Optimizing The Kettlebell Swing Part 7: The Power of Your Breath
Welcome back to Part 7 of our 10-part series on Optimizing The Hardstyle Kettlebell Swing!
Last week we gave you 2 cues you can use to help fine tune the timing of your swing:
Playing chicken with the bell.
Imagining strips of velcro between your upper arms and rib cage.
The idea being with both to maintain a tall, tight lockout until the bell travels back down to you, at which point you quickly hinge back and drive your feet into the floor for another rep.
The timing of your swing will greatly determine whether you’re able to safely develop strength with the swing or over time develop patterns that lead to aches and pains.
Today, we’re giving you another tool you can use to not only squeeze more strength out of your swing, but also help you prevent injuries and poor habits; your breath.
In the world of kettlebell training you’ll use your breath in a variety of ways, sometimes to relax the body and other times to maximize tension throughout the body.
Learning to use your breath to maximize tension is a skill that must be practiced early and often in order to reap its benefits.
It’s also important to note that properly using your breath in the swing is indeed a skill and will take time to practice and acquire.
However when you acquire such skills, you’ll find your swing and strength soar to new heights.
Opposite Sides of The Same Coin
A message we’re constantly spreading throughout our community of strong, healthy, happy members is the notion of tension and relaxation being opposite sides of the same coin.
Imagine a yoga class or perhaps a meditation session where you follow your breath; in through the nose, out through the mouth.
You might follow this for a series of 5-10 breaths with the idea that as you exhale you’re continuously “letting go” or “releasing” tension throughout the body.
This calming style of breathing has many benefits, primarily - as we just mentioned - helping you to “relax and release” or “let go/open up.”
During our “Make Me Mobile” classes as well as our “Prime Time” (warm-up) in our Group Classes we use this breathing style often.
The breath you’re looking for during your swing is far different; in fact it’s the opposite side of that same coin we just mentioned.
Back in Part 4 we talked about “pressurizing” before you hike your bell back into the swing.
To get that “pressurized feeling” we had you grab the sides of your stomach with your hands and try to “sip” air through your mouth quickly and sharply.
When done properly, this left you with an “engaged” feeling in your core as your stomach pushed out on your hands.
If that didn’t work, we had you set up again but this time take a sharp hard “sniff” through your nose.
Again when done properly, this left you with an “engaged” feeling in your core as your stomach pushed out on your hands.
We used the analogy of using the breath similar to that of putting a weight lifting belt on prior to attempting a heavy lift.
The intra-abdominal pressure you create by practicing this drill connects the tension between your upper and lower halves to an even GREATER degree, lowering your risk of injury and increasing your ability to develop strength - safely.
In part 4 we had you practice this breathing style to help prime you for a strong first rep - The Hike - now that you’re off and swinging we want you to carry that “sip” or “sniff” over to every rep of your Hardstyle Kettlebell Swing.
Find Your Rhythm
One thing we see often from new “swingers” is that not only do they not breath use this “sip” or “sniff” skill, they rarely breath at all!
So, first things first make sure you’re still breathing when you’re learning and training the swing.
Once you’ve clearly identified that you are indeed still breathing (you’d be surprised) now you’re ready to start practicing the Hardstyle method of breathing.
Practice the drill we just brought back above with your hands squeezing into your stomach.
If when you sip or sniff your chest inflates, reset and try again.
Squeezing your hands against your stomach will provide you with the feedback you need to properly generate the intra-abdominal pressure you desire.
Now as far as the rhythm to your breathing, here’s what you’d like to feel:
Hike = “Sniff” (inhale)
Lockout = “Tsss!” (exhale)
Hike = “Sniff (inhale)
Lockout = “Tsss!” (exhale)
Hike = “Sniff (inhale)
Lockout = “Tsss!” (exhale)
Hike = “Sniff (inhale) - bell down, set over.
Notice there’s a new term in there, the “Tsss!”
The Tsss! Is another way you can create intra-abdominal pressure (tension) and exhale at the same time.
To do it, place the tongue up against your teeth and exhale through your teeth - sharply and forcefully.
The sounds should sound like a “hiss” or a “Tss!”
The combination of your “Tsss!” and your “sniff” is how you’ll breathe in and out during your swings while maintaining intra-abdominal pressure.
Fight Force With Force
Picking up from where we left off, you can dial up your tension by using a sharper and harder sniff or Tss!
A harder, sharper Sniff/Tss! leads to greater intra-abdominal pressure...
And when you’re swinging heavy, you’ve got to fight power with power. Your breath can and will act as a performance enhancer in these situations.
But what if you’re just starting out?
A great place to start would be climbing the ladder, the Breath Ladder that is…
Climbing The Ladder
We won’t lie; breath ladders aren’t fun, but they are incredibly effective!
A breath ladder works in a couple different ways:
Option 1: 1 for 1
Perform 1 swing (start to finish), putting the bell down and taking 1 breath (that’s your rest period).
After your one breath, begin your next set of “2 swings” putting the bell down after 2 for your rest period of 2 breaths.
You’d typically continue this format up to 10 swings total.
When practicing Breath Ladders with the 2-Handed Swing we’ve seen the following work really well:
Option 2: 2 for 1
Using the same format of “breath as your rest”, in this scenario you’re cutting your breath in half.
We like the 1:1 ratio for beginners or for extremely taxing work such as the Double Clean and Press/Jerk (Guru-level skill!)
The 2:1 is our preferred application of the Breath Ladder and would look like this:
We should note that if you were using Breath Ladders for a single-handed skill such as the 1-Handed Swing or Snatch, you’d still follow the format simply performing reps on both hands before putting the bell down to take your rest breaths:
Snatch: 1/1, 2/2, 3/3, 4/4, etc. (up to 10/10)
But why use a Breath Ladder?
Breath Ladders are as close to a meditation-based conditioning workout as you get.
During your set your focus in on proper breathing mechanics (Hardstyle), form, and pace.
During your rest periods your focus shifts to the long, slow relaxing breath-style we talked about earlier in an effort to prolong your rest period as long as possible while regaining composure before getting into your next set.
No matter whether you’re swinging or resting, the focus is on your ability to “focus”; controlling yourself, your breathing, and your pace.
We find when using Breath Ladders with the 2-Handed Swing a good time to aim for is around the 5-7 minute mark for completion of all 10 rounds.
Your goal is to make the session take as long as possible - this shows great breath control during both work and rest periods.
In case you’re wondering we find Snatches are more like 7-9 minutes.
Breath Ladders will teach you a lot about your technique and your ability to control yourself under pressure. They’ll also create a great environment for you to practice your breathing skills to a mastery degree.
What To Look For Next Week
Next week we’re wrapping up the instructional pieces of the series with Part 8: Fine-Tuning Your Swing.
Much like a golf swing, you’ll constantly fine-tune your swing. Here we’ll go over some advanced cues and things to look for as you get stronger and train with heavier bells.
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