Protect the Spine: The Kettlebell Carry

If you have read this blog before, I have expressed my personal interest in using the Kettlebell as an exercise tool and for back conditioning.  Sadly, finding research on this piece of equipment is few and far between. I got lucky recently when I found a research paper by Dr Stuart McGill (One of the leading researchers in spinal biomechanics) .  The paper is titled, “Kettlebell swing, snatch and bottoms-up carry: Back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads”.

The part of the research paper, that I want to talk about today, compares the core musculature activity while performing the kettlebell carry in the rack position and the kettlebell in a bottoms up position. Both of these carry positions were compared to the muscular activation of the core during normal walking.

Kettlebell Rack Position Carry

Kettlebell Bottoms Up Carry

The Findings

Dr McGill discovered that muscular activations of the core were significantly greater with the bottoms up carry.  In addition to this, the joint compression and shear forces to the spine were greater with the bottoms up carry as well.It is believed that the increase in muscular activation is due to an increase in core stiffness as a result of an increase in required grip strength.  To keep the kettlebell vertical requires more grip strength than to keep it in the rack position. I’ve tried this position and it can be very difficult to hold.
My Thoughts

It is interesting to note that there is a difference in core activity even though the weight is the same.  What does this mean for you to help you take care of your back?If you are in the process of rehabilitating your lower back then this would be a challenging, fun, way to progress your conditioning of the core musculature without increasing the weight load.For those who have back pain, which is influenced by the amount load on the spine, you may need to look at how you hold objects in your hand. Holding objects in various positions or holding different sized objects that increase the need for grip strength, while walking, will affect the muscular activity of the core as well as the load on the spine.I hope you found this interesting.

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