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Kettlebells And Surfing: How To Use One To Improve The Other, And Vice-versa.
Are you truly doing a sport specific preparation at the gym, or is it all general preparation? How do kettlebells promote your surfing ability? Forget BOSU balls, or Swiss balls. Surf more, but improve your conditioning with kettlebells.
By: Philippe Til
A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS
Swing hard. Lock tight. Stay focused.
Paddle hard. Charge in. Stay focused.
Two sets of actions requiring a quick and intense total muscular engagement, mental sharpness at the apex of the move and maintained concentration to continue with the movement performed.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m referring to the Kettlebell Swing and a surfer taking off into a wave! You have to completely engage your hips and glutes to push the bell forward, compress your abs and lats, pull your knees up and lock up tightly at the top of the swing and maintain your focus if you’re going for reps. Without focus, your form goes and you know what happens next. Same thing with surfing: you spot your wave in the lineup, turn your board around and start paddling like a maniac, every stroke as hard as if it were your last until the wave comes upon you and you pop up and charge onto the face of the wave and stay focused at every turn, taming the hydraulic energy the way you tame your arc in a snatch or control the up and down parts of your swing.
The similarities don’t end here. When the swell’s hitting, paddling back and forth, breaking through the waves to get back into the lineup can be quite exhausting. It’s like a VO2 Max, punctuated only by the lag between sets or your ability to catch one wave after another. Doesn’t matter if you’re tired, because when your interval timer beeps, you know you have to go for your required amount of reps in X amount of time, and if you slow down in your paddling, you ain’t catching that wave! Shallow breathing, “tchuh, tchuh, tchuh” is what gets you there!
Of course, one can draw just about any comparison between working with kettlebells and any other sport. I recall Pavel at my RKC Certification weekend talking about plyometrics and athletes who did jump squats increasing their vertical leap by 2/3 less that the group of athletes who only did KB snatches. How does this relate, you may wonder? Well, again, paraphrasing Pavel, there is no sports specific training for the general population, unless you’re knocking at the door of the Nationals in any discipline.
However, if you’re like me and have a hobby that requires a certain amount of strength, coordination, flexibility and endurance such as surfing (or basketball, archery, martial arts etc.) continue on with your general physical preparation (GPP) and simply go out and practice more of the sport itself!
If you’ve taken the RKC Certification Weekend Workshop, you’ve been drilled about the importance of the Swing and the Turkish Getup, which contain the fundamentals of movement. (I’m not going to explain the latter, because you probably know about it already and if you don’t, you can read Brett Jones’ essay on the Getup or download Geoff Neupert’s teleseminar with Brett about it.)
I intend to demonstrate that Kettlebell drills can literally be applied to any activity and how they mimic the activities’ movements (especially before the San Diego workshop which I KNOW will have a few surfers enrolled!), though focusing on surfing for the purpose of this article.
One of the biggest challenges in surfing is finding your balance. Here you are, standing on a piece of foam and fiberglass thinner than your kettlebell’s handle on a liquid surface with a body of water that is chasing you and threatening to collapse on top of you. Aside from expert longboarders who found that balance, most surfers stay pretty low upon take-off, particularly on a short board, whereas a newbie will more often than not try to stand upright right away, once they get past their knees, that is (in which case I recommend burpees on land and on your board). As a result, their legs are not solid, their upper body starts flailing and splash, off the board!
Observe the traditional surfing stance: low center of gravity, feet slightly turned out with the knees pointed in the same direction as the feet, solidly anchored at the heels and gripping the board with the toes. The back is straight, the chest is open. Looks like a deep squat to me!
When you watch surfers carving, i.e. doing turns, cutbacks and other tricks up and down the face of the wave, you’ll see them constantly shifting between a squat and a deadlift stance, sometimes with their back almost perpendicular to the face of the wave, seemingly defying gravity. Their hips generate the power to perform aggressive turns, their shoulders and upper body squared off in the direction of the movement, relaxed to the point of tension, compressing when snapping a turn. In a recent teleseminar hosted by Geoff Neupert, Brett Jones qualified his version of hard style training as “a crisp, athletic, fluid yet powerful movement”. The very essence of a surfer who makes their moves fluid, seamless.
Now, the catching of the wave and carving are the fun parts of surfing, almost the easy part. Before you get to your feet, you still need a solid ability to paddle and I’ve seen quite a few people who couldn’t even balance on their stomach without rolling over! So your paused goblet squats need to be supplemented with serious unilateral work through swings, snatches and presses! Snatches will provide the explosive hip power to pop up, as will swings, in addition to conditioning your lats and low back while lying prone on the board. Presses and swings (particularly on the downswing) will improve your paddling strength (all-out illegal snatches are also great for that, the same ones you use to establish your VO2 Max rep range).
Practicing your kettlebell drills, even the troubleshooting drills if you have areas that need your attention, to improve your kettlebell drills will improve your surfing, even if by the sheer conditioning you’ll get (especially if you’re landlocked or there is no swell for you to go out and surf!) and if you are considering surfing, or are a beginning surfer, you’ll develop skills that you can directly translate from your work with kettlebells on land to your performance in the water.
Because a surfer spends more time paddling than they do actually surfing (and sometimes, you can sit around for 20+ minutes before charging for a wave, along with the entire lineup!), endurance is the key. Below is a suggested program you can follow. While designed with surfing in mind, it doesn’t differ much from any other workout you may do with kettlebells. Remember, folks, we have 6 major moves we work off of. Variety comes from weight, reps, combinations of exercises and anything else your imagination calls for! All you need is one snatch-size kettlebell or one size below.
-2 sets of 10 single leg deadlift per leg, holding the KB with both hands.
-3 sets of 5 single arm swings, without breaks in between hands (30 total non-stop reps).
-3 sets of 10 alternating swings.:30 between sets.
-2 sets of 20 two-handed swings. :10 between sets to reset.
-Goblet squat, sitting “in the hole”, maintaining a straight back, open chest, “long spine”, shift your weight from one foot to the next, about 5 times each side.
-Reverse ladder 5-1“pause at the bottom” goblet squats :30 break in between.
-Front Squats: 3 sets of 5 per leg (no bounce).
Snatch-Military Press Complex:
-Alternating sides, ladder 1-5. Perform on complex on the left arm, switch arms by swinging one time and going up to the snatch on the other arm, continue until all repetitions are completed. Rest one minute in between and repeat cycle.
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