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If you have an Instagram account, then we’re willing to bet the face (and abs, delts, and quads) of Eric Leija has graced your 6.5-inch screen before. The Onnit coach, aka @primal.swoldier, is known for performing quick-hitting and dynamic kettlebell exercises for his 500,000 followers. But before he was repping #Onnit and #PrimalSwoldier on the gram and coaching hundreds of clients at the Onnit gym, he was packing boxes for the Texas-based fitness company as a warehouse employee.
In addition to selling supplements, Onnit also hucks a variety of “functional” equipment, from kettlebells to more enigmatic tools like Indian clubs and steel maces. Leija, who was in pretty good shape and trained mixed martial arts, had experience with kettlebells, so he decided to get certified and begin teaching classes.
“It was the IKFF [International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation] certification, taught by Ken Blackburn,” Leija explains. I learned how to do the snatch, the swing, and the jerk and got really good at them. Then, I started training clients.”
Nowadays, Leija is the resident kettlebell guru at Onnit. He still implements the barbell and dumbbell training he picked up as a teenager from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, but his routines don’t require as much heavy lifting now—for good reason.
“I started having a lot of joint pain, and my back and shoulders were hurting a lot” Leija explains. “I wasn’t paying attention to my mobility or durability. I was just kind of going hard and heavy all of the time. I use kettlebell movements to maintain my level of strength without putting my body under a lot of stress.”
You cannot (and should not) build up to a heavy one-rep max using kettlebells, Leija says, but he likes them for two major reasons: First, you can train hard with them and still tax your muscles using submaximal weight. Because the load is on the lighter side, you’re less likely to hurt yourself. Also, they’re more versatile than a barbell.
Most compound movements like deadlifts are pretty one-dimensional as far as movement is concerned. You lift the weight up and down. Leija likes to spice up kettlebell exercises by adding movement to them, such as a twist at the top of a press or a lunge after a clean. This, he says, is a more athletic way to train and prepares your body for the type of movement you experience in real life—such as swinging a golf club or tossing your kid (safely) in the air.
To add kettlebells to your program, Leija recommends performing them either with light weight, as a warmup, or after your main compound movements as accessory work. If you’re tight on time, you can also string a few kettlebell moves together to form a sequence or, as Leija calls it, a flow, for a complete training session.
Start by mastering the five moves below, all demonstrated by Leija, and then work on the flows he also provides.
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