Grip Training

10 Reasons You Should Swing Heavy Bells

So, I forgot to post on Wednesday. Sorry folks! To make up for it, I present this: As the title states: Swing. Big. Bells.

Me and Natasha, just swinging around.

1. Glute strength- Do you want a strong butt? Of course you do, that's why you read this site. Swings are fantastic glute builders. The glutes are the most powerful hip extensors so it makes sense to perform exercises that force the glutes to extend the hips... hmmm, sounds like swings huh? The powerful snap of the swing carries over into other lifts such as the deadlift and squat. The glutes also play in vital role in sprinting and jumping. So if you want to be the Athlete-Of-Steel, you needs buns of steel. Swing it baby!

Gotta build the wheels if you want speed!

2. Upper back strength- During the swing, the upper back is essentially holding an isometric contraction to maintain the "chest up" postion throughout the swing. The lats are working hard to keep the bell close to the body (so it doesn't go flying away and pull you with it). The rhomboids and the teres major and minor are doing their duty of keeping the shoulder blades down and back and keeping the humerus in it's socket (kinda important). Guess what? Chin/Pull ups require those muscles too.

All my ButtKamp Ladies are swingers (the G-Rated kind, not the other kind) and ALL my ButtKamp Ladies' have improved in the pull up/chin up. We now have 2 women who are able to do a body weight chin up...(Suzanne, above, is one. The day after this, she nailed it!) pretty awesome! Personally, I've noticed an marked difference in my pull up strength, both my 1-rep max (weight on my waist) and my total rep max (how many I can do) have increased. With all the work the lats and upper back do in the swing, I don't think it's a cowinky-dink. Once again, the upper back strength also carries over to the big girl/boy lifts: squats and deads. Try performing either with a weak upper back and you'll find yourself stapled by the weight.

3. Injury prevention/rehab for lower backs- I professed my love and belief in swings for back rehab on Wednesday. The nature of swings, strengthening glutes, upper back, the spinal erectors, and core muscles, perfectly align with the needs of most back-pain sufferers. Most of us have, weak glutes, upper backs, cores, and spinal erectors. I know mine were (thus part of the reason I have injuries). While I can't claim that swings will heal any injury, they can at least prevent further injury (or injury if there isn't one present) and build up the muscles that protect the injury.

4. Grip strength- When your forced to grip a heavy weight while it's moving, you're going to build up some pretty strong hand and forearm muscles. One of my weak links in the deadlift (and pull ups) was my grip. I found this out pretty quickly once I started doing high rep, heavy swings. My forearms were on fire and my grip often gave out before the rest of me did. If you like picking up heavy things and walking around, swings will help build up an iron grip so you can pick up heavier things and walk around even more.

Keep on walkin'...

5. Cardiovascular and muscular endurance- Don't like running? Me neither. I do love to swing though. Swinging is excellent for building up cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance (the ability for muscles to produce sub-max force over an extended period of time). Don't believe me? Try this: do a ladder of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Take a breath for every swing you do. How do you feel? Oh wait, I can't hear your over you pounding heart and labored breathing...

I see too many people talk while using this...

6. Core strength and function- During the swing, the midsection must remain tight not only to protect the spine, but also to transfer the force of the glute contractions into the bell to swing it. The core has to also be able to relax slightly so you can breathe throughout the workout (pretty important piece of exercise, that breathing. Generally, you inhale on the way down, brace on the way up, and breathe out forcefully at the apex of the swing.) and immediately brace for the next cycle of contraction as the bell swings forward. For those with back pain, sometimes the core muscles aren't firing in the right order. Swings help retrain the muscles in this sense.

7. Joint-Friendly conditioning- As mentioned, swings are pretty safe for those with back injuries (most of the time anyway). They're a perfect conditioning tool for those with cranky knees, ankles, and shoulders (mostly). They're also good introductory training for deconditioned individuals as they're scalable to individual strength and fitness levels. Unlike running, which essentially is thousands of one-legged hops, swings have very little negative joint impact (the elbows can take a beating if the upper back isn't doing it's job though so be prudent!) so it's less likely that you'll sustain an injury and want to quit exercising.

Done...

8. Leanness- This is more anecdotal than factual, but swinging promotes leanness better than any other form of conditioning I've run across (outside of regular sprint sessions, which can take their toll on the system physically as they're pretty stressful). Coach Dan John has spoken of the power of the swing to help athletes/trainees maintain a lower body fat percentage and I've noticed in myself as well. It's not going to be the magic bullet, but for those who train hard and eat pretty well, the addition of swings can help pull the body fat down a bit without too much stress to your system.

9. Overall strength- Swings involve the whole body, in case you couldn't tell from the above points. If you want to increase your strength, add some of these in and you'll be amazed at the carry over into the rest of your workouts/activities.

Hagrid-like strength in a little body

10. Self-Defense- If swings help build up the glutes and hamstrings, which are the primary movers and shakers of sprinting, should you be attacked by zombies or some other terrifying creature, you'll be able to scamper away pretty darn fast. Or, if you're brave, just swing your bell at them and let go. 60+ pounds to the face will mess any body up. Pretty sure Kathy could take down any foe.

If those didn't convince you then, well, I have no words.

How to Build a Monster Grip

Athletes involved in grappling sports are a special breed. I'm talking about the wrestlers, judo players, jiu jitsu players, MMA fighters, etc. To compete at a high level these athletes need a special blend of strength, endurance, mobility, balance, and a just touch of insanity. Additionally, an impressive trait that almost all good grapplers tend to have is ridiculous grip strength. I competed in the Copa Nova Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Fall Championships over the weekend, and after my matches my forearms were on FIRE! A big part of the game is getting a good grip on your opponent while keeping their grips off of you, so it's important to have some hands that you can rely on.

However the benefits of a stronger grip isn't limited to the grapplers. Working on grip strength can improve shoulder health, increase performance in other sports, and make activities of daily living easier. And we all know big forearms are cool.

So how do you build the vice-like grip of a grappling champion?  The solution is simple, go wrestle somebody everyday.

I'm just kidding (for most of us). But here are some tips to really challenge your grip within your lifting program.

Towels

Using towels for many of your pulling exercises will make you grip harder than normal. If you relax your grip even for a moment it could slip out of your fingers. Towels can be used for pull-ups, chin-ups, cable/band rows, inverted rows, face pulls, and shrugs.

Bottoms Up KBs

I haven't tried any bottoms up kettlebell work until recently, and it was definitely more challenging than I thought. Even with what I thought was moderate weight it was difficult to control. The bottoms up position can be used for pressing variations but also for weighted carries. Try some weighted carries with a KB in a bottoms-up rack or overhead position. If you've never tried it before your forearms might be in for a surprise.

Heavy Farmer's Walks

Load up the implements and talk a stroll. With these don't worry about using a towel or finding another way to make it specifically harder for your grip. The weight alone should do the trick. Chalk up your hands if you need to, but don't use straps (duh).

Deadlifts

Picking up heavy things is one of the best ways to build up your grip. When using a barbell, try to go double overhand as long as you can when working up in weight.

Use these tips to feel better, open the tightest of pickle jars, and build a crushing handshake you can be proud of!

SAPT Exercise of the Week: Double-Arm KB Farmer Walk with Towel

Kent Blackstone 350lbs
Kent Blackstone 350lbs

As soon as I completed my first-ever farmer carry, the exercise was indelibly cemented into my memory as an all-time favorite, and one that I privately vowed to use on a weekly basis both within my own training and in that of our athletes and clients at SAPT.

You'd be hard pressed to find to find a better exercise that simultaneously develops core and hip stability, grip strength, shoulder health, structural soundness of the musculoskeletal system, promotes fat loss and lean body mass gain, gets you "yolked," and takes the cake for overall conditioning.

Not to mention (and stealing a phrase from my friend Tony Gentilcore), a heavy set of farmer carries will make any woman within a two-block radius spontaneously conceive. How about that one, science?

And, with large thanks to Dan John and his article, The Secret of Loaded Carries, the farmer walk has grown in popularity and an increasing number of people are appreciating how valuable they are.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of loaded carries is that they are SCALABLE. You can literally use them with anyone, for virtually any training goal:

  • An overweight client who's brand new to the weight room and seeking fat loss.
  • A football player looking to pancake some unsuspecting soul on the opposing team.
  • Wrestlers and MMA fighters desiring augmented grip strength and cardiovascular fitness.
  • A powerlifter looking to improve his squat, bench, and deadlift.
  • A fitness model preparing for a photo shoot, or college student fancying a sexy bod for the upcoming Beach Week.
  • A mother or father simply preparing for "Life"; wanting to better prepare for the ability to get through a day of yard work without crippling back pain.
  • And, while I have yet to find a specific research study on the matter, I'm convinced that a healthy dose of farmer carries, more than any other exercise modality, improves your sex life, along with making coffee taste even better than it already does.

I'm not kidding, you can use them for a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g. At SAPT we have 11-year olds carry 10lb kettlebells, practicing good posture and walking mechanics; some of our high school athletes carry upwards of 410lbs with the implements. You can see the video below for a boatload of kettlebell (or dumbbell) variations you can use as part of a warm-up or conditioning circuit:

And while I LOVE the farmer walk implements, which allow you to really ramp up the weight (and subsequently, superhero status), I realize that many of you reading train in a commercial gym, and don't have access to the wonderful world of farmer walk handles. Enter....

Double-Arm KB Farmer Walk with Towel

This exercise was invented by your fellow wizards at SAPT, when, upon opening the facility back in 2007, the power racks didn't arrive forfour freaking months due to the company being complete dunderheads delay in shipment. What appeared to be a curse quickly metamorphosed into a blessing, as it forced the coaches to be creative with exercise selection. The KB farmer walk with towel happened to be one of the offspring of this surge in forced creativity.

Here it is in action:

(Note: If your gym doesn't have very heavy kettlebells, you can stack weight plates on top of the KB, as shown in the video.)

I really like this exercise because you can do it nearly any gym, and while it will provide nearly all the benefits of farmer carries (listed in the beginning of this article), this particular variation really, and I mean really, hammers grip strength. You'll literally have to "unpeel" your fingers from your palms when you finish. Not to mention, these really make for fun competitions among the competitive crowd, to see who can go the heaviest and longest before allowing the towel to slip out of the hands.

In fact, even though we now have the luxury of implement handles at SAPT, we still use this variation with near reckless abandon in our athlete's programs.

I like to do these for 2-3 sets of 30-80yds. (If you train in a gym without much walking room, you can just walk back and forth in a 5-10yd square. Who cares if you look funny.)

Give it a shot and hope you enjoy.