Kettlebell skills must be learned from a qualifed instructor. These guidelines are intended as reminders for you for techniques we went over in class. Much strength to you on your kettlebell journey!
-Treat all bells as though they weigh 100kg, meaning with a lot of respect. Pick them up and put them down properly (deadlift them).
-ALWAYS be sure that no one is in your “line of fire” before swinging.
-If you get in a fight with a kettlebell, the kettlebell will win- so if you feel the bell is pulling you completely off balance, you must be able to safely let go (I.e, no people in the path of the bell). That said, aim to Never let go!
-Quick feet are happy feet!
-Use chalk if necessary.
GOOD FORM ALWAYS!
Prioritize great form and technique over heavy lifts or volume. If your form starts to suffer, bell down (i.e. switch to a lighter bell) or stop and take a break, shake it off, before finishing your set. If you cannot complete the reps with good form, bell down or rest until you can keep good technique (maybe the next day!) Kettlebells are a powerful tool; it’s best to start slowly, add weight and volume only as technique and stamina are perfected.
BIOMECHANICAL BREATHING MATCH
Generally the inhalation is taken during the negative or easy, downward portion of the lift. We fill the abdomen with air and exhale with a “Tssss” sound in order to create and maintain intra-abdominal pressure during the more strenuous, effortful portion of the lift. Don’t fully complete the exhalation until the end or top of the lift, or as you fnish the hips.
MAIN KETTLEBELL LIFTS
-Stand over the bell with the handle in line with the back of the foot/ankle.
-Feet hip width, hinge at the hips, bend the knees as needed, hips low, tall proud chest.
-All fngers through, grip the handle like you are trying to break it in half = PACK YOUR LATS (squeeze the armpits down).
-Inhale frst, then drive the feet through the ground and stand up tall, tension breath,
finish the exhalation with the full (not hyper) extension of the hips (“finish” the hips).
-Arms straight, look straight ahead (neutral neck position throughout), firmly contract abs, glutes, and quads at the top.
-Use the lats to guide the bell towards the back of the foot as you inhale down. -Maintain tension, neutral neck, upright torso, flat back throughout the movement.
Variations- suitcase deadlift, double kettlebell (DKB) deadlift, single-leg deadlift. Join Strength and Sadhana for instructional videos on these more advanced variations.
HARDSTYLE KETTLEBELL SWING
-Stand back from the bell with the feet slightly wider than the hips, but not too wide- just wide enough for the bell to pass through.
-Hinge at the hips, bend the knees as much as needed to grab the handle of the bell. The hips must be above the knees but below the shoulders. Keep the (bare) feet flat on the floor at all times (don’t lift the toes). Weight is in the hips. Proud open chest, neutral neck. Tilt the bell towards you before swinging, try to snap the handle in half and drag the bell a couple of centimeters towards you by engaging the latissimus dorsi. Generate tension in this starting position before swinging. Gaze ahead.
-Inhale through the nose as you use your lats to hike the bell back behind you, making contact with the forearm/wrist high up near the groin. Quickly drive the hips forward, driving the heels into the ground, and come to standing in a tight, vertical plank, sending the bell forward to shoulder height. The gaze is straight ahead at the top of the swing. The abs and glutes should visibly contract at the top of the swing, and the bell should momentarily float weightlessly. Keep the shoulders packed and connected. The arms should be straight or almost straight. All fingers are through the handle with a good grip (don’t let the little fingers come out).
-Be careful not to hyperextend the low-back in the top position of the swing- the body should be completely straight, like a vertical plank, with abs, glutes, and quadriceps all strongly contracted.
-Wait for the bell to begin to descend with gravity before energetically and forcefully hiking it back. The forearms/wrist should make contact high up the thighs. If the handle of the bell drops near or below the knees, put the bell down and work on form without a bell before swinging a weight.
-Take quick, strong inhalations through the nose on the backswing, and allow the gaze to come slightly down to maintain a neutral or only gently extended neck position on the backswing.
-Tension breath exhalation as you finish the hips, which should be before the bell reaches its highest point and floats at shoulder height.
-You aren’t finished swinging until you have safely parked the bell. After your last swing, swing the bell back behind you (as though you would swing again) and then bend the knees as you hinge to sink down low, in order to park the bell on the forward swing in a controlled and deliberate manner.
-Emphasize the importance of a solid set-up before you swing. Don’t neglect or rush this. Don’t forget to pack the lats and get the body tight before you swing.
-Don’t forget to inhale! Take loud, forceful sniffs through the nose on the backswing.
-Don’t squat! The knees shouldn’t bend too much; the power comes from the hips driving forward. Use your posterior chain!
-Keep a neutral neck position; allow the gaze to come down slightly on the backswing. There can be a gentle extension of the neck at the bottom of the backswing, keeping the back of the neck long.
-Wait for it! Let the bell foat at the top of the swing, and let the arms start to come back towards the body before you use strength to swing the bell back. The handle of the bell must stay high up in the triangle formed by the knees and the groin.
-Try to make your swings crisp and snappy, moving quickly between relaxation and full tension at the top. This is Hardstyle!
Variation- static start swing- Return to the starting position and reset with tension between single, powerful swings. Park the bell deliberately each time, reset, then swing again.
This is actually the classic kettlebell swing. The idea is to train the body in counter- rotation, resisting the unequal load of the single kettlebell.
-Set up as though you would swing with both hands, then simply remove one hand. Do not rest the hand or arm on the leg; rather, make a fist and squeeze that armpit against the body (pack the lat.) You may want to experiment with where you grasp the handle of the bell- it could be the middle, or towards the outside of the handle. This is a matter of personal preference.
-Use the power of the lats and the inhale to strongly hike the bell back between the legs, then swing the bell forward to shoulder height using the drive of the hips. The bell can be in line with the bell-side shoulder, or more towards the mid-line.
-When learning this swing it is a good idea for the free hand to reach out and touch the handle or bell at the top of the swing, to ensure that the torso is not rotating. This tapping of the bell helps to keep the hips, torso, and shoulder girdle squared. DO NOT “spike” the bell back, just touch to ensure that you are not rotating. Keep both shoulders
connected at the torso. Don’t let the bell pull the shoulder forward in the joint.
-Let the bell float momentarily at shoulder height, and wait for it to begin its descent through gravity before forcibly hiking it back. The handle of the bell should be parallel to the floor at the top of the swing, meaning the palm is facing the floor. As you lower the bell into the backswing it is acceptable and can be helpful to angle the thumb back through the legs frst. This slight angling of the bell comes from the forearm and wrist, NOT from any internal rotation at the shoulder, which must be avoided.
-Throughout the swing and in particular at the bottom of the swing, ensure that you are not rotating the torso. It is common for the non-bell-side shoulder to open out and back at the bottom of the swing, as the shoulder girdle twists. Resist this by using the muscles of the core and bringing the non-bell-side shoulder forward and down at the bottom of the swing. Also do not let the non-bell-side arm wing out wildly at the backswing; keep the shoulder connected!
-Do all reps on one side (usually 10) and then swing-switch between sides. The swing- switch is a swing! Do it with power and control. At shoulder height, one hand simply comes over the other and replaces it as the frst hand is removed. Always keep one hand on the bell! The swing switch does not count as a rep.
VARIATION- Alternating single-arm swing, basically swing-switching each time.
-Using the power of the legs, and with a lifted chest, lift the bell quickly up to the chest in the goblet position by moving the hands quickly from the top of the handle to the sides (hold it by the “horns”). Hold the bell close to the chest with the inner arms against the body, the elbows in, and the shoulders packed.
-Feet flat (toes down) slightly wider than the hips, allow the feet to turn out a little bit (no more than 10-12 degrees) if that is natural, but not too much. Ideally the feet are parallel, but be sure to keep the knees tracking the toes. You can “corkscrew” your feet into the ground without actually moving them, to create tension and bracing.
-Keep the chest lifted and a long, flat back as you lower down on the inhale. Actively pull yourself down to parallel or below parallel, meaning the crease of the hips is parallel with or below the top of the knee. Maintain a neutral neck position, gazing ahead, and don’t let the torso fold forward- keep the chest open and lifting. The elbows may part from the body slightly, but keep the bell close and the shoulders connected.
-Pause momentarily in the bottom position, then use tension breathing as you drive your heels into the ground and stand, fnishing the hips with the end of the tension breath. Squeeze the glutes, contract the abs, and draw up the kneecaps in this top position. Do not hyperextend. Pause motionless again at the top before your next squat.
-Clean the bell (or “cheat” clean using both hands) to the Rack Position. In this position the wrist is stong and straight, the inner arm touches the body, the elbow is drawn in close, and the thumb is near or touching the collarbone. The handle of the bell crosses the base of the palm at a comfortable angle, so that the line of force is straight down the forearm (as Bruce Lee said, “There is no wrist.”) Women should not allow the arm to cross or put weight on the breasts. The shoulder is packed down so the the weight is supported by the engagement of the lat. The free hand forms a tight fist as that armpit is squeezed down.
-Feet should be hip width apart or even closer together. The legs and glutes are engaged and tight. Gaze is straight ahead.
-Take a big inhalation first, then use tension breath and biomechanical breathing match, keeping the body tight as you press the bell to an overhead lockout. The forearm should remain vertical or almost vertical throughout the movement. Pause at the top with the elbow locked straight, the wrist straight and neutral, the arm back by the ear (vertical, not forward), and the shoulder down.
-Inhale to actively pull the bell back down into the rack, and pause motionless for a moment before pressing again.
-Clean the bell down and swing switch between sides, or else swing the bell OVER THE WRIST and back behind you before parking the bell with control and “cheat cleaning” the other side.
*Beware of putting the bell down by hyperextending and twisting the wrist! Always “bump” the bell over the top of the straight wrist and swing it back through your legs before safely putting it down (“parking” it.)
Bring the bell to the rack position.
-Set up as though preparing to swing. Hike the bell back and use the hips to power the bell up, as though you would swing, but instead quickly pull the elbow back behind the torso and generate tension in the body as you catch the bell in the rack position. Keep the hips squared, try not to send one hip forward before the other, but have them drive forward and “finish” simultaneously.
-The bell must not impact or bang the wrist or forearm, but should land gently as the arm comes up from below.
-The bell should take the shortest possible path, i.e. keep the bell close to the body rather than letting it swing out. This will also help to prevent the bell from banging the wrist. Imagine there is a wall close in front of you that you must not hit. This is called “taming the arc.”
-To re-clean the bell, keep the armpit squeezed and the bell close as you swing the bell
back behind you. Allow gravity to start its descent, then as the bell drops down close to the body quickly push it back through the legs. Imagine you have a $100 bill in your armpit that you don’t want to drop and lose!
-This is an advanced movement and should only be learned under the guidance of a qualified instructor! You should have a solid foundation in the single-arm swing, clean, and press before attempting to snatch. Start with a light bell and wear wristguards and/or bell down if the bell is banging your wrist. As you are stopping the moving bell in a locked- out overhead position, you must be confdent in that position and able to quickly and reliably generate tension in the body in order to safely absorb the force generated by stopping the moving bell. The shoulder must be firmly packed, the elbow straight, and the wrist super strong and straight at the top of the snatch in order to perform this movement safely.
-Prepare as though to swing, but make a fist with the free hand. The free hand and arm must not touch the leg. Hike the bell back between the legs on the inhale. You are allowed a free single-arm swing before your first snatch if you need it to get the bell moving. Using tension breath, use the power of the hip drive to swing the bell forward, but allow the elbow to be soft as you send the bell overhead in one continuous movement. The bend in the elbow as you send the bell up allows you to “tame the arc” and keep the bell close to the body, preserving energy. Ideally, the tension breath exhalation fnishes with the hips, rather than with the overhead lockout.
-The hand punches up to the ceiling (or aim for 11 0’clock) with the knuckle of the index finger pointing up. The hand must come up from underneath the bell, so the the bell does not flop down over the hand and bang the wrist. There should be little to no impact as the bell lands softly. The wrist must be solid and straight, the elbow locked, the arm vertical, and the shoulder packed down before catching the bell. Keep your feet firmly planted on the foor.
-Pause motionless at the top of the movement before “goose necking” the bell over the wrist, releasing the elbow and actively hiking the bell into a nice deep backswing. Tame the arc on the way down too! Take a big inhalation on the backswing and then generate power in the hips to drive the bell up in one smooth movement with the next snatch.
-Strong swing switch between sides.
KETTLEBELL FRONT SQUAT
-Clean one or two bells to the rack.
-Squat stance is generally slightly wider than hip width. The toes are permitted to turn out slightly if that is natural. The knees must track the 2nd or 3rd toe, that is, they are pushed out throughout the movement. Do not permit the knees to collapse inward!
-Use the inhalation to actively pull yourself down into the squat. The crease of the hips
should come below the top of the knees. If you can squat to “rock bottom” without forfeiting the anterior tilt the pelvis, that is acceptable and good. However, once the pelvis starts to move into posterior tilt at the bottom of the squat (“butt-wink” :D) you have gone too deep. Maintain a lifted chest, a long neutral spine and neck, and a flat back throughout the entire movement. Keep the connection in the shoulders and a strong, tight rack position. The elbows may flare out just slightly at the bottom of the squat.
*If using a single bell, work strongly to avoid rotating the pelvis, torso, or shoulders throughout the movement.
-Pause motionless at the bottom of the squat before initiating the drive upward with an audible grunt to brace the abs. Keep the chest lifting and the knees pressing out as you drive through the heels to stand (keep the toes down too). Do not let the hips ascend before the upper body; think of rising up from the sternum. Finish the hips and exhale, contracting the glutes, bracing the abs, and drawing up the kneecaps with the quadriceps as you come into the top position. Again, beware of hyperextending here and brace the glutes and abs strongly in order to prevent it. Pause motionless in the top position with the shoulders down, and elbows in so that the bells, arms, and torso are one connected unit.
-Maintain a neutral neck position and forward gaze- do not look up or tilt the head back as you come up out of the squat.
TURKISH GET UP
-Lying on the foor, roll onto your side (fetal position), slide the bottom hand through the handle of the bell and use the other hand in a pistol grip. Keeping the shoulder joint closed, roll onto your back and press the bell up directly above the packed shoulder. Extend the non-bell-side hand and leg out straight at approximately a 45* angle. Bend the bell-side knee and keep that foot grounded on the foor. Eyes on the bell. The arm holding the bell should remain locked-out and vertical or almost vertical throughout the TGU. Keep the wrist strong and straight, of course.
-Using your glutes and keeping the non-bell-side shoulder pressed down (don’t shrug), roll up to your elbow. Keep tension in the extended leg, flex that foot and keep the heel pressing into the floor as you roll up. Keep the hip of the bent leg open, in other words press that knee to the outside. The ribcage should come towards perpendicular to the floor. The line of force from the weight of the bell should come straight from the bell to the elbow. Eyes on the bell.
-Come up onto the hand, and the ribcage spins more toward the front and becomes more upright. Still one line of force from the bell to the hand on the floor.
-Keeping the bent-leg foot flat on the foor, lift your hips and sweep your other leg back through, opening that hip so that you can place the knee in line with the non-bell-side hand on the floor. That hand, knee, and foot should form a straight line, making an equilateral triangle with the other foot. Eyes still on the bell.
-Come up to a tall kneeling position. As the torso becomes vertical, shift your gaze straight ahead. Either slide your front foot 90* to the side (keeping the foot on the ground or at least very close to it), or “windshield wiper” the back foot 90*. Whichever you choose, your legs should now be parallel at hip width.
-Tuck the back toes under before stepping the back foot forward and come to standing with tension in the body. The kettlebell arm is locked-out overhead, the body is tight, the gaze is straight ahead.
-Reverse the steps. The free hand can tap the thigh of the leg that will step back. Lower the knee with control, and silently place it on the ground. Windshield-wiper one leg 90*, then slide the free hand down the thigh to place it directly in front of the knee, under the shoulder. Again you should have an equilateral triangle formed by the hand, knee, and foot. As the torso comes down from vertical, the gaze shifts to the bell.
-Keeping the bell side foot flat on the ground, sweep the other leg forward and through and directly place your sit-bone in the middle of the triangle.
-Lower to the elbow, again turning the ribcage towards perpendicular. Be sure the elbow isn’t tucked behind you- it should be directly under the shoulder. Keeping that shoulder down (don’t let it shrug up), roll away from the elbow with control until you are lying down. Use both hands to pull the bell down to the side of the belly (the same side it is already on, do not try to cross the body with the bell!), and keep the shoulder joint closed as you roll over onto your side to put the bell down.
-To switch sides , drag the bell (literally, drag it on the floor) around your head. DO NOT try to pass the bell over your body or your face! Alternatively, you can sit up and spin your body around so that the bell is now on your other side. Repeat the Turkish Get Up on the other side.
Always learn from a qualifed instructor! Keep good form and prioritize technique over heavier weights. Only when you can execute the lift consistently, with good form, and for many sets should you consider using the next higher bell size. Happy training!
Please feel free to contact me with any questions. I’m available for online training sessions if you want some tips on your form and some coaching. Sign up for my monthly membership program Strength and Sadhana for videos exploring these and other lifts in more depth.