Kettlebells in The Athletic Training Room

Kettlebells in The Athletic Training Room
Posted on 04/20/2021
Kettlebells in The Athletic Training Room

Ian Ramsey, LAT, ATC
Athletic Trainer, SkyView Academy

Strength training and conditioning play important roles in the rehabilitation, strength training, return to play, and injury prevention protocols of the Athletic Trainer. Kettlebells offer a unique solution to the strength training and conditioning needs of the high school athletic trainer. The minimal space required to store and use kettlebells dovetails nicely with the space limitations of the typical high school athletic training room. The nature of the kettlebell’s design makes it an ideal tool for rehabilitation. The design of the kettlebell also increases its usefulness with traditional strength training and conditioning exercises. For the athlete returning to play, common kettlebell exercises offer an alternative for maintaining conditioning when high-impact exercises like running or jumping are not an option. These same kettlebell exercises can also be incorporated into an athlete’s routine to help prevent injuries.

Athletic Training Room (ATR) space is at a premium in the high school as many are too small for typical weight-room equipment. As a result, Athletic Trainers (ATs) often leave strength training equipment out of the ATR hoping that the weight room can be used when such equipment is required. However, for the high school AT, access to the school’s weight room can be limited at best, and the weight room is often crowded with athletes. Additionally, weight rooms are frequently not adjacent to the Athletic Training Room requiring the AT to leave the facility to access strength training equipment. Having strength training and conditioning equipment in the ATR would be ideal. Kettlebells offer a solution as they require little space for storage. A set of kettlebells with a range of weights suitable for every athlete in a high school can be stored under a plinth. Many exercises, especially upper extremity exercises, can be performed on a plinth, and most athletes can perform an entire workout in as little as 5 square feet.

For rehabilitation purposes, the kettlebell's offset center of gravity can engage irradiation concepts drawn from Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF). For example, for the overhead athlete who suffers from a chronic injury due to excessive mobility and a lack of scapular stability, a progression of exercises can be used to improve the athlete’s shoulder girdle. Begin with the kettlebell arm bar popularized by Gray Cook and Functional Movement Systems (FMS). This exercise is similar to Rhythmic Stabilization techniques used in PNF. Follow the armbar with various kettlebell carries like a bottoms-up, suitcase and overhead carries for scapular stability. Then exercises like the Turkish Get Up, and windmills can be used to improve mobility while maintaining stability. Finally, teaching the kettlebell snatch can teach the athlete how to generate power through the lower extremity while bracing through the core and transferring that power to the upper extremity while following a PNF D2 extension pattern.

Common exercises used in strength training can benefit from the off-set center of gravity of the kettlebell. For example, even basic exercises like a bicep curl can benefit from the use of a kettlebell as the off-set center of gravity increases tension, especially at the top of the exercise, when compared to dumbbells and barbells. Other common exercises like the bench press, squats, lunges, and rows can all benefit in similar ways with the use of a kettlebell.

For the athlete suffering a minor injury, maintaining conditioning while recovering is critical for the athlete's return to play. For the athlete who can bear weight but cannot tolerate the impact of running, the kettlebell swing offers an excellent exercise for maintaining conditioning. The kettlebell swing has also been shown in research to be more effective at developing impulse and rate of force development than jump squats or back squats (1). Impulse and rate of force development are the most critical components of developing power (2).

Another example of the usefulness of the kettlebell is the kettlebell swing's effectiveness for preventing injuries such as ACL sprains. The kettlebell swing is singularly effective at recruiting semitendinosus, the most important muscle for stabilizing the anterior cruciate ligament (3). The high-speed loaded eccentric component of the kettlebell swing is a fantastic way to prepare the athlete for cutting maneuvers, thus reducing the risk of injury associated with such movement (4). Additionally, the benefits of the kettlebell swing for lowering risk of ACL injury can be seen with relatively short programs (5).

As strength training and conditioning take on increasing importance in sports medicine, the Athletic Trainer should consider adding kettlebells to the Athletic Training Room. The kettlebell's compact nature both in terms of storage and use, its flexibility for rehabilitation, and its effectiveness for strength training and conditioning make an ideal tool for solving many of the Athletic Trainer’s daily problems.

  1. Lake, Jason P. and Lauder, Mike A. Mechanical Demands of Kettlebell Swing Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012, 26(12)/3209-3216.

  2. Haff, Gregory G. and Triplett, Travis N. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Human Kinetics, 2016. Pp. 522-527.

  3. Zebis, M.K., et al. Kettlebell Swing Targets Semitendinosus and Supine Leg Curl Targets Biceps Femoris: An EMG Study With Rehabilitation Implications. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2013;47:1192-1198.

  4. Haff, Gregory G. and Triplett, Travis N. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Human Kinetics, 2016. Pp. 526-527.

  5. Zebis M.K., et al. Neuromuscular Coordination Deficit Persists 12 Months after ACL Reconstruction But Can Be Modulated by 6 Weeks of Kettlebell Training: A Case Study in Women’s Elite Soccer. Hindawi Publishing Corporation; Case Reports in Orthopedics. Volume 2017, Article ID 4269575.
Additional Resources:
  1. Adler, S.S. and Beckers, D. and Buck, M. PNF in Practice: An Illustrated Guide. Springer-Verlag, 2000.

  2. Cheng, M. and Cook, G. and Jones, B. Kalos Sthenos: Kettlebells From the Ground Up. Functional Movement Systems, 2010.

  3. Cook, G. and Jones, B. Dynami: Kettlebells From the Center. Functional Movement Systems, 2010.
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