Kettlebells and Unilateral training
As a yoga instructor, and Balanced Athlete® coach, I have had the privilege and blessing of having a solid functional foundation in my movement practice for nearly a decade now. I cannot express accurately just how having that has elevated my ability to do hard things.
There is so much to be learned and absorbed within struggle, without struggling there is no growth. Without hardship there is no ability to endure.
Doing hard things is what refines us as we move through this life.
I have struggled with a right-sided scapula injury and gluteal amnesia on my left side since 2013. The scapula injury was a result of a long and laborious move from Pennsylvania to Madrid, Spain and all of the lugging and slugging and trudging of bags, babies and burdens that came with it. From dry-needling, to yoga, to massage therapy to conventional doctors, this was a cyclical injury that fed into my already existing gluteal issue and would contribute many migraine events over the years as well. It limited my practice many times, and my daily function in general. Due to the "dead glute" on my left, my right was overworked and both of my quads would take on the brunt of even the act of walking. You don't know what you don't know until you know. When I finally was able to gain full function of both gluteals, the world completely changed. I had no idea how effortless walking hills should actually be for a human with fully functioning glutes! I was only able to finally correct and remove this disfunction when I embarked on an experiment in isolated unilateral training.
I didn't know at the time what I was embarking on, I just wanted to take on a new challenge, a new hard thing - and build up to start doing Kettlebell Flows. I wanted to try these for maybe 2 years, but always allowed the limitations of my injuries and dysfunctional patterns scare me from doing so. In February of 2022 I decided that I was just going to go for it, and if I got hurt then I got hurt and so be it, but at least I could say I tried it and not regret never trying something that was really calling to me to explore!
I committed myself to a 6-day per week practice that felt foreign and difficult and clunky in the beginning. Turns out, mentally, that is exactly what I needed to fuel drive, consistency and endurance! The difficult nature of new movements, with the total focus required to execute a series of movements into a complex safely, demanded my full and total attention at all times. Unlike practices I had become very familiar with, I could not "leave the practice" in my mind for even a second, to do so would absolutely lead to an injury.
In Kettlebell Training, I had finally found the stillness and synchronization of mind/body/breath that I had been seeking out in other practices for years. My mind needed a heavier yoke, it turns out, to stay present.
I have Balanced Athlete and Empowered Yoga to thank for being able to take on this challenge of swinging bells for 45-60 minutes 6-days per week consistently for 8 months. That kind of consistency is an incredible teacher. I fell in love with the challenge, but what I wasn't expecting was to see nearly decade old injuries disappear completely.
The focus of my training just happened to be unilateral, meaning only loading and focusing on one side of the body at a time. I was completely fascinated at how quickly my range of motion improved, my strength gains increased, and my mental acumen sharpened. Training unilaterally forces the compensatory patterns in the body to stop compensating. When you have dysfunction on one side of the body, the other side will swoop in to get the job done, and this will only cause more dysfunction. If you can focus on loading one side for multiple reps and movements, you can begin to correct those dysfunctional patterns.
So a serendipitous outcome of this experiment was finally being free of my shoulder injury which has not returned, and fully functioning gluteals making everything from swings and squats to stairs and walks feel effortless! The bonus feature has been increased mental focus due to the intricate nature of executing flows and complexes with precision.
This is what I have been focusing on when teaching in the Balanced Athlete room now, emphasis on unilateral training and offset load paired with the brain building work of complexes is what you can look forward to in a Kettlebell Skills class!