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Review: Mike Mahler's Kettlebell Solutions for Speed and Explosive Strength

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I recently purchased Mike Mahler's latest DVD, Kettlebell Solutions for Speed and Explosive Strength. I'm already a fan of Mike's training, having attended his level-one seminar and owning his previous DVD. Over the past week I've had the great pleasure of watching his latest DVD and trying most of the exercises. This review should give prospective buyers a taste of what they're in for.

The Idea Behind Explosive Strength

Most kettlebell lifters are already sold on the idea of ballistic or explosive strength. Quoting Harvey Newton in Explosive Lifting for Sports:

In sports involving quick movements, the ability to accelerate a weight, or mass, is the key to success.... This may involve only your body weight with no additional resistance, as in a soccer player covering enough ground quickly to score.... It may mean your own body weight plus the mass of an opponent, such as in football or wrestling. In [Olympic-style] weightlifting, the opponent is a barbell.... Gaining strength improves your ability to accelerate a mass, provided you specifically train your acceleration skills as well.... By performing explosive lifts, not only do you get stronger (and faster) but you also improve your ability to accelerate against a progressively heavier mass.

Mike's DVD takes explosive lifting beyond the usual swing, snatch, and clean-and-jerk. He includes variations on the kettlebell classics (e.g. Hang Snatches), hybrids of KB moves crossed with weightlifting (e.g. Split Jerk), and totally new beasts (e.g. Explosive Lunge). This is great stuff for any kettlebell lifter, and double-great for those who enjoy Olympic lifting.

As Newton's book points out, these skills have significant crossover into other sports as well. Football players would benefit from practicing the Full Body Attack, baseball players from the Crossover Snatch, basketball and soccer players from the Explosive Lunge, and so on. I can see crossover between most any sport (short of speed chess) and about half the exercises on this DVD.

Skill Level

Mike makes it clear that this is not a beginner's DVD. I would argue that it does have a lot to offer the less-experienced lifter, though. For example, the first exercise (Double Clean and Speed Press) comes with an extensive discussion on proper clean technique, full-body tension for the press, and power breathing to further increase tension. This is great material for all lifters.

Other exercises, however, require good body awareness and a solid foundation of kettlebell technique. Before practicing the Front Snatch, for example, you need to intimately understand the dynamics of a snatch, or else you're going to bang yourself up quick. The Split Snatch also requires good full-body awareness since there's a lot of movement going on.

Teaching the Exercises

I won't list all the exercises on the DVD, as Mike's page does an excellent job of that already. Rather, I want to cover how he teaches them. He follows this pattern for each:

  • Introduce the exercise and what it's good for.
  • Demonstrate the exercise from several angles. (In some cases the extra angles are shown later.)
  • Discuss each stage of the exercise in greater detail.
  • Explain the best breathing pattern for the exercise.
  • Cover common mistakes he's seen and how to correct them.
  • For more difficult exercises, he presents simpler variations you can use to build up to the full exercise.

In introducing each exercise, Mike gives credit to the person who gave him the idea, a nice bonus which helps you appreciate that kettlebell lifters are a true community. The demonstrations are easy to follow, and those with good "body awareness" should be able to learn them readily.

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Many exercises are similar to other kettlebell or weightlifting exercises. Mike explains how these are different both in the technical sense and in their intent. A good example is the Stomp Jerk versus the GS Jerk from Pavel's video. Where the GS Jerk is aimed at maximum efficiency for high repetitions, the Stomp Jerk is about working as hard as possible and targeting low repetitions to build strength.

In same cases Mike uses a technique of combining exercises to master a difficult exercise. The best example is using high pulls to master the motion needed for the snatch. Alternate two high pulls and one snatch, thus using the high pulls to set up the proper bottom half of the motion. With that rhythm in place, the snatch is just a matter of adding a punch-through to carry the bell overhead.

Production Quality

I am reasonably pleased with the DVD's production quality. The video is good, showing Mike in a nice setting with no visual distractions. The audio is clean but levels vary a lot. The intro music is very loud relative to everything else, and Mike's speaking volume varies at times. It's not enough to be distracting, though, assuming you crank the volume down for the intro music, then turn it back up when you get past the DVD menu.

Conclusion

Do I like the DVD? Absolutely. The exercises are very useful for explosive strength and they're a lot of fun, too. (Fun in the sweaty, gonna be sore from that tomorrow sense.) There's a broad range of options to mix in with your current training, or you can compose a whole new program with help from the PDF manual that comes with the DVD. I whole-heartedly recommend this DVD to kettlebell lifters looking for new tricks, and especially to athletes looking for strength training that will give them an explosive edge for their sport.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Mike Mahler. I do, however, make a couple bucks if you purchase kettlebells or other Dragon Door products from the ad below: