Kettlebells and kettlebell training has received a lot of attention in strength and conditioning circles over the years. And with good reason too. People who use them talk about how they can improve just about everything from strength and power, to endurance and fat loss. However the benefit of kettlebell training that really caught my eye was their ability to help increase your vertical jump.
I suspect most people reading this article will be also interested in this use so I will focus on the areas that apply to this goal.
For the purpose of improving an athletes vertical jump there are two major uses of kettlebell training that spring to mind. The first is in aiding fat loss, and the second is in developing explosive hip extension. Despite the many great exercises that can be performed using the kettlebell, it is my opinion that both powerful hip extension and fat loss can best be achieved using the king of kettlebell exercises - the swing!
The beauty of the kettlebell swing for improving your vertical jump is the way these two movements closely mimic each other. Unlike traditional weight training, and even Olympic lifting to a certain extent, there is very little deceleration at the end of each swing. This means that just like maximum effort jumping, you can focus on utilizing full power through the whole range of the rep.
Another great benefit of doing swings is how they develop eccentric and reversal strength by loading and unloading the glutes and hamstrings in a dynamic fashion. For both a kettlebell swing and a vertical jump, you are required to quickly ‘catch' a weight at the bottom to reverse the direction. In a swing the weight is the kettlebell and in a jump the weight that you catch is basically yourself.
In both instances you need to apply eccentric strength to stop the downward motion before reversing back into the actual upwards movement. This similarity in movement pattern helps make the kettlebell swing an extremely effective exercise for developing explosive power in a manner that transfers nicely to improved jump height.
There is also one other great benefit of kettlebell training which is that it is no impact. Increasing your explosive strength in a manner specific to vertical jumping is still best done via jumping itself. However doing too much jumping can get a bit hard on the joints. Kettlebell swings whilst not exactly the same as actual jumping, require moving the load of the kettlebell at high speed. As such is an excellent way to develop that explosive strength without the same degree of joint inflammation.
The swing itself is pretty easy to perform.
1) Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
2) Pick up the kettlebell.
3) Swing it back between your legs bending your knees slightly as it passes through them.
4) Straighten up by snapping your hips into the extended position causing the kettlebell to swing up as fast and as high as you can.
5) Let it drop down and back between your legs again and repeat.
The key thing to remember when performing swings is that it is the snapping motion of the hips that drives the bell upwards, not the lower back. If you are getting a sore back you are doing it wrong. If you watch the videos you will notice how Mark's hips snap into extension slightly before the kettlebell comes past on its upward journey.
An appropriate weighted kettlebell is one that when you are using nothing but the power of your hips, you can swing to about chest height. As mentioned part of what makes the swing such an excellent vertical jumping exercise is the lack of deceleration. Much like jumping, it should be gravity that slows you down, not you making a concerted effort. If you are swinging it so high that you have to make an effort to slow it down then get a heavier kettlebell.
On this site there are plenty of articles discussing the best ways to help you increase your explosive strength and power, but this is only half the jumping equation. Jumping high is not just an expression of muscular power, but it is an expression of your power to weight ratio (and movement efficiency). With that in mind it is therefore very important to minimize excess bodyweight.
For jumpers and other explosive athletes I mostly recommend diet as the key tool for fat loss. The reason for this is that most forms of cardio will help you decrease body fat but they also tend to negatively impact your ability to become fast, strong, or jump high.
Having said that, if you do need to lose some excess pounds, and lose them quickly, then look no further than intervals of high rep kettlebell swings! When wanting to maximize fat loss I am a firm believer in an escalating density training (EDT) type approach.
For EDT you simply go out and perform a movement with a certain weight for a certain time (eg 10 to 15 minutes) and record the number of reps you did. Next time you try and beat the previous number of reps. Basically EDT is a race against the clock to get more done. Rest periods are taken whenever you need them for as long as you need. As you continue to beat your previous number of reps you are doing more work in the same amount of time, hence the escalation of density.
The kettlebell swing works exceedingly well for an EDT-type fat loss workout. Even doing them for as little as 10 minutes is a brutal experience. Try it 3-4 times a week (in conjunction with sensible eating) and you will soon see some amazing results in your waistline.
Click the link for some more ideas about how to burn body fat for a higher vertical jump.
For power development you can perform heavy swings at almost any time during your workout. I have found them to be a great way to warm up for heavy squats. The high speed nature of the swing fires up the CNS and the muscles of the posterior chain.
As with most forms of training for vertical jump I like to keep the reps low in number but high in quality. If you want to add more work then do more total sets rather adding reps per set. Focus on quality swings with powerful hip snaps rather than just doing more reps. For fat loss this is a little less important but for heavy weights and maximum power you need to ensure good form for both safety and effectiveness.
If you want to use a kettlebell for fat loss it is easy. Just do as many as you can for 10 - 15 minutes and each workout try and beat that number. Repeat this process 3-4 times per week. I like to mix them in with other activities though. As much fun as kettlebell swings are, it can still get a little boring just doing swings and nothing else and if you are trying to burn fat, the last thing you want is boredom.
The standard kettlebell swing is already a great vertical jump training exercise. However with the simple addition of band resistance it becomes one of the absolute best vertical jump exercises you can possibly do.
I cover band resisted kettlebell swings in my book Game Changers including how to implement them into your program, how many sets and reps, and most importantly how to set them up correctly for vertical jump purposes. Incorrect set up of band resisted swings is something nearly all trainers get wrong.
Kettlebells are a well and truly established tool in the training world. The simple fact is they are great piece of training equipment no matter what your goal is. If your goal happens to be an improved vertical jump then heavy swings are certainly something you should definitely consider. I am in no doubt that after a few weeks of heavy swings you will start to notice quite a difference in your explosiveness and of course, your vertical jump.