There is a plethora of Kettlebell exercises every Crossfitter should incorporate into their training, but if I had to pick 5 of the best; 5 exercises that provide the most bang for your buck; 5 exercises that will help you become a better Crossfitter, well, then I would chose the following:
- Open Palm Front Squat (double kettlebell)
- Kettlebell Standing Pull-over
- Turkish Get-up AKA TGU
- Conventional Kettlebell Swing
- Hybrid Strict Press (single or double kettlebell)
The first three kettlebell exercises are mainly for thoracic and shoulder mobility, range of motion, and to get a better overhead position. The Open Palm Front Squat provides plenty of other benefits, like proprioception and stability. The TGU is also awesome for an all-round body workout and especially core strength.
I included the Conventional Kettlebell Swing to lay the proper foundation for the American Swing, Kettlebell Cleans and Snatches, which is so overlooked, and creates an incredible black hole that sucks in any progress when it comes to kettlebells in CrossFit.
Last but not least, I included the Hybrid Strict Press with double kettlebell for several reasons; it transfers so well to hand-stand push-ups, the position of the hands and the pressing action is pretty much on par with that of the hand-stand push-up; and pressing two kettlebells can help with muscle inconsistencies so often seen in Barbell presses, i.e. one side dominating.
Now that I’ve quickly covered the five exercises that I would recommend any Crossfiter include in their training, let’s delve deeper into each one and have look at the fine little details.
Open Palm Front Squat
Great for wrist strength if you do this properly, i.e. you don’t just let the bell rest in your palms and let the wrist joint take the weight through muscle relaxation, no, you actually work to keep your palms up. Think about carrying a platter like a waiter. See more related details about wrist hyperextension in the section about the Hybrid Strict Press.
If you take the time to learn the Open Palm Clean, which requires you to first learn the Swing, then you can also work on proprioception and kettlebell control, plus look super cool—and we all want to look cool.
As if wrist strength, proprioception, kettlebell control and looking cool isn’t enough, here comes the bang for one’s buck; the Open Palm Front Squat mimics the CrossFit Barbell racking position; it helps with tricep and lat flexibility; and it promotes thoracic and shoulder mobility. That’s just the Open Palm part of the exercise, add the squat and you’re working on so many things that I could write a book on it. Whether you’re just cleaning once and squatting multiple reps or cleaning upon each rep, the exercise provides incredible benefits.
Without further ado, let’s have a look at the video and you’ll see what I mean.
Note that the bells are never resting on the shoulders, I’m always actively pressing into the bells. As you can probably understand by now, there is so much that can be said about this exercise, but I’m going to keep it short as I still have four other exercises to cover.
Kettlebell Standing Pull-Over
Out of the 5 exercises this one comes with the lowest learning curve and yet provides so much. It’s quite easy to grab the kettlebell by the horns with the base facing up, standing in neutral stance bringing the kettlebell over your shoulder on one side, and pulling it back to starting position. As a side note, there’s not much pulling, there is so much happening, you could say that at first there is a curl, press, pull followed by lowering, but let’s not dwell on the name too much.
The part where you get something out of this exercise for your overhead position is by working on the tricep and lat flexibility; plus thoracic and shoulder mobility. You do this by working with the kettlebell in a controlled manner, not explosive, nor with heavy weight (unless you’re working out). The benefits don’t stop there, of course a strength aspect also comes into play.
Once the kettlebell is past the head you push your chest out (thoracic extension), let your triceps and lats stretch, keeps your lats active to protect the shoulders, let the weight hang and pull your arms back and down for a bit; keep the weight away from resting on the back; and finally pull it back up and over, repeat.
You can alternate sides, you can go over one side and pull back on the other. You can also go directly over the head, but I prefer to alternate and work to one side more each time, providing more of a stretch for the arm furthest away. Note that you should keep your elbows tucked and not let them flare out.
Hybrid Strict Press
I call this the Hybrid Press as it’s position is between the front and side press, front is 0° and side is 90°, then hybrid is 45°. Just about the same position for hand-stand push-ups.
Throwing in some kettlebell presses now and again greatly helps with neutral wrist position during the Barbell Press, which I’m personally a big fan of. I realize that the heavier you Barbell Press, the harder it is to keep a neutral wrist, but overall, wrist hyperextension is a big problem with barbell work and can be reduced with some guidance and wrist strength training.
Kettlebells are great to work on muscle inconsistencies during pressing, as they allow you to train unilaterally, they’re also great to promote neutral wrist position, because when you insert the hand properly, the handle and bell will prevent your wrist from hyperextending. I’ve written a high quality short ebook on proper kettlebell grips, which you can download for free from my website. Grips is something so fundamental and important with Kettlebell Training, it’s often—and I mean often—overlooked in teaching, hence the reason for many people to give up before they’ve even started.
To understand the angle for the Hybrid Press, hold your hand near and in-front of your shoulder with thumb pointing towards you, elbow tucked in, this is 0°; now bring your hand out laterally next to your shoulder, your elbow is no longer tucked into your side but next to and away from your side, this is 90°; now bring your hand and elbow 45° back in‚ this is the Hybrid position we’re going to be starting the press in.
I don’t think I need to write much more about this, it’s easy to see how this transfers to hand-stand push-ups. When you’re able to press about 33% of your bodyweight on each side, you should be able to do hand-stand push-ups easily, hence, this exercise is a great way to build yourself up to it. If this is an area you need to strengthen, then don’t go for high reps, go for less volume, slow and controlled with heavier weight. Grab that kettlebell sometimes and give it a press, keep track of your progression. And remember, STRICT means no push pressing with the legs, go down on weight if you find yourself push pressing.
Conventional Kettlebell Swing
This is such a hot topic in the CrossFit and Kettlebell community. I have previously written several articles about this, a popular one is “The American Kettlebell Swing: Why You Should Never Do It”.
Don’t let the title fool you, I’m not some stuck_in_his_ways Kettlebell Trainer, I’m a CrossFitter with a passion for Kettlebells, but I don’t chose sides, to me there are no sides, there is training and there is training.
The fact remains that in CrossFit, the fundamentals of Kettlebell Training are usually omitted, especially when it comes to the American Swing. And yes I’ve heard all this bull before; “We don’t do half rep pull-ups, we don’t do half rep squats, and we don’t do half rep push-ups. If there is a natural range of motion to any movement we like to complete it.” one word, Deadlift; and “Swinging feels like cheating”, one word, Kipping… Enough on that, no more excuses, you need to master the Conventional Kettlebell Swing so you can Kettlebell Clean, Kettlebell Snatch and become more proficient at your American Swing, end of story.
Be aware that there are different styles of swings, learn all, learn the reasons as to why you should chose one over the other, and you have your CrossFit Swing, the swing that changes based on the task in-front of you.
Here is a movement that is super functional, getting up from the ground. The TGU works every muscle in your body, it also works on shoulder mobility as you’ll be working to stabilise the shoulder, rotating it during the movement and much more.
This exercise is extremely good to help you with your overhead position. Most people say that it’s not a movement for CrossFit, but we’re talking about working out, not training. I hoping that one day it could be included in workouts, as long as strict movements standards are adhered to, like; full body lock-out on the top phase, head touching the ground on the end and start phase.
There is so much more that can be said about each of the five exercises, and in no way should you take the above as the ultimate guide to either of these exercises, see it as the start of a new journey, do more research on each of them, and start using them in your training, not your workout—not until you’ve mastered them.
Yes Kettlebell Training comes with a steeper learning curve, but once you master the fundamentals, I guarantee a whole new beautiful world will open up to you.
 Search Google for “Cavemantraining kettlebell grip pdf” to download the free PDF