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The Swing... As easy as A, B, C!

March 9, 2010 01:21 PM

As long as I have been an RKC, one of the pillars of the system has been to share new ways of teaching the cornerstone movements. As you know, having only one way to teach something can be sticky if your student does not pick up on your methodology. Add to the "tool box"…THAT is what we constantly strive for, so when you encounter the person who does not respond as you expect, you can seamlessly glide to another teaching technique, fixative, corrective movement or cue so that your lesson continues to flow and your student feels success. My tool box has been filled a number of ways; attending RKC weekends and learning the latest evolution of teaching, observing or interviewing other RKCs for their time tested nuggets, reading forums, or good ol' trial and error.

I developed a method of teaching the deadlift, and more importantly the swing, that grew out of working with elderly clients and post motor vehicle accident victims. I found this group needed an easy and measurable way of advancing their movement from the deadlift to the swing. I adapted this method when a new client asked if she could bring her sister with her to her introduction class, and she brought 5 extra people! I had one hour to teach 5 (plus the other students), 40-something, non-athletic, very sedentary ladies the SWING! Oh boy! I did this in the presence of my friend and fellow RKC, Andrea U-Shi Chang. When it was all said and done, the group of ladies was swinging with good tight form and a clear understanding of what they were doing. Setting torso tension, hinging properly, and putting their back swing in the proper place, and power breathing to boot!

Andrea just said to me "Amazing…" Quite a compliment if you know Andrea. I was very pleased, and somewhat amazed myself, that this group was able to be as clean and complete with their swings as they were, at the end of only one hour.

Andrea soon after, called me from Seattle and told me that she used that same teaching method to teach a large intro group the swing that day and had great success. She told me "this is the basic protocol we are going to use teach the swing from now on," and she calls me when she uses it every time for a big group and always has the same thing to say, "Amazing…AGAIN!"

I tend to vary how I teach the swing from client to client and even in groups. She, however, encouraged me to start using this method more and more. I used it recently for a very large group and had a class of 15 doing a nice tight swing within an hour. That might impress you. It might not. It is, however, a very systematic, repeatable, and simple way to teach the swing in a way that people understand and pick up, easily and quickly

Let's get to it! My "ABC" method of teaching the KB SWING:
In this method you will give the student a starting point, a midpoint with a bridge to the endpoint- the swing, in a very short amount of time.
Throughout the lesson, you will know exactly where your student's understanding of the process is, and exactly when to take them to the next step.

You must first teach full body hardstyle tension, then, go through your normal sequence of teaching the deadlift with proper mechanics and breathing. Standard party rules apply: Tight torso, straight/flat back, minimal ankle movement, etc. The main thing you must stress, in order to make this method effective, is that the student put the bell down exactly in the same spot between their feet each time. The spot this touches down will be referred to as "point A". Point A is in-between the feet, at the instep. Have the student perform calculated slow single deadlifts for repetitions to groove their deadlift motion. As familiarity grows, have them do sets of 5. As they become more proficient, have them accelerate the movement. Make sure all rules are being observed.

Once they understand the faster, more explosive movement, take them to the speed that is easy to remember when you call it out to your student- the student is to pull the bell off the floor as soon as it touches down from the previous repetition- the pace I call "TOUCH AND GO." The speed of these touch and go reps is very close to the speed of doing swings. The upward movement is explosive and gravity does the majority of the work coming down. As soon as the bell touches the floor, immediately start the explosive movement upward. Do sets of five until you feel your student(s) are proficient with the movement and timing.

When you are satisfied your student(s) are moving proficiently, explain and demonstrate that, when you pull the bell from directly under you (point A) and with a straight upward trajectory, there is essentially no reaction forward or backwards, the bell just comes straight up. Then, get them to agree to this. It is important that you get them to agree to this VERBALLY through conversation. They have now become ACTIVE participants in your demo/explanation.

Now that we have established point A, we establish "point B."

Point B: Establishing point B will be simply moving the bell a bit behind point A. Set the bell back behind the feet so that the front of the bell is even with the heels (this is point B). From the deadlift position, grab the bell from point B and pull it up. You know, and I know, what is going to happen -- we are going to get a small pendulum reaction from pulling on an angle. Your job is to demonstrate and get them to agree that pulling from point A and pulling from point B are the SAME motion (the deadlift motion), yet have a different result. Explain that the difference is that when you pull the bell from behind, the pulling action causes more of a reaction (mini swing) than pulling straight up from point A. Demonstrate pulling from point B, allowing the bell to project out on its small pendulum swing and set it back down to point B at the speed of gravity (when the bell begins to drop naturally). Let THEM discover this. Do repetitions on both A and B so they can compare and start to understand the presence of momentum in this exercise.

Example: " Students- do 5 repetitions from point A, and 5 repetitions from point B- observe the differences- but note the movement is exactly the same-" At this point make spot corrections on back position, proper hip hinging, and head position, etc.- you should not move to the next stage until the student has demonstrated acceptable deadlift form.

Once everyone is proficient at creating the pendulum reaction from point B and is able put it back into the SAME spot IN-TIME, (as dictated by gravity -the backswing), and put the bells down in good form, it is time to move on to "point C".

We have demonstrated that as we move the bell further behind us we get a pendulum reaction. You must now explain, or pose the question, that it would stand to reason if the bell is moved back EVEN further and they perform the SAME movement, they will get an even more PRONOUNCED reaction. Most will agree. Show them a point further back on the floor completely behind the feet and even further than point B, and call it "point C".

Point C is NOT on the floor. Point C, is in a "floating position" behind the hamstrings directly under the buttocks. If point C were on the ground it would directly further back from point B . The reason point C is not on the floor is because it is unsafe to reach that far back with a KB to the floor. You then discuss with your student(s) that this, although further back than B, is safer than going all the way to the ground with the bell and will still achieve a larger "pendulum" reaction.

So basically – through demonstration and conversation, you get your student(s) to agree the physics of the deadlift motion. Pulling from "point A" has NO reaction, from "point B" has SOME reaction, and from "point C"- in the "floating position" behind the thighs above the knees will yield the GREATEST reaction.

Have your student(s) perform repetitions from point A, then point B, and then simply guide the bell back to the floating position - point C, and you will find your student will be doing a very safe KB swing!

This is an easy, repeatable way to teach the KB swing consistently. An added benefit to its simplicity is that it is very effective for teaching large groups good form in a short timeframe.

It's your job to ensure the student's movement is solid at each stage before you let them progress.. Do not let your student(s) progress until their form is acceptable and they understand the concept of each stage.

Follow these simple steps and you will many times over enjoy the satisfaction of helping people SAFELY begin their road to fitness and strength the HARD-STYLE WAY! Put THAT in your toolbox!

Recent note: Days before finishing this article, I conducted an experiment. I took 3 new students, one at a time and performed this method of teaching the swing while ONLY demonstrating a deadlift and the small reaction from point B. I NEVER demonstrated the swing. However, in all 3 cases, the results were the same. All 3 students having NEVER seen a swing in that lesson (or ever in their life for that matter), were soon performing a SAFE and ACCURATE kettlebell SWING! My next step was to model a proper hardstyle swing for them, have them mimic it, and was able to easily make the appropriate minor adjustments. They all walked out of the door after a one-hour lesson with a safe and acceptable RKC HARDSTYLE KB SWING.

Share how this works for you, post to the forum, or email me directly with your progress and/or comments.

Zar Horton, Senior RKC
Battalion Chief, Albuquerque Fire Dept.
Firebellz Russian Kettlebell Studio