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If you have access to kettlebells, the swing is one of the top exercises you have in your repertoire. The swing is simple, yet efficient; learning the intricacies of the exercise is easy, and once you have the motion down, you can use it to hone your strength, power, and metabolic fitness.
Another major perk of the kettlebell swing is that it’s easy to scale. You can perform a boatload of reps with a single weight, working to add more in each session (or even shoot for a ridiculous number like 10,000) or ramp up the weight, challenging your grip strength and hip hinge power. But, if you’re like Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. the same old swings get old after a while. That’s especially a problem when you only have access to one weight.
“At some point, you can only swing a kettlebell so many times before it gets boring,” he says. To freshen up your workout, he has a solution: a series of progressive variations you can use to break out of boredom.
Work your way up through these progressions, only moving on to the next when you feel comfortable completing every rep. Once you master them all, you can use the variations in your workouts, or stack all of them together for a swing session that will lead to real gains.
MVP Level Up: Kettlebell Swing
Level 1: Dead-Stop Swing
3 sets of 30 seconds
Start off slower than slow—you’ll literally stop between each rep. This isn’t just to keep you under control; you’ll also be forced to emphasize driving enough power for each rep, without the momentum you’ll build once you start stringing swings together.
If you’re a kettlebell swing newbie, remember that your arms are not part of the swing. This is a lower body exercise, with your upper body serving as a stiff lever while you drive up by standing up and squeezing your glutes. Think of your arms as ropes, keeping them straight as your keep a firm grip on the handle.
For the dead-stop, work using time rather than reps. Perform as many perfect reps as possible—making the full stop prominent each time—within the period.
Level 2: Basic Kettlebell Swing
30 seconds of work
Now that you can hit the single, move to adding more swings together in the standard variation of the exercise. To keep your form tight, think less about swinging, and more about pulling the kettlebell back between your legs, then standing up and squeezing your glutes.
Forget what anyone might have told you about swinging to eye-level. Instead, allow the bell to rise up as high as your hip drive allows.
Level 3: Staggered-Stance Kettlebell Swing
10 to 12 reps per leg or 30 seconds of controlled reps per side
Switch up your stance for an extra core and glute challenge, which will add an extra athletic component to the exercise.
Begin in a standard swing starting position a few feet away from the bell—but step one foot back slightly, keeping your hips and shoulders square. From there, proceed as normal. You’ll feel the glute of your front leg fully engaged, as your back leg serves as a kickstand.
Level 4: Mixed-Style Kettlebell Swings
3 sets of 30 to 40 seconds
Introduce some fancy footwork to your swing with the next level, which brings an additional component of coordination to the exercise.
Start in a staggered stance and perform two swings. Step your rear foot forward into standard stance, then nail two reps. Finally, step back into staggered stance with the other foot for a final two reps.
The key here is timing. You’ll want to time your steps for the moment the bell starts lowering from the top of the swing.
Level 5: Goblet Squat Kettlebell Swing
3 sets of 30 seconds
The final level adds an additional movement: a squat. Along with the power from the swing, the squat adds another strength component to the equation.
You’ll repeat the steps from the mixd-style swing, with one twist: after each pair of reps, catch the kettlebell and hold it in the goblet position, then perform a squat. Rather than moving jerkily and carrying momentum from swing to squat, focus on lowering down under control.
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