Powerful Lockout

The pinnacle of double kettlebell training is a powerful lockout. Exercises like the military press, push press, and jerk finish with an intentional fixation of the kettlebells overhead.

The lockout is the apex of the most powerful movements in the kettlebell lexicon. It represents precision, stability, and resilience. But since the overhead position requires prerequisite mobility, flexibility, and coordination, it is a skill that must be honed.

Lockout Considerations

Locking out double kettlebells requires adequate shoulder flexion, thoracic rotation, and extension. Because it is so common that athletes lack these standards, many compensate by hyperextending their lumbar spine to orient the bells overhead.

If the athlete continues to train with these common movement faults, they subject themselves to premature wear and tear on their joints. And since the goal of strength training is sustainability, our immediate focus should be on improving form.

In order to be both strong and powerful, an athlete must be precise: vector angles should represent the path of least resistance. After all, tighter form allows a higher training effect to be achieved.

With a modicum of mobility work, stretching, and abdominal bracing drills, the athlete can expect an improved lockout with double kettlebells.

Locking out double kettlebells requires adequate shoulder flexion

Troubleshooting the Overhead Position

In our minimum effective dose style of training, short and intentional warmup reign supreme. The exercises chosen must open the tight shoulder girdle, improve thoracic rotation and extension, all while priming the midsection for overhead movements.

Dedicate your pre-training mobility to the Kettlebell Arm Bar: an exercise that teaches packing of the shoulder girdle while opening up thoracic rotation and extension.

If that’s not enough, consider a contract/relax style of stretching before and after training with The Prone Series. Stretching the muscles of the pecs, pec minors, biceps, and anterior deltoids helps open the overhead position.

Before beginning double kettlebell training, learn the intricacies of the Hardstyle Plank. With practice, you will be able to feel a priming effect of the abdominals. This builds a better stacking of the hips, midsection, and shoulders while training.

Kettlebell Arm Bar

Thoracic Rotation + Extension

The Kettlebell Arm Bar is one of my favorite loaded mobility exercises. The arm bar simultaneously packs the shoulder girdle while providing a dramatic opening of the thoracic spine.

  1. To begin the kettlebell arm bar, the athlete should lie on their back with a light kettlebell in their right arm. They should press that bell toward the ceiling for the duration of the movement. In this position, their right knee should be bent, also pointing toward the ceiling.
  2. The non-working left arm should be brought directly overhead. The right foot should be pressed into the ground to push the torso into a roll toward the athlete’s left side. This should bring the right knee to the ground into the side of the left knee.
  3. In this position, the head will be lying on the non-working left arm overhead (the hand should be facing down). The body should have rolled onto the left hip and the shoulders should now be stacked with the right arm still holding the kettlebell toward the ceiling (this position might seem off-center from vertical, but a vertical orientation should be maintained).
  4. With the bell over the right shoulder, begin to flex the right shoulder blade, using the lat to pull the shoulder blade down (pack the shoulder). The head and neck remain relaxed on the left bicep.
  5. Once proprioception and balance of the bell over the right shoulder is reached, the athlete can begin to straighten their flexed right leg parallel to the left leg. They should imagine pulling their right hip to the floor.
  6. The athlete should flex their right glute as they breathe through the
    diaphragm – with enough tension to maintain shoulder packing. As they breathe, they should notice their right shoulder is coming closer to ground level.

After 10-15” or 3 diaphragmatic breaths, reverse the above motions and repeat on the other side.

Pro Tip: Keep eyes on the bell for the duration of the movement for balance. Once the legs are parallel, use peripheral vision to maintain the bell’s balance.

Practice The Kettlebell Arm Bar for 30-45”/side or 5-10” Breaths.

The Prone Series
For Stretching the Chest/Shoulders

The Prone Series is a fantastic method of stretching the often overly tight muscles of the shoulders and arms. With varying positions of the stretching-side arm, the athlete may stretch the pecs, pec minors, and anterior deltoids/biceps.

Loosening the muscles of the shoulder girdle allows more freedom of motion in both arm flexion and extension. The athlete should try each of these stretches, then focus primarily on the variations that help them with their overhead position.

Pec Major:
  1. To begin the prone series, lie prone on the floor with arms stretched to the sides. We will stretch the pec majors first.
  2. The athlete should straighten their right arm, palm down, out to the side at shoulder level. With the non-working hand used as a leverage point, the athlete will begin to bring their left leg over the top of their hips like a scorpion.
  3. Using the right shoulder as a pivot point, the athlete will simultaneously press their right palm and elbow into the ground while pushing into their left hand.
  4. The scorpioned left leg will either be floating or touching the floor outside the right leg if the athlete is more flexible.
  5. Perform an inhalation while creating an isometric stretch in their right pec major. Upon a deep, diaphragmatic exhale the athlete should sink deeper into the stretch. The athlete should be able to get their left foot closer to the floor with each exhale. Repeat on the other side.

Practice The Prone Pec Major Stretch for a minimum of 5 breathe cycles on each side

Pec Minor:
  1. Lie prone on the floor with arms stretched to the sides. We will stretch the pec minors now.
  2. The athlete should straighten their right arm, then bring the elbow to a 90 degree angle, palm down, out to the side at shoulder level. With the non-working hand used as a leverage point, the athlete will begin to bring their left leg over the top of their hips like a scorpion.
  3. Using the right shoulder and elbow as a pivot point, the athlete will simultaneously press their right palm and elbow into the ground while pushing into their left hand.
  4. The scorpioned left leg will either be floating or touching the floor outside the right leg if the athlete is more flexible.
  5. Perform an inhalation while creating an isometric stretch in their right pec minor. Upon a deep, diaphragmatic exhale the athlete should sink deeper into the stretch. The athlete should be able to get their left foot closer to the floor with each exhale. Repeat on the other side.

Practice The Prone Pec Minor Stretch for a minimum of 5 breathe cycles on each side

Anterior Deltoid/Bicep:
  1. Lie prone on the floor with arms stretched to the sides. We will stretch the anterior deltoids and biceps.
  2. The athlete should straighten their right arm, palm up, out to the side at shoulder level. With the non-working hand used as a leverage point, the athlete will begin to bring their left leg over the top of their hips like a scorpion.
  3. Using the right shoulder as a pivot point, the athlete will simultaneously press the backside of their hand and elbow into the ground while pushing into their left hand.
  4. The scorpioned left leg will either be floating or touching the floor outside the right leg if the athlete is more flexible.
  5. Perform an inhalation while creating an isometric stretch in their right anterior deltoid and biceps. Upon a deep, diaphragmatic exhale the athlete should sink deeper into the stretch. The athlete should be able to get their left foot closer to the floor with each exhale. Repeat on the other side.
Practice The Prone Anterior Deltoid/Biceps Stretch for a minimum of 5 breathe cycles on each side.

Practice The Prone Anterior Deltoid/Biceps Stretch for a minimum of 5 breathe cycles on each side.

The Hardstyle Plank

For Abdominal Bracing

It’s common that individuals with poor shoulder flexion hyperextend their lumbar spine in order to achieve an overhead lockout. Athletes who do not correct this issue are bound to develop lower back pain.

The easiest method in resolving hyperextension of the lower back is to improve recruitment of the abdominals. The go-to exercise is the Hardstyle Plank.

  1. To perform the Hardstyle Plank, assume an elbow plank position. Ensure that both arms are parallel to one another and that the legs are stacked in the same line as the arms.
  2. Coming into the Hardstyle Plank, the athlete should make sure that their body forms a straight line from ankle to shoulder. Their shoulders should be stacked directly above their elbows.
  3. Next comes the intention: the athlete should maximally engage their glutes and abdominals, aiming to draw their last rib toward their belly button. Simultaneously, the elbows should begin pulling toward the toes, and the toes pulling toward the elbow.
  4. This sensation should make the body shake with tension. The athlete might find it helpful to make small hisses to release pressurized air from the abdomen.

Hold the Hardstyle Plank for 10,” then relax. Perform 3 sets prior to training.

Hold the Hardstyle Plank for 10,” then relax. Perform 3 sets prior to training.

Final Thoughts

I love training with double kettlebells because they are the perfect mixture of strength, power, and conditioning. Classic exercises like the clean and press, clean and push press, and clean and jerk intensify the athlete’s training effect.

Although these high workload exercises represent extreme physical aptitude, they require the athlete to meet certain movement standards. A lack of arm flexion, thoracic rotation and extension, and hyperextension of the lumbar spine can lead to injury if not corrected.

With practice, the Kettlebell Arm Bar will help the athlete to open up their tight shoulders and thoracic spine. The Prone Series can further assist those that need to stretch out their tight pecs. The Hardstyle Plank will help the athlete feel the sensation of staying connected in their abdominals.

Like anything, practice makes the difference. I hope these tips help you in your training and build a more powerful lockout.

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