The secret is out: Training with kettlebells is a great way to increase power and strength while burning fat. Thanks to the growing popularity of these bowling bell-shaped weights, more people than ever are banging out reps of kettlebell swings, rows, snatches and Turkish getups. Research backs the bells, too: Kettlebell swings have been shown to improve maximal strength and explosive strength (think: jump training). Kettlebells are also effective at building power and strength in the posterior chain (calves, glutes, hamstrings and low back).
Still, it’s not all fun and games when it comes to kettlebell training. Newbies can seriously injure themselves if they don’t pay proper attention to form and programming. Here are some of the most common kettlebell training mistakes and how to correct them, including tips from DailyBurn kettlebell trainer Cody Storey.
Newbie Mistake #1: Going heavy before you’ve got the form down.
Although it’s tempting to grab the heaviest kettlebell that you can handle, adding weight to a movement with improper form will exponentially increase the likelihood of getting injured. Also, remember not to mix up kilograms, pounds or poods (aka Russian pounds). One pood is approximately 16.38 kilograms, or 36.11 pounds.
The fix: Practice the basic movements with no weight while you are learning. Storey always begins his kettlebell training workouts with a few basic mobility exercises to warm up the joints. For newbies, practicing kettlebell swings while holding something light like a small towel or water bottle can help put the focus on snapping the hips forcefully forward rather than hoisting the weight.
Newbie Mistake #2 Generating force with only your upper body.
Kettlebell exercises are full-body movements — that’s what makes them so effective! Some kettlebell beginners may try to muscle their way through the movements; this is a no-no because it will put too much of a strain on the upper body.
The fix: Practice kettlebell swings to experience this transfer of power from lower to upper body. “Keep your back nice and flat, squeeze those glutes, and think about tucking your tailbone underneath once those hips snap forward,” says Storey in his Swing Clinic video as part of the DBK program.
Newbie Mistake #3: Swinging the kettlebell too fast.
Swinging a heavy weight without control can result in a pulled muscle (or a broken television set!). It may seem exciting to whip a kettlebell around as fast as possible, but your form will suffer significantly.
The fix: A slower, controlled movement will strengthen stability muscles and larger muscle groups at the same time. According to Storey, it’s just as important to control the kettlebell on the way down as it is on the way up. Movements like the halo rely exclusively your ability to control the kettlebell as you pass it around your head using your core and shoulders for stability.
Newbie Mistake #4: Wearing thick-soled running shoes.
While super-cushioned running shoes might be worn for leg pounding runs on pavement, they aren’t ideal for kettlebell training because they don’t allow for natural movements of the foot, ankle and lower leg ligaments. Running shoes tend to have a cushioned heel, which raises your heel off the ground and destabilizes your natural grip on the floor.
The fix: Try doing your kettlebell workouts in minimalist shoes (or barefoot if you have the strength). Storey jokingly calls himself “Tarzan” because he works out barefoot, though, he’s spent years strengthening the muscles and ligaments of his feet. Minimalist workout shoes with thin soles are a great place to start. Classic converse sneakers can also work well until you strengthen your ankles and feet.
Newbie Mistake #5: Focusing on quantity rather than quality.
If 10 reps are good, then 50 reps must be five times better right? Wrong! Completing 50 reps with bad form is worse that not picking up a kettlebell at all because you might be pounding out reps with the wrong technique.
The fix: Focus on completing 10 reps of any given kettlebell exercise with perfect form before increasing reps. If you need tips on proper form, Storey teaches 15-minute kettlebell clinics as part of the DBK program on DailyBurn. Watch them a few times through before starting any new kettlebell program so you’re sure to have the swing of things.