This is a Whole9 guest post by Peter Hirsh, a nationally certified personal trainer and kettlebell instructor who has been teaching and training with kettlebells for over ten years.
The first time I ever picked up a kettlebell was about ten years ago. At the time they were almost unheard of in the US and proper instruction was very hard to find. I read books by Pavel, and studied the different philosophies of Anthony Dilluglio, Valerie Fedorenko and Steve Cotter. I also practiced everything relentlessly. As a personal trainer I immediately recognized that kettlebell training was much more of an art form than any other way of weightlifting, akin to martial arts, yoga and dance. These sports cannot be taught by someone with only theoretical knowledge, they must be taught by someone who has mastered the art form with years of practice.
Kettlebell training may seem somewhat mysterious to many people. Although most people have heard that kettlebell workouts produces amazing results, many people feel intimidated and don’t know where to start. To add to the confusion, we often find fitness professionals using kettlebells in their own creative ways that not only fail to maximize the efficiency for which the kettlebell is known, but often lead to injury. Almost all of my clients surprise themselves after training with me for the first time saying “this was totally different then I thought it was going to be!”
Over the years I have realized that a lot of people see kettlebells as a fitness tool for hard core athletes or people who want to bulk up and it’s truly not that. The reason I am so passionate about kettlebell training is because it can be beneficial for everyone at any stage in their fitness. I train clients ranging from 15 years old to 70 years old and there is benefit to them all. Kettlebell workouts teach your body how to move in the real world by training your body on the level of your nervous system. Not only will they help you build incredible strength and condition your cardiovascular strength like nothing else, they will also greatly improve your motor patterns and flexibility.
If you are new to kettlebell training, or maybe you are new to learning how to properly kettlebell train, I would recommend starting off with these four basic movements; the deadlift, the swing, the clean&press, and the snatch. Each movement will work your entire body and give you amazing results and benefits that an elliptical or bench press could never do!
The deadlift is the first thing to learn with a kettlebell and is arguably the most important exercise you will ever perform in your life. Most people I work with struggle at first with the motor pattern of the deadlift, not the muscle strength or flexibility. You should be able to perform a hip-hinge with exact form consistently before moving on to more challenging kettlebell movements.
Watch our video for a more in depth teaching of the deadlift.
2. The swing
The swing is the primary reason kettlebells have earned their reputation as an unparalleled fitness tool. Unlike the deadlift, which is an up and down movement, the kettlebell swing uses your hips to drive the bell front to back. The kettlebell swing will develop grip, back and leg strength as well as the core strength to tie it all together, it will challenge your mind, your muscle, and your conditioning. Short sets are generally best, it is much easier to focus on good form when you stay in the 8 – 15 rep range.
3. The clean&press
The kettlebell clean & press is an upward acceleration of the kettlebell using your hips. Starting directly underneath you on the ground or from a backswing, float the bell in the cleanest (hence the name) movement possible to the rack position. The bell will corkscrew as it climbs, and should move around the arm at the rack, not fly over the fist. Develop an ability to extend your hips in the rack position while crunching your stomach to neutralize the weight of the bell. Brace your midsection and press the bell overhead to a neutral lock out position.
For more instruction, watch our video on the clean&press.
4. The kettlebell snatch
The snatch is possibly the most enjoyable of all weightlifting moves. Using hip-strength braced through your core, the snatch drives the kettlebell from either the ground or the backswing to the overhead neutral lockout in one effort. The dead snatch is the ultimate exercise in developing explosive force from nothing, while the ballistic snatch is all about learning to decelerate the moving bell with your hips. Both of them require exact technique and should only be attempted after the deadlift, swing, and clean & press can be performed consistently with excellent form.
For a more in depth teaching, watch our video of the kettlebell snatch.
Lift Intelligently and Have Fun
Think of kettlebell training like any other kind of practice where your brain will be the biggest contributor to your improvement. Just like playing the piano or performing martial arts, you should practice regularly and stay process oriented. It is intelligent lifting that challenges your brain, muscle and cardiovascular conditioning.
Kettlebell training will also offer far more practicality and economic sense than common solutions to fitness such as a gym membership or engaging in excessive body battering cardio like running or cycling. A one time investment in a few kettlebells will last you forever and help you build strength in a way that no other fitness tool could, and can fit in the trunk of a smart car. The most important thing to remember when kettlebell training is to have fun and love your practice. There is truly nothing better to me than taking a kettlebell down to the beach or the park and just giving it my all.
Peter Hirsh is a nationally certified personal trainer and kettlebell instructor who has been teaching and training with kettlebells for over ten years. Peter has dedicated his life to the enrichment and well being of others and currently teaches classes and trains students one on one in San Diego, California. Wanting to reach a larger number of people with his teachings, Peter started Kettlebell Movement, a website dedicated to maintaining the authentic teachings of kettlebell training and promoting a simple and effective holistic lifestyle anyone can follow. Connect with Peter on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or Instagram.
Subscribe to the Whole9 Newsletter
Fill out the form below to stay updated about Whole9 articles, discounts and events.