Elite Trainer, Tim Joseph, reveals the easy tips and training plan prep you can do to make the most of this versatile piece of kit.
Master The Basics Of Technique
Ironically the archetypal kettlebell swing can be both the best exercise for your back, and the worst. The benefits, and potential risks, are therefore entirely dependent on technique.
Attend a course, book in a PT session with a kettlebell specialist, read some books – do whatever it takes to fully understand how to lift. Proper technique not only safeguards you from injury, but by encouraging you to use the correct muscle groups, helps to work target areas and maximize your desired training adaptations – be that fat-burn or glutes that fill out your new Sweaty Betty leggings.
But if there’s one piece of advice to take to your next sweat, it’s to keep your core tight and your trunk stable. Setting your abs not only ensures they are better engaged to speed along your six-pack, but, when activated, they act to prevent your lower back from any bending or twisting in a way that may cause injury. If you feel your core softening or weakening mid-set then stop and rest. Leggings-ready glutes weren’t built in a day.
Get Comfortable In Your Static Positions
There are two positions that come up a lot in KB training and being comfortable in each will maximize the efficiency of a range of exercises. Efficiency means you can do more reps and work your target muscles more effectively for faster gains (or losses) in strength, endurance (and fatburn).
The rack position: With your arm tight to your body in front of you, elbow bent and hand under your chin, hold the KB sitting in the V of your bent arm, touching your shoulder.
Overhead fixation: For this position, have your elbow fully locked out and arm vertical. Keep your shoulder blade back and down (as if you’re pulling it towards the opposite back pocket of your shorts) and your bicep close to your ear.
These positions form the basis of many kettlebell exercises. Spending time getting comfortable in each will give you a headstart when it comes to tackling any exercise as part of a new training plan. When your time on the gym floor comes at a premium, having these building blocks in place will ensure fewer valuable minutes are lost to testing out technique when you’re taking on new and more complicated moves.
Shake Up Your Hand Positions
How you hold the KB handle through different phases of lifts can greatly improve performance and decrease your injury risk. The handle should change position in your hand depending on what you are doing.
When carrying, swinging or at the bottom part of cleans and snatches, the KB handle should be held in the fingers like a hook, rather than in the palm. If you’re gripping it in your palm the downward pressure can pinch the skin and cause (or tear existing callouses, ugh). The hooked hand position also requires less grip strength so you can work for longer, too.
In overhead or rack, the hand should be inserted right into the space of the KB handle, and it should be slanted in your palm with your forearm touching the horn of the KB handle. This means you can keep your wrist straight during lifts.
Mastering the transition between these two hand positions during the lifts takes a bit of practice but is well worth the time invested. It will maximize the efficiency of your lifts so you can rack up more reps and reach your training targets more quickly.
Keep It Simple (At Least To Begin With)
Driven by Instagram, YouTube and our own human desire to show off, there is an undeniable urge to try overly complicated kettlebell complexes and flows that are way beyond a beginner’s technical proficiency.
Your basics need to be on-point before you should try to link exercises together, otherwise it will not only be an unproductive mess, but you will risk injury. The classic adage of not running before you can walk is entirely applicable to kettlebell training.
Perfect the swing and single-arm front squat before moving on to more complicated variations like the clean and press or the snatch and squat.
Pick the correct equipment
Not all kettlebells are created equal. Some are big. Some are small. Some come cast in the shape of a gorilla’s head. But, in the case of KB lifting success, variety is not the route to success. Having spent so long mastering the hand and rack positions, the last thing you need is constant readjustment.
Instead, stick to competition-grade ‘bells. These remain the same size irrespective of weight and are manufactured to a far higher standard – you’ll see them all around our gyms, just look out for the colours. As you improve the only thing you want to change is the number of kilos in each hand. Now, work your way from pink to green.
We become better at whatever we do more of. Slipping the odd swing into your week’s training will make you neither proficient in using a kettlebell, nor will it deliver you all of the physical benefits that training with them will do. For fast, effective results I recommend you do two sessions per week and divide them as follows:
Session 1 – Dynamic Lifts: Swings, snatches, cleans & jerks. Grouped together they will deliver great cardiovascular response, improving endurance as well as burning fat. Keep the weight light, reps high, rest periods low and use lots of speed in the lifts.
Session 2 – Grinds (slower lifts): Turkish get ups, windmill, presses, squats. These are better deployed for static strength and stability, and in some cases mobility. Once technique has been well practised, use heavy weights, high tension, controlled speeds, low reps.
Combine the two and improve every aspect on your physical fitness in a week. We told you this kit was versatile.