How the Kettlebell Can Improve Your Deadlift

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I had an interesting conversation with my good friend and fellow strength coach, Ben Bruno, not too long ago.

He and I like to catch up every now and then to 1) discuss our mutual affinity for JP Licks ice-cream and 2) talk some training and fitness shop.

He’s originally from New England and worked as a coach at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning for a handful of years before moving out to LA last fall for a change of pace and to pursue some other opportunities.

His typical clientele now out in LA resembles a litany of Hollywood A-listers and a “who’s who” of gossip magazine covers, as well as those people who have a bit more of an aesthetic bias towards training.

While he loves LA and the people he works with, a small percentage of his heart is still back in Boston, working with athletes and helping people get strong.

In one of our last conversations he made the comment that there’s a stark contrast in training mentality between the west and east coast. But a little context comes into play.

Whereas at Cressey Sports Performance, someone nails a 400+ lbs deadlift and no one bats an eye, out in LA someone hits that same lift in a commercial gym and it’s assumed they’re on steroids.  And then given their own reality tv show!

Similarly, with regards to female training, and especially with regards to female celebrities and the “Hollywood” mentality as a whole (my apologies with the gross generalization here), barbell training is almost considered taboo.

Ben noted that whenever he’s tried to get some (not all) of his female clients to train with free-weights they were a tad skittish and reticent to place any appreciable load on the barbell.

Truth be told, while the tide is slowly turning for the better (more and more women are reaping the benefits of strength training. See: CrossFit), there’s still a “barbells are scary” vibe that pervades the female psyche.  It’s slight, but it’s still there.

Ben noticed a funny thing, however.  He noted that whenever he had his female clients use kettlebells they were more than eager to “get after it.” It was almost as if they didn’t think kettlebells counted as strength training.

Whether he had them squat, deadlift, push, pull, swing, carry, or anything else you can think of to do with a KB, seemingly, they’d be more than willing to do whatever Ben told them to do. And then some.

Plus, they’d do it with some heavy ass weight.

I too have noticed this same phenomenon with some of my past and current female clients. Ask them to perform a barbell deadlift and you’d think I asked them to shoot Bambi. Of course, this notion doesn’t surprise me when you have female professionals like THIS ONE telling everyone how dangerous deadlifts are.

Idiocy notwithstanding, switch to a KB deadlift and it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Lets be honest:  KBs are just a smidge less intimidating for some people (guys included), and they’re actually more useful and better than barbells in some cases.

I mean, not everyone has access to a state of the art gym and kettlebells don’t take up a lot of space, so they’re a fantastic option for quick and efficient home workouts.

In addition they’re great in terms of their versatility and “user friendliness” in general.

And get this……

The Kettlebell Can Actually Help Improve Your (Barbell) Deadlift

More to the point, the kettlebell swing can help improve your deadlift.

But before we get into the nitty gritty, it would behoove us not to at least discuss proper technique with the swing.

To that point I have two go-to sources.

1.  Iron Body Studios’ own Artemis Scantalides and Eric Gahan

2.  Neghar Fonooni

If you watched both videos (and why wouldn’t you?), you can see that both camps mirror one another in terms of how they coach and cue the swing.

With that out of the way, lets discuss how the KB swing can help improve your deadlift.

1. It’s All About the Hip Hinge, Baby!

The biggest mistake I see most people make with the swing is thinking that it’s more of a squat swing as opposed to a hip snap swing.

The swing, when done correctly, helps groove a rock-solid hip hinge pattern. And as any competent strength coach or personal trainer will tell you, the deadlift requires a ROCK SOLID hip hinge pattern.

This is non-negotiable.

Learning to push the hips back and engaging the posterior chain (namely hamstrings and glutes) during a swing will undoubtedly carry over well to the deadlift

 2.  Staying “Tight”

Look at this picture below of what the setup looks like for a KB swing.

Yeah, yeah the model is dashing. But other than that does anything look vaguely familiar?

It should, because it’s pretty much a dead-on image of what the set-up for a deadlift looks like (with the exception that with a barbell deadlift, the bar itself will be closer to the body and directly over the mid-foot, if not right up against the shins).

With the swing I like to cue one of two things to ensure tightness in the upper back:

1. Pretend like you’re squeezing an orange in your armpit and you’re trying to make orange juice.

2. Put your shoulder blades in your back pocket. This is a non-nerdy way of telling someone to posteriorly tilt their scapulae and to activate their lats (as well as the thoraco-lumbar fascia).

In short: promote more spinal stability.

Maintaining this “tightness” is key to the KB swing as well as a deadlift.

3.  Maximal Force Production

Remember above where I said the KB swing should resemble more of a hip SNAP.  That point cannot be overstated. 

The swing is an excellent way to help develop maximal force production. Think I’m full of it? Here’s what Strong First instructor and recent “I-made-the-Iron-Maiden-Challenge-My -Bitch” graduate, Artemis Scantalides, had to say on the matter.

“The purpose of the kettlebell swing is maximal force production.  Therefore, if the correct force is applied to an 8kg (~18lbs) kettlebell, that 8kg kettlebell can weigh up to 80lbs. 

If an 8kg kettlebell can weigh up to 80lbs with the correct force applied, imagine how much a 24kg (~53lbs) kettlebell can weigh if the correct force is applied??  

Subsequently, the kettlebell swing helps to improve deadlift strength because it allows you to use the lowest system load for maximal results. You are getting the most bang for your buck, by using less weight. 

As such, if you do not have a heavy weight available to you for deadlifts, then just do a few sets of perfect kettlebell swings and apply maximal force, and you just worked towards a stronger deadlift.”

Artemis: 1

Internet Gurus: 0

Final Thoughts

Kettlebells have a ton of merits, as I think we’ve covered. While they’ll never replace barbells for the big lifts, I like them because of all the ways they assist everything else. Obviously, they can help increase the deadlift, which I love.

I mean, being able to work on your deadlift when you’re not working on your deadlift? Doesn’t get much better than that.

But kettlebells are also an amazing tool for active recovery, conditioning, or just as the mainstay in any great home-based program. If you’re looking for an awesome program featuring kettlebells, there’s really no reason to look any further than Lean & Lovely, the new program from the aforementioned Neghar Fonooni.

It’s obviously geared towards women, but let me tell you, if you use a 28kg bell and do any one of the workouts, you’ll very quickly see how guys can benefit from every single page of the book.

It’s 12 weeks of dedicated program, 25 extra bonus conditioning type workouts, and a ton of other stuff.

Most importantly: something like 40% of my readers are actually other trainers. People look to this blog to find ways to get better for themselves and their clients; to become better at their jobs.

I take that responsibility very seriously–so when I say that I think Lean & Lovely is a resource that ANY trainer can use, I mean it. If you pick up just one coaching cue to teach the swing, it’s worth it. If you pick up just one new way to communicate more effectively with your female clients, it’s worth it. And if you read through the book and it gives you ideas you can use to design workouts, it’s more than worth it, 10X over. 

That’s the best part about continuing education. Small investments pay huge dividends. So, again, Lean & Lovely is pretty much a no brainer.

One final note, about “marketing.”

I caught some flak on Facebook the other day for recommending L&L. Which is crazy. It’s a good product, and one I think will help people. Does my article help move some units? I sure hope so. But consider this.

In the back end of my blog, my metrics indicate that, including this one, I have now published 1373 posts. Of those, if I had to take an educated guess, less than 30 have mentioned or “promoted” some type of program or product. Less than 30. That comes out to about 2.25%. And that isn’t counting any of my articles published elsewhere, which, like my blog, are a FREE resource.

So, really: it’s mathematically unarguable that I only “promote” stuff I believe in. Programs and products that I really and truly think will add value to my readers or the fitness community and industry over all. Lean & Lovely is absolutely one of those programs, so I absolutely feel comfortable telling your to order it. It’s as simple as that.

If that’s not cool with you…well, my bad.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Shelby Lynn Downey

    Not gonna lie... your post yesterday, yet again recommending Lean & Lovely, gave me the kick in the butt to purchase it. All week I kept asking "should I buy it... should I not..." and I decided yes, I absolutely should. I just wrapped up week four of an eight week program, but then it will be on to Lean and Lovely :)

    August 2, 2014 at 8:34 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jon_PTDC

    I can't believe that you sit down every day to write articles about stuff that you've spend many thousands of dollars and many years to learn AND expect to make a few bucks from it. Shesh, check your morals man.

    August 2, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kevin Mullins

    I think this is an excellent article dude. Something that I deal with often to be truthful. Here in DC, with a bunch of socialite female clients who are used to juicing and gyro-tonics, it can be really challenging to get it into their heads that touching a barbell won't give them a goatee, an Austrian accent, or veins the size of garden hoses. I often point them to Neghar's page and ask them if she represents something they'd like to look like. After a resounding yes, i take them to youtube, they see Neghar crushing workouts like child's play and boom its all done. Great read Tony, and shout out to Neghar for setting the bar higher for women everywhere. As a proud "female-transformation-trainer" your success changes the world literally, more women can see that they can be Lean and Lovely.

    August 2, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Shane Mclean

    I'm cool with it Tony. In fact I'm surprised you don't "sell" more. You blogs are so good and you give away so much stuff. Keep up the good work.

    August 3, 2014 at 7:28 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Troy

    Nice article. I always say to my female clients; if this gives you huge muscles tell me your secret so that I can sell it to every man on the planet and spend the rest of my life snowboarding in Japan.

    August 4, 2014 at 6:33 am | Reply to this comment

  • John J Brooks

    So wait, you're talking the time to READ products that people send you, filter out the chaff and recommend the ones that are based on sound principles and programming?!!? You monster!

    August 4, 2014 at 11:34 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kick Abs

    Your final paragraph is, ummm, priceless!! Hey as long as you promote what you believe in, and it's stuff that will help people get healthier, then write on :) How is it that more folks don't get outraged by big company blogs promoting all kinds of high profit garbage with just profit as their motivation?

    August 7, 2014 at 8:05 am | Reply to this comment

  • KathiJ

    I purchased Lean and Lovely. It is a GREAT resource for me as a personal trainer who works mostly with women who are scared of barbells; and for me personally for challenging and fun workouts. Love it!

    August 8, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Katherine Kaufman

    JP Licks, Yum. I'm heading to IDEA next week, and I'm hoping to have some enlightened conversations about women's strength training. Specifically, how we as group instructors and trainers can encourage, and let's be honest, Convince women that it's beneficial for both strength and definition. I for one cannot wait for the Barre phenomenon to jump the shark, as it's moving the conversation in the wrong direction. IMO. Also, re: deadlifts. Any good links to research regarding the ankle joint and foot would be appreciated. Specifically w/ w/o shoes and addressing excessive pronation and limited dorsiflexion.

    August 9, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Glad you liked the article Katherine, and I agree that Barre is taking the conversation in the wrong direction. I have NOTHING against Barre, but feel that the way its marketed towards women is shady. I'd suggest reading this nice piece by my friend Emily Socolinksy on the topic:

      August 11, 2014 at 8:01 am | Reply to this comment

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