Functional athletic training with little or no equipment has been making serious leaps in popularity recently. Whether you’re training with your own bodyweight, hefting around a heavy sandbag, or swinging a kettlebell, these workouts combine strength training with flexibility and cardio for killer core workouts that improve your power and performance. They let you train healthy movement patterns across multiple planes for a functional stability and strength that will see you through your favorite athletic pursuits. Since you’re training movement patterns, there are a few things to keep in mind to avoid injury and to get the most out of your session.
Safely. Setting up a safe environment is key when you’re working with kettlebells. Keep a good amount of space between you and you any training partners (including pets!) and make sure you have a flat, stable floor to work on. Hopefully you won’t lose control of your kettlebell, but it happens…so avoid injury and risk by training in a safe, forgiving space. You should also pay extra attention to picking up your bell or bag with good form. Avoid rounding your back and focus on bending your knees to pick up from a low position. You’ll want to continue this action of lifting low and engaging your core throughout your workout.
Stability. Kettlebell and sandbag training sessions challenge your stability from your ankles up by taking you through a large range of motion with a shifting load. That’s the reason some athletes tackle these sessions barefoot. Avoid highly cushioned shoes or those with elevated heels, which will add instability to your form and reduce the power of your actions. A minimalist shoe designed for weightlifting or cross training is a better bet and will let you use your feet to power through the movement.
Posture. Putting most of the load into your shoulders and upper back is a common mistake made by newcomers. Success in these training techniques requires more action in the lower body. Start with a lighter weight and work into a deeper squat, using the power of your legs and glutes to lift the weight. Press into your heels to lift your hips and focus on stabilizing the weight with your hips and low core as you move the weight to your shoulders (or higher). The kettlebell swing is a good movement to start with as you practice this sequence of actions. As the weight comes low, you should be bending the knees and shifting your weight back into your heels. As you swing the weight back up, you should reverse the process by pressing into your heels to lift your hips, powering the swing from your lower body and core. At this point, shift your weight forward and lift the kettlebell higher.
Finally, there are two are two basic approaches to choosing your swing height. Bringing the kettlebell to shoulder height works your core stability and ensures that you have control of the kettlebell. It’s generally considered to be the safer approach. If your shoulders are healthy and your core strength is good, you can work into overhead swings.This is a bigger cardiovascular and strength challenge, and gives you the opportunity to work in additional movements (such as squats or twists) at the top of the swing. For more training ideas on how to use your kettlebells, kettelbellworks.com offers a great overview of ways to train and tips for getting the most from your training sessions.
In addition to kettlebells, sandbags are another versatile, low equipment option for strength training. A good bag should come with several, well secured handles, allowing you to work even more movement patterns than is convenient with a kettlebell. Men’s Fitness has a nice starting workout, as well as tips for setting up your sandbag. Because of their shifting weight load, sandbags seriously challenge your stability. You can optimize this challenge by including (well-sealed) bags of water in your sandbag, or using a not-quite full bag. Both kettlebells and sandbags can be combined with bodyweight exercises and your favorite Vision Home Fitness equipment to add a bigger challenge to your movement patterns and increase your strength training load, preparing you for nearly anything.