At a recent SFG Kettlebell Certification, Dan John and I were waxing poetic about the sheer perfection of a program of swings, goblet squats, and get-ups for anyone, from the proverbial “Edna” on Social Security to “GI Joe” the Army Ranger barely old enough to buy a beer and brimming with testosterone. One of the students respectfully asked: “Could it be that if the only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail?”
Our answer was: “Every trainee is a ‘nail.'” Some are sturdier than others, but all undoubtedly are in the “nail” family. All members of our species share the same anatomy and physiology. What works for one, will work for another. The difference is in the degree: how hard you pound the “nail” and how heavy of a “hammer” you are going to select.
Every Trainee Is A Nail
Edna and Joe may have different “sport-specific” goals. She wants to be able to pick up her grandkid and to get up from the floor with no help and no groaning, should she decide to get down there to play with that grandkid. She aspires to stand up from a chair spritely, to walk strongly, without fearing of falling and breaking her hip.
Joe’s goal is to be able to sprint with his 100-pound kit, quickly move in and out of different shooting positions, negotiate obstacles without blowing out an ankle or a hamstring, and carry a wounded brother-in-arms.
Different as they appear, Edna’s and Joe’s goals rely on the same elements: mobile hips and knees, powerful legs, a stable trunk, a well “knit” body that moves as a unit, rather than a collection of body parts. Once these general demands are met, specific skill practice may be needed—the Ranger needs to be taught how to correctly pick up a wounded comrade—but that becomes a piece of cake once the fundamental movement patterns are there, along with mobility and general strength.
There are many ways to develop these fundamental qualities. For instance, one could take up yoga to get flexible (in spite of a decided lack of squat-type poses), get strong with the powerlifts, and go to a physical therapist to attempt (in vain, unless his name is Gray Cook) to make everything fire the right way. Edna might get her arm twisted into yoga, but Joe would just as likely take up interior decorating. In turn, Edna would rather join a gun range than a powerlifting gym. Joe would not mind. Fortunately, many U.S. military bases in most unfriendly places are equipped with barbells. Unfortunately, the stress of nightly missions in Afghan mountains does not leave much adrenaline for heavy squats. And when he tried it, Joe almost let his team down as he was hobbling at half speed with sore quads on a night raid. It would not occur to either Edna or Joe to seek out the services of a physical therapist or some “movement coach.”
There are other ways, but most of them are just as cumbersome and unrealistic. Enter the kettlebell. Edna can easily afford one or two and Joe has them in his deployment kit.
Now You Need a Hammer
The swing, the get-up, and the goblet squat are the three most beneficial exercises anyone could do—period. Some might need to add other moves, but they must be planted on the foundation of these three whales.
The swing fills the hips with power and the back with vigor. The get-up makes the shoulders resilient and the abs bulletproof. The goblet squat unlocks the hips and puts a spring into one’s step. Muscles appear in all the right places while the fat beats a retreat.
When done correctly, these exercises are exceptionally safe. They are beyond safe—they are “antifragile,” to borrow a word from Nassim Taleb. The Program Minimum plus goblet squats is true health training. I can run out of fingers on both hands listing the various health benefits of swings alone.
“Customization” is just a euphemism for “differentiation” in the business world. The only “customization” you need is the size of the bell.
You are the nail; I rend you the hammer.
The “hammer”—Pavel’s book Kettlebell Simple & Sinister