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Kettlebell Partner Passing 101: The Two Hand Pass

By Brittany van Schravendijk

How to Properly Perform Kettlebell Partner Passing

At first glance, passing a kettlebell back and forth may seem like a fancy party trick. Although Kettlebell Partner Passing can be beautiful to watch, the practice is not about showing off -- it’s about what’s happening between the partners. The system of KPP was developed to be much more than simply tossing a bell to and fro. The principles that underlie partner passing are being mindful and authentic, taking care of your partner, connecting deeply, communicating effectively, and embodying the present moment. This article will talk about the foundational component of KPP that allows these concepts to come to life: the Two Hand Pass. 

What is the Two Hand Pass?

The Two Hand Pass is the foundation of Kettlebell Partner Passing. In addition to being the simplest pass, it’s the initiation into the KPP system that breaks through the fear of throwing and catching a kettlebell. Passing a kettlebell with a partner can be scary to learn. Common fears that come up are centered around failure, inadequacy, and trusting another person with vulnerability. Both partners have fear of hurting one another or being hurt, so slowing things down and learning to pass in incremental steps ensures that everyone feels safe in the process. The Two Hand Pass is a profound exercise that establishes confidence and trust between partners and sets the stage for a successful partner-based kettlebell practice.

The Two Hand Pass is when two people stand across from one another and pass the kettlebell back and forth. This pass is called the “two hand” pass because both hands are on the bell handle when the swing is performed (as opposed to a single hand pass, where the bell is swung with one hand on the bell handle). At the top of the swing, the bell is released to fly horizontally toward the receiving partner, who then catches the bell, does a swing, and passes the bell back. The person passing the bell is called the “sender”, and the person catching the bell is called the “receiver”. The sender switches to receiver as soon as their partner catches the bell, and the receiver switches to sender as soon as they catch the bell; this keeps switching with every pass. There are two different types of two hand passes: the straight pass and the flip. The straight pass is easier to catch but harder to throw, and the flip is easier to throw and harder to catch. 

Ideally, the Two Hand Pass is practiced in sand or loose dirt, so that if the bell falls it stops quickly, doesn’t bounce and there is no damage the bell the surface or partners. Grass is another option; however, it’s not encouraged because if the bell is dropped it can leave divots in the grass. If you are practicing on a rubber gym floor, be aware that the kettlebell can take a wild bounce if dropped; this can be used as an advanced training variable later on.

7 Steps to Achieving the Two Hand Pass:

1. Master the kettlebell swing. You must be able to swing well before you can pass, as the swing generates the momentum for the pass and is the foundation of KPP.

2. Complete the Kettlebell Solo Program. There are many drills that can and should be practiced prior to passing with a partner. Learning to flip and toss the bell is especially important to understand the concepts of how to turn the bell, direct its path, and get the handle in the right position for the receiver -- which makes passing safer for all parties involved. Kettlebell Solo work is done before learning to pass because those who are confident in their kettlebell handling abilities make for better partners. 

3. Learn the three count start with eye contact. Every KPP set begins with the question “Are you ready?” followed by a definitive yes or no. If no, do what needs to be done for both partners to be ready to pass and then ask again. If yes, count to three while swinging the bell and maintaining eye contact (refrain from blinking)After the first two swings of the three count, partners will break eye contact so that the sender can look at their target and the receiver can watch the kettlebell. The sender releases the bell on three, and the set begins. Partners MUST maintain eye contact during the first two swings of the three count; if they do not, the bell is set down and the three count starts over. Starting the set this way ensures that both partners are present, engaged, and aware, which is necessary for the safety and efficacy of the set.

4. Throw the bell without catching it. The process of learning to pass begins by having the receiver stand in front of the sender during the three count and subsequent toss of the bell -- with the receiver standing too far back to actually catch the bell. The receiver makes a circle on the ground. The sender must toss the bell so that is lands in the circle. This drill ensures the ability of both partners to gauge the distance between them, and to aim the kettlebell accurately. Partners should feel a sense of responsibility for each others’ well-being; passing is much safer with conscious consideration of one another. The drill should be practiced until both partners feel comfortable in their ability to pass safely. Once each partner has practiced being the sender and receiver, a base level of trust and care has been established; a foundation onto which a strong partner practice can be built.

5. Pass the bell and practice bailing. Before catching a pass from your partner, each person should rehearse the exit strategy they will use if they are unable to catch a pass. The sender does the three count and releases the bell, with the receiver standing the same distance away as they would to catch the bell. Instead of catching the bell, however, the receiver will practice bailing out of the way. Bailing can be as simple as stepping or hopping back or to the side to let the bell fall to the ground. The hands can be used to deflect the bell, protect the face and body, and safely guide the bell to the ground. Remember to keep the fingers and toes safe. Rather than hurting yourself let the kettlebell take the hit.

6. Pass the bell with a setdown between each pass. Now it’s time to catch the bell! The sender initiates the three count and sends the bell, and the receiver catches the bell and sets it down. Then the receiver becomes the sender, and the sender becomes the receiver, and another pass with the three count start is performed. The bell should be set down and the three count performed between every single pass (this is analogous to the dead stop swing). This gives each partner time to refocus between passes, and to ensure both partners are continually consenting to keep practicing -- an important step in the process of trust-building. The drill should be practiced until both partners feel comfortable.

7. Pass the bell back and forth. Once both partners are confident in their ability to send and receive the bell, it’s time to pass the bell continuously. One person begins the set as the sender and does the three count, then the kettlebell is passed back and forth without pause. The set can be short and sweet, or it can go on as long as both partners feel comfortable. In the beginning, it may be helpful to keep the sets short with ample rest in between. As the Two Hand Pass gets smoother, longer sets will allow partners to share a state of flow together.

The Keys to Success in KPP

When it’s time to actually pass and catch the kettlebell, each partner must be authentic and vulnerable in order to fully succeed at their KPP set. There is inherent danger involved in passing, and fear that goes along with that. Clear, open communication will effectively decrease the danger. Feeling supported and encouraged by your partner -- rather than being judged if you mess up or show fear -- is essential to creating the trust and confidence between partners that is necessary to pass the kettlebell back and forth.  Building a strong partnership is about creating an environment of “same team” where both parties help one another reach a common goal and become their best selves. 

The Two Hand Pass is the most important pass to master when starting the Kettlebell Partner Passing journey. Building a foundation of trust between partners is the key to success and longevity in passing. KPP has the potential to develop a relationship between partners that is present, joyful, and emotionally connected -- which is becoming less and less common in the technology-filled COVID-19 era of today. As partners develop and improve their communication and passing skills, KPP can bring about a state of flow that is very much like the zen feeling experienced during breathwork, prayer, and meditation.

Ready to Begin Passing? Here’s How To Get Started...

- Complete the Kettlebell Solo Foundations program to set a solid foundation and get in passing shape before working with a partner. 

- Find a willing and able partner to work with.

- Follow the guidelines above to begin two hand passing practice. 

- Be mindful, have a caring heart, and have fun!

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