Why I Don’t Like Kettlebell Flows

Hey friends, in the next 4-6 minute read I want to share my thoughts with you about kettlebell flows, and why I don’t like them. If you’re not sure what a kettlebell flow is, I’ll save you the Google search:

It’s a combination of exercises, with either one or two kettlebells, where you perform one rep of each exercise before moving on to the next exercise.

An example of a simple bilateral and symmetrical flow would be doing a kettlebell swing, then a goblet squat, then a lateral lunge, before returning back to the swing. An asymmetrical and unilateral flow could be a one-arm swing, then incredible clean, then a reverse lunge, then and overhead press, and then switch sides and repeat.

Kettlebell flows have become really popular recently, and some of my very own friends and coworkers are into really into them, but I’m not. There isn’t anything wrong with combining exercises, but in popular fitness, I think almost everybody is doing them for the wrong reasons. Here’s why:

When I first started learning about strength and conditioning 10 years ago, one of the books that really opened my eyes to the complexity of the human body was Anatomy Trains from Thomas Myers.

In that book, tell Myers talks about the connective tissue that is responsible for transmitting force throughout our body. The fascia was basically an oversight in my college coursework and in the CSCS exam, which largely still focuses on muscles and the major lifting movement patterns, but not the more complex patterns you’re more likely to find in life, dance, and sport.

There are fascial slings wrapping themselves around and crisscrossing every joint in our body, so learning about the simplicity of the fascial system really opened my eyes to the complexity of the human body.

I saw this for the first time in strength and conditioning when I saw University of Texas men’s basketball and Philadelphia 76’ers Strength Coach Todd Wright present at the Perform Better Functional Training Summit. Todd’s been applying the work of physical therapist Gary Gray to develop movement literacy in multiple planes of movement with multiple body segments.

His athletes work through a variety of complex movement patterns on the ground and while standing, and the goal is to improve the “functional density” of the workout by creating a rich sensory experience for an athlete to move.

Here’s a video from Todd’s gym, Train 4 The Game, so you can get a better idea of where he’s coming from:

I once heard Michol Dalcourt, who runs the Institute of Motion and invented the ViPR trainer, say that “Movement is about creatine space in your body and moving into that space.”

Most of our training involves ‘lifting‘, and we neglect training that involves shifting; moving loads through the gravitational field, considering vector variability, odd position shifting, and pre-position loading. Our bodies naturally act to absorb, mitigate, and produce force, but the complex neurology and biomechanics at play often go beyond what most of us care to know.

Here’s a video with Michol so you can get a better idea of where he’s coming from:

Okay, back to where we started: The reason I don’t like Kettlebell Flows is that I think most people aren’t doing them for the right reason.

Have you ever seen a kettlebell flow posted on Instagram with a caption that references functional anatomy, fascial slings, or motor control? If you have, please send it my way, those are the coaches that I want to follow. 

The reality seems to me that most people are linking exercises together because they’re trying to spice up the monotony of their workouts. They’re trying to have fun. This isn’t wrong by any means but to me, that’s not a valid rationale for making program design decisions.

I liken it to trying to walk from NYC to LA and option to take the scenic route when you can instead get on a plane and fly there.

Trying to have fun is a natural human desire, and I’m not trying to be a Puritan about training. I think that any request or desire to make things more fun, by either a coach, client, or athlete, is essentially a request for a richer sensory experience.

If someone’s “bored” during their training, then they’re likely not reaching their desired levels of neurological, psychological, or metabolic stimulus. I’d venture that some of these folks are addicted to dopamine and need really high stimulus levels, and please know that I’m also pointing that finger at myself because I like riding my bike down steep rocky trails, haha!

Now to a question about Kettlebell Flows: Should you do them?

If you want to combine moderate level strength training in moderate level cardio and feel like you worked out, or if you want to sneak in a quick workout when you don’t have time for proper training then these are fine. Remember, something is better than nothing.

When I’m coaching I think it’s important for people to follow specific training plans where they can track progress over time, and also have a portion of their workout life that’s dedicated to play.  This might mean they’re learning a new exercise variation in the gym, trying a new activity on their non-lifting days, or actually playing a sport that’s physical activity without structure.

That’s my dream for most of us – that rather than using our time for the low-return investment of learning kettlebell combos, that we instead use it for the high-return investment of playing sports or participating in recreational activities outside.

Kettlebell Flows are still going to be beneficial, but I don’t think that they’re the best use of your time.

Thanks for joining me for this article, friends.  I’d love to get your thoughts on the topic. Do you agree or disagree? Think I’m missing something, or did you learn something new today? Please leave a comment or send me a message so we can continue this conversation!

If you’d like to watch the video companion to this piece, you can find it on IGTV!

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