Exercises You Should Be Doing: 1-Arm Kettlebell Front Squat

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I had the opportunity of being invited to a local CrossFit affiliate here in Boston yesterday to spend an hour or so taking their staff – as well as a handful of other trainers from local commercial gyms – through an informal staff in-service on assessment.

I say “informal” because I wore jeans and a t-shirt and swore like a sailor. And I chewed gum the entire time.  I basically broke every rule there is when it comes to public speaking.  It was awesome.

While the main “theme” of the talk was shoulders, shoulder assessment, and how we can make things in CrossFit a bit more “shoulder friendly,” on more than one occasion I made the following point:

An assessment (or screen, which is a more appropriate term I feel) should serve a few functions:

1. To gather information and find out where a person’s Point A is.

2. Give them an opportunity to prove to YOU (the coach) that they can do “stuff.”

I’m a strength guy, and in my eyes everyone I work with is going to squat to some capacity, deadlift to some capacity, bench press to some capacity, and inevitably end up listening to Tiesto to some capacity.

Sorry, if you train under my roof, it’s my rules…..;o)

Where the assessment/screen comes in is to serve as a litmus test to tell me which VARIATION of the squat or deadlift or bench press or whatever the client will start with.

Not everyone can walk in on day one and conventional deadlift from the floor. Likewise, depending on one’s past or current injury history, training experience, goals, and postural imbalances (to name a few), maybe something as innocuous as a standard bench press will be too advanced for them.

With that in mind, today’s exercise you should be doing falls underneath this people-are-going-to-do-stuff-just-not-the-advanced-stuff-they-think-they-should-be-doing umbrella.

1-Arm Kettlebell Front Squat

Who Did I Steal It From:  I have no idea, so I’ll just say Professor Snape.

What Does It Do: This is a fantastic squat variation which, after mastering the Goblet Squat, still allows the trainee to groove their hip hinge pattern, engage the anterior core, but with an additional component:  ROTARY STABILITY.

By holding one KB to one side of the body, it forces the body to further stabilize itself and to resist the rotational forces placed on it.

Furthermore, this also serves as a nice variation which is a bit more shoulder friendly in its own right.  Back squats for example may be problematic for some due to the “at risk” position the shoulder joint is placed in (maximal abduction + external rotation) during its execution.

The easy fix would be to use specialty bars such as the Giant Cambered bar or Safety Squat bar – or to just front squat – but not many people have access to them.

Hence, why this is yet another viable option.

Key Coaching Cues: It sounds borderline trivial, but picking up the kettlebell correctly matters.  I see a lot of people just kind of haphazardly bend over and pick up the KB with a rounded back and this is something you don’t want to make a habit of doing.  For starters, a kitten dies every time it happens. Secondly, your spine will thank you in the long run.

I like to tell people to “straddle” the KB standing roughly an arms length away. Reach down with a neutral spine, and “set” the lats and then pretend as if you’re trying to “hike” the kettlebell through your legs.  Essentially you’re starting off the whole shebang by performing a 1-arm KB swing.

Clean the KB to one side of the body.  The KB itself should rest in the nook of your pec muscle and shoulder.

From there place your free hand out in front of the body to act as a counterbalance and make a fist.  Squeeze hard.  This will elicit much more tension in the body.

Now….squat.  All the same rules apply.  Initiate by pushing the hips back, pushing the knees out (I like to tell people keep the knee cap in line with their middle toe), and keeping the chest up.

I’ll typically shoot for 6-8 reps per side and then switch sides.  Give it a try today and let me know what you think.

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