How Top College Strength Coaches Combine Kettlebell and Barbell Training

February 12, 2004 11:14 AM

Every good idea I have had in strength training has been "borrowed" from somebody else. I guess that means I'm not overly creative. However, I am smart enough to know a good thing when I see it and to adopt it into my plans. So to all the people that I have ripped off, I say a huge thank you for your help.

During the RKC course in April 2003 I was very lucky in that I got to hang out with Coach Burgener, Coach Reeve, and Coach Everett. Basically, I was with three of the top strength coaches in the nation. Needless to say, I was stealing ideas left and right. I came home a much better coach.

One of the best things I learned was how to integrate kettlebells into the workouts we do for athletes. Now don't get me wrong, I have been using kettlebells (or dumbbells, KB style) with my athletes for quite some time. But on this weekend, I learned a "philosophy" for using kettlebells in a workout. Basically, this philosophy gives me a set of ground rules to follow when putting KB work into a lift. That way, I'm not just throwing stuff in haphazardly; there is a definite reason and method to the madness. This approach is very helpful for keeping track of progress, volume of work, for preventing "overtraining" and to make sure I am hitting everything I want to in the workout.

Strength Training Philosophy

First, a little background. I initially learned my basic strength philosophy from Coach Reeve while doing some practicum hours at Ohio University. It was reinforced during my time at UCLA with Coach Everett and through hours of work in Coach Burgener's garage. In short, every workout I put athletes through comes from this template:
  1. Quick lift: Clean, Snatch, Jerk, and all variations
  2. Squatting movement: Front, Back, Overhead, Lunge, Step-up?.
  3. Pressing/Pulling: Vertical Press (military press, 1 arm military, push press)/Vertical Pull (chins) or Horizontal Press (bench, incline, pushup?)/Horizontal Pull (bent row, 1 arm DB row?)
  4. Center Body Pull: RDL, deadlift, glute-ham, good morning?
  5. Abs (med ball, weighted, high rep?)
The variations from this template are endless. By using a few basic, solid exercises all bases are covered. I call this getting more "bang for your buck." If an athlete does cleans and front squats hard and fast, they have worked every muscle in their body in an athletic coordinated fashion. They will get stronger at their sport. Add some presses and chins and a little ab work and they have made themselves a much better athlete without wasting hours in the weight room. I have used this method for quite some time with outstanding results. The basics work very well and you can still get enormous variety.

About a year and a half ago, I was introduced to KB's. I knew right away they were a great tool. Moreover, my athletes loved using them. So how do they fit into the above workout template? Here are some simple guidelines for incorporating KB's into the training of athletes.
  1. Use barbells to get athletes strong. Use heavy weight for low reps on cleans, snatches, squats, lunges, presses, and rows. Use KB snatches, swings, clean-and-press, circuits in high rep sets or Density Training style to increase the volume of work done (like GPP).
  2. Use KB's to work the core of the athlete: 1 arm variations of: snatches, swings, clean and press, figure 8's, circles, windmills, 1 arm bench and row (a Coach Reeve favorite) all work the core tremendously hard from so many angles and make athletes far stronger and more flexible through the trunk and hips.
  3. Use KB's to make your athletes sweat and pant hard. These piles of iron are great conditioners.
Now that is what I call "bang for your buck." KB's are a great addition to a workout and in just a few minutes work, an athlete gets all the benefits listed above.

Getting KB's into a workout is very easy to do. They can be used as a warmup for heavy barbell work or they can be used to finish off a heavy barbell session. They definitely fit very nicely with my training philosophy. Here is an example of a workout we might do:

Tumbling warmup, 1x10 on bar ducks, dot drill, 2x20 mountain climbers
  1. Clean Combo- 1 set
  2. Power Cleans: 8x2 on the minute at top weight
  3. Back Squat: 8x2, set every 1:30
  4. 1 leg RDL's: 2x10+10
  5. 1 Arm Bench and Row (KB or DB)-5x5, start light and go up so last set is hard
  6. Chins on the minute
  7. KB Snatch: 5x3+3 on the minute
  8. Ab work
Now that I have outlined in my mind the exact reasons why I am putting KB's into athletes' workouts, it has become much easier to plan sets and reps and exercises and days. More importantly, I can clearly explain to coaches and athletes why we are using this incredible tool. I hope this article has given you an idea of how to integrate KB work into strength training sessions for clients or athletes. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at srochet@hotmail.com.

A huge thanks to Coach Burgener, Coach Reeve and Coach Everett. These guys are a credit to our profession.