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Strength Report: Taking Your Program to the Next Level with Kettlebells

by: Dan Leary
Strength and Conditioning Coach Seaside High School (OR)
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Kettlebells have been around for centuries but were brought to the United States by Pavel Tsatsouline in the early 1990s. People quickly fell in love with them as they are portable and can train strength, endurance or both with grinds and ballistics. A grind is a slow strength lift like the deadlift, squat, press or get up. Ballistics include the swing, clean and snatch. The hardest thing about using kettlebells is getting good coaching so an athlete can be proficient with using them.

As a certified kettlebell instructor, kettlebells clearly helps our teamís training. The biggest reason we use the kettlebells is that five of the six basic kettlebell exercises (the swing, goblet squat, deadlift, clean and press, and the Turkish get up) are all corrective exercises for the Functional Movement Screen. Simply put, kettlebells help make our athletes explosive as well as improve their speed.

Russian Kettlebells come in pods (1, 1.5. 2, etc.). A pod is approximately 35 lbs. You will also see them in kilograms. At a minimum Iíd recommend a set of two of the following kettlebells:

    12kg/26lbs.    24kg/53 lbs.
    14kg/30 lbs.        32kg/70 lbs.                                                                                          
    16kg/35 lbs.           40 kg/88 lbs.
    20 kg/44 lbs.             48 kg/106 lbs.
The exercises we use:

1.  The Kettlebell Swing - The swing is one of the best exercises out there. It teaches the athlete how to use their hips whether tackling, blocking or jumping. Place the kettlebell in front of you and assume a position much like a center hiking the football. Forcefully hike the bell between your legs then propel your hips forward as you raise up. The bell will swing up to about chest level with your arm straight. Keep your shoulders packed in the sockets much like you were holding a magazine under each arm. You should have straight arms, locked out knees and be squeezing your glutes at the top of the swing. At this point gravity takes over and the kettlebell will start downward. Right before the bell hits you, move your hips back and the bell will again swing through your legs. You should feel your hamstrings loading and stretching. Repeat.

2.  The Goblet Squat  - This exercise is great for teaching new/young players how to squat correctly. Pick a kettlebell up and holding both sides of the handle, place it on your chest. Now squat. Your legs should be slightly wider than your hips and your toes facing forward. Ensure that your knees track over your toes and keep your chest up. The position of the kettlebell will allow you to keep a nice straight back. At the bottom of the squat, pry your knees open to give you better hip mobility/flexibility and your hips should be lower than the top of your knees.

3.  The Deadlift - This exercise is great at teaching players how to hinge at the waist.  Place a kettlebell between your legs so that the handle is in line with both ankle bones. Keeping an upright chest, push your hips back until you can reach down and hold the handle. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you are trying to hold a fist between them. Stand up and again tense your glutes.

4.  The Kettlebell Clean and Press - This exercise starts much like swing except when you swing the bell up, keep your hand close to your body much like zipping up a zipper and lead with your elbow. At this point, raise your hand (now over your chest) so the bell lands in the crook of your arm. Once the bell is in the rack position, engage your lats as you press the bell overhead. With the bell overhead your arm should be aligned with your ear. Repeat on the other side.

5.  The Turkish Get Up - This may be the best whole body exercise out there. Lie on the ground on your side. Grasp the bell and roll on to you back. Press the bell overhead. Have the same knee bent. For the sake of this article, letís say this is your right side. Have your left leg and arm extended on the floor at a 45-degree angle. Keeping your eyes on the kettlebell, roll to your left elbow, then hand. Push your hips to the sky so that you know you have only your left hand and both feet on the ground. Draw your left knee under you, then stand.

At this point you are standing up with eyes facing straight ahead with the kettlebell overhead. Looking back up to the kettlebell overhead, lunge your left leg back so that the left knee is on the ground. Windshield wipe your left foot back to your body and take your left hand and run it down the left side of your body and place it on the floor. Push your left leg through and extend it. Slowly lower your body to the ground then lying back, roll to your left elbow then shoulder. You are now back on the ground. Lower the bell with two hands to your chest. Repeat on your opposite side.

Double Kettlebell Work

All kettlebell exercises should be taught with a single kettlebell to learn technique and form. We use the acronym MCI which stands for:

M - Mechanic. Know the exercise sequence
BEFORE you pick up the kettlebell.

C - Consistency. Consistently use impeccable form.

I - Intensity. When the athlete has consistently shown good technique, we will then ramp up intensity either with more repetitions or add weight. Now you are prepared for double kettlebell work.


We teach all these lifts to our players. From day one, our new/younger players start deadlifting, squatting and pressing with kettlebells and then we transition them to the barbell when they consistently have good form. We program the TGU as a core exercise and itís done weekly with all our players as well as kettlebell swings. We consider kettlebells a must for any football program. Our program works out twice a week in- season and our kettlebells are used extensively to keep our playerís explosive, fast, and bulletproof.

About the Author: Dan Leary is an assistant football coach as well as strength and conditioning coach at Seaside High School (OR). He is certified with FMS, HKC kettlebells, and is an USAW Olympic lifting coach as well as CrossFit. Leary has spoken about the benefits of the FMS and kettlebells at the Nike Football Coach of the Year clinic and the Oregon Athletic Directors Association annual meeting.


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