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3 Ways to Improve Your Kettlebell Training

Kettlebells are common in modern fitness gyms, but great technique is still relatively uncommon.

Apart from learning how to not smack the forearm with the weight (and having a lot less explaining to do to friends and co-workers), most athletes put little emphasis on optimizing their technique. But the truth is that you can greatly improve performance and the effectiveness of your training just by making a few simple tweaks.

If you want to improve in the snatch, clean and jerk, look to Olympic Weightlifting. Likewise, if you want to perform better in your next Kettlebell WOD, then you should consider some basic techniques from the world of Kettlebell Sport.

Here are 3 effective tips that will help you handle more weight, and crank out reps faster and easier.

The proper swing is smooth and effortless. 

1. Learn to Relax.

Just like in weightlifting, the classic kettlebell lifts – the swing, clean, and snatch – are ballistic in nature.

The lifter puts the weight in flight through a sharp, explosive movement and then moves with the weight to get into proper position to complete the lift. Because kettlebell lifting is high rep in nature, as the pace increases the movements become cyclical, with the lifter constantly shifting between moments of tension and relaxation.

Once you get the bell moving, relax, be patient, and let it fly. Take a moment for the muscles in your legs, back, and forearms to “switch off” as you shift your weight into place to complete the lift.

Don’t squeeze the kettlebell handle! A softer, looser grip will suffice. You only need to guide the weight through its trajectory. That alone should help reduce your risk of hand tears. Allowing your muscles to switch off, even for a microsecond, will add up throughout the set and keep you fresh to do more work.

Part of finding these little moments of relaxation means focusing on breathing. Have you ever held your breath while runing? Give it a try. How many steps you can take before you’re gasping for air?

The same thing happens when you aren’t breathing correctly during your kettlebell training. Holding your breath creates unwanted tension and will jack up your heart rate, sending you towards the red line far too soon.

Next time you pick up the bells, make sure to relax your muscles, your breathing, and your timing. Just move with the weight.


  This happens too often.

2. Use Your Legs correctly.

Another common mistake I see all the time with novice athletes is using too much upper body to perform the lifts. Their swings look like some awkward mix of a front-delt raise and an upright row. Instead of using these smaller muscle groups, which will most definitely fatigue and burn out quickly, drive the movement from your lower body.

You must learn to rely on your legs!

Your legs don’t just produce force, they reduce force as well. As the kettlebell descends, whether it’s during a swing, clean, or snatch, make sure you’re absorbing the load with your legs first. Too often, lifters hinge at the hips too early, which places greater load on the lower back.

Here is an effective drill for you. Pretend you have no muscles in your upper body (do you even lift?). The arms should hang like ropes. Practice swinging the bell to chest height using only your legs. Once you find the rhythm, you’ll be amazed at how more efficiently you can move the weight with minimal effort.

Heavy cleans and snatches certainly won’t feel so heavy anymore.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 9.54.46 AM

 A classic. Get your learn on…

3. Treat the Kettlebell like a Kettlebell

Barbells or dumbbells have their own purposes and requirements. The same is true of kettlebells.

Barbells are superior for developing maximal strength, while dumbbells are the appropriate tool for improving unilateral strength. However, the kettlebell is best used to develop work capacity or strength endurance (This is why we do so many repetitions in competition). Keep this in mind and you will get better results from your training. Load is not the aim.

You must also remember that the shape of the kettlebell, with the center of mass outside of the handle, lends itself to unique positioning and posture. For example, when holding the kettlebell with the arm, relax your grip and make sure that the handle is secured right over the wrist, not higher in the middle of your palm. That will pull your wrist into extension, diminishing force and likely causing pain. You should also be able to wiggle your fingers with a neutrally aligned wrist.

Instead of holding the kettlebells up at your shoulders like a barbell in your front rack position, let your elbow creep down and rest on your hip. This is actually the more stable, comfortable rack position used in KB Sport. You’ll find it far easier to relax between repetitions, but the connection to your hip will also improve your leg drive in movements like the push press, jerk, and thruster.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 9.56.36 AM

 The competitive side of the Kettlebell. Pay close attention to the utilized rack and grip positions. 

Give these tips a try the next time you see kettlebells on the whiteboard. You WILL perform better.

If you’re interested in taking your kettlebell skills and training to the next level, check out Kettlebell Sport. The experience and gained skill is sure to improve your overall lifting and performance.

Keep swinging,

Mike Bledsoe

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