Kettlebell Racking Position

Why Do Kettlebell Sport Athletes Bend Their Backs?

We’ve all heard in the fitness space in general and not just in regards to kettlebells, that bending your spine is “bad” and if you’ve seen how kettlebell sport athletes lift, you probably have noticed that whenever they rack the bells, they arch their backs.

For quick clarification, this is the standardized technique used in kettlebell sport that has been used for decades.

“Doesn’t that hurt their back?” you might ask.

And the answer is that with proper technique it shouldn’t.

Then you might go on to think “but how? Their backs are all bent! Isn’t a bent spine bad? Aren’t we supposed to keep the spine neutral?”.

The short answer is: it depends.


Kettlebell Sport Athlete

Just like it depends if you use good technique for instance when deadlifting or squatting to avoid harming yourself, it depends on your technique when doing kettlebell sport.

The truth of that matter is that it’s more complicated than “bent back is bad, neutral spine is good”. There are instances where if you are trained for that specific movement and you don’t have any underlying issues nothing will happen to you.

So, there are two main points I wanted to address here. One is about bending your spine in kettlebell sport and why it’s done and the other about whether bending your spine is really “good” or “bad” in general.

I’ll start by explaining about kettlebell sport and make another comment on bending your spine in general.

Kettlebell sport is a strength-endurance sport. Athletes have to perform as many repetitions as possible with good form without putting the bells down. The classical competitions are 10 minutes long and there are also marathons where lifters would perform for 30 minutes straight to an hour (half marathon and full marathon).

Amazing right? I mean, how is this possible to lift that much weight for that long? The answer is technique.

In kettlebell sport, unlike other forms of lifting, the aim is to stay loose as much as possible, to relieve tension from the muscles to avoid fatigue and to utilize leverages and momentum to your best.

This is why kettlebell athletes arch their back when holding in the rack position. It allows them to “rest” in-between repetitions because the weight is stacked on top of their hips, so that the weight is supported by the hips and the legs, allowing them to relax their muscles and relieving the lower back from working hard keeping the body erect.

Yes, it’s counter-intuitive because we’ve been told so many times “straight back, straight back, yadda yadda..” but we know from practice it’s not necessarily true when looking at athletes from different sports (not just lifting sports but gymnastics for instance or other non-competitive fields).

Kettlebell Racking

To connect with the second point; I remember when ab crunches were branded as “bad” in the media and research came out showing that the forces exacted on the spine would wear it out and cause harm.

Fast forward to today, everyone’s still doing ab crunch of all sorts and I heard of very few people if anyone, who hurt their back doing ab crunches. Usually, they hurt their backs from something nonsensical like picking up a box from the floor, their kids, or just lifting wrong in the gym.

Today I get the impression that more research is coming and many fitness professionals, doctors, physiotherapists are more open to the idea of “prepared movement” vs “unprepared movement”. This is also why some advocate for there being “no bad movements” but only “inappropriate movements”. Meaning that it’s not necessarily that exercise that is inherently bad rather it’s appropriate for that specific individual’s needs and history.

Not to say you should throw caution out the window because if a certain movement causes you pain then don’t push through it but understand that there is a certain risk to every movement and heck, even sitting around. It’s very important to break the boundaries of what we think is “correct”, “safe” or “dangerous” and expand on those ideas, explore them and compare them with other ideas

Thank you for reading and I hope I could clarify these points a little bit.

Leave a Comment

Shopping Basket