Kettlebells are an easy way to take your strength training to the next level—if you’re using them correctly. Using them incorrectly can make your workout ineffective or, worse, leave you injured. Whether you’re new to kettlebell training or are a veteran, read on to make sure that you’re not making any of these trainer-spotted, common kettlebell mistakes.
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You’re only using your upper body.
Despite what you might assume, kettlebell exercises are full-body movements. If you’re new to the workout, you might first try swinging your way through it using only your arms. This is a common kettlebell mistake. It will put way too much strain on your upper body. “People tend to use only their upper body to generate power when it should be a total body movement. Using your core and lower body are essential for swinging a kettlebell,” says Aaptiv Trainer Jennifer Giamo. Avoid relying solely on your arms. If you think you do this, practice kettlebell swings (or any motion that you’ll be doing with the weight) without the actual kettlebell. Take note of your movements and when you should be transferring power from your lower to upper body. If you’re doing swings, focus on keeping your back flat and tucking your tailbone under you when your hips hinge forward.
You’re swinging too fast.
Speaking of swings, it’s important to not swing too fast or with too much force. Losing control can lead to pulled muscles and injuries. While you may feel really strong waving a kettlebell to and fro, doing so too quickly will largely sacrifice your form. Instead, make your kettlebell swings slower and more controlled. This will not only target your stability muscles but will work larger muscle groups, as well. This is important to practice from the beginning before you move on to more complicated moves.
You’re using a weight that’s too heavy.
If you typically use dumbbells or other free weights when you work out, you might overestimate how heavy a kettlebell you can lift. In fact, the amount of weight that you can handle won’t be the same, since the weight is being distributed differently. “People tend to choose a weight that’s too heavy, which can be dangerous—especially if you lose control of the kettlebell. Remember, most are in kilograms and not pounds,” Giamo informs. Quick math: 1 kilogram equals about 2.2 pounds.
As with most exercises, it’s best to start off light. This will help you avoid injury and a quick burnout. If you’re unsure of where to start, go lighter than you think you need to. If you can breeze through a set of reps, go a little heavier. Continue until you land on a weight where you feel challenged, but can still perform five to ten reps without losing your form. Try not to settle on a weight that’s too light either, since this can result in an overhead swing.
You’re rushing into it before perfecting your form.
One of the most common kettlebell mistakes is not focusing on form. Trying a new exercise can be exciting, but it’s crucial that you don’t rush into using kettlebells before perfecting kettlebell form. “[People try] to do complicated exercises before they’ve mastered proper form,” Giamo shares. This mistake can put you on the fast track to strains and injury.
When it comes to kettlebell swings, start with your feet shoulder-width apart. The kettlebell should be on the ground about a foot in front of you. With knees bent slightly, bend your waist forward until your torso is almost parallel to the ground. Grasp the kettlebell with both hands, palms facing you. Squeeze your core and pull your shoulders down and back. You want to keep this up throughout the whole workout. Lift the kettlebell up, allowing it to swing back between your legs. Keep your neck straight and back flat. Now, push your hips forward to drive the kettlebell out in front of you. Remember, it’s not all in your arms. Use your arms to control the movement, but avoid pulling the weight up.
On the upswing, don’t lean back or let the kettlebell go higher than your shoulders. At this point, let it swing back down between your legs. Control the movement by keeping your core engaged. From here you can go right into your next rep. On your last rep, once the kettlebell has swung down between your legs, place it back on the ground about a foot in front of you.
Remember to breathe the entire time that you’re swinging. Kettlebell swings are very rhythmic, meaning that they’re great for practicing your breathing technique. Inhale a deep breath as the kettlebell lowers and swings between your legs, then exhale during your upswing.
The Big Fix
“A solution to these issues may be to practice without any weight first and then start with light kettlebells,” advises Giamo. By practicing the movements without kettlebells first, you give yourself the opportunity to become familiar with the motions and master your form. You wouldn’t start off on the treadmill with a full-on sprint. The same rules apply here. Once you’re confident in your form, practice with a light kettlebell. Again, avoid doing an overhead swing. If you want to lift overhead, use a different weight, like a barbell. After a few sets (or a session at the gym) find a kettlebell weight that’s right for you and get moving! With your form down, you’ll avoid common kettlebell mistakes and master the exercise in no time.