10 Biggest Mistakes New Kettlebell Lifters Make

I've watched lots of lifts, lots of sets, lots of reps. As soon as a lifter begins to move the bell, his or her mistakes jump out to the educated eye, and scream fix me, but the first step is to become aware of what you're doing wrong, so you will eventually get it right.

Muscling the Kettlebell
Most strong / fit people will go to their strength when first picking up a bell, which is "strength". In other words, instead of using the entire body, the focus is on the stronger muscles (usually of the upper body) to complete the lift. There should be no intentional isolation of muscles. The entire body is used to move the bell on most lifts. If you're straining and grunting from overuse of smaller muscles, you're not using your whole body.

Crushing the Handle
Regardless of their lifting background, when people pick up a kettlebell for the first time, the tendency is to squeeze the handle or "crush it". The opposite is what you want. Hold the bell only when necessary (usually during any pulling movements such as snatch or swing), use a finger lock, and relax the hand and fingers as much as possible, especially in the press, push press, and jerk. Your hand is relaxed UNDER the bell handle, balancing, no need to really hold it.

Kettlebells technique incorporates a yogic breathing style. All forward bends are accompanied by an exhalation, all back bends come with an inhalation. If you keep to that simple rule of thumb, remembering how to breathe is easy. Here's a few examples.
  • From Rack to Lockout - Inhale
  • From Lockout to Rack - Exhale
  • From Top of Swing (or Snatch) to Drop - Exhale
  • From Bottom of Swing (or Snatch) to Top - Inhale
Going Too Heavy
Most often, the new lifter will bite off more than they can chew, and opt for a bell that's a bit heavier than they can safely handle. The reason this is a mistake is two-fold. First and foremost, if it's too heavy, risk of injury skyrockets. Second, it's hard to learn a new skill with maximum resistance. This especially applies to the Kettlebell Snatch, where timing and coordination are everything. In Jerk sets, sometimes a heavier weight will force the use of the legs, so it can be a viable strategy, but the general rule of thumb here, when learning a new lift, go light.

Not Using a Clock
Without a close eye on the time, learning to pace yourself is nearly impossible. In kettlebells, you should know exactly how many reps per minute (RPM) you plan to complete in any given set. Using some sort of analog clock or digital timer, is a necessity if you're going to control the set, instead of the set controlling you. It's the professional approach.

Learning From an Amateur
Kettlebell lifting has been around for centuries. This high level skill was passed from coach to athlete in Eastern Europe, and finally made its way to the States in 2006. Very few authentic coaches exist, so your search may be exhausting. You might have to sift through piles of misinformation before you get to the pot of gold. Here's a great place to start. kbGYM.com

Over-Bending the Knees in Swing
The first thing most lifters learn is the swing. You need to know that the swing is done with one hand, one bell, and it's not a squat (a vertical drop down). The swing takes advantage of momentum, before the quads (knees) engage as the primary mover, so the posterior chain doesn't get left out. Working the posterior chain (from neck to heels) is one of the major benefits of kettlebells, and over bending the knees will minimize the amount of force you can generate, as it take the back of your body out of the picture. Take a quick look at this video to help give you and idea of what the Swing should look like (part of the HIKF trainers course).


Not Maximizing Gravity
In every lift, if gravity will assist, take it. Do not LOWER the kettlebell - DROP the kettlebell. We're going to save all of our energy for the UP phase of the movement, and let moving the bell from lockout or rack, down, be all about gravity. This will require speed and split second timing, where you learn to move as one WITH the kettlebell.

Lack of Fixation in Lockout
Regardless of the lift, when the kettlebell arrives in overhead lockout, there should be a brief pause of both your body and the kettlebell. In a competition, the judge would then count the rep, but not until both the bell and body are still. This will develop the deeper muscles of the shoulder joint (isometrically), as you learn to find rest in the position. Again we use gravity (straight down, bell fixed not tipping) and our bone structure (think erector set), does the lion's share of the work and fixes the bell over head.

Not Defining the Set
Before every kettlebell set you do, you should map out a clear plan, and have reason for the set you're about to do, something you're trying to accomplish. This could be as simple as getting in a good workout and burning some calories, to working toward your next personal record in Snatch. Know what the set will be, how long, how fast, how many hand switches, how much rest, and on and on. The HIKF Trainer's Course is all about showing you how to accomplish this most important correction.