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The RKC: Adding Tools to Your Toolbox—And Knowing How to Use Them—To Reach the Highest Levels of Physical Performance

January 18, 2011 09:27 AM

Kettlebell Strength Training Workouts for Football
Chip Morton Kettlebell Strength Training and Conditioning for Football

I am currently the strength and conditioning coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. I’ve been there since 2003 and am in my fifteenth NFL season right now. I started my NFL career in 1992 as an assistant with the San Diego Chargers and was there through the 1994 season.

I left San Diego to become the first strength conditioning coach for the Carolina Panthers in the Spring of 1995. After the 1998 season, our coaching staff was fired, and I ended up that spring of 1999 being hired by the Baltimore Ravens as the assistant strength coach. I was in Baltimore from 1999 through 2001, including the Super Bowl season in 2000.

After 2001 season, I was hired by the Washington Redskins as the Strength & Conditioning Coach under Steve Spurrier. I was there for just the 2002 season, after which Marvin Lewis left Washington for Cincinnati. He had been the defensive coordinator in Washington and was hired as the head football coach for the Bengals, which was what brought me to my current team.

Kettlebells were initially just a personal interest I had. Training is what I enjoy doing during my “free time”. I don’t play golf or engage in some of the other “normal” everyday activities. I’ve always been interested in the training process; my passion lies in not only learning new ideas, but also trying things myself.

I am always looking, at 43 years of age, for things that I can do for a lifetime, training that is challenging, that will bring about increased fitness, help to build strength, develop power and endurance. I might not always have access to a fully equipped gymnasium with machines and barbells and all that.

I’ve been training for more than thirty years now. I started lifting cement filled weights in my basement when I was 12 or 13 years old. I’ve tried a lot of different styles of training and almost every kind of equipment.

The kettlebell is just the logical progression for me now at my age and with the time constraints professionally and personally with my family. I was looking for an effective tool that would allow me to be efficient with my time and yet get me strong or the feeling of getting “smoked” if need be, in a short period of time.

The kettlebell allows me to perform a variety of drills that are fun—and yet still obtain a training effect. I can also just work on getting stronger in the movements that I particularly like, which are the various presses and deadlift-type movements.

So, the kettlebell has become a tool that I personally really enjoy using. I have extended that interest to using kettlebells with our team.

Football success with Russian Kettlebell Strength Training Routines

Actually it was an employee in the front office of the Bengals staff who first showed me a kettlebell. He let me borrow it and I played around with it. I did very basic things at first; I studied Pavel’s first tape, The Russian Kettlebell Challenge, picked up some extra exercises and then just looked more and more through the internet, buying books, reading articles and posts on Initially, most of what I learned was self-taught.

I’d never had any personal coaching from any instructors, so coming here I’ve learned a LOT of teaching points that I can now use with our players. Our players have the same desire. They want variety. They like to use new tools. They like to have some exposure to new ideas and different ways to train or new ways perform the traditional exercises.

All of the Bengals players now use kettlebells in our program.

We started with very basic exercises... standing presses with both one arm and two arms, seesaw presses, rows and front squats. We perform Romanian deadlifts, which are basically the Good Morning type exercise with the kettlebells. We’ve done some around the body sling shot passes, some figure eight passes. We stayed very basic though, just to introduce the concept and use the tool.

We did the swings in the fall with our younger players, but once again, now that I have the teaching points and the teaching progression, I feel more comfortable exposing them more thoroughly to the swing.

While there is nothing “magical” to me about standing on your feet to train, I understand the application there, being strong on your feet, engaging your glutes and core muscles to support skilled movement. It just makes sense.

We don’t exclusively do presses from the standing position, but that is now a version added into our shoulder pressing arsenal. It’s another tool in that toolbox.

I think that kettlebells do a great job of training the body’s musculature, to increase strength throughout the full range of motion, as well as training for power, and endurance. They could be applied universally to the training for ALL football players. They will benefit ALL football players.

I think that all football players need to have the appropriate ability to bend their knees, to get into and maintain a low position, which certain kettlebell drills will definitely reinforce and enhance.

All players need to be able to roll their hips forward and come out of their stance; they all need to be able to extend the hips, which certainly the swings and some of the other exercises involve.

All players need stability and strength in their torso, the linkage between the lower body and the upper body. All players need shoulder strength, shoulder stability and strength in their pressing and pulling muscles.

Now, the issue that I have to deal with my population is this: Are there any orthopedic limitations with certain individuals? Is it safe for this person to do an overhead press? Is it safe for this person to do a swing? That’s where the refinement of the teaching principles will come in handy—the troubleshooting, being able to take a step back in the progression and trouble shoot along the way, the ability to make those adjustments with the new information in my toolbox on how to teach those exercises.

The instructors at this certification have been very professional. They are very knowledgeable in their craft. Each instructor had a unique teaching style and a unique personality to go along with it, and each brought different points of emphasis. That being said, there was an overlap in the information presented by the different instructors. There are common threads that ran through the entire weekend. But within that, you have the individual teaching nuances and experiences added by each instructor that made it that much the experience richer.

I liked the fact that there was a definite progression, a teaching progression in all of the exercises. There were exercises or drills that could be used to make adjustments to deal with individual clients and their range of motion limitations, as well as drills that could be used to teach proper technique.

If someone wasn’t quite getting the knee bend or the depth in the squat, there were drills provided that would allow you to teach that particular skill and reinforce it. I have to say that as well as well as the teaching aspect, we were exposed to program design, how to incorporate kettlebells into workouts and some of the different styles of training that can be used.

Sometimes there can be a bias against certain tools and there are a lot of skeptics out there when it comes to kettlebells. But whatever tool that you choose to use, I think it’s important that you place yourself in this type of learning environment—where whatever system or style of training it is, you familiarize yourself with it and are appropriately trained.

You learn the nuances of the use of that particular tool. You know the safety precautions. You know the teaching progressions. Certainly there is a risk involved in kettlebell training, but that’s the value of this type of seminar where you learn some of the potential pitfalls. You learn how to correct technique. You learn how to safely and sanely progress your clients, or in my case, my athletes where you greatly reduce or eliminate that potential for injury or potential for problems.

Once again, it comes back to the instructor and this workshop goes a long way to fill in those educational gaps, or those experiential gaps. And for me, personally I want to continue that growth process forward. I know I certainly don’t have all of the answers after three days.

I do have a toolbox now—a toolbox of information and drills and instructions that I can build upon with our players. And that had been my goal!