Kettlebells and Climbing - an unlikely, interesting and important marriage

The physical benefits of Bouldering are well documented.  They are immense.  However, there is room for additional training to maintain an ideal balance.  Kettlebells are a magnificent tool.  Like all tools their purpose is relative to the application and they can be applied in this space extremely well.  

When it comes to rock climbing there is a tremendous amount to be gained by learning to use the kettlebell well.  The main reason for this is that it trains areas of stability, strength and power that provides a more complete and balanced outcome for us rock climbers.  Will it help you pull higher climbing grades?  Not directly no but indirectly yes. It most certainly helps you become more consciously aware of your body and go a long way towards injury prevention through a balanced approach to strength progression.  

Let's start with stability.  The general rock climber even with sound technique tends to lack hip and shoulder stability relative to strength.  We just do.  And that's ok but we need our foundation to be strong so this area of stability is essential.  We need to build our house on solid foundations so ignore this at your own peril.

Kettlebells are an offset weight by their very nature.  Everything you do with them forces you to stabilise under compression so targeted exercises such as the KB armbar and the Turkish getup are significant bang-for-buck exercises.   The key here is to learn to do such exercises properly as per the Pavel Tsatsouline's RKC or Strong First gold standard.  ie. understand what the key movements, positions and transitions should look and feel like.  Before even looking at sets and reps here, you're aiming to spend time breathing in and out of these 'sticky' spots.  These are two of my personal favorites because the benefits come in spades.

Rock climbing has immense amounts of strength, control and accuracy but power delivered through the hips is not a strong point, even for modern day boulderers.  This is where the single arm kettlebell swing comes into it's own.  This one exercise is top shelf for plugging this deficiency but it also raises the question of how much power is enough?  If we can physically do all the things in life that we want to do then perhaps being a little short on power in this domain is perfectly ok.  There's no definitive answer to this.  I like this exercise because it also delivers huge bang for buck in such a short time that it seems obvious to just do it.  

For instance 10 swings every minute on the minute for 10 minutes give 100 swings and solid benefits.  This is a major bang-for-buck exercise and as per everything in this space - learn to do it well.  Laying bricks poorly for 20 years doesn't make you a good bricklayer.  It just makes you experienced at laying bricks poorly. 

This is an opinion piece and it's coming primarily from experience and analytical observation. 

Chris Eather (RKC Level I Instructor, FMS II and SFMA certified)

5 Oct

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