Kettlebell training has become increasingly popular recently, with many people enjoying its high-intensity interval sessions and challenging moves. As such, it’s no surprise that more and more gyms and personal trainers are integrating kettlebell workouts into their programs.
However, there are still some skeptics who believe using a kettlebell can be harmful to your back. After all, with this type of training, you swing weight from side to side; doesn’t that put pressure on your spine?
Unfortunately, there are many myths about back pain and lifting weights that the general population agrees upon as facts. In this blog post, we’ll explain why these ideas aren’t accurate and how including kettlebell exercises in your fitness routine can help to prevent back pain in the long term.
Chris Lopez: Hi, I am Chris
Rick Kaselj: I am Rick
Chris and Rick: “And we are here to help you.”
Chris Lopez: We just thought that was funny because we are relaxed. We are in New Brunswick right now. We just finished some fitness meetings, helping each other out. If you don’t know, this is Rick Kaselj from ExercisesForInjuries.com. I am Chris Lopez from KettlebellFinishers.com.
And we will ask each other questions because Rick, ironically enough, has a back pain Kettlebell training question in his customer service inbox right now. And I wanted to talk to Rick about back pain since that is a kettlebell question.
Rick Kaselj: And I want to talk to you about kettlebells on what else this person can do when it comes to his back surgery recovery because the common thinking out there is that “just because you are in injury or pain, you should do nothing. You should lie down and rest and not move again.” And that is the worst thing you can do in the world because even with professional athletes, none of them will sit and do absolutely nothing. There are very few conditions where that is required and where movement is not recommended.
Let me read Jeff’s question:
Rick, I just started kettlebell training and like it. Last November, before my lumbar fusion operation, I bought your lumbar fusion exercises. I received answers to some of my weightlifting queries, such as whether I would ever be able to do a deadlift again.
So I have a specific program called Lumbar Fusion Exercises, which is for people who have had a lumbar fusion. It includes things to avoid and things to do to help overcome lumbar fusion. He indeed wants to get back to doing what he did before. He can, and he just needs to train smarter.
Now the Second Part of the Question:
I have been doing some weight training, but I would like to get back to kettlebell training. The question is, when can I resume Kettlebell training? Is there any exercise routine with Kettlebells that I should avoid?
Well, Chris will cover that part.
I was nowhere near starting double kettlebell training, which is quite advanced. I would like to at some point in time. And I am not trying to be, and I am not looking at getting certified. I want to lose some fat and become more defined. Okay, so that is, Jeff C. Thank you for your question.
So would you like to cover the part where he asked – “Are there any exercises that he should avoid, that Jeff should avoid?”
Chris Lopez: Anything that has to do with potential flexing of that lumbar spine, he should avoid it. He wants to get back into swinging. We have spoken about this before; the Swing is the foundation of movements for all hard-style training.
By hinging, I mean that the Swing is a hip-dominant movement. It’s not a squat move; you can tell it by just using your kettlebell because it will give you great feedback. And it’s a great movement, but you must ensure that you have tightened your hinge pattern.
If you got a squatty swing, the kettlebell would drop nine times out of ten because you are coming from a low position on the ground to a vertical position.
Whereas if you got a good hinge pattern when you are swinging a kettlebell, then that means you are getting it to what we call a Point C which is the back wall, and when you hinge or explosively extend your hips, the kettlebell will float out to the horizon or maybe even flip up.
Jeff, if you are doing your training right now and you notice that the kettlebell is drooping down, then that means you probably have a squatty swing. You should work more on hinging your hips. We are talking about a vertical shin angle where your shins are straight up and down. Your spine should be neutral or arched, with your butt as far back as possible. Your knees should be slightly bent, but you should keep your spine in a neutral position or preferably arched.
The Double Kettlebell Swing
The double kettlebell swing is a different niche because it lowers your anterior chain slightly. A wider stance makes the exercise more advanced because you cannot connect to your posterior chain as much. It would help if you pushed your knees apart as much as you could to accommodate the large handles.
Rick Kaselj: But it’s one of those things. It’s not that you cannot do it forever. You will need to progress to it. With injuries, you will need to progress through things and be smarter slowly. You can’t just jump into it like nineteen and master it in five minutes. You have got to be a little bit smarter.
And then the other thing I like about kettlebell swinging is that it teaches that hip is hinging that you highlight, which is so important because when we start getting flexion or curling of that lower back, it puts way more load in that spine.
If you have a sensitive back, back pain, a back injury, or a lumbar fusion, you would want to keep that spine neutral and eliminate that flexion because it increases the risk of irritation, injury, or even worse injury.
The other thing I like about the hinge is you are building strength and endurance throughout different ranges of motion of the body.
So with the hinge, you are building hip strength through various ranges of motion, not isolating a specific range, and building core strength through different ranges of motion. And probably the most important thing is the endurance side of things.
Kettlebell Swings Don’t Cause Back Pain
The kettlebell swing is one of the most common ways a person will experience back pain while performing kettlebell exercises. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that the Swing is the cause of your pain. In other words, if you swing a kettlebell and experience back pain symptoms afterward, the Swing isn’t the culprit behind your discomfort. Rather, it’s the fact that you’re experiencing pain that causes you to think that the kettlebell swing was the cause in the first place.
Kettlebell Exercises and Back Pain
Before we get into why kettlebell workouts can help avoid back injury, we must first discuss why many people believe that they can cause back damage. The main culprit behind this claim is the kettlebell swing. When you perform this movement, you’re bringing the kettlebell from the ground to above your head. This can place a significant amount of pressure on the lower back.
A Word of Caution Regarding Kettlebell Training and Your Back
As we’ve discussed, there are a couple of reasons you may experience back pain while using kettlebells. However, it’s important to note that, in most cases, the lifts themselves don’t cause pain. Instead, it’s the result of other factors. That being said, if you’re experiencing back pain while using kettlebells, stop what you’re doing and consult a doctor. This will allow them to assess your fitness routine and suggest how to proceed. If you experience chronic lower back pain, you should consider eliminating kettlebell training from your routine. After all, you don’t want to exacerbate an already serious medical condition.
Chris Lopez: It’s good.
And Jeff, another thing that I wanted to say was that you would want to ensure you have an excellent T-Spine or Thoracic Spine stability as well.
If you go by a joint-by-joint approach, which Rick and I discussed in an interview, your joints will alternate. Usually, they alternate from joints of stability to joints of mobility. With your spine fused in your lumbar area now, you have lost a lot of mobility, so you have to ensure that you’ve almost excessive mobility in that upper back area.
Rick Kaselj: Yeah, I think excess may not be the word, but you are looking at trying to get as much thoracic movement as you can throughout that thoracic spine. Some people might have greater movement or mobility in the lower thoracic spine and less in the upper thoracic spine, so trying to build that movement in the thoracic spine but balancing it without going crazy.
This means you do a hundred repetitions of thoracic mobility daily and start getting into the overused side of things. It could be harmful as opposed to beneficial. It’s that balance that people need to find.
Rick Kaselj, MS.