We utilize kettlebells more than just about any CrossFit program I have seen, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they are actually incredibly safe. If there is one criticism of CrossFit which in my judgement holds water, it is the high rep Olympic lifts done during conditioning. In the sport of CrossFit, barbell cycling is definitely important. Multiple snatches, cleans, jerks, and clean and jerks are done in many of the workouts in the CrossFit Open, as well as the Regionals and the Games. That being said, barbell cycling is also probably the movement most likely to cause injury. As you tire, form tends to go down the drain. With exterior weight, loss of form causes injury over time. A single rep done incorrectly is not going to kill you. 50 incorrect reps may.
With a kettlebell, we can get equal conditioning stimulus, still build muscle with a weighted movement, and do so in a much safer way. The reason for this is that when you use a kettlebell incorrectly, the movement simply does not work. If you do not use your hips on a swing, your movement will be jerky and if it does not force you to stop for lack of ability, any half decent coach will be able to see the issue immediately and step in to fix the problem. If the weight is too heavy on a kettlebell snatch, it is difficult to power through it, and again is easy to spot as a coach. Therefore, we can catch the problem movement before it turns into an injury.
All of this being said, I was curious as to why kettlebells are not a staple in many CrossFit programs. Turns out, the answer is actually very simple: it has never been used in the CrossFit Open, which 95% of all gyms program for. Remember, CrossFit is a sport, and the CrossFit Open is the competition in which nearly every CrossFit athlete competes. When the box has 20 people wanting to compete in the Open, it is at least part of the coach’s job to program for that desire.
For Summit Strength & CrossFit SSP, we will continue to use kettlebells a lot in our programming, as they build awesome grip strength, teach the hip hinge better than any other piece of equipment, and also develop unilateral strength which is often overlooked in CrossFit workouts.