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.
Last month, I posted an article with kettlebell basic movements to help people understand what kettlebell training is all about. In the post, we taught deadlifts, and the three primary kettlebell lifts, the swing, the clean&press, and the snatch. Today, I am going to dive further into the art of kettlebell training for beginners. I will cover choosing the right weight, basic principles of kettlebell training, and finding a qualified instructor in your area.
Before you begin practicing any of these kettlebell lifts, make sure you have an understanding of the dead, rack and overhead loaded lat position, as well as the various ways to hold the bell for safety and maximal benefit. Watch Understanding Kettlebell Basics to get a visual guide of what these various positions should look like. I can’t stress enough how important form is when kettlebell training, so be sure to take the time to properly learn these positions, especially when teaching yourself.
One of the first things I tell people when they begin training with kettlebells is to approach it like a practice. Similar to yoga, dance, or martial arts, kettlebell training is about constant improvement through your mind and body connection. Practice with kettlebells frequently to create unity, functional ability, and enjoy all of the other wonderful benefits that come with vibrant health.
Over the past decade, I have constantly shared with my clients that while it is important to have a goal, staying process oriented is the key to long term success. In some cases you may spend weeks or more perfecting a basic lift so that when you progress you are able to do so safely and effectively.
Choosing A Weight
The most common question that I receive from beginners or people new to the art is “what weight should I use?” One of the most important concepts to remember when selecting the right weight is that kettlebells are a full body exercise tool, not muscle isolation. This means that you can use heavier weights because you are using multiple muscles in each lift rather than just one muscle at a time. I often see people underestimating themselves and using very light kettlebells. It’s important not to overdo it and injure yourself but it’s also important to remember your body’s potential when working together as one unit.
Below is a general chart I have created for choosing different kettlebell weights depending on your athletic experience. Take notice that the increments are all 4kg (8.8lb). I am aware that there are many in-between weights available these days, but I only use the increments of true Russian kettlebells. I am not much of a traditionalist, but I think some things should be left alone. A part of the reason for the big jumps in weight is that it promotes the use of the correct muscles to lift the weight. When first starting out with your kettlebell training it’s okay to use light weights to help you develop an understanding of what you are going to be doing. Listen to your body, it will tell you when it’s ready to move up in weight.
- 9lb/4kg – Beginner, no athletic history, used only to get basic movements down (will have to move up quickly)
- 18lb/8kg – Beginner, little to no athletic experience, sedentary
- 26lb/12kg – Beginner, average strength level, decent overall posture, some athletic history
- 35lb/16kg – Beginner but strong or advanced in motor pattern awareness and flexibility from athletic training
- 44lb/20kg – Prior kettlebell specific experience, strong, flexible and smart
- 53lb/24kg – High level kettlebell practitioner, using this weight primarily for low rep lifts
- 26lb/12kg – Small build, beginner, little to no athletic experience, highly sedentary
- 35lb/16kg – Beginner, little to no athletic experience, highly sedentary
- 44lb/20kg – Beginner, average strength level, decent overall posture, some athletic history
- 53lb/24kg – Beginner but strong or advanced in motor pattern awareness and flexibility from athletic training
- 62lb/28kg – Prior kettlebell specific experience, strong, flexible and smart.
- 70/32kg – Experienced practitioner, Flexibility is the key to moving beyond this two point.
- 106lb/48kg – High level kettlebell practitioner, using this weight primarily for low rep lifts.
When you deadlift, clean&press and snatch, the main goal will be keeping the weight as close to the plumb line of your body as possible. This will require focus, flexibility and practice. For this reason, you will start with a much lighter weight than what you will be practicing with after you have developed the various techniques. Your sudden increase in lifting ability early on will be primarily due to your mind connecting with your body and using what is already there more efficiently. You will also see gains in strength due to the physical changes of reshaping your body. However, these gains are much less obvious than those developed through technique and practice.
For a more in depth coverage on this topic, please also watch our video here.
Finding A Trainer
One of the many reasons I love kettlebells is because you can invest in a few bells and have unlimited workouts for life. You don’t need a gym membership or expensive equipment to become fit. Our Kettlebell Movement website provides people with all of the proper instruction to properly kettlebell train including full workouts posted weekly. If you are on a budget, online videos would be my recommendation for learning how to kettlebell train. However, please make sure it is from a properly trained kettlebell practitioner. I have been doing this for over a decade now and the majority of what I see being taught online is improper form, which was my main inspiration behind starting Kettlebell Movement. I want anyone and everyone to be able to learn this art and reap the benefits without injuring themselves.
If you have a little more room in your budget you can find a trainer to help you with your form. Meeting with a trainer for a few sessions to learn the basics can help you build a strong foundation.
Finding a highly qualified kettlebell instructor can be tricky, many trainers use kettlebells, but few have an understanding of kettlebell training that will allow you to get the full benefit with maximum safety. In my experience as a personal trainer, kettlebell instructor, and even fitness manager for large gyms, I have seen poor kettlebell form being taught way too many times.
It is pretty safe to say that an RKC certified kettlebell instructor will have the ability to keep you safe and provide you with all of the benefits of the art. Normally, I would not recommend any certification that can be earned over a three day class. However, RKC almost exclusively attracts people who practice constantly and can teach from experience.
Even still, you will find some trainers to be much more qualified than others regardless of their certifications. I encourage you to try to observe your prospective trainer in action, and witness first hand their attention to the smallest detail, and ability to communicate and engage their clients. If you watch any of my videos, you can use them as a reference to know if you are talking to someone that can help you. Stay away from the trainers who “like to incorporate kettlebells into some of their workouts.” I don’t say this because kettlebells can’t be incorporated into other workouts, only because most trainers that take that kind of approach to kettlebells are not specialized enough to ensure safety and maximum benefit.
It is a rare occurrence that you are able to find somebody at a major chain gym who can properly teach kettlebells, be wary of those places and make sure you find somebody specialized in kettlebell training. If you are in the San Diego area, I own Peter’s Personal Training and train people one on one as well as teach classes multiple times a week. I am happy to help point you in the right direction of a trainer, it is my passion to make sure people are given the opportunity to use kettlebells properly and understand the full benefits that these fitness tools provide.
The reason I chose the kettlebell as my primary fitness tool for myself and my clients is because it is holistic, and it embodies my overall belief on how to stay healthy by doing what is in sync with your biology. Kettlebells use your body and mind together, create unity, and provide the freedom to practice just about anywhere.
I highly recommend this art to anyone with a goal of maintaining everyday health; it isn’t just for highly trained athletes. If you would like to be able to move gracefully and effortlessly in the real world without pain or discomfort, then consider learning how to use a kettlebell.
What other questions do you have about Kettlebell training?
Tell us in the comments and Peter may be able to answer them in future articles.
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 owns Peter’s Personal Training where he 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.
(Photo credits: Peter Hirsh and Kettlebeller via cc)
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