How to Get Started with Kettlebells: Interview with Geoff Neupert

Geoff Neupert has a unique approach to Kettlebell training. Everyone says to go high reps, light weight. He focuses more on heavy training. He also recommends using a variety of different methods to achieve one single goal. I like the way Geoff thinks! Which is why I believe that if you’re looking to get started with Kettlebells, Geoff is the guy to go to!

I recently caught up with Coach Neupert to ask him a few questions about Kettlebell training and his program, Kettlebell Burn. This turned out to be quite long, so I’ll break it up for you guys in a three-part series.

Parth: Coach, tell us a little bit about the Kettlebell Burn Program

Geoff Neupert: “Kettlebell Burn” is a fat loss program based on my own training results, my clients’ training results, backed up with scientific research. I designed it to do several things:

First and foremost, strip off body fat and help the user achieve that “lean” look, using primarily kettlebell exercises, or exercises that are amplified by the kettlebell.

I had looked at most kettlebell fat loss programs on the market and in my opinion they either were workouts that primarily consisted of one to three kettlebell exercises mixed in with body weight calisthenics or a haphazard conglomeration of kettlebell exercises that ranged from beginner to advanced exercises with no logical progressions.

Second, address and start to correct people’s movement dysfunctions and body asymmetries which lead to injury and inefficiency. Having been in the fitness industry since 1993, and having worked in college strength and conditioning, I noticed that most people spend the majority of their days sitting and yet still believe they are the athletes they were in either college or high school, and tend to exercise that way. They’ll not do anything for 5 or 10 years and then wake up one day 40lbs heavier and decide to get in shape by going running. Big mistake.

Sitting is incredibly destructive to the human body. It alters muscle function and joint mechanics, predisposing us to injury. In fact a study was just released showing that people who spend most of their days sitting have a higher incidence of disease and shorter lifespans than those who don’t!

Therefore, the problem then becomes, peoples’ bodies have changed, and their minds have not. So I developed a program that lets people not only feel like they’ve worked hard and accomplished something, but allows them to measure that progress and still “unwind” and reverse the damages caused by sitting all day long. The kettlebell in my opinion, is the best tool for this job.

Third, I wanted people to be able to measure both results with their workouts and in the mirror. Many of today’s workouts are based on the “Workout of the Day” program and have really become a hodge-podge of workouts, with no common theme, or repeatable sequence. So measuring progress becomes difficult at best in many cases.

One of the best ways to get stronger is to increase the amount of work you can do with one weight before moving on to a heavier weight. This is probably one of the best ways to get strong and healthy, because it allows you to work on the skill of moving better by simply adding reps or sets, instead of increasing the weight. It makes the psychology of success and progress much easier.

And since the kettlebell is a fixed weight, it becomes arguably one of the best tools for this purpose. (Obviously you can always buy heavier kettlebells, but the point is they don’t usually come in small increments like dumbbells.)

So I designed “Kettlebell Burn” in such a way that you can measure progress from workout to workout, day to day. Seeing progress is important for compliance and motivation.
Parth: It’s interesting you mentioned the idea of “Workout of the Day.” I also believed that if I just followed a random workout each day without repetition, I would achieve results. I did see some results, but a structured program allows you to actually go back and study those results.

One other thing that lacked in my old training program was heavy training. You actually recommend heavy training as part of a fat loss plan. Why?

Geoff Neupert: Well, first, “heavy” is relative to the individual. What is heavy to me for example, my wife couldn’t even move. And then “heavy” is relative to itself. Let me explain – In the sports of Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting, where my training philosophy originated, heavy is something you can lift one time and one time only. You’re looking for the maximum heavy.

But we’re not using that kind of heavy in “Kettlebell Burn.” We are basing our “heavy” off “repetition maxes” or “RMs.” This kind of “heavy” allows you to specify your training results. For example, a 1RM is much different on the body then a 10RM.

Second, when lifting heavy, you recruit specific muscle fibers the type 2b and type 2a fibers. It is critically important to recruit these fibers for this very simple reason: they are bigger and produce more force than endurance fibers (type 1) traditionally associated with most fat loss programs and because of this *they use more energy*. This means that using these muscle fibers costs your body more energy.

And where does that energy come from?

Stored carbohydrate and ultimately stored fat.

Now, let me pause here for a second and address the whole “stored carbohydrate” thing because I know people are going to want to know how that helps them burn fat.

Exercise scientists have discovered that “fat burns in a carbohydrate flame.” This means that using stored carbohydrate for fuel actually allows you to work at higher training intensities for longer periods of time. And that is one of the critical factors in achieving lasting fat loss. You want to not only burn calories during your workout, but more importantly, after your workout is done – long after in fact. This is called EPOC – Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, also popularly called the Afterburn Effect.

And of course, people are going to want to know what proof from real life there is that lifting heavy burns fat. Here are three – 1. middleweight powerlifters, 2. middleweight Olympic lifters, 3. my own experience – 5RM squat produced a HR of 167 bpm or 86% of my MHR at the time. 4. current  users of Kettlebell Burn.

And finally, strength is the basis for all other motor qualities, like power, and speed, and endurance. Think about this – who wins a 5K race? Is it the person with the most endurance? No, it’s the person who is the strongest – the person who can cover the 5K in the least amount of time. So I put together a program that simultaneously increases your strength, power, and endurance – or performance – and allows you to look great as a result.

Parth: But you can easily lift heavy with dumbells or barbells, or even bodyweight training. What makes Kettlebell training such a potent form of fat loss?

Geoff Neupert: Primarily because of its offset handle, a kettlebell, makes your body work
harder by recruiting more musculature and increasing ranges of motion.

In the first example, holding a kettlebell over your head is a much different feeling than holding the same sized dumbbell over your head. A dumbbell will pitch side-to-side since the weight is evenly balanced in the hand. A kettlebell will pull your arm backward, because the majority of the weight is below the handle,  and in doing so, will force your shoulder musculature to work harder.

In the second example, increasing ranges of motion, we can take a look at the Swing, an exercise where the weight is passed between and underneath the legs. The offset handle increases the lever arm pushing the hips further back, and stretching their muscles to a greater degree than with a dumbbell. And you can’t even do that with a barbell.

According to Newton, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore the further you stretch a muscle, the greater contraction and force will be produced. More force production equals more energy cost. And that’s exactly what we’re after – more energy cost or more energy expended. That equals more potential fat loss.

Told you guys, Coach Neupert is a smart character. What did we learn in this first part? 1) Make sure you follow a structured training regimen, 2) Make sure you lift heavy, and 3) Kettlebells are superior do bodyweight, dumbbell, and barbells for fat loss!

To learn more about Kettlebell training, plus complete training programs, check out Geoff Neupert’s manual, Kettlebell Burn. Click here for more information.

Parth: Coach, is it really true that you can burn up to 20 calories per minute with Kettlebells?

Geoff Neupert: Yes, it’s true, to a point. It really depends on the kettlebell workout. And really, the workout has to constantly change, because your body is constantly adapting. But let me give you the background you want based on the numbers, and then some other numbers.

The 20 calories per minute figure came from a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, using the Viking Warrior Conditioning Protocol, discovered that snatching a kettlebell for 20 minutes did indeed burn 20.2 calories per minute.

The important thing to note is that a specific protocol was used with a specific exercise – the Snatch. This protocol is an advanced protocol and is definitely not for a “kettlebell newbie.”

That being said, one of my Kettlebell Burn customers wrote to me and said that according to his fancy heart rate monitor, he had burned approximately 760 calories during his 40 minute Kettlebell Burn workout. The key point here is that was just during the workout. We know that from the Afterburn Effect (which is created from Kettlebell Burn workouts) that he will burn more than that long after his workouts are over.

So, all that being said, how many calories you burn per minute with your kettlebell workouts will vary from person to person and exercise per exercise, depending on the shape you’re in.

Parth: Interesting, so you might actually burning even more than 20 calories per minute training with a Kettlebell! So back to your program, how many Kettlebells does one require to complete Kettlebel Burn?

Geoff Neupert: Kettlebell Burn is designed in theory, to only need one kettlebell from start to finish. Each phase builds off the previous one. But, because different people have different strengths and different weaknesses, you may need up to three different sizes of kettlebells.

Parth: What are three things you would teach someone starting out with Kettlebells?

Geoff Neupert: This is really a important question – thanks for asking it.

There are three concepts I teach all my clients. Here they are.

1. Kettlebell safety.

– *How to hinge at the hips.* This is critical. Most people pick things up with their backs. They don’t know where their hips are let alone how to use them. That’s why so many people hurt their backs on exercises like the Deadlift and the Squat.

You are designed to move from the hips. Your butt or your *Gluteus maximus*, is the largest, strongest, most powerful muscle in your body, yet most of us just sit on it all day long. Therefore, it doesn’t work the way it was intended. It’s critical for safety and performance to learn how to move from here.

*- How to pack the shoulders.* I’m not sure which is the more common injury among exercisers – low backs or rotator cuffs. (Probably among men it’s the rotator cuff since they love to do bench and biceps and rarely do anything for their legs…) Again, this is because we’re sitting all day long and the shoulders slump forward, making all the muscles on the front of your body short and tight.

This means those muscles can no longer move through their intended full ranges of motion. Their opposing muscles become overly stretched and therefore weak, pre-disposing them to injury. This is the case for the rotator cuff.

“Packing the shoulders” is a term we use in the RKC for teaching your body how to get the shoulder to sit in its socket and control it through your powerful *Latissimus dorsi *muscle – the muscle you use the most in pull-ups.

Explaining more about its role in shoulder mechanics is not an article, but a chapter or two in a book, so we’ll just say that learning how to use the lat to protect the shoulders is very important.

*- How to breathe for performance.* Most people don’t breathe well, again, because of sitting, and some other things, like stress. They no longer breathe from their diaphragm, and breathe from the chest and shoulders instead.

This means that they are no longer getting the necessary oxygen required for optimum cellular function, and that also includes fat storage regulation.

Then they start working out with faulty breathing mechanics and compound those issues which can eventually lead to injuries. (One of the leading causes in neck tension and even contributes to shoulder injuries.) So I teach them how to breathe again from their diaphragms and then incorporate their breathing into their kettlebell training to produce more force and burn more calories.

2. Basic kettlebell exercises

– The Swing. The foundation. In the RKC, we say the Swing is the foundation, or the “center of the universe.” That is because everything we do is based from being able to move the hips well and the Swing helps us get that done.

The Swing, for those not familiar with it, is where you toss the kettlebell between and underneath your legs. It means you literally fold in half at the hips, and then stand up explosively making the kettlebell react by ending up at arms length in front of you approximately perpendicular to the ground.

The Swing is the basis for exercises like the Clean and the Snatch. And it even teaches important principles about exercises like the Press.

– The Get Up. The framework. If we were building a house of kettlebell exercises, the Swing would be the foundation. The Get Up (Turkish Get Up) would be your framework. The Get Up is performed by lying on your back with your arm extended overhead, perpendicular to the ground. You literally just “get up” from the floor to a standing position, and then back down to the ground, all while maintaining the kettlebell over your head at the end of your outstretched arm.

It is a fantastic exercise for so many reasons, namely because it teaches you to move your body underneath and around a load. It also teaches you how to lock and unlock your ribcage and your pelvis together to produce and reduce force – critical athletic abilities.

It also is an extremely good shoulder rehabilitation exercise. It teaches us how to “pack the shoulder” which I explained earlier.

And finally, from a fat loss perspective, there isn’t a muscle in the body that is left unused in the Get Up. Said another way – every muscle in your body is working and therefore requiring a lot of energy. So you can burn a ton of calories with the Get Up.

3. Training Philosophy.

Most people really want to get a great “workout,” which is cool – I respect that. But I think that many have lost sight of the fact that workouts are supposed to produce measurable results. Otherwise, why bother, right?

So I like to remind people of this important fact. This is because many people are used to long or long-ish workouts. But the cool thing about kettlebell workouts (at least properly constructed ones) is that they accomplish the same thing as regular workouts but in less time – much less time – in many cases up to 50% less time. So many times you have to condition yourself to actually stop.

I’ve given up tracking how many times I’ve answered the question “what else can I do while using Kettlebell Burn?”

Why would you want to workout more when you don’t need to?

This leads me to the concept of recovery. Most if not 99.9% of Americans and dare I say most exercisers, fail to plan this into their workouts. They think about working out more to get more results.

Your body can only take so much stress – and working out is a stress. So you need to balance your workouts with rest.

I could go on and on and on here – again – more articles and book chapters, but hopefully I made the point on the need to change your training philosophy.

Parth: I think poor recovery is certainly a huge problem. Especially for advanced guys who want to train every chance they get! By the way, what are some techniques advanced trainees can learn to take their fat loss to the next level?

Geoff Neupert: Ha! That’s a great question too! Here’s the deal – most trainees haven’t mastered the basic techniques let alone intermediate ones.

Ok, but that being said, from a nutrition standpoint, episodic fasting and carbohydrate rotation are areas to explore.

From an exercise perspective, playing with exercise intensities are where new gains in fat loss will be made. For example, using compound sequences, like Complexes and Chains, and performing multiple compound exercises in a row without rest will produce fat loss for sure.

But I’d just like to emphasize a point here – many people think they are “advanced” or ready for “advanced” techniques. You are ready to move on to advanced levels when you have the basics and intermediate concepts and techniques down pat. In my humble opinion, you’re not ready for advanced fat loss techniques until your a legitimate 10% body fat for a man and 18% for a woman.

To learn more about Kettlebell training, plus complete training programs, check out Geoff Neupert’s manual, Kettlebell Burn. Click here for more information.

Parth:  I love interval training. Any cool interval workouts in this program?

Geoff Neupert: I love interval training too. There’s a ton of good scientific research that’s been produced over the last 10 to 15 years to prove what we already know works – intervals for fat loss are hard to beat.

So, yes, I included intervals in “Kettlebell Burn.” But I use them in ways others perhaps have not.

Parth: Ok, so you want to keep it a mystery. I see. What about nutrition? With such great benefits with Kettlebell training, do you really need a super strict diet to get the body you want?

Geoff Neupert: I’m glad you asked this because there’s a fallacy in the fitness business that all you have to do is swing a kettlebell and body fat will magically melt off your body.

This is true with one BIG caveat – only if you don’t eat more to keep up with the hunger your kettlebell workouts produce.

I know this from personal experience. I opened a kettlebell training studio a couple of years ago. And what we found was that some of our members we actually GAINING weight and complaining about it. When quizzed on it, it turned out they were feeding the hunger their kettlebell workouts produced.

You see, you will lose fat if you keep your calories constant and increase your energy expenditure, especially from swinging kettlebells.

The problem is that many people use their hard kettlebell workouts a license to eat whatever they want. So sure, they get stronger and better conditioned, but their body fat doesn’t change all that much.

But the general rule of thumb is this – the leaner you want to be is directly proportional to what you put in your mouth and when. For the average individual, getting by on an average diet and swinging kettlebells will produce some fat loss.

But the more fat you want to lose and the faster you want to lose it, the more attention you need to place on your nutrition.

Parth: Good Points! Any last piece of advice you’d like to convey to my readers?

Geoff Neupert: Sure. The kettlebell isn’t a magical tool for fat loss. It’s just a lump of iron with a handle that sits on the floor.

The magic is in its proper use.

And nothing beats the convenience and freedom of doing a kettlebell workout in your basement or your backyard or wherever.

And nothing that I’ve seen in almost 20 years gives me or my clients more of what they want – the ability to do whatever they want to do when they want to do it, and to look the way they want to look while doing it.

I wish I had kettlebells when I was younger and when I trained college athletes. I wonder what kind of positive difference they would have made for us.

Parth: Thank you for your time, Coach.

Geoff Neupert: Thanks, Parth, for doing this interview. It was great to be able to share some of my thoughts with your readers. I hope they find it helpful.

To learn more about Kettlebell training, plus complete training programs, check out Geoff Neupert’s manual, Kettlebell Burn. Click here for more information.

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