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3 Things Not To Do With A Kettlebell

3 Things Not To Do With A Kettlebell

Thursday, September 7, 2017 - 7:25am

"Kettlebell" by Flickr user Victor. License.

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When I first saw kettlebells 12 or so years ago I dismissed them as a stupid fad.  “Oh look, they made a weight with a handle, what’ll they think of next?”  It turns out my first impression was completely wrong – they’re not new, and they are far more than a weight with a handle on them.  

Kettlebells are actually one of the most useful training tools in my toolbox (but not the only tool), and they’re awesome.  The offset center of gravity makes them perfect for teaching people how to deadlift, squat and press.  Unfortunately, as their popularity has increased so has the amount of sketchy and dangerous things that you see people doing with them in real life, on TV and the inter-webs.

Safety and success with training is a lot like nutrition – what you don’t eat is actually a lot more important than what you do eat.  These are the 3 biggest things to avoid when training with a kettlebells

1.  Not following proper progression:  the kettlebell swing is essentially a ballistic deadlift.  So, before you get to the swing, you need to have a great deadlift, and before you get to the deadlift you need enough hip mobility for your body to do the right thing at the right time.  Going in order will make the process more fun (because it eliminates a lot of frustration), and is much safer.

Here’s how you know if you have enough hip mobility for a good deadlift


Here’s how to groove an awesome deadlift

2.  Skipping the fundamentals:  everyone (myself included) wants to jump straight to the “cool” looking stuff like snatches and complexes, but this is like jumping to algebra without tackling basic arithmetic.  All of the “cool” stuff is based on mastery of the fundamentals.  Cleans, high pulls, snatches, double snatches are all built off of the violent hip drive that you learn with the basic 2 hand (Russian) swing.

The author (left) and Brett Jones

The first time I met Brett Jones (an actual Kettlebell master) I asked him to teach me how to juggle a kettlebell.  He said, “well first, let’s see if you can do a swing.”  I said, “of course I can.  It’s just swinging a kettlebell around.”  I demoed my “swing” for Brett and a painful, frustrated look came over his face. He told me, “Josef, there is a huge difference between swinging around a kettlebell, and doing a kettlebell swing.”  Then he spent most of his lunch break helping me learn to do a swing. 

Just because you’ve been swinging a kettlebell around for years doesn’t mean you actually know how to do a kettlebell swing.  It wasn’t until I hired a coach that I got any good at first doing and then teaching others.  After you tackle the stuff in #1, the first drill I would recommend to learn to swing is the re-set or power swing here.

3.  Swing overhead:  The 2 hand swing that finishes overhead (aka the “American” swing) is a bad idea for most people.  The reason given for why to do the American swing is because the kettlebell travels a longer distance (you finish overhead instead of at chest height) which should mean that you end up doing more work.  The reality is that the American swing is a whole lot of risk for a very small potential increase in intensity.  This video does a really good job of explaining the risks to your shoulders and lower back of the American swing and a much safer alternative.

If you want to go overhead with some sort of conditioning move involving a kettlebell, just do snatches – single arm (single bell) or double arm (2 bells).

About the Author

Josef Brandenburg is a Washington D.C.-area fitness expert with 16 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book "Results Fitness." In 2004, he started True 180 Fitness (formerly The Body You Want) personal training program, which specializes in helping you get the body you want in the time you have available. Josef holds certifications from Precision Nutrition, American Council on Exercise, National Academy of Sports Medicine, Functional Movement Systems, Corrective High Performance Kinesiology, and the National College of Exercise Professionals. Learn more about Josef on his blog, follow him on Twitter and Facebook, or check out his fitness videos on YouTube.