In this article, I'll speak more to the beginner, someone who's just embarked upon the AKC / Fedorenko Method of Kettlebell Lifting, and focus primarily on one-arm kettlebell exercises. But even if you're been around the bells for a while, the lockout is one area that could probably improve. Locking out with two bells introduces many more complex dynamics, requiring advanced stability, strength, and flexibility of the shoulders, hips, and spine, and should be gradually approached over time.
The goal of almost every kettlebell exercise is to fixate the kettlbell in the classic overhead lockout position. When first teaching the Press, Push Press, Jerk or Snatch to a prospective lifter, I need to address the lockout early on in the session. Why is the lockout so important to a safe, progressive learning experience for every new lifter?
First let's define a proper overhead kettlebell lockout.The Challenges - Flexibility, Stability, or Just Bad Habits
The feet are flat on the floor, knees, hips straight and strong. Back is arched, and gaze forward. The lockout arm extends straight up over the head with the bicep near the ear. The elbow is locked and shoulder is seated. The kettlebell hangs off the heal of the hand (hip of the palm) behind the head, wrist is relaxed. Ears, shoulders, hips, and knees line up vertically creating a skeletal stack to accept the majority of the resting load. The palm is angled slightly towards the face, not rotated out where the kettlebell spins out overhead. The kettlebell is completely still or fixated. From the side view the upper arm appears be perpendicular to the floor as it rises up out of the shoulder joint. The elbow joint is fully extended (not hyperextended) and completely locked. This may result in a gentle backward curve in the arm. Don't confuse this with the elbow being bent. The arm should never be in front of the face from the side view, as this will require much greater muscle contraction to stabilize the shoulder joint. How far back the arm will go depends upon the flexibility of the shoulder joint. Many people have a tight anterior, rounding the shoulders, thus preventing the arm from getting to that parallel-to-ear position while overhead, preventing a stable rest position.
Immediate fixation is the goal of every lockout. Having the kettlebell come to a complete stop as quickly as possible should be on the lifters mind during every rep. It's what Valery Fedorenko is master at. No matter what lift is being perfomred, the sooner the bell stops moving, the sooner the lifter is stable, balanced, and resting.
Issue #1, Elbow Doesn't Lock
A locked elbow in the kettlebell overhead lockout equals quick fixation and longer rest. While not advocating the lifter do any real training in front of a mirror, it's okay to take a peak at your yourself from different angles just to see what's going on with that elbow joint. Is the elbow really locked? Some people might have range of motion limitations that can prevent a truly straight elbow joint, but most are simply not willing to straighten under load. If you have range of motion issues, you should seek medical advice, but if you can simply extend your arm in front of you, you can verify if your elbow joint actually locks (when not holding a kettlebell). If it does, there's a good chance that medically, your range of motion is okay. Shorter assist Jerk or Push Press sets at 2 minutes per hand with a lighter kettlebell may permit you to achieve a straighter elbow over time. Focus on locking out the elbow out fully, firmly. Work slowly at about 8 or 10 reps per minute, holding lockout. Remember, a rapidly locked elbow goes hand and hand with good fixation.
Issue #2: Arm Lifts Out of the Shoulder Joint
As you lock the elbow be sure to pull the arm down, and back into the shoulder socket. Seat the shoulder joint (like a turtle in its shell), not allowing the arm to rise up near the ear, a common mistake. In this position the shoulder has its greatest degree of stability, and will fixate the bell fastest. The wrist relaxes, as the pressure of the bell pushes down on the palm's hip in a perpendicular or axial load. Slower, shorter assists sets of One-Arm Jerks (or Push Press) are called for, where the lifter can focus on the seating of the shoulder joint without the urgency of getting a really tough set done. It's okay to use a fairly heavy weight at 2 minutes per hand at 8 or 10 reps per minute.
Issue #3: Arm Rotates Out
Don't allow the arm to rotate out (right arm to rotate clockwise). This rotation, another common mistake, kills fixation, as the bell continues to spin after it arrives in lockout. Balance, stability, safety, and rest are all lost, as well as a possible good rep in competition. Mentally cue yourself to be aware of this, and simply eliminate it from your lockouts. Usually, rotation or twisting is just a bad habit that can be trained out.
Issue #4: Arm Is Held In Front of the Head
Next look at the angle of the arm from the side. Is the upper arm parallel to the ear or in front of the face and body? If not, assist Push Press or Jerk sets with lighter weight and slower rpm is called for. During these sets, allow the lighter bell to gently open up the shoulder (pulling the arm back within only slight discomfort) as you strive to achieve greater range of motion. This is a gradual process and can best be accomplished with a lighter load, even serving as a warm up. Hold the lockouts extra long, working at about 8 reps per minute.
Issue #5: Bell Is Dropped Before Fixation
As an AKC Judge, and Master Coach, I've watched thousands of reps. There's simply no good reason to drop the bell too quickly, before adequate fixation. Holding the kettlebell still before repeating another rep assures the lifter has control of the bell and the set. Only good reps are counted, not dangerous movements that don't resemble a legal rep. When the kettlebell is lifted in a wild, out-of-control fashion, the elbow never locks, the bell never stops moving, no shoulder stabilization or flexibility is achieved -- and injuries abound. Using the Fedorenko Method and fixating, builds the stabilizer muscles of the shoulder joint, while at the same time opening the joint up to greater flexibility. The upper back and core fixate as well, building an incredibly strong midsection as the body goes from rack to lockout. Holding lockout for a deliberate pause, working more slowly in all your sets, and spending more time resting in lockout than rack on shorter assist sets, are three ways to address this notoriously bad habit.
Rest in the lockout position is important to the progress of every kettlebell lifter. Following the above advice will help improve your lockout, allowing your to experience more rest, greater stability, range of motion, as well as a healthier, safer, kettlebell experience. For more information on the AKC Fedorenko Method of Kettlebell Lifing: CLICK HERE