For the last 5 years, I’ve invested hundreds of hours into training with kettlebells and learning how to teach them.
In fact, earlier this year, I finally became a Level II StrongFirst kettlebell instructor, which is the pinnacle of certifications in the strength & conditioning field in my humble opinion.
You must demonstrate excellent cardiovascular conditioning, strength, and flexibility in addition to teaching skills. This includes completing 100 snatches with a 24kg (53lb) kettlebell in under 5-minutes and pressing half your bodyweight over your head with one hand, among many other tests.
It took me years of training to do this, which wasn’t easy on top of wrist surgery and lower back surgery.
Despite all this time investment, I’ve never written a kettlebell training article on BuiltLean after literally writing hundreds in the last 8 years!
As much as I love kettlebell training and have learned from them (which is a huge amount), I don’t recommend them to most guys. Here are 3 reasons why.
1. Kettlebell Training Can Be Difficult (& Painful) to Learn
When you are learning a new sport, is it easy to become really good?
Usually, it’s not very easy. If you start playing tennis for the first time, it’s going to take months before you can serve, hit a forehand and backhand, and learn even some of the nuances of the game.
I recommend approaching kettlebell training with this same mindset like you are learning a new sport.
Would you learn how to play tennis just watching Youtube? I hope not!
In my opinion, you shouldn’t touch a kettlebell without having a knowledgeable coach teach you the basics in person. The same goes with a barbell.
Learning how to do a proper kettlebell swing, clean, press, turkish get up and eventually snatch and other exercises takes time to learn.
While learning kettlebell exercises is like learning a new sport, it also can be quite painful.
When an iron kettlebell is lying against the flesh of your forearm, it doesn’t feel great. Actually, it can hurt a lot.
When I first started training with kettlebells, I almost quit several times because I got very annoyed with the significant forearm pain I had to endure to press a kettlebell and also the wear and tear on my hands.
Yes, you can wear a wrist guard and protect your hands in various ways, but at the end of the day, you must go through a toughening up process. Just like playing tennis for the first time can give you blisters on your hands and give you sore elbows or forearms, learning basic kettlebell training exercises can cause some bumps & bruises and blisters on your hands.
2. Throwing Around A “Cannonball With a Handle” Can Cause Injury
You can call me captain obvious, but throwing around a kettlebell, which is also aptly described as a “cannonball with a handle” can cause injury.
Because kettlebells are an athletic style of training, they require both acceleration and deceleration forces. This means swinging a 24kg kettlebell can create over 100 pounds of force between the acceleration and deceleration phases.
Most guys I’ve worked with have a history of either injuries or lack of mobility, usually both. These guys – especially with office jobs – do not exactly have the mobile bodies they had as kids.
So when you combine a functional training tool with a body that is not entirely functional, injuries can happen. That’s excluding the injuries that can happen simply from a lack of skill. Of course, a knowledgeable coach should be able to significantly reduce risk of injury.
For example, teaching a kettlebell swing is an involved process that takes several steps. I need to clear someone if they even have the proper hip and shoulder mobility to swing a kettlebell. Then I need to teach them proper deadlift form, which has its own sequence. Then go through learning a kettlebell swing, which has yet another sequence that can change based on the students ability.
The most common injuries I’ve seen are lower back injuries from guys not getting cleared to train. Shoulder injuries can occur for guys who have stiff shoulders who press over their heads. Learning a shoulder press is just as involved as the kettlebell swing. Your shoulder has 4 joints (scapulothoracic, glenohumeral, acromioclavicular, sternoclavicular), so yes, things can get complicated too. This is probably a reason you’ve heard pressing over your head is bad, which is absolutely false for a healthy (mobile & stable) shoulder using proper technique.
Exercise training may seem simple and fun to the layman, but once you dig deeper, it’s not simple at all. The human body is amazingly complex, but tools like the functional movement screen can help reduce complexity for a coach like me and also be very beneficial to you. I’ve also used screens and tools as an integral part of programs I’ve created like BuiltLean® Transformation.
To be clear, I believe kettlebells are much safer than barbell training, which is brutally unforgiving. But I’ll save that for another post!
3. Kettlebells Are Not As Accessible As Other Equipment Like Dumbbells
While your Equinox gym will have a full rack of premium kettlebells, many gyms or fitness centers don’t have any kettlebells. If you are not in the U.S., coming across a kettlebell may be even more difficult.
In addition, many gyms that do have kettlebells may have strange shapes and sizes that will press against your forearm in different ways.
Finally, kettlebells typically have dramatic increases in weight from 16kg to 24kg for example, which is a 50% increase. Few kettlebell racks have weights with many options.
As you progress your kettlebell training, you’ll most likely want to use chalk on your hands as well. The line is already starting to blur between getting lean and healthy and doing something as a strength sport.
If You Want To Use Kettlebells, Where Do You Start?
I definitely recommend starting with a kettlebell swing. I don’t mean the CrossFit style kettlebell swing above your head, which defeats the purpose of building maximum core strength and tension. I mean the Russian style “hard swing”.
It’s a special exercise because it builds full body strength and conditioning in one exercise. You build your hips and glutes, grip and core while taxing every muscle in your body. And you also get significant cardiovascular benefits. I’ve even taught my dad, mom, and brother the kettlebell swing.
The kettlebell swing is not very easy to learn and you should definitely be taught in person by a knowledgeable coach.
Find a StrongFirst certified kettlebell instructor near you who is ideally also certified in the Functional Movement Screen.
If you want to learn more about kettlebells, read Enter The Kettlebell, then after that Simple & Sinister, both by Pavel Tsatsouline who is credited with popularizing kettlebell training in the U.S. and is the Chairman of StrongFirst.
If you get started with kettlebell training, good luck and stay safe!