Are You Pulling Your Weight? – Part 1

As a kettlebell instructor one of my favorite non-kettlebell exercises is the pull-up. The pull-up is an efficient way to simultaneously improve abdominal strength, upper body strength and flexibility, shoulder health, grip strength, overall body composition, and all around athleticism. The good news is that the pull-up is nothing to be intimidated by, it’s simply one point on a long continuum from planks to pull-ups and beyond.

If you have healthy and mobile shoulders, want a challenge and an honest assessment of your overall fitness, the pull-up may be just what the doctor ordered.

5 Ways Pull-Ups Can Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals

1. Pull-Ups are an excellent predictor of athletic performance.
Individuals who can perform a high number of pull-ups also tend to  perform well in push-ups, sit-ups and even running, but the opposite is not true. It’s quite common to see someone who can do dozens of pushups or hundreds sit-ups perform poorly on the pull-up bar.
As a martial art instructor I used to test individuals on pushups, now I simply test pull-ups for the simple reason that if someone can perform well on pull-ups, then pushups are always a breeze.
Watch a video of Master SFG Instructor Karen Smith performing a weighted pull-up with a 53lb. kettlebell and more.
Subscribe to our email list to get more information on our March 8th Ladies’ Strength Workshop with Master StrongFirst Instructor Karen Smith Hosted by Omaha Elite Kettlebell
2. Pull-Ups Encourage a healthy body composition and strength to bodyweight ratio
If fat-loss is your goal, then the pull-up is a perfect way to assess progress.
As you get stronger at pull-ups you tend to improve lean muscle mass, and as you lose non-functional body-fat your pull-ups will just keep getting easier.
Kelly loves chin-ups!

Kelly Rushlow pictured here has lost over 100 lbs and kept it off with the help of regular kettlebell training.

“When I started kettlebell training I had very little upper body strength. I think a lot of women like me see people hoisting these heavy weights overhead and probably say to themselves “I could never do that” or “I don’t want to get bulky”.  What they don’t realize is that it’s a journey and you don’t have to do it all at once.  Since training with Scott I’ve steadily progressed to strict push-ups, 5 chin-ups, 2 pull-ups a weighted pull-up and even pressing a 53lb kettlebell overhead. Bulking just doesn’t happen and now women actually compliment me on my arms.  As an added bonus the special abdominal techniques we learn in class have helped me really tighten up my midsection when other people that have lost as much weight as I have might need to resort to surgery to tighten loose skin.”-Kelly

Scott & Jean demonstrating pullups & chinups

Pictured: A thumbless weighted pull-up (palms out) with 53lb kettlebell and a Chin-up (palms facing).

3. Pull-Ups Build an athletic and youthful physique

Chiseled arms, strong shoulders, the athletic v-shape created by a strong back and a tight mid-section are all by-products of training the pull-up. A woman that can do 5 or more pull-ups or a man who can do 20 or more generally possesses a very athletic physique.
One of the most athletic men I’ve ever known is a Vietnam Vet named Jan. Jan is a former kettlebell client of mine who told me he had completed over 30 marathons. He runs like a gazelle, lifts heavy weights and possesses a lean, mean physique with approximately 5% body fat and washboard abs. When I met him I had just witnessed him perform 64 consecutive chin-ups without rest.  He was 64 years young at the time. When I asked him how he was able to maintain such an amazing level of strength at 64 he simply said that ever since he was 13 years old he insisted on doing one pull-up for every year he was alive.

4. Pull-Ups Can Improve Posture

Excelling at strict dead-hang pull-ups touching your chest to the bar stretches out tight chest muscles while strengthening the abs and muscles of the back. When performed the way we teach them they even strengthen the glutes.  Coincidentally a strong back, strong abs and strong glutes are essential for good posture.

5. Pull-ups Make you feel like a champ

Pull-ups improve athleticism, upper body strength, posture, ab strength, encourage a lean physique. This means you get to feel like a champ  PLUS  flying over the top of the pull-up bar is just plain fun and empowering. It’s like starring in your own “Rocky” training montage.
I once heard a wise man say the job of a good trainer is to find the thing you’re not good at and make you better at that. In other words if you’re like the majority of the current population, then pull-ups may be exactly what the doctor ordered.
The pull-up is nothing to be intimidated by, it is one point on a continuum from the plank to hanging from the bar for time to more advanced pull-up variations like weighted pull-ups, hanging leg raises, muscle-ups, front-levers and even the one arm chin-up. Whatever your current strength or skill level at pull-ups we can  find a safe and appropriately challenging progression for you then teach you the skills to conquer the pull-up and achieve your goals.
Raise the bar and give our Omaha Elite Kettlebell classes a try.
Enroll in Kettlebell classes before November 1st and receive a complimentary 30-minute Private Lesson, A Functional Movement Screen to keep you safe and a personalized corrective exercise progression.

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Before getting started here’s a quick list of pre-requisites for safely training on the pull-up bar. 
Trunk Stability: Do you have sufficient core strength in your lats, abs and glutes to keep the body knitted together and stable as you raise and lower your body through space?
Shoulder Mobility: Do you have healthy mobile shoulders that are  capable of safely attaining the overhead lockout or start position?
Shoulder Stability: Are all the muscles surrounding the shoulders including the lats strong enough and coordinated enough to keep the shoulders held tightly and safely in their sockets while supporting your weight?
Grip Strength: Do you have the grip strength and endurance to hang on to the bar long enough to get the job done?
As a Functional Movement Screen Specialist and StrongFirst Bodyweight Instructor I will use a quick series of object assessments to determine the appropriate starting point for you.
The Author:
John Scott Stevens is a Level II StrongFirst Certified Kettlebell Instructor, StrongFirst Certified Bodyweight Strength Instructor and CK-FMS Functional Movement Specialist.
He can be reached at
(402) 403-3975

Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun with the Double Kettlebell Deep Six

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One of my favorite kettlebell drills of all time is the “Deep Six” by Master SFG Instructor Jon Engum. The Deep Six gets it’s name because it features the six fundamental kettlebell techniques taught by Pavel Tsatsouline performed in the form of a complex, as originally written it uses a single kettlebell (12-16kg for women, 20-24kg for men) and asks you to build up to completing 15 minutes of work without setting the bell down.

The beauty of the Deep Six is that it creates a simple and challenging way to drill all of the fundamental kettlebell skills taught to and by SFG certified instructors with a single bell while building strength and endurance.

Jon Engum has written an excellent article on how to program and progress the Deep Six which can be found here:

Here’s a video of 13-year old performing the deep six for a single round.

A few years back I entertained the idea of completing the Deep Six with two kettlebells and gave it a shot and was pleased to find the kind of heart pounding challenging it provided. Performing all six techniques with two kettlebells really changes things and drills strength and endurance on a different level. During the single bell version of the Deep Six one arm is always resting… but during the double bell version you get double the load, neither side of your body has anywhere to hide. It’s double the pleasure and double the fun.

Even an accomplished & strong kettlebell practitioner will find completing just one round of the Deep Six with two kettlebells challenging, not to mention completing three or more rounds. Here’s the sequence.

The Double Kettlebell Deep Six
Using two snatch test size bells complete the following techniques without setting the bells down.

  1. 5 swings,
  2. 5 cleans
  3. 5 presses (sometimes I just combine 2&3 into a clean & press combo)
  4. 5 squats
  5. 5 snatches
  6. 1 get down/up.

Rinse & Repeat until strong(er).

TIP: You may want to start with lighter bells than you snatch test weight and take time to build up.

If you’re familiar with these techniques you’ll likely feel comfortable performing double swings, cleans, presses and squats so I will not go over them here, but for the average person the double snatch and getup needs some addressing:

The Double Kettlebell Snatch

The double kettlebell snatch is performed the same way as the single kettlebell snatch with the exception of lowering the bells to the shoulders between reps.
The reason I do NOT recommend dropping the kettlebells directly into a hike pass from the overhead lockout position is that this complex will put you in a state of fatigue and I have found that hiking directly from the overhead lockout leaves too little room for error plus you run the risk of the bells colliding with each other and/or your knees on the way down. Hiking the bells from the racked position is much simpler and safer.

Inhale and brace strongly during the hike-pass phase.
Push your hips back far enough to generate maximum power during hip extension.
Take a moment or two to rest in either the overhead or rack position.
If absolutely necessary, set the bells and collect your strength before performing the snatches and realize that completing several or even one round of the double deep six does not need to be rushed and conquered the first time out, but should be built up to wisely by working within your limits instead of trying to exceed them.

The Double Getup

Version A)
Double Kettlebell Getup (both bells overhead)
In this version both bells are held overhead throughout the lift.

Because it impossible to wedge yourself off the ground while holding two bells overhead the double getup only bares a resemblance to the single kettlebell version in that you are holding a weight overhead. It requires a combination of creativity and flexibility to complete. It looks like a sequence of an overhead weighted situp to a hurdler stretch to a tall kneeling overhead lockout to standing and back down again. HOWEVER, when performed as the finale of the double deep six it is performed in the reverse order from standing to supine back to standing, so once your on your back and gravity is no longer your friend, the hardest part of the maneuver remains.

The problem with this version of the lift is that it is difficult to maintain a neutral spine through the “sit-up” portions of the lift. Keeping a braced midsection and neutral spine is CRUCIAL to performing the lift safely. So, the only way to really do the lift is by bracing your midsection, stabilizing your spine then throwing your legs to gain enough momentum to rock into a seated position.

Version B)
Getup into a Two Hands Anyhow

In this version of the lift you will set one bell down for a portion of the getup then pick it up again. This allows you to avoid using momentum to rock into a seated position, BUT it requires even more thoracic mobility PLUS the ability to curl one kettlebell into position. Because you are only maintaining one bell overhead for the entire lift you then face the dilemma of making things symmetrical. Instead of adding an extra rep to balance out I suggest using the other arm then next time you perform the sequence or keep track and save it for another day.

Conquering the Deep Six
There are many ways to skin a cat an no single approach is THE answer, but one approach to conquering the Double Deep Six is to approach it in parts.

Take several weeks to train the most challenging parts, maintain the easier ones then put it all together in the end.

A DAY (A program minimum of sorts)

Warmup/Rehearsal: Practice the full Double Deep Six with lighter bells and reduced reps if necessary. Avoid fatigue.

Snatches & Getups
Practice 5 minutes of Double Getups
Practice 10 minute of double snatches

Do not go all out.
Go at a 50-80% all out pace and just drill perfect reps.

B DAYS (Everything Else)

Warmup/Rehearsal: Joint Mobility and Practice the full Double Deep Six with lighter bells and reduced reps if necessary. Avoid fatigue

Perform the following sequence with double snatch test size bells

Swings, Cleans, Presses, Squats, Loaded Carries, rest & Repeat
1 to 5 reps of each lift + one to two minute of carries. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

Sometimes use a combination of heavier bells and lower reps breaking the sequence into to smaller chunks:

For example a man who snatches a 24kg would use two 28s or 32s a woman who snatches the 16kg would use 18s or 20s and do

Several sets of Cleans, Presses & Squats, Rest, Repeat
I recommend keeping the reps low on the presses, and hitting the cleans and squats the hardest. A sequence Master SFG Dan John uses sounds and feels about right: 2 cleans, 1 press, 3 squats.


Several sets of Swings & Loaded Carries, Rest, Repeat
keep the swings in the 5 to 10 rep range. Do two sets of swings, rack the bells and go a nice walk. Repeat this sequence several times and keep increasing the number of sets and increasing the amount of time you can walk without setting the bells down.

Every few weeks test yourself by trying to complete the entire sequence and see how far you’ve come.
I’d break the challenge down like so.

Goal #1:

1 swing, 1 clean, 1 press, 1 squat, 3 snatches, 1 getdown/up.
repeat 2-3x.

Goal #2
Gradually increase the first four lifts in the sequence to 3 reps each.
3 swings, 3 cleans, 3 presses, 3 squats, 3 snatches, 1 getdown/up.

Goal #3
3 swings, 3 cleans, 3 presses, 3 squats, 5 snatches, 1 getdown/up.
repeat 2-3x.

Goal #4
Gradually increase the first four lifts in the sequence to 5 reps each.

5 swings, 5 cleans, 5 presses, 5 squats, 5 snatches, 1 getdown/up.
repeat 1 to 2x.

Goal #5
Gradually increase the first four lifts in the sequence to 5 reps each.

5 swings, 5 cleans, 5 presses, 5 squats, 5 snatches, 1 getdown/up.
repeat 3x.

Here’s a video from a few years back where I nearly conquered the Double Six for a single round with two 24kgs, but I was unable to complete the second half of the double getup as that’s always the most difficult part.
(There’s a video somewhere of me completing it, but I can’t find. I’ll need to film it on another day)