Confessions of a Kettlebell Coach, Everyday Training Tips

As an American Kettlebell Club Coach, I've learned much over the past year. Every day I instruct men and women, young and old, on how to master the art of kettlebell lifting. This article is about sharing what I've discovered with you...

But kettlebell lifting is a learned skill that needs to be approached like mastering a musical instrument, forever working towards perfection. This is a big part of what keeps it interesting and challenging. I deal mostly with beginners, who either never heard of a kettlebell or have been using typical bodybuilding or powerlifting methods.

Certain flaws in style or bad habits tend to surface from time to time. Fellow AKC coach, Ashley Hughes, and I analyze everyone's performance, seeking a common thread to help identify the origin of these mistakes, along with a possible fix. I feel this information could be of tremendous value to new coaches and students of the sport.

Below is a list of typical problems with possible fixes. I stress the word possible because there may be a variety of factors contributing to one issue, and no single fix can address every one. At the very least, as a coach or student of kettlebells, these tips will get you to look at things in a new light.

This article will be presented in two parts. Part one will deal with the Swing, Clean
and Rack Position only. Part two will deal the Jerk (and Push Press) as well as Snatch.


  • Not following the bell with your torso as it swings back between your legs, forcing a premature forward swing
POSSIBLE FIX: Follow the bell with your eyes and allow the back to round, as you let the bell to finish its rearward swing before reversing direction. This same fix applies to the clean and snatch. Once this problem is eliminated, you can stop watching the bell and keep eyes fixed on the floor a few feet in front of you.
  • Holding too much tension in the body, and using the arm to pull the bell forward
POSSIBLE FIX: Relax... this can't be over stated. Think of the arm as a rope tied to the bell handle and generate motion with the back and legs. Collapse forward as you empty of air, at the moment the bell starts to travel forward on its own, straighten up with the back and legs. Feel the pull through the arm and shoulder, but don't originate it from there.
  • Bell rocks or shakes between legs in backswing
POSSIBLE FIX: Proper grip, holding bell handle on the inside corner with a hook grip. Also, maintain the handle at a 45 degree angle. This will give you much control of t
he bell. Another possible reason the bell doesn't follow a straight line is found the the first problem, not following the bell. If the arc rearward is shortened prematurely (bells not done moving on its own), there's a forceful pull that rocks the bell (and kills your grip in Snatch and Clean).



Man or woman, when first learning sticking with one arm cleans, jerks, and long cycles provides plenty of challenge, and what I feel is a better way for the average person to safely progress. This article will strictly deal with one arm work.
  • No rest in the rack position. By far the most common problem, and one that contributes to early fatigue is the inability to achieve a good rack position. With AKC and Valery's training, we learned to find the hip with the elbow as your hips move forward, knees stay straight, and back is round. From here the arm forms a virtual V that cradles the bell with the handle resting on the hip of the palm.
POSSIBLE FIX: I've worked with some people that have no trouble finding the hip right away. But some of my bigger boys tend to be far away. The fix here isn't automatic, but needs to be ingrained over time. Again, relax into the position, searching for 100 percent gravity support of the bell with virtually no muscular effort to keep it in place. The bell is actually more balanced than held in the most ideal situation.

As another solution and if necessary I'll stick with more Long Cycle work to a
llow a break from the rack position. It's not uncommon to have a client do Long Cycle Push Press even before they've learned to Jerk. As the rack gradually improves, a return to Jerks is implemented.

Another aspect of resting is found in the wrist position which must be slightly bent back but totally relaxed. The bell still sits directly on the hip of the hand, but with a relaxed wrist a shelf forms with very little muscle effort. At all times the bell is supported structurally, over the ulna, almost eliminating the wrist from the equation. This also applies the the overhead lockout.
  • Tossing the bell when dropping is another common issue. Whether learning cleans or performing Long Cycle, it almost hurts me to watch a Tosser. I define a tosser as someone who pushes the bell as far away from there body as possible when lowering the bell from the rack position preparing for another rep. This problem can stem from working with a light bell, that's sometimes necessary to master other finer aspects of the movement and still do high rep sets. Even so, the time to correct this problem is early on, before making the switch to a heavier bell.
POSSIBLE FIX: Reinforce the concept of dropping the bell, nudging it out of the rack with the shoulder, keeping the grip as relaxed as possible, re-grabbing with a hook grip with perfect timing and no distinct pull on the arm and shoulder. Then, reverse the motion (with all the same technique as the swing above) when the bell begins to swing forward.

Mike Stefano



  • Allowing your arm / elbow to move off the hip before popping it up with the legs
POSSIBLE FIX: Wait for the pressure of the hip against the elbow as you execute the first dip. Do not allow the elbow to drift away from the hip by "pressing" the bell with your arm. Keep the arm and elbow married to the body as much as you can, until it's driven up by the connection with the lower body. For some, resting the elbow on the hip isn't possible.
  • Unable to get the elbow(s) close the hip(s)
POSSIBLE FIX: Over time the body will adapt and somewhat mold itself around the movement. Relax into it, be sure the hips are forward, knees straight, and back round. The rounding of the back is what brings the elbow to the hip. If you can't make the hip, allow the upper arm and elbow to rest against your body where it lies. For some, it may be beneficial to emphasize a slightly longer lockout to catch some rest, but long and slow sets that feature an extensive hold in the rack is what will get you there. Resort to Long Cycle (rack isn't
held as long) if necessary.
  • Excessive arm and shoulder fatigue due to controlling the bell on the down drop
POSSIBLE FIX: Before lifting kettlebells, we were all taught to control the weight on the negative portion of the rep - Not so here! After lockout is achieved, the weight is literally released from its position as it's dropped to the shoulder, directly back into the rack position in preparation for another rep. The weight is absorbed by the body in several ways.
  • Releasing a big exhalation as the kettlebell drops and lands
  • Employing a slight bending of the ankles, knees, hips, as the bell makes contact with the shoulder
  • Raising up on the toes as the bell drops and immediately reversing direction as it touches the body
  • Emphasis on a smooth landing where the bell slides into position versus crashes in


  • Not following the bell as it travels backward between the legs
POSSIBLE FIX: Keep your eyes on the bell as it travels back. Allow the back to round, and the bell to finish its rearward motion, before pulling back, and standing up. The same fix applies to both the clean and swing. Don't allow this to become a permanent practice. Eventually, get your gaze focused back on the floor or wall in front of you.

  • Not being able to get the bell to land on the "hip of the hand" in lockout
POSSIBLE FIX: Some aspect of your timing is off or you're using too much weight. When the bell repeatedly fails to land on that sweet spot, fatigue accelerates proportionally. Drop down in weight (or switch hands if necessary), and improve timing with more and more reps, and longer sets. Remember the basics:
  • Follow the bell as it swings between your legs
  • Pull back with power from back and legs
  • When bell is "weightless", reposition hand, rushing into bell
  • Lockout with bell handle diagonally across the hand, weight on hip of the palm

  • Dropping the bell over the top of the hand instead of around the side
POSSIBLE FIX: I feel the drop sets up the entire rep, and with a bad drop there's little chance of getting off a lot of really good reps. Catherine Imes described it very nicely when she said (and I'm paraphrasing), that you need to get the weight of the bell from the hip of the palm (pinky side) to the index finger side of the hand. This nudge, followed by elbow bend and an actual drop of the bell (where gravity does all the work) becomes a "rest". The bell is dropped in the saggital plane, or the groove directly in front of the body (imagine slicing the body in half from left to right), allowed its full back swing, then brought back up.

Train Safely!
Mike Stefano