your primary movement was dynamic).

In your case, the focus should be preventing any compromise of normal spinal range of motion and position. That is, avoiding hyperextension, extreme flexion, and extreme rotation. Work only in a range of motion that is 100% pain-free and doesn’t cause pain afterward. I would make plank variations a big emphasis, but you MUST ensure that you’re holding a proper position. Work in small bursts of 8-10 seconds initially with perfect positions and build up to longer holds or add weight for more short holds. Never progress by allowing a compromise in posture.

There is an article in our store called Core Training for Weightlifting that covers this in detail; this stuff is also in my book.

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