Whether your season is starting right now or you’re wrapping up, there’s nothing worse than getting sidelined with an injury. Hunters who have to cover ground or anglers crossing unstable terrain both run the risk of knee injury. There are many preventative and strength building exercises you can do to help your knees, but many of them don’t reflect true conditions for the outdoorsman. Lots of the classic weight room exercises only work in one plane of motion, unlike when packing out or crossing streams. They often can feel uninteresting or repetitive. I found when rehabbing from a broken patella a few years ago that kettlebells make a world of difference. They create less stability in your lifts, perfect for training your muscles to react in real world situations. We’ve talked with Taylor Goligoski, a Montana-based strength and conditioning specialist about some of the best exercises for knees and overall health. Try out these kettlebell workouts for outdoorsmen to add variety to your sessions:
Front Rack Lunges
A front lunge is excellent for knee health. It uses your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core. The lower body is completely engaged during a front lunge. This version incorporates the front rack position with your kettlebell. It means your upper body will be firing as well, and is closer to real world situations where you carry things with your hands instead of on your back.
To perform the front rack position, hold the kettlebell to your upper chest with your palms facing towards your chin. It’s important to keep your elbows tight to the body and control the kettlebells with your grip.
The forward lunge starts with your feet shoulder width apart and your core tightened. Take a big step with your forward foot, and proceed down until it’s at 90 degrees. The back foot will come forward on the toes, but the back knee should stay about 6 inches above the ground. Push through your forward heel, and switch legs to lunge forward across whatever distance you’ve chosen.
The Kettlebell swing is often the first exercise for those new to kettlebells. The movement familiarizes you with the momentum of a kettlebell. Start out with lighter weight and increase as you’re able to confidently control the motion.
Stand shoulder width apart with both hands on the kettlebell between your feet. Pick up the kettlebell as you would a deadlift. Keep a straight back and an engaged core. The kettlebell will be hanging between your legs, and you can start swinging it back and forth. It is a hip-hinge movement, where your power should be coming from your hips.Keep your chin tucked and your gaze forward throughout the movement.
Bottom Up Shoulder Press
The bottoms up shoulder press engages your core and grows your shoulders. It starts in a kneeling position. The movement differs from a standing press in that it works shoulder stability and grip strength more. The weight should be lower for this than for many of the other movements.
From a kneeling position with your legs shoulder width apart, bring the kettlebell upside down parallel to your head. Turn the kettlebell to the side, making sure not to bring it too far forward or backwards relative to your head. Your elbow should be perpendicular to the floor to begin. Press the weight upward until your arm is straight, and then slowly control it back to the starting position with your elbow perpendicular.
Step downs are as simple as they sound. They can be done with the kettlebell held in the front rack position or held low like a farmer’s carry. It’s great for working on the ability to go downhill for long periods of time, a must if you’re hunting at elevation.
Find an elevated surface such as a box or bench. Stand on top of it with your feet shoulder width apart, kettlebell in each hand. Slowly lower one foot, all the way to the ground, keeping the heel of your elevated foot down the whole time. Push through the elevated foot to bring your lowered foot back to the height of your box or bench..
Isometric Split Squat
Isometric movements are exercises that are held at one point for an extended period of time. An example would be pausing your squat at the bottom before returning to the top. The isometric split squat is beneficial because it allows you to more carefully address differences in leg strength and knee health. Each side will feel a little different.
Hold the kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest. The initial positioning is similar to a lunge, but with your front leg farther forward from your back. Both legs should be at 90 degree angles. The hips need to be parallel with the front knee, and like a regular squat, you want to keep a straight back and engaged core. Raise your back knee off the ground slightly, and hold it there for 15 seconds. Switch legs and watch the explosive power in your legs spike.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift, or RDL, are an essential movement for your posterior chain. Hamstrings, glutes, and lower back will all be hit by this. Single leg RDLs work your balance and coordination to help you cross rugged terrain.
Hold the kettlebell in the opposite hand of the leg you’re targeting. Lift the other leg up and slowly lower down with a slight bend in the leg you’re working. Keep your back straight, and the toes flexed in your back leg. You’ll end up looking like a drinking bird toy, and you should feel it in your feet, your lower back, and your hamstrings.
The regular split squat is like the isometric split squat without a hold at the bottom. Bulgarian split squats, with your back leg raised, have become popular in the fitness community for their ability to grow glutes and increase quad power dramatically with a lower risk than barbell squats.
For the split squat the main difference is you will hold the kettlebell on the inside of your forward leg. Maintain the same wide posture from before, and lower until your back leg is almost touching the ground. Push through the front foot to come back up.
Goblet squats provide full range of motion, and they’re easy to pause and progress gradually lower if you have knee pain. The mechanics are the same as a regular squat, but the KB is held in front with both hands. This makes it safer than a barbell squat for injury recovery, since you can just drop the weight if you feel pain.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart and feet slightly turned out. Hold the kettlebell directly in front of your chest with both hands. Slowly lower to 90 degrees or as far as is comfortable. Keep an engaged core and a big chest the whole time, and drive through your feet to come back up. If you can go lower than 90 degrees, the goblet squat is a great movement to maintain or create hip mobility and flexibility.
Kettlebell Pull Through
The kettlebell pull through is a core exercise that will test your stability. It’s more complex than a regular plank, so it’s more engaging.
Assume a position similar to the top of a pushup, with your feet spread farther apart for stability. Place the kettlebell outside of your arm, close enough to grab. Pull the kettlebell underneath your body to the outside of your opposite arm. Repeat, and keep your core engaged. If you want an extra challenge you can perform the movement in a traditional front plank position with your elbows on the ground.
Cossack squats are one of the best exercises for hip mobility. They will help you maintain lifelong mobility and power moving to the sides. It’s important to work in more planes of motion than front to back or up and down, and this is an easy way to add that to your workout.
Place your feet wider than shoulder width. Keep a straight back and an engaged core. Move your weight over one side, and slowly lower. Stop once your hip is lower than your knee. Push yourself back up on that leg. Throughout this movement, the other leg should be kept straight. As you lower, your non engaged foot should be moving up on your heel until your toes are pointing almost straight up. Try this exercise without any weight to get a feel for the movement, and then progress with weight. Hold the kettlebell with hands on each side, as if holding a package.
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