Kettlebell Training for Triathletes


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The Western world is gradually listening, receiving and applying simple, primitive and more effective training methods from the archives of the Eastern bloc. Kettlebells (KB’s) have already become the tool of choice for ‘in the know’ strength and power athletes. Joint Mobility (JM), a combination of Qigong and dynamic stretching, has also become one of the most effective warm-ups for any athlete. How can the re-birth of these two timeless protocols benefit triathletes?

Triathletes are a special population due to the fact they are training for three events simultaneously, i. e. swimming, biking, and running. Efficiency is of the utmost importance, especially for Ironman competitors, 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run ALL IN ONE DAY!! Thus, there are many problems these athletes run into throughout the course of their training programs. The most common issues are over-training, weak core, tight hip flexors, tight low back, and stress fractures mainly in the lower leg and small bones of the feet.

This article will address some specific protocols that have been effectively used to correct some major strength and flexibility imbalances of a current client. She is 33 years old and has competed in two Ironman triathlons, as well as many shorter races. When we started working together, nine weeks prior to her second Ironman, she was rebounding from a stress fracture in the femoral head, major quad/ham imbalance, rotator cuff problems (past injuries from swimming on college scholarship), and tight hip flexors.

Through a combination of JM drills and KB’s, she was able to effectively overcome many of these weaknesses in nine short weeks. Every session began with a minimum of ten minutes of joint mobility head-to-toe and then specifically returning to problem areas. Refer to Super Joints (book or DVD) for these exercises: Belly Dance, Cossack, extended Cossack, Bootstrappers, and Split Switches. After a general mobility warm-up, emphasis was on the Wall Squat, essential to recovery and progression of imbalances, weaknesses and mobility of the hip/low back region. Within two weeks, her squat depth had improved four inches due to increased flexibility and relaxation of the hip flexors. This almost immediate improvement led to relaxed bike pedal power, relaxed running and overall increased power and efficiency.

The remainder of each training session revolved around KB training. The foundational movements apply to triathletes as they do for any athlete. Five main KB exercises were used. A healthy dose of swings, cleans, snatches, renegade rows and windmills were the focal point.

Swings teach hip and hamstring firing. Most programs neglect to teach athletes in general how to neurologically program their hamstrings which leads to efficiency in biking and running.

Cleans re-teach the hips to fire while simultaneously relaxing the shoulders…crucial during a grueling multi-sport race.

Snatches are an extension of the swing and help ‘re-wire’ the CNS to fire on demand and also adding to overall efficiency.

Renegade Rows are a full body core workout teaching the abdominals stabilize in a ‘relaxed tension’ state instead of mindlessly rowing a weight. This movement transfers to more effective hip stabilization in triathletes while building a solid core.

Windmills work the core at the same time stretching the glute/hamstring complex while maintaining mental awareness of the upper body, once again engaging the ENTIRE body to work as a unit vs. a collection of body parts.

These five exercises revolve around everything that a triathlete is looking for: increasing core strength without increasing muscle mass, and increasing work capacity while maintaining aerobic efficiency (relaxed tension).

Treating the body as a ‘unit’ vs. a collection of body parts-which leads to increased efficiency-is crucial for triathletes. Kettlebells fill the void where traditional strength training lacks, effective strength workouts in minimal time. Ask any triathlete: his/her last priority is strength training. However, every triathlete is interested and understands the benefits of “core” training and the Party knows what the MOST EFFECTIVE core-training tool is: kettlebells. Help your fellow triathlete comrades by showing them these intricate Party Protocols. They will surely thank you!

Brad Nelson is a Minneapolis/St. Paul based certified Level II kettlebell instructor and strength and conditioning coach (CSCS). Brad is unwavering about getting you results through private or team training and workshops. For additional information or to witness a demonstration on how and why kettlebells are the single most effective tool for increasing strength, burning fat, general conditioning and teaching movement visit or contact .

© Copyright 2005 Brad Nelson -


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