For the purpose of this post, we will define kettlebell juggling as the act of tossing or flipping a kettlebell(s) in the air by releasing the bell(s) with or without a flip of the kettlebell, followed by catching it, repeating continuously with multiple tosses or flips in a row. Both a planned routine or an unscripted manner of tossing the kettlebell are ways to juggle (see below for an example of freestyle).
There are as many ways to juggle kettlebells as there are reasons to do so. One way of juggling kettlebells, you may have seen, that is growing in popularity is called Power Juggling. This type of kettlebell juggling can be seen at kettlebell sport competitions where power juggling competitors are awarded points by judges according to specific kettlebell power juggling criteria.
Characteristic of power juggling is beautiful choreography set to music usually done in ornate uniforms with high looping technical passes overhead, behind the back, around the body and under the leg. The kettlebell is flipped minimum one rotation, with multiple rotations and more difficult types of flips earning greater points similar to gymnastic scoring. In competition, power juggling is performed by a single juggler or in pairs.... like synchronized swimming except on land, with a cannonball that has a handle!!!
Watch this video to see one of the best Power Jugglers in the world, Oksana Nikifor, truly an amazing athlete and the person I recommend learning power juggle from if this is the type of kettlebell juggling that suits you.
Power juggling is impressive to watch and fun to explore. Even though the kettlebell juggling we do in KPP (KPP Juggling™) shares some similar movements with power juggling, for the most part they are different animals with different purposes. The main focus of this post is on KPP Juggling™.
KPP Juggling™ is part of the Kettlebell Solo™ programs from the Kettlebell Partner Passing® curriculum. Kettlebell Solo™ is used to develop individual strength, mobility and kettlebell handling skills when partners are unavailable for practice. Kettlebell Solo™ is sufficient for fortification and preparation of the body, mind and spirit for the more vigorous demands of passing kettlebells with a partner.
KPP Juggling™ sets the foundation for KPP skills and each exercise has a purpose that correlates with specific passes and patterns in KPP. KPP Juggling™ is based on the two-hand front and two-hand back flip and investment in these two flips will pay dividends down the road in both KPP Juggling™ and when passing kettlebells with a partner.
KPP juggling’s main focus is hand to hand passes and flips to oneself in front of the body, behind the back and through the legs, mainly using either a single rotation of the kettlebell or no flip at all. Keep in mind making the bell flip additional revolutions may not directly translate to better partner passing skills, however it does provide an added challenge that will improve focus and this has significant carryover when you are passing with your partner. Multiple revolutions of the kettlebell when juggling can be practiced to spice up your practice.
The five-step process that we teach in KPP to help students gain proficiency in KPP Juggling™ has micro progressions within each step for learning and excelling at KPP Juggling™:
The Five Steps are:
1. Learning the basic flips
2. Building basic routines
3. Learning advanced flips
4. Building advanced routines
5. Graduating to freestyle and beyond
Step (1) Learning the basic flips:
1. Two hand release and catch
2. Crush grip catch
3. Front flip
4. Back flip
5. Single hand release and catch
6. Single hand pass (hand to hand pass)
Step (2) Building basic routines:
Routine is an established pattern of linked skills comprised of the various flips and passes. A routine is a set pattern that is practiced the same way each time you practice it. When you change the pattern, it becomes a new routine. An example of a routine could simply be alternating a back flip with a front flip every time or it can be as complex as you want to make it. Think of learning the flips as the alphabet of KPP juggling™ Think of routines as creating KPP juggling™ sentences and freestyle as having a KPP juggling™ conversation with yourself. What? You never talk to yourself?
Step (3) Learning advanced flips:
1. Single hand front flip
2. Single hand back flip
3. Pistol grip flip
4. Supine flip
5. Toss to bottoms up catch
6. Helicopter flip
Step (4) Building advanced routines
Advanced routines take and combine basic flips and advanced flips and put them together in creative and innovative ways to help you practice all of your juggling skills. The advanced routines are virtually endless and a brilliant and creative way to practice handling the kettlebell from many different angles.
Step (5) Graduating to freestyle and beyond:
Freestyle juggling is improvised and unscripted kettlebell juggling composed of the flips and passes you used to create your routines but now they are performed in no particular preplanned order. Freestyle is a complex conversation that will leave you feeling satisfied and fulfilled as you enter deeper levels of flow with the improvement of freestyle as a skill.
Putting It All Together
The first step is to learn the parts or skill of each flip or pass. Be sure to give each skill it's due respect and time. The more focused time and attention you spend on each pass or flip, the smoother the transition to the next steps will be. Build a foundation that will last and make travel along your KPP path enjoyable and safe.
Next build routines that will help you practice to get better at flipping and passing skills. View your routine practice as a laboratory where you can experiment and create interesting combinations.
Next practice advanced flips and routines and be sure to give ample time to build the strength to handle whatever odd angle the kettlebell may come at you due to errant passes you might give yourself. It is easy to move from practicing your advance flip routine to freestyle juggling too quickly and find yourself in a situation you are not prepared for with the resultant bumps and bruises. Be patient and enjoy the process.
Finally, naturally over time, you will advance to freestyle without having to plan. Remember, if you find yourself planning your freestyle, it isn’t freestyle. Spontaneity is the key!!! Go back and practice your routines until freestyle is spontaneous. Rushing ahead to get to freestyle is the biggest mistake I see students make when progressing in KPP. Do the best you can to enjoy and appreciate every step of the process. Step by step with patience over time is what I recommend for best results. Trust me on this point. You will thank me later on down the road of your KPP journey.
Remember two hand flips are your foundation.
Keep in mind that the two hand flips have many nuances that will teach you valuable lessons that come in handy for KPP. Be sure to give them their due process.
The first set of flips after the swings in the video above are forward flips and the second set are backflips.
Two Hand Forward Flip Tips:
1. Think high pull rather than swing.
2. As the bell ascends just before the float, push with your thumbs to rotate the handle around the kettlebell’s central axis.
3. Keep your hands up while the bell rotates around its axis into your hands. Avoid chasing the handle or following it.
4. Take another swing or two if you need to before doing it again.
Two Hand Backflip Tips:
1. As the bell approaches the top of the swing use your fingers to press the handle down as the bell continues up.
2. Again, you are aiming to make the handle rotate around the axis of the bell.
3. After you push the fingers down on the bell handle immediately point the fingers to the sky so when the handle comes around it lands in the palms of your hands.
4. When practicing, always protect your face and body. Be prepared to bail if something goes wrong!
Give it a shot! …and let us know how it goes!
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