*Editor's note: This is yet another iron-clad (see what I did there?) nugget of wisdom from one of the strongest and smartest strength practitioners I know. I'm not exaggerating, either. If you haven't read his previous guest post on my blog, click here to read it once you're done with this one. This dude knows his stuff. On more than one occasion he's inspired me to rethink how I view and approach strength training. When he talks, I listen. Why?
Thinking Outside the Bell (with a belt)
By Chris Davis, RKC, CSCS
I love kettlebells. I honestly do. I’m very proud to be an RKC and I center my assistance work and conditioning work on kettlebells. The one problem I notice with kettlebells that everyone complains about is that they aren’t heavy enough. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not doing a two hands anyhow with two Beasts, but I only have one Beast and it got very light in terms of swinging very fast. When I went to the RKC II I was partnered with Eric Sommers; if you don’t know Eric I suggest you look him up as he is very smart and very strong. I was lucky to be teamed with him. Eric told me about belt swings and then gave a demo when I got home. These have become a staple in my swing routines. These things will really get your hips moving fast. That will translate greatly into your squats, snatches (barbell and kettlebell), cleans, jerks, and deadlifts.
For these I use a loading pin and 45 pound plates to get my swings in. The harshest criticism I ALWAYS receive is that I’m not using a kettlebell. The kettlebell is merely a tool, I’m using the same exact principles in the kettlebell swing as I am in the belt swing; this just allows me to place all the stress on my hips. Your arms are just “straps” for the bell anyway. I want to really work my posterior chain. If I have fast hips with 225+ pounds, how high can I get a 40 kilo bell when I go to snatch it? The answer is very high, trust me. Kettlebell snatches have gotten easier since starting this and what RKC doesn’t want a better 5 minute test time?
You’ll need a sturdy dip/pull up belt. I just happened to have fabric, but Eric recommended leather. I had to change out the D-rings on the original belt for left over carabiners I had from the Marines. Run a length of chain from end to end and you’re ready to go. If you use a loading pin you’ll only need about 5’ of chain. If you run the chain through the kettlebell handles you’ll need more than that. Straddle the weight, deadlift it up and start swinging.
This is much more taxing on your lower back than your normal swings so program them smartly. Also be mindful that the weight will take you where it wants to go. It’s a very heavy pendulum and it may take some time to learn how to balance the weight while swinging. Make sure that you have plenty of room around you as I fall often, usually when setting the weight down.
In Paul Anderson’s autobiography “A Greater Strength” he wrote about digging a hole in his yard, putting 3,000 pounds of weight (I believe he said it was a safe) in the hole, attaching a belt to the load, and standing up with it. He attributed that to his amazing pulling power. My dogs have done a good job of digging holes in my backyard, but my wife would have a fit if I dug one that big and I don’t have that much weight or anything strong enough to attach it to, or even a fraction of that load. But I still want to train that lift, which looks awfully similar to the deadlift we teach at the RKC, except we’re not using our hands for this method.
You already have a belt with a chain attached to it, just shorten the chain length some and now you’re ready to go. Treat this exactly like what is taught at the RKC keeping an eye on your balance. Now you’re just deadlifting a weight in between your legs. Louie Simmons uses the belt squat machine for this, which is probably 10 times better but I work for $10/hour.
As far as learn to pull hard and push through the ground goes: When I was in boot camp our Primary Marksmanship Instructor was teaching stock weld to us. He then asked “What is a weld?” After a few wrong guesses someone said “A bond”. What he was trying to do was get us to create a bond between our cheek and the stock of the M-16A2. This will create “footweld”, if you will, between your foot and the deck and FORCE you to push hard through the ground. I read something from SRKC Franz Snideman once that many kettlebell cleans are missed by not jumping, or pushing, through the ground hard enough. With 350 pounds between your legs you HAVE to push.
My PR deadlift is 500, when I first started working up to 300 pounds with this belt squat I had such a hard time getting the pin to move, start out small and increase weight as you get stronger. I wouldn’t recommend more than 6 reps, especially at heavier weights. There you have it. A way to train Hardstyle techniques with heavier weights that will only make moving the kettlebells that much easier.
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