Is Kettlebell Bad For Back

Paul Gonzalez
• Tuesday, 22 December, 2020
• 19 min read

Most folks know that exercise is key to maintaining a healthy, fit, and active lifestyle. Kettle bells offer a uniquely challenging workout experience, with dynamic movements and activities that strengthen pretty much every muscle in your body.

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Perhaps the greatest benefit is that many exercises that are done using kettle bells are ballistic and dynamic, meaning that the lifts are fast, as opposed to the controlled and slow strength training most gymnasts are accustomed to. Kettle bell exercises are designed to increase your heart rate in a totally different manner to cardio.

Kettle bell weights were first introduced in Russia and then became popular in the United States a few decades ago. They recently experienced a surge in popularity due to the multitude of books, videos, and workouts featuring kettle bells.

This is because they offer a truly unique training experience, using dynamic movements that pinpoint pretty much every aspect of fitness. Essentially, you hold the weight in both or one of your hands and progress through numerous exercises, which we will discuss later in this article.

Some movements involve switching the weight from one hand to the other, as the kettle bell swings up or while you move laterally. The motion of pretty much all kettle bell exercises creates a centrifugal force that focuses more attention on the muscles that are used for stabilization and deceleration.

On the other hand, dumbbells are effective at building muscle and stamina with controlled, slow movements, while exercises with kettle bells involve using the entire body. Kettle bell exercises yield many benefits, often much more than other activities, as they stimulate almost every muscle in the body.

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They offer improved coordination and agility, better alignment and posture, and can make you more efficient at other exercises. These components include strength, cardio, stability, balance, endurance, and power.

If you find that you are suffering from back pain when using kettle bells, talk to your trainer or coach about how you can improve your technique and choose the right exercises. Kettle bells give you a lot of benefits and improve your health and fitness.

If you feel any pain in your back after a kettle bell workout, chances are you are doing the exercise wrong and you should probably check your form. There are plenty of ways you can avoid it so you can have a kettle bell workout that’s beneficial for your back.

Most beginners experience back pain because they are not executing the kettle bell workout properly. Some people don’t bother doing some warm-up exercises to condition their body for extreme workouts and this is mostly the case for beginners.

Fixing your flexibility is all about the simple discipline of doing light exercises and warm-ups before jumping straight to heavy workouts. Finally, make sure the sequence of your workouts can accommodate rest for the different muscle groups on your body.

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You can’t do back exercises for 1 week straight without feeling any muscle fatigue and backaches. Don’t worry as the human body is great at compensating for imbalances within it.

Depending on the injury, doing kettle bell workouts can be bad so that’s why it’s essential you consult with experts first. Doing barbell squats and dead lifts with light weights can help strengthen your back and get you ready for some extreme kettle bell workouts.

Unless you have a back injury and your doctor doesn’t recommend kettle bell for your workouts, you’re usually safe. If you experience any negative effects from kettle bell, check your technique, you're conditioning, or your overall physical fitness.

If your kettle bell lifting is causing back soreness, there may be a few things to look at and some effective habits to put into practice to help address it. The body is excellent at attempting to find balance, a kind of homeostasis that will have it function and perform, often at the expense of something somewhere.

It’s excellent at compensating, at “handing” faulty movement patterns, until it can’t handle them anymore. Something breaks, an injury occurs, you can’t do what you love to do, and all your hard training won’t matter.

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Don’t be a fool and rush in thinking things like mobility work is a waste of time. I’ll address three possible reasons for back soreness and pain, and offer some ways to fix it.

These come from my experience but is in no way an exhaustive list of what may be the cause or the absolute dos and don'ts. The upswing is all leg drive and momentum, (think about jumping backward) again keeping the weight over your base.

You should get a natural lean back of your torso as the Kettle bell swings up from the force of your leg drive, and your arm is relaxed and long. Back pain can creep up from not feeling the relaxation and tension needed to find the perfect rack position, or simply not having the mobility to get the Kettle bell on the hip.

The rack position: legs straight, hips forward, shoulders down and elbows low. I’ve seen lifters progress too quickly, only to have to backtrack and clean up their technique after an injury or an inability to handle increased volume or a heavier bell.

It’s a good idea to be able to clean the Kettle bell and hold the rack position for 10 seconds before putting theKettlebells over your head! The overhead position is where more low back pain issues bear their ugly head.

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If you’re in a hurry to load overhead without the mobility, stability, and strength to do so, all hell will break loose eventually. Instead, you may be leaning back with lumbar extension, with the Kettle bell out in front of your shoulder joint, and elbow bent.

Put your time in with proper technique, always quality over quantity and progression may be slow but solid as hell. It might not occur to some, that for seasoned lifters, years of competing may not be all that healthy if mobility and asymmetries are not taken care of.

Mobility must be created and maintained in order to set up the opportunity for continued stabilization and ultimately strength and stamina. The inability to get in that position may be due to a tight upper back, neck and shoulders.

You have to gain flexibility, release tight rotator cuff, lats, traps, and neck muscles. We use Active Release Therapy, the Big Stick, and Wall Slides-a mobility favorite from Michael Boyle.

I will often see extensive Lords in the lower back (your tail tips up and your belly pooches out), a forward head posture, and rounded shoulders. The ability for the spine to distribute load efficiently relies on your back, as a system being able to have the mobility and stability where it is supposed to be, and it is greatly limited by this dysfunctional posture.

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Thoracic spine mobility can be gained with the foam roller, lacrosse balls, the Big Stick, and exercises like light barbell behind the neck presses. The psoas and the Iliads are powerful hip flexors that pull on your pelvis, causing it to tilt forward (this is that tail tipping up and belly pooching out position again).

Your Lower Back is Weak We get quality over quantity-slow the hell down in your training and master the proper techniques. If there is a lack of integrity anywhere along this system such as immobility in the thoracic spine, the compensation can cause a hypermobile (and weak) low back.

This instability can cause lower back pain and load bearing overhead might hurt you. To fix this, work in some thoracic spine mobility every day and strengthen your low back.

Lower back soreness can be greatly reduced by gaining mobility, stability, and strength in the shoulder. It is best used along with other exercises and techniques that increase range on motion and strength in the hips and upper back.

A1: Foam roll hip, T-spine extensions B1: Partner mobility rolls with the Big Stick-upper traps, lats x50-70 C1: T-spine mobility push/pulls and rib cage openers x 3-5 L/R D1: Wall Squats x 10| E1: Scorpion x 10 F1: Goblet Squats (with 2 sec pause) x 10 x 1-3 sets G1: Arm Bar x 1-5 reps L/R, hold for 5-20 belly breath H: Halos x 10 L/R If you do suffer with any of the above conditions then poor technique can seriously aggravate your lower back and so it is not worth the risk for you.

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I know the excitement of starting to swing a kettle bell can be too much to sometimes bare but mastering the basics first is important. If you experience lower back pain while performing the basic hip hinge then you need to either work more on your technique or seek hands-on advice from a professional.

Controlling your pelvis is very important when performing any type of dead lift movement pattern including the kettle bell swing. Tight quads and weak inactive ab muscles can cause the pelvis to tilt forwards resulting in an arch at the lower back.

An excessive arch in the lower back (Lords) can pinch the nerves in the lumbar spine and disturb the intricacies of the vertebrae. How to fix it: stretch out your quads frequently by lying on your belly and pulling your heel to your buttocks, at the same time pushing your groin into the floor.

Secondly, brace your abs tight to prevent your pelvis from tilting forwards, think about pulling your tall between your legs. A common problem with so many exercises is an excessive backwards lean often resulting from bad proprioception and weakness in the core muscles.

Many people lean backwards during the swing because they lack the explosive strength from the hip drive to raise the kettle bell. Excessive back extension is very common when performing the American kettle bell swing and one reason I do not recommend it.

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How to fix it: contract your abs and buttocks tight at the top of the swing and bring your tail between your legs. If you suffer from tight hamstrings then the movement at your pelvis will be restricted resulting with compensations at the lower back.

The lower back should stay flat by isometrically contracting the muscles to maintain a neutral spine position throughout the swing. If you are trying to squat and swing at the same time then you will be overusing your arms and relying on your back muscles to maintain the kettle bell position out in front of you.

When swinging correctly the power comes from the hips driving forwards and backwards and the arms merely control the kettle bell. If you suffer from a weakness in the mid and lower traps then your shoulders may have a tendency to gravitate upwards as opposed to back and down.

How to fix it: master the hip hinge, relax the arms and work on developing the scapula stabilizers with wall slides A warm bath and massage can help stimulate blood flow and improve healing times but ultimately it will be a waiting game.

Wait until you are fully healed before regressing the movement to the single arm dead lift and taking note of the 7 points mentioned above. The kettle bell swing is a highly beneficial exercise but it is very unforgiving and easy to get your technique wrong at first.

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If you are recovering from a kettlebellback injury then wait until your back is fully healed before attempting the kettle bell swing again. Kettle bell swings are excellent for strengthening the lower back, but they do need to be performed correctly using a good quality hip hinge movement.

This article is provided by Dr. Ben Fun, PT, DPT, a licensed Physical Therapist in the state of California. Dr. Fun’s thesis on kettle bell exercise was presented and published by the American College of Sports Medicine in 2010.

Dr. Fun founded Kettle bell and Physio kinetic Fitness” which went on to become a San Diego 2011 “Best Alternative Exercise Studio” finalist in its opening year. There have been estimations stating that 80% of Americans will experience back pain some time in their life 1 (Web MD, Mayo Clinic).

Choosing an appropriate therapeutic corrective exercise to address back pain can be quite the conundrum. Of the many therapeutic exercises available to address back pain, preserving functionality can be a challenge.

Correction during specific and isolated movements is more easily achieved than it is maintained during an actual functional performance. As therapeutic relief and maintaining correct movement are central goals in movement based therapy, an ideal exercise for a back program would be that which both relieves pain and prevents further injury by fortifying functional spine mechanics.

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Despite the kettle bell being nothing more than a cast iron wrecking ball with a handle on top, there have been studies exploring kettle bell exercise for lower extremity sports rehabilitation 2, musculoskeletal health 3, and cardiovascular exercise response 4, 5. The kettle bell swing) offer the benefit of working with natural physics which demand correct spine mechanics to be maintained throughout exercise.

Exercise not done in similar physics to the activity anticipated does not always reap the benefit of improved function and pain relief. It is ultimately the best scenario if one can strengthen in the physical parameters most similar to the desired activity during function.

Recently, a study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning presented an interesting reverse shearing component seen during the kettle bell swing. The study noted a “posterior shear of the L4 vertebra on L5, which is opposite in polarity to a traditional lift” of which they stated “provides an insight into why many individuals credit kettle bell swings with restoring and enhancing back health and function 6 “.

The insight from my Bio engineering background would suggest that the ballistic nature of the kettle bell swings allows for a more natural co-activation of spinal musculature in kinetic chains which allow the body the work together more effectively than the linear physics as seen in traditional lifting exercises. While both exercises are functional, dynamic, and even offer corrective benefits; the distinct elemental difference in physics between the two proves a fundamental advantage to the kettle bell.

After a bout of ballistic kettle bell exercise(s), it is wise to stretch the hip flexors, the hamstrings, and to initiate a short preventive bout of prone press-ups in the unlikely event that spinal flexion occurred during exercise. While prescribing a progression of one handed kettle bell swings may seem like an over simplification of a program for back pain, I humbly refer you to a former patient who has experienced the therapeutic effects of Kettle bell Therapy ™ and was kind enough to make a video testimonial.

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In closing, I leave you with the encouragement to experience kettle bells for yourself and perhaps claim them as good practice for an ironclad spine. Jay et al. Kettle bell training for musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health: a randomized controlled trial.

Statistically, back pain has a tendency to go into and come out of remission and though the symptoms can be relieved, often the problem remains unless we get to the cause. Muscular imbalance and a misfiring recruitment pattern of the posterior chain muscles are common prerequisites of low back pain, often as a result of bad posture from imbalanced or lack of muscular tone.

Fortunately, time, energy and resources for rehab and prevention can be optimized by utilizing Kettle bell Swings as a practical solution when compared to other expensive, lengthy, and sometimes invasive methods of treatment for low back issues. If your glutes are weak, or ‘inactivated’ when lifting or extending your hip, your lower back is going to compensate for the larger, more powerful gluteal muscles.

“Learning to hip hinge is paramount for both injury prevention and optimal performance” By educating your muscles how to hip hinge correctly before practicing the Kettle bell Swing will fire up your CNS to perform the exercise optimally and shorten time in getting results.

If you don’t have a pipe or dowel, achieve neutral spine by making points of contact while standing back against a wall, tuck your chin to lengthen your cervical spine all the way to the top, making contact with the back of your head against the wall. Aim to not bend much at your knees and return to start position by driving through your heels and activating your glutes and hamstrings to extend your hips.

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“One small kettle bell hidden under a desk in the office can provide time-effective back and hamstring strengthening, along with hip-flexor stretching” Grab a kettle bell in your first week of training and start doing snatches like you’ve seen other more seasoned kettle bell enthusiasts perform with ease, and you’re playing with fire, there is no doubt you’re going to get hurt.

The same applies to grabbing a barbell in your first week of training and start snatching it like you’re in the CrossFit Games, you’re going to get hurt. This fact doesn’t change whether you take a dumbbell, tax, sandbag, fit ball or anything else, you need to respect the tool, treat it with care and progress from step one.

*I throw the “Assisted single-arm clean” in very early, as I like my students to get familiar with the corkscrew motion, dealing with the proper weight distribution of the kettle bell to avoid pressure on the forearm, which is not dealt with early-on hinders progression at the stage of racking, cleaning and pressing. Yes if you start doing weird things that you should not be doing or your body is just not ready for, otherwise, no they’re not bad for your shoulders, they’re amazing for shaping your shoulders, creating better range of motion, making them stronger and resilient to injury.

The people that ask these questions either have participated in a kettle bell class with a cowboy trainer teaching or heard their friend complain about their back who just started swinging the bell while watching the Julian Michael's version on YouTube. I would lie if I said I never seen anyone get injured during kettle bell training, I’ve never seen serious injury from a kettle bell, I have seen people out for a week because they did not listen to the weight suggested to them, they did not listen when the coach said, take a step back, regress and learn the hip hinge first.

The kettle bell : one of my personal favorite workout tools, and one that I feel is underutilized by many. Kettle bells provide for a larger range of mobility than barbells or even dumbbells, helping to maximize the pump and working on different types of muscles or focusing on one in particular.

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Besides looking great, strong back muscles can help to improve your posture and align your spine. Bad posture has become quite the epidemic lately due to the large amount of desk jobs and smartphone use that is rampant in our society.

Stand with feet hip-width apart, and hold your kettle bell using both hands in front of your chest, arms straight outwards. Sit into the stance, pushing your butt outwards and moving your chest forwards.

Correcting this will place more emphasis on your shoulder muscles and also your core will have to work overtime to counteract this rotation. A properly performed kettle bell swing will work your entire body, promoting stronger shoulders and back as well as a strong core and more flexible hips.

Bend slightly at the knees but concentrate your movement on hinging your hips, then grasp the kettle bell. You should focus on keeping the same elements to a good kettle bell swing when doing the clean exercise.

Performing a good clean can be somewhat complicated, as there are a lot of moving parts to the exercise. Step out with one leg landing wider than shoulder width apart, squatting at the same time.

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Adding a kettle bell means more muscles have to work to stabilize the weight, making it an even more effective exercise. Start in plank position, while keeping your right hand on a sturdy object that won’t easily move, like a bench or chair.

Interested in the best kettle bell and battle rope workouts on the web, with hundreds of video lessons taught by certified instructors? Head over to the Living. Fit workouts page, where you will find some of the best kettle bell and battle rope exercises, all with complete breakdown videos and community support every step of the way.

Instead, kettle bell exercises tend to be programmed by movement patterns which naturally falls in line with the way the body is designed to move. So the kettle bell exercises for the back tend to be a consequence of the Pulling and Dead lift movement patterns.

Rhomboids Latissimus Doris (Lats) Trapezium (Traps) Erector Spinal There are many more muscles in the back that are used for stabilization and for assisting with pulling based movements but these are the main prime movers.

Creating a balance between both pushing and pulling exercises is important to avoid any postural or overly dominate movement patterns. When looking at your workouts over a weekly or monthly period be sure to balance out your pulling and pushing based exercises.

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The exercise is great as a warm up for the shoulder girdle which includes the upper back. Great for strengthening the shoulder stabilizers as well as the upper trapezium muscles.

The dead lift movement pattern involves all those exercises where you are picking something up off the floor with a nice flat back. The single arm dead lift heavily works into the back of the body (posterior chain) starting with the hamstrings and moving up into the Glutes, Lower, Mid and Upper Back Muscles.

A second exercise based on the dead lift movement pattern but this time used standing on one leg. The kettle bell is held in the hand on the opposite side of the standing leg.

As the exercise is performed the loaded shoulder is connected with the standing hip via a muscular sling. If you play sports or just want to develop a strong core for rotational movements then this is the exercise for you.

As with the kettle bell one arm dead lift you will notice lots of muscular activation throughout the back of the body. Careful consideration needs to be taken when performing this exercise to ensure the back and core muscles are isometrically held tight throughout.

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However, once mastered the swing will develop great explosive power at the hips for sports as well as promoting cardio benefits without the need to move the feet. One common mistake made by beginners is to hinge at the lower back rather than using the hips to generate the power.

Hinging incorrectly like this can soon fatigue the lower back and therefore bring an end to the exercise very quickly. The one hand swing will add a little more rotation into the movement as well as increasing the demands on the shoulder stabilizers.

Now onto a more grind based kettlebellback exercise that will add some serious muscle onto the mid back and latissimus Doris. The kettle bell row is more of a traditional muscle building exercise but it will require good core strength to maintain the bent over position without compromising the lower back.

If you use just one kettle bell at a time you will get a great anti-rotational stabilization to the movement as the muscles of the core have to work hard to keep the back flat. The exercise can be made a lot easier by posting with one arm onto a bench / chair in order to take much of the demands off the core muscles.

The Kettle bell Row can also be made more challenging by performing the exercise to the side of the body. Caution must be taken when performing rowing based exercises to avoid hunching at the shoulders.

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The kettle bell high pull is another dynamic movement that will have your heart racing but it also focuses much of its attention into the mid back. However, as you dynamically move from one side to the other you dip and lean your upper body forwards from the lower back.

The bob and weave is an underrated exercise that will increase your cardio, improve your hip mobility, legs, glutes, and core as well as the back muscles. One fun challenge using the snatch exercise involves performing as many repetitions as possible for 10 minutes changing hands whenever necessary.

If you want to work your upper back hard while also challenging your core muscles then this is the kettlebellback exercise for you. The ability to hold a push up plank for 60 seconds is a prerequisite for this exercise.

Exercise variations: the single arm dead lift can also be performed with 2 kettle bells, one in each hand. Perform these 2 KB back exercises as a superset one after the other without taking a rest in between.

Finally, as with all weight training your body’s ability to strengthen and adapt to the load is your worse enemy so constantly look to increase loads or add a few more reps week on week. The Pull and Dead lift movement patterns work into the back of the body as well as other muscles.

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Above I’ve listed 10 kettlebellback exercises starting with the easiest and working down to the more advanced. There is also 3 kettlebellback workouts for women and men starting with one for beginners and then progressing to the more advanced.

Caution must be taken not to progress too quickly and to allow time for muscles, ligaments, tendons and motor learning to develop. With the right technique kettle bell training can be a huge benefit to your back as it promotes spinal control and stability and reduces the risk for muscle imbalance.

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