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NEW: Full mobile support, responsive design, audio clip playback and changed image results or similar terms. For some reason, the kettle bell seems to adopt many variations on its pronunciation… but no matter what you call it, there’s no denying the fact that this old-fashioned piece of weight equipment is enjoying an unprecedented resurgence of popularity.
Thanks to Pavel Tsatsouline, Valery Fedorenko, John Davies, Steve Maxwell, Mike Mahler, and other strength gurus, the whole world is once again enamored with the kettle bell. Whether your goal is to have the fat melt off your body, to improve your general fitness, or to further excel in the sport of your choice, you will find that the Russian kettle bell is for you.
Like many worthwhile exercises, ballistic movements can be taught in a few hours, but need to be practiced for years on end. To stay sharp with the Hard style techniques we use in the ROC system, we always need to pay attention to every detail.
Our central nervous system is programmed to optimize any repetitive motion for energy efficiency. Hard style ballistic movements are designed to do the exact opposite—create maximum power output.
This is also one reason why ROC Instructors are required to recertify on a regular basis. I would suggest that beginners reading this post bookmark it and save it until after finding an ROC instructor and performing at least 10,000 Hard style swings.
My intention with this post is to go into great detail and give advanced trainees and instructors a reference. The term “ballistic” describes any movement that occurs without external forces applied to the moving object.
For any object on the face of the earth to move in a truly ballistic fashion, it must be accelerated with more force than gravity, and then left alone. When the kinetic energy becomes weaker than the gravitational pull, it starts to fall.
Depending on the angle between the gravitational pull and the direction of the movement, the ballistic trajectory will be steep or flat. But, when all the stored energy is eventually used up, the object will fall freely towards the center of gravity.
When we jump, we also release control temporarily—we can’t change direction mid-jump—but we can hopefully catch ourselves on impact. Both types of “human ballistics” require speed and power at the same time.
The kettle bell ’s offset center of gravity allows the user to combine both forms of “human-ballistics” into a single exercise. Since the swing, clean and snatch are basically the same movement, and the same principles apply, I’ve tried to keep the analysis fairly generic.
However, if you struggle to keep your shoulders packed in the one-arm swing, first practice with the two hand version. Safely landing the kettle bell in the overhead lockout position adds even more complexity.
Short hints usually work for people who already know the problem and only need a quick reminder. A good ballistic rep should be poetry in motion, smooth and powerful!
Once again, the following breakdown of the kettle bell ballistic movements is intended to give you a deeper understanding of the mechanics, not to teach the techniques. Some phases are long (relative to the full motion) and others happen in an instant.
Any ballistic kettle bell drill requires a deep hip hinge, for proper loading. This is why I expect all my students to start their swings, cleans and snatches with a hike pass instead of a pendulum motion.
After you hike the kettle bell backwards off the floor and between your legs, let the weight pull you back into a nice hip hinge. Have a partner hold a clipboard behind your butt at a distance the size as the body of the kettle bell.
In other words, in the deepest position of the back swing, the body of the kettle bell should stand out behind you while your spine stays neutral. Now hike the kettle bell back for a swing, clean or snatch and try to hit the clipboard.
If your hike pass and back swing are good, then there is not much that can go wrong while you accelerate the kettle bell. The elastic energy generated during the loading phase of the swing practically catapults the kettle bell forward.
But, if you did not load your hips properly, or did not keep a neutral spine, then you will have problems. For some reason, it’s common for someone who has already leaned to properly load his hips to forget what he learned when confronted with a more complex technique.
Whenever an advanced technique like the clean or the snatch feels overly complicated, and you have a hard time controlling the kettle bell, review the more fundamental exercises (like the swing). Often, you will find minor flaws will translate into bigger problems when the movement becomes more complex.
Compared to the previous two phases, force transfer happens in an instant. Force transfer happens exactly in the instant of the upswing when your hip joint fully opens.
You might have noticed while driving your car that the harder you hit the break, the more you get pressed into your seatbelt. This is because more of the built-up kinetic energy remains in the object (you in the car or your kettle bell during the swing).
No matter if you swing, clean or snatch the kettle bell, to this point all three drills look exactly the same. If you succeeded in passing kinetic energy to the kettle bell, the major part of your task is already done.
While staying tight, try to let your arms be as loose as possible so the kettle bell can rise freely. While you practice this, make sure your swing mechanics up it this point stay constant.
I often see beginners struggle with the clean and the snatch because they fail to generate enough power from the hips. I think that the clean adds more difficulty to the equation because–unlike the swing and the snatch—you need to carefully control the amount of power you generate to propel the kettle bell to the exact height of the rack position.
For the clean and snatch, this is not optimal, because the kettle bell would travel too far away from the body and land with too much force when it comes back. When you have successfully modified the flight path, the next challenge is to hit the parking position before the kettle bell comes crashing down on you.
For the snatch it is easier, when the kettle bell passes your line of sight, just shove your fist straight up as if you are celebrating a victory. The following table gives you hints you can use to pin down common problems in your cleans and snatches:
This phase is only relevant for the swing since in the clean and the snatch, the kettle bell rests in its respective parking position. If you find it difficult to pass the kettle bell from one hand to the other, try to figure out in which phase you lost (or failed to generate) tension.
When the kettle bell has either used up all of its energy, or you have decided to drop it, it will fall back down towards mother earth. In case of the swing, any interference on your part will result in ruining the next rep. With the clean and snatch, there is also a high probability that you hurt your elbow.
Don’t resist, but break at the hips and smoothly hinge back. Make sure not to bend over, but just move your butt back while keeping your spine neutral.
Use the kinetic energy freed from the drop to load your hips and explode into the next rep. I stand straight for a short moment and then tighten up to remind me what the top position should feel.
You may think this sequence would take me as much as thirty seconds or more to get ready to swing, but that’s not the case. When you are set up and ready to start your swing, make sure to go all out from the first rep onward.
ROC Team Leader Florian Kind is a second degree black belt in TAE Won Do and runs a Martial Arts Gym in a small town close to Munich (Germany). He made it his mission to help his students to improve their movement and overall health.
In his search for ways to overcome the movement restrictions of his students (and his own) he found the ROC and now works together with Master ROC Robert IMOC and others to help as many people as possible to gain back their Strength and Agility. He writes a regular Blog at blog.kettlebellgermany.DE and offers workshops all over Germany teaching the ROC kettle bell exercises: KettlebellGermany.DE.
If you have questions or comments on the article feel free to email him at email@example.com.