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Getting Back To Basics

May 5, 2009 02:39 PM

Photos courtesy

As a South African rugby player the basics are drilled into us. When the going gets tough the team call is "basics", meaning do the basic stuff right, don't over think it, and don't complicate it, just concentrate on the basics. Any team and any player that focuses on getting the basics right becomes a formidable opponent regardless of the level of competition.

In every sporting endeavor we constantly want to improve, and for many people progress means moving away from the basic drills and doing more esoteric drills as seen on the world wide web. Too many novice gireviks are turning on their computers and trying to imitate some dude on YouTube. Let's get one thing clear here, just because it is on the Internet does NOT mean that it is safe or effective to do. Anybody can post a video on the web; it doesn't mean they know what they are doing.

Ok, so you are not naive and think that every posting on the web is made by an expert, but you still want to progress to doing other exercises. No problem. It has been said that if you don't know what to do with a kettlebell then you have no imagination. This is still true, there are just two pre-requisites. You must first master the basic drills before engaging your imagination, and secondly basic drills should be the bread and butter of your workouts no matter how advanced you are. Do not confuse "basic" with "beginner". When a kid is taught to box they are taught how to throw a jab. You will see many beginners throwing jabs, but you will also see every world champion boxer, since Cane fought with Abel, throw jabs. The only difference is in the execution.

In kettlebells there are two basics you need to master; how to generate power with your hips and how to control a weight overhead. The two basic exercises to teach and to continually reinforce these basics are the swing and the Turkish getup. Never forego these exercises or their many variations in your weekly workout plan; never think you are too good to perform these basics. A while ago my fellow Senior RKC, David Whitley, posted a great workout starting with Turkish getups as the grind exercise for the day, and then moved on to swing and body weight squat ladders. Done with the correct weight and the correct hard style technique this workout will smoke you while at the same time taking care of your strength and endurance requirements.

The next level up in basic exercises will include the clean, squat, snatch, press and row. The first three exercises build on the swing because without the correct power generated from the hips safety and performance will suffer. The last three build on controlling the weight overhead. No typo there. Without either the hip thrust or the ability to handle a weight overhead the snatch performance will suffer. The press is obvious, but maybe the row is not. To correctly control a weight overhead one needs to connect ones arm with ones torso by engaging the back, specifically the lat muscles, thereby pulling the shoulder into its socket and stabilizing the shoulder joint. In the same way when you perform any variation of the row (including the pullup) stabilization of the shoulder joint by the activation of the back muscles is extremely important in performing the movement safely and effectively.

There are seven exercises, swing, Turkish getup, clean, squat, snatch, press, and row, each with multiple variations. Master these basic exercises and keep your workouts simple, safe and effective. Pavel has said it many times, a good General Physical Preparedness program is most times more beneficial than a Sport Specific program. This thinking should be applied to the various kettlebell moves; a good basic exercise program utilizing at least one pull and one push movement is most times more beneficial than a complicated, multi-move program.

Don't confuse basics with beginners. Get back to basics.

Shaun Cairns, Senior RKC is a former competitive swimmer and rugby player, who now holds the honour of being the original "Beast Tamer". Shaun and his wife Marlise own Kettlebells for Africa, the only pure kettlebell instruction facility in Africa. Currently there are 2 training locations, one in Edenvale, Johannesburg and the other in Somerset West just outside of Cape Town. Contact Shaun at