Train Your Body to Love Holding Heavy Weights Overhead: A Beginner’s Guide
Training your body to love carrying heavy weights over your head is a great way to get stronger and build muscle. However, it takes time and practice.
If you are just starting out with training your body to love carrying heavy weights then I recommend you start off with some simple exercises first. These will give you a good foundation to work from.
If you want to add more weight or resistance, then I would suggest doing some of these advanced exercises. You can always do them later if you feel like it.
The first thing you need to do is pick up something heavy enough so that when you stand up, it feels like you have a 50 pound plate strapped across your chest. Then, put that weight down again.
Do this several times until it becomes second nature and your body gets used to the feeling of having a 50 pound plate strapped across your chest.
Once you can do that, you need to start picking up the weight in a semi standing position. What I mean by this is, bend at the knees but keep your back straight.
Do not bend or hunch your back and pick up the weight as normal. After you pick it up, drop into a half squat position and then stand all the way up. Make sure to keep your core tight and squeeze your glutes as you stand up. Do not shrug or use your shoulders to pick up the weight. You want all the work to be done by your legs and glutes. If you feel a burning in your shoulders, then you are using too much arm.
After you get used to picking up the weight in a semi standing position, you can try doing it from a dead stop. Start with just a normal deadlift and then pick the weight up off the floor.
Do not lean back as you pick it up. This will cause you to fall back and for the weight to crash down. Instead, keep your weight on your heels and push your hips forward. This will allow you to pick the weight up quickly while keeping everything tight. When I first started doing this, I lifted my toes up off the ground and just hung there for a second. I would then push my hips forward and stand up with the weight. You do not want to do this. It is a bad habit to get into and can cause back injuries in the future.
After you have mastered picking up the weight from a dead stop, you can try doing some different things with it. You can start with swing (or getup) snatches.
To perform these, get into the same start position that you would for a one arm swing. Now, instead of swinging the weight back and then catching it, just push your hips forward and slide your hand up the handle until the bell is above your head. Do not throw the weight up or snap your wrist. Also, do not start this exercise off with too much weight either. This can cause injury.
Another exercise you can do is the getup. Get into a pushup position with the kettlebell between your feet.
Now pick up the weight and sit back into a situp. After your sit all the way back, roll to your left or right, stand up, and then put the weight overhead. You can also do this with one arm at a time.
You can also mix this up by doing renegade rows, pushups, or pullups with the kettlebell in a rack position.
If you do not have the strength or flexibility to do these movements, then I would start out by doing some basic swings, getups, and renegade rows until you build up the necessary strength and flexibility. You will not be able to go very heavy on these at first, but it is better to master the movement than it is to kill yourself trying to go too heavy too soon.
When you are ready to add some weight, start out with a weight that is 10-20% of your bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, your starting weight would be 20-40 pounds.
If you weigh 150 pounds, your starting weight would be 15-30 pounds. If you weigh less than 150 pounds, then use the lower number. If you weigh more than 200 pounds, then use the higher number.
Whatever you do, do not start out by trying to lift an amount that is more than 40% of your bodyweight. This is a great way to get hurt and it is unnecessary.
Work up to that gradually over time.
Most of the time with kettlebells, the bigger the weight, the less reps you will be able to do. I like to keep my sets in the range of 6-10 reps per set when using kettlebells.
Your exact numbers may vary depending on your strength, endurance, and the weight of the bell.
If you are not used to lifting weights or performing these specific exercises, start out with a lower number of reps. If you find that you can easily do more reps or more sets with a given weight then increase it the next time you perform that exercise.
Your goal should be to make progress and to increase the weight at least every other workout.
In addition to the basic information I just gave you, there are two more things that are very beneficial to your training. These are breathing and stretching.
Breathing is a very important aspect of the swing, at least in my opinion. Most people do not take the time to learn how to breathe while they are lifting, but this is something that can greatly benefit you.
It also will help keep your form correct.
While performing a swing, you should take a deep breath in through your nose immediately before the downward portion of the swing. Hold that breath while you are performing the downward portion of the swing.
Then breath out any remaining air when you are performing the reverse motion after the swing. This will help you keep your abdominal muscles tight and keep your back straight. You will also get a slight increase in power as a side effect.
Stretching is just as important for a strongman as it is for any other athlete. Many people think that strongman competitors just aren’t very flexible, but this isn’t the case at all.
Most of us just plain forget to stretch.
Never stretch cold. You should always warm up your muscles with a light cardio routine before you start stretching or weight training.
A good rule of thumb is to spend as much time warming up as you think you need, then add about ten percent to that.
In addition to your normal warm up, you need to take time to do some extra mobility work. Mobility work is just a fancy way of saying stretching.
Perform these stretches at least twice a week if not more. I usually do them after my workouts and on another day just before my workouts.
Part 3: Programs
There are many different programs for training with kettlebells. There is no one perfect program for everyone.
I will give you three beginner, intermediate, and advanced programs to choose from that I have found to be successful with my clients and myself. Feel free to experiment and adjust the given routines to fit your needs.
The programs are set up so that you perform one workout per day. You can adjust the order of the workouts to suite your schedule, but I find the following sequences to work best.
Morning – Warm up, Skill, Workout, Cooldown
Evening – Warm up, Workout, Cooldown, Stretch
Morning and Evening (Recommended) – Warm up, Skill, Workout, Cooldown, Stretch
The warm-up is essential to a good workout. It prepares the muscles for the onslaught that is about to come.
Always start with your breathing exercises. Do some jogging in place, jumping jacks and some other forms of cardio for three to five minutes. Then move on to these three exercises.
Jog in Place:
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. Allow your arms to swing naturally at your side or place your hands behind your head.
Focus on a fixed point in front of you and keep your head up, not looking at the ground. Start jumping up and down, increasing your speed until you are almost at full extension when you come off the ground. Continue to move up and down at this pace for one to two minutes.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with your back straight, but not stiff. Place your arms behind your head.
Without bending your knees, squat down as far as you can. When you can go no further, squeeze your legs together and try to touch the floor. When you can’t do that, shrug your shoulders as far as you can toward your ears and try to touch your shoulders to your knees. Hold this position for a moment. Then stand up slowly, making sure that you don’t bend your knees too quickly, as this can cause injury. Hold the stretched position for a moment.
Get into a press-up position with your arms completely straight and feet together. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet.
Tense your stomach and keep it that way for the duration of the exercise. Without bending your arms, bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor. Then press back up to the starting position.
The skill component is going to be different for every skill, so I can only give a template on how to practice and what to practice. Pick a skill, or skills that you want to work on.
Here are some suggestions:
Two Handed Swing: Holding the kettlebell by the horns in both hands, sit back with your legs straight and your toes pointed behind you.
These are fundamental movements that you should be able to perform perfectly before moving on to weights. Each movement has a specific chapter, but here is a summary of them all.
Chin-ups: Grip the chin-up bar with your palms facing you and shoulder width apart. Hang with your arms fully extended and lift yourself up until your elbows are fully bent and your upper arm is at least parallel with the floor.
Push with your legs and pull with your arms so that the bell travels to the front of your body. Then stop the kettlebell for a moment before swinging it back between your legs. Finally, swing the bell back to the starting position at your chest.
One Handed Swing: This is the same as a two handed swing except you only use one hand to swing the kettlebell between your legs and then back to the front of your body.
Two Handed Press: Place one kettlebell between your legs. Bend over and grip the kettlebell handle with both hands.
Keep your back flat and stomach tight throughout the exercise. Press the bell up until your arms are straight. Lower the weight back down in a controlled fashion.
One Handed Press: This is the same as a two handed press except you only use one hand to press the kettlebell. The one-handed swing is a great tool for building strength in your core and in your arms.
Two Handed Press: Hold the kettlebell with both hands with your arms bent. Your palms should be facing each other and you should hold the kettlebell just outside your shoulder width.
Press the kettlebell up until your arms are fully extended overhead. Bend your knees slightly to get a full range of motion and use your legs to help you move the weight. Make sure you stop the kettlebell above your head as this will help protect your shoulders.
One Handed Rows: Hold the kettlebell with one hand and bend over so that your back is flat and stomach is tight. Let the weight of the bell pull your arm down so that your upper arm is parallel to the floor.
Then pull the weight up to the side of your chest. The movement should come from your shoulder, not your elbow. Lower the weight back to the starting position in a controlled fashion.
Cross-overs: Place one kettlebell between your legs and bend over to grip it. Keep your back flat and your stomach tight throughout the exercise.
Press the bell up until your arms are straight and cross the bell over your body until the handle is just outside your opposite hip. Your right arm should end up over your left hip and vice versa. The weight of the bell will make this a difficult movement, so if you need to bend your knees a little bit that’s fine.
Two Handed Rows: Place two kettlebells next to each other with their handles touching. Place your left foot in between the bells and get into a plank position with your left hand on one side of the bells and your right hand on the other side.
Then lower the weight back down in a controlled fashion and repeat with the other side.
Crunches: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head to support it and keep it from falling as you perform the movement.
Curve your neck and back so that your shoulder blades are lifted off the floor. Then return to the starting position by relaxing your torso back to the floor. Your upper body should be off the floor in a curve. From this position lift only your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor as you inhale. Then return to the starting position as you exhale.
Lunges: Stand with your feet together and take a large step forward with one foot and bend both knees until your rear knee almost touches the floor. Make sure that your front knee does not go beyond your toes when you bend it.
Keep your chin tucked into your chest and your back curved. Your upper body should remain still and only your knees should bend as you bring them up to meet your torso.
For best results, do not eat anything at least two hours before you train and do not eat after training except for protein. Do this for a month and then either continue or move on to the regular routines depending on your goals and level of dedication.
The Routine – Full Body:
Stretch any stiff muscles you can find for 60 seconds then go to…
Workout: (Do the below three groups of exercises 2 times each and do each exercise for 30 seconds)
Floor Wipers (A.k.a.
Kettlebell Two Handed Swings
Two-Hand Swings (a.k.a.
Side Bends (a.k.a.
Jogging in Place (or Clock Cirlces)
Overhead Swings (a.k.a.
Clean and Presses)
High Pulls (a.
Sources & references used in this article: