“Doesn’t that hurt your back?”
This is the most frequently asked question when it comes to Kettlebell Sport lifting, which requires the athlete to complete as many repetitions as possible in a 10 minute set.
Almost every Instagram post Kettlebell Kings puts up – which is where Kettlebell Sport gets most of its exposure to the mainstream population – gets a comment or two like “wow, they have terrible form” or “that is really going to destroy their back”. People seem to judge harshly what they don’t know or understand, especially when it comes to fitness and health. While I understand someone’s concern about back safety when they see the Kettlebell Sport rack position, wouldn’t it be better to learn more before writing something off as completely stupid and/or dangerous?
There is more than one way to use most tools.
Take the barbell, for example. The two main modalities barbells are used for are training maximal strength under slow speeds and heavy loads (powerlifting), and training power under fast speed and lighter load (Olympic lifting). These two types of training require completely different lifting techniques and programming. Neither way of lifting the barbell is better or worse than the other; they are just different.
Similarly, the kettlebell can be used to train different modalities. While you can train strength and power with a kettlebell (hardstyle or hinge-based lifting), the kettlebell is very well suited for training strength-endurance (Kettlebell Sport). When the goal is to complete maximal repetitions in 5 or 10 minutes, technique has to change drastically. Because we aren’t trying produce maximal force or grind our way through a heavy lift, many of the hardstyle lifting principles do not apply to endurance kettlebell lifting. The athlete competing in Kettlebell Sport must find ways to “rest” during a long set in order to be more efficient, which means employing specific energy-saving tactics.
The Kettlebell Sport rack position
The rack position for Sport allows the athlete to stack the elbows and therefore the weight of the bells on the pelvis, which is accomplished through thoracic flexion and hip extension. When done correctly, the lumbar spine is not loaded at all. If someone feels back pain from the rack position, it’s because they don’t have the requisite flexibility to get into the correct position.
Is the rack position for Kettlebell Sport the best and only way to rack kettlebells?
No, it’s not. This is how you rack kettlebells for a 5-10 minute endurance set – otherwise there’s no way you could find enough relaxation during the set to complete the time with extremely heavy kettlebells.
Is there risk to lifting kettlebells this way?
Of course; there is always risk to lifting weights. If someone is holding the rack position incorrectly, increases in load too quickly, has poor technique, pushes themselves to an extreme limit, etc. they can get injured. However, as long as the technique is done correctly and the person has the ability to get into the right position, this position is just fine. In fact, I would argue many of the people that lift this way have incredibly strong backs that are very resistant to injury!
Is holding the kyphotic posture of rack position good for you?
Well, it comes down to that Kettlebell Sport is a sport like any other – which means it has its classic compensations and muscular overdevelopment just like any other sport. Anytime competition comes into the picture, we are no longer talking optimal health; we are talking optimal performance. Combining the desk posture that many people have from their jobs today with the kyphosis and forward head posture in the rack position is not necessarily the best for your body and can strengthen imbalances that are already present. The recreational kettlebell lifter should keep this in mind, and ensure that they are not compensating health for performance. Good technique, an emphasis on mobility, and a balanced program are key to keep the body thriving while enjoying the challenges of Kettlebell Sport.
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