By Jodi Barrett

We all want to move pain free in our daily lives, though we often forget that the best way to accomplish this is training through functional movement. Training functional movements is to apply basic training of movements that mimic day-to-day living that allows your body to work efficiently as one unit. We do not walk without using our upper body or only rotate on one singular plane the whole day, so we should not train that way to be functionally efficient. Using compound exercises allows you to train multi-movements and muscles on different planes which will allow you to increase balance, strength, mobility, and body awareness that will undoubtedly help you avoid unnecessary injuries. An example may be if you are putting away groceries in a high cabinet and you do not have the strength or mobility to complete this task without pain or you are unable to complete the task at all. Implementing my favorite training tool, the kettlebell (KB), we can train an overhead press to work on the strength. As you progress, we would implement rotation with the press to mimic an individual putting their groceries up in a high corner cabinet, possibly twisting as they reach.

We look at functional movements such as getting up and down from the floor or simply getting out of bed in the morning. There is an exercise that we use in our training program that basically enlightens clients and opens their eyes and minds to functional training. The exercise is to get up and down off the floor alternating from your stomach and then on to your back. The exercise sounds simple, but after 60 seconds people become very aware of how challenging this may be.

Whether or not training has been a part of your life, movement is definitely a part of your life. We all move. We walk, jump, crawl, twist, and enjoy what our bodies are capable of. When we sit for long periods of time and become tired in our daily lives, we often forget that our bodies were created to move! I believe functional training has become much more important because our lives are more sedentary than our parents’ and our grandparents’ lives were. Even to this day, looking back at how active my parents were compared to people today is quite different. In school settings, by the time our children reach high school, they no longer have mandatory physical activity classes. Thus, the importance or awareness, above all, is that we need to take action to train our bodies functionally! Since longevity is often overlooked in trendy, high intensity routines, it is important to circle your training back to what matters most—building, strengthening, and preserving the body – not breaking it down. By following this guideline, we can maintain a healthy, physically abled body.

Kettlebells for Functional Movement

When training with the KB, the first thing people need to understand is that you must “link your body” together into one strong chain of action. This principle ensures that you will not be placing any stress or pressure on any single joint or muscle, which goes back to our definition of exercise – injury prevention and performance enhancement. Additionally, it will secure the total-body principles kettlebells are built on: linking your body by applying proper form, engaging alignment and center of gravity, and executing each move with a flow of motion.

Let’s revisit getting out of bed in the morning and break it right down. First, you roll onto your side, maybe press your hand into your mattress, flip your legs out, and sit up. The Turkish Get-Up is one way to train this. You roll to your shoulder, to your elbow then onto your wrist, working your way up using your core to help you complete the exercise from bottom to top, then top to bottom in a controlled manner. Now, your clients may only be able to perform the first three steps, and that is okay, as that is their starting point. As you teach, it is your job to not only help get them stronger, but to make that connection of the importance of the movement so they can see the benefit that lies beneath the exercise. The benefits of training KB with mobility allows you to have a solid strength and conditioning routine that builds fundamental movement patterns, enhancing the functionality of each set of moves and workout as you progress.

Basic Kettlebell Exercises for Functional Training

  1. Full Mobility Swing

The hip hinge should be trained! Learning how to properly train the posterior chain  will benefit a person’s daily movements.

How to train it:

  • Lean over the KB and grab it by the handle.
  • Push your hips back and pull your shoulders back.
  • Drive/swing the kettlebell back above and behind your knees.
  • Thrust your hips forward, squeeze your glutes, and stand up straight. Do not backward bend at the top of the motion! Be sure to create a non-stop fluid motion as you swing – with the KB going behind the knees, then up to shoulder level.
  • At the top of the swing, the KB should go no higher than chest level. Do not raise the KB with your arms. Your arms – as well as the KB – should remain weightless through the entire motion.

Note: The hinge remains a constant even though everyone swings a bit differently.

  1. Kettlebell Press (with and without rotational press)

Think about how many times you lift something overhead or reach with rotation.

How to train it:

  • From the rack position, squeeze the KB handle (the handle should lie across the hand with the lower part of the handle on the heel of the hand).
  • As the KB is pressed, the elbow rotates slightly out.
  • The forearm should remain vertical throughout the lift.
  • At the top, the arm should be fully extended.
  • The latissimus dorsi is engaged, the shoulder remains in the socket. If the latissimus  dorsi is engaged there should be a gap between the shoulder and the neck.
  • During the lift, the core is engaged and glutes are tight.
  • The feet grip the ground.
  • During the lowering portion of the lift, pull the KB down with tension back to the rack position.
  • Repeat on the other side, adding in rotation once ready to progress.
  1. Turkish Get Up 

Getting off the floor (or out of bed) we roll to the side, we use our hands to push up to standing.

How to train it:

  • Start by lying down with the KB in your right hand, right leg bent, left leg extended at a  45 degree angle.
  • Push yourself up to your left elbow.
  • Push yourself up to your left hand.
  • Lift your body up by pushing your hips up to the sky.
  • Swivel your left leg under your body and bend it so that you are now supported by your left knee, right foot and left hand.
  • Come to a kneeling position by pushing off your left hand.
  • Come to a standing position with the KB secure overhead in right hand.

Note: Your TGU is not complete until you go down the same way you came up!

  1. Kettlebell Squat

Think how many times you sit and stand. You should know the standard squat form first before adding weight or performing the different variations. In a standard squat there is your dominant level change, the knee bend.

How to train it:

  • Start with your legs slightly wider than hip width apart, push your hips back while keeping your chest up and shoulders back, as if you were going to sit in a chair.
  • Keep both heels on the ground as you ideally sit to where the line of your hips goes below your knees. Depending on flexibility, skill, and body mechanics, different people will go to various depths in their squat.
  • As you come up, push through your heels and keep your upper body in line with your lower legs, finishing at the top with your hips forward, squeezing your glutes and standing straight up, making sure not to over arch your back.
  • Add in the kettlebell when you can successfully perform a squat, hold it in a mid-rack position (bending at the elbows, holding elbows by your sides and grabbing the kettlebell by the horns).

I challenge you to be mindful of your motion today and consider how functional training can be beneficial.  We ultimately want to train for quality of life, and at the end of the day our goal is to move pain free by functionally training!

About Jodi Barrett

After 13 years of being a stay at home mom, Jodi Barrett found Kettlebell Kickboxing!  That journey took her to complete her KBIA-Master Level and MKC Certifications. Jodi teaches classes and certifies trainers across Canada. Connect with Jodi at kettlebellkickboxingcanada.com or on Instagram at @kettlebellkickboxingcanada