I got a 48 kilogram kettlebell for Christmas a couple of years ago. 106 lbs of iron, a big round ball with a handle also known as The Beast, a name given to the Dragon Door RKC kettlebells of the same weight. It was actually an Agatsu bell that I received, but it was beastly enough, let me tell you.
At the time I was strong enough to swing the beast with one arm, clean it to the rack position, and even do a couple of snatches per arm. What I could not do was press it military style. I would get it into the rack and the dumb thing would sit there as if it actually weighed 1000 pounds.
One of the issues was obviously the weight, but a 106 pounds press is not actually that big of a deal for someone weighing 200 lbs or more. It’s a great benchmark, but many men I know who want to press it grant the feat an air of mythical impossibility, when in fact all it takes is some of smart kettlebell training.
Do not take this to mean that I could press 106 pounds at the time, with any implement. I was hitting a couple of shaky reps per armwith the 88 pounder, also known as The Bulldog, but the beast was out of reach. However, it wasn’t nearly as far away as I originally thought.
The bigger issue was the diameter of the bell. It is BIG. Holding it in the rack does not feel like you have racked a kettlebell. It feels like you have racked a propane tank that is now sitting on your chest, pinning your arm to your pecs and your shoulder can’t budge a millimeter.
I got discouraged and let the bell sit in the corner for about a year before I actually got serious about pressing it. The most important factors were:
- Performing many kettlebell press variations
- Testing the pressing variations to see which worked best for me during a workout
What I mean by testing: I had started training with Adam Glass, a professional strongman who I had become friends with. Adam was experimenting with a weight training protocol he called Gym Movement. GM had been developed by some guy named Frankie Faires in Texas. It involved the performing of range of motion tests to see whether movements make the lifter better or worse, or stronger or weaker.
If you’d like to know more about any of that, I’d read this review of Grip and Rip 2.1, Adam’s DVD which explains the protocol.
What I’d like to discuss in the rest of the article are the various press options that are available to you for testing. Now that I have been practicing Gym Movement, I have not quit reading strength training material, but I see it differently now: it all gives me a new set of parameters and ideas to test.
Here are the variations of kettlebell presses that I tested
This is simply pressing two bells overhead while holding them in one hand. The bell on top will slide off the top if your groove is not dialed in appropriately. This will look slightly different for everyone, but the pattern is simple:
Clean two Russian kettlebells with one hand, typically with the heavier bell on the bottom. Rack them with both hands, then let go with the non-pressing hand and press them. Here’s my friend Jordan Vezina doing a stacked press totaling 36 kilograms:
Bottoms up pressing
Another simple concept that can challenge and develop your pressing strength in an entirely new way. Clean the kettlebell, rack it upside down, and press it. It will fight you like crazy and try to turn back over. If your grip strength, wrist strength, and pressing strength are ready, you’ll be able to make huge leaps in your pressing power with this technique.
Here’s me doing a bottoms up press with the bulldog:
Press walk outs
This involves racking a bell that you are currently unable to press, then getting it overhead. You can do this by jerking it or push pressing it. Now that it is overhead, find a comfortable position and walk with the bell locked out overhead. After a few steps, lower the bell under control, then if you can do it safely, put it back overhead and keep going.
Nothing seemed to help me as much as these. Supporting a weight overhead was what eventually allowed me to get the weight off of my chest after racking it.
So I had learned how to perform ROM biofeedback tests to help me determine which press variations would work best for me that day. The above are not the only options, of course. I was also testing see-saw presses, kneeling presses and also from the lunge position, Turkish Get Ups and partial handstand pushups. Something always tested best, and that was always what I went with that day.
I also experimented with the load. Some days I wound up pressing much lighter than I had planned on, based on the feedback from the biofeedback tests.
When I would lift, I would do as many reps as I could, for as long as they tested well. I guide myself by trying to avoid what Gym Movement calls The Elements of Effort. I terminate a set when:
- A reps slows down much more than the one preceding it
- I feel pain
- I get pulled out of alignment from the strain
- A rep feels much more difficult than the one before it
- My breathing pattern changes
Now, if I feel any of those things (other than pain, in which case I’d abort immediately) and I can correct them as I go, I continue the set. If I can’t, I stop. I don’t start again until the my best range of motion has returned. If it doesn’t come back, I’m done for the day.
I only chased The Beast press for about 4 weeks while testing everything. I can now do a stacked press with 52 kilograms of kettlebells. Better yet, my shoulders have never felt better, even though I’ve done so much more pressing than I was used to.
bottom line: pressing the 48 kilo kettlebell is not an impossible goal. It’s not even that hard to achieve if you stay out of pain and you press with different variations, doing as much as you can while avoiding the elements of effort.
PS: I think the Agatsu kettlebells are great, but the coating on mine has chipped a bit. Because I don’t care, it’s fine, but it didn’t stay new-looking for long.