Kettlebell Training Manifesto: A Beginner’s Guide to Kettlebell Training
I still remember the day we met.
It was completely by accident. I just happened to find myself in a random corner of the gym where, out of the corner of my eye, I saw you being used by another man.
He knew what he was doing. He was swinging you with such grace and elegance. His movements seemed so natural. Like the flow of water.
And, like always, my curiosity got the best of me.
Since that first day I laid eyes on this unique yet exquisitely designed hunk of metal, it has been my number one weapon in my fitness arsenal. It has completely changed the way I train and the way I approach my journey to a better body.
Maybe you haven’t heard much about.
Perhaps its lack of sex appeal and exposure to the public eye hasn’t made the kettlebell the most popular tool in town. Unfortunately, many are often left stranded in the corner of the gym collecting dust.
Makes me want to shed a tear.
But the kettlebell has stood the test of time. It has been around for centuries. And the problem isn’t in the lack of effectiveness. Nooo way! As you’ll soon discover, this is one of the most effective and efficient training tools on the planet.
The problem is in the lack of awareness and understanding of what this tool can do for your body.
Introducing the kettlebell training manifesto: a beginner’s guide to kettlebell training. In this guide, I will show you everything you need to know in order to get started with kettlebell training.
And hopefully, with a better understanding of what this tool is capable of, you’ll jump on board with me.
Let’s get started.
Brief History of the Kettlebell
The history of the kettlebell – or Girya (in Russian) – spans back more than 300 years. It dates all the way back to 1704 when its mention was first recorded in a Russian dictionary.
The kettlebell first made its appearance in Russia where it was used as a counter balance tool to accurately measure rations of food. This is how the standard weights originated (measured in poods).
But the unique tools quickly became a matter of national pride in Russia.
Gireviks – men who handled kettlebells – would display incredible performances of strength, coordination, and endurance during social gatherings as a form of entertainment.
In Russia, kettlebells are a matter of national pride and a symbol of strength. In the olden days, any strongman or weightlifter was referred to as a girevik, or a “kettlebell man.” Steeled by their kettlebells, generation after generation of Russian boys has turned to men. – [Enter the Kettlebell!]
The effectiveness of the tool was undeniable and it quickly made its appearance in the Russian military and law enforcement teams.
The Red Army and the kettlebell are insparable. Every Russian military unit has a gym called “the courage corner.” Every courage corner is equipped with kettlebells. While other countries waste time testing their troopers with push-ups, Russia tests repetition kettlebell snatches with a 53-pound kettlebell. Law enforcement tactical teams – even the Russian federal tax police, who are handier with firearms than with calculators – also make kettlebells their strength training tool of choice. – [Enter the Kettlebell!]
As popular as the kettlebell was in Russia, it never made the same dent in the fitness industry in America.
Its popularity started to rise at the dawn of the 21st century when Pavel Tstatsouline and his team brought their Russian secrets over to America and started spreading word of the kettlebell’s incredible power.
Today, most people know of kettlebells, but have very little understanding of how they work.
They have no clue of the power that lies within that hunk of metal.
To learn more about the history of kettlebell training, check out Kettlebell Ninja: Build a Better Body with a Kettlebell.
Benefits of Kettlebell Training
Unlike many of the come-and-go fitness products of today, there’s a reason kettlebells have stood the test of time. Training with this powerfull fitness tool has long been known to provide a hefty list of benefits.
Here are some of the things kettlebells can do for you:
- Improve your cardiovascular fitness and build great work capacity,
- Stimulate your nervous system with explosive movements,
- Improve functional strength for everyday life and athletic performance,
- Improve your balance, coordination, and mental focus,
- Improve flexibility,
- Teach your body how to work as a unit (not in isolation),
- Develop exceptional mental toughness,
- Develop dense, intelligent muscle,
- Incredible fat loss potential due to high metabolic nature of training,
- Develop incredible grip strength,
- Build a rock-solid posterior chain,
- Improve your overall core strength,
- Effective rehabilitating tool,
- Improve strength of connective tissues,
- Improve workout efficiency (more benefits in less time),
- Allow you train anywhere and everywhere while saving you money.
To learn more about the benefits of kettlebell training, check out Kettlebell Ninja: Build a Better Body with a Kettlebell.
The kettlebell is a unique fitness tool.
As you’ll soon discover, your body reacts to the kettlebell very differently than it does with a dumbbell or barbell. The dynamic nature of the tool means there is a lot of momentum involved.
And when you have a heavy piece of metal moving at fast speeds, safety is a concern.
I see a lot of people start using the kettlebell without fully understanding the dynamic nature of the activity. They jump into more advanced exercises instead of first focusing on the basics.
Before you ever pick up your first kettlebell, there are some simple safety rules you need to follow:
- Start off slowly. The idea is to build up your training load gradually. Don’t start your first day of kettlebell training by attempting a hundred kettlebell swings. Be smart. Progress at your own pace.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Make sure your workout area is clear and there are no tripping hazards.
- Never try to save the kettlebell. There will be times when the kettlebell gets away from you. Never try to save it. Always let it go. Let it fall to the ground and move away from it.
- Wear appropriate shoes. You’ll want to do your kettlebell training in shoes that don’t have an excessive heel raise. Minimal shoes like the Vibrams or simple Chuck Taylors work great.
- Master the hip hinge first. The hip hinge is the essential movement pattern behind nearly every single explosive kettlebell movement. Check out The Hip Hinge: How to Master this Primal Movement Pattern to learn how to do it properly.
- Develop and use proper technique. Don’t go full intensity on exercises until you fully master the technique.
- Focus at all times. Working with kettlebells requires focus from the moment you pick it up off the floor to the moment you set it down. Don’t focus on good technique and then sloppily set it to the ground. This is where you’ll get hurt.
- Listen to your body. This applies to every form of training. Listen to your body’s signs of pain and progress accordingly.
If you follow these rules, you’ll find the kettlebell to be a very safe and extremely effective training tool.
Important note: beginners should be aware that kettlebell training creates more muscle soreness than one is typically used to with other forms of training. Be prepared to feel soreness in areas like your lower back, hamstrings, adductors, hands, forearms, tendons in the elbow, and traps. As you progress with your kettlebell training, you can expect a bit of forearm bruising as well (wrist sweat bands are recommended). Just make sure the soreness is strictly muscular and that there is no pain in the joints or bones.
Design of the Kettlebell
As you’ve probably noticed, the kettlebell has a unique shape to it. It’s essentially resembles a big cannonball with a handle on the top.
Here are the four parts that make up the kettlebell:
The unique shape of the kettlebell is actually a big part of its effectiveness.
There is a big difference between holding a kettlebell and holding a dumbbell. When you hold a dumbbell, the centre of mass is in the middle of your hand. When you hold a kettlebell, the center of mass falls outside of the hand.
This is a important. It’s what makes the kettlebell so dynamic..
Holding a kettlebell causes the lever/moment arm (your arm and the kettlebell it holds) to extend. This creates a greater moment of force and also a greater moment of inertia. Essentially, this facilitates ballistic and swinging movements that you’ll need to learn how to handle effectively.
What you’ll soon discover is that the movement patterns you learn with kettlebells have a very impactful carry over to not only sports, but to everyday life as well.
Types of Kettlebells
There are different styles and types of kettlebells, but they all fall under two main kettlebell categories:
- Professional Grade Steel Kettlebells
- Standard Grade Cast Iron Kettlebells
It helps to know the difference between the two.
The obvious difference is the raw material used to make the kettlebell. Professional grade kettlebells are made from steel while standard grade ones are made of cast iron.
But there is another more important difference: size and dimension of the kettlebell.
Cast iron kettlebells, for instance, can vary drastically in size as the weight changes. As you would expect, a 16kg kettlebell is much smaller than a 48kg kettlebell.
Professional grade KBs, on the other hand, are always the same size, regardless of the weight. The dimensions of the ball and the handles do not change. So a 16kg kettlebell will look exactly the same as a 24kg (except for the colour).
Which style of kettlebell you choose really comes down to your goals and preferences. If your objective is to participate in girevoy sport (kettlebell competition), then it might be wise to get a steel grade kettlebell because you’ll want to stick to the same weight to be consistent with your technique (just like you’d want to play with the same size of basketball every time you play hoops).
If you’re using the kettlebell to improve your fitness, then a cast iron kettlebell will do you just fine. Most people stick to the same size kettlebell for years before even thinking about switching.
Getting a good quality kettlebell can be a little tricky as it’s not really considered a mainstream tool (yet). General fitness stores might carry them, but most likely at ridiculously marked up prices.
If you can’t find anything local, then your other option is to order them online. Here are your best options:
If you’re looking for a good cast iron kettlebell, check these out.
If you’re looking for a good professional grade steel kettlebell, check these out.
How do you pick the right kettlebell for yourself?
Generally speaking, most men should begin with a 16kg kettlebell while most women should start off with a 8kg or 12 kg weight.
Your starting weight will mostly depend on your current level of fitness and also the type of kettlebell exercises you will be performing (I’ll explain later).
Here is a simple summary to help you choose the right weight:
To learn more about the design of the kettlebell and how to choose one that best fits your training, check out Kettlebell Ninja: Build a Better Body with a Kettlebell.
Basic Kettlebell Grips
Once you’ve got your kettlebell, it’s important to know how to hold it.
The rather funky shape of the kettlebell offers a variety of grips.
What you’ll discover is that the way you grip the kettlebell will change from exercise to exercise. I recommend getting familiar (and comfortable) with the following kettlebell grips:
This is a simple grip that you can use for exercises like shoulder presses, push presses, squats, and other variations. Simply form a W with your hands, place your thumbs right in between the horns, and wrap your hands around the ball. Keep your elbows in tight when you hold the kettlebell in catcher’s grip.
Horn (Goblet) Grip
The horn grip, also known as the goblet grip, engages the forearms to a greater degree and is useful for exercises like squats, lunges, and other variations. Grab the kettlebell by the horns and bring it up. Again, keep your elbows tucked in tight and focus on keeping your wrists straight.
Modified Waiter’s Grip
The modified waiter’s grip requires stabilization in the wrist and the shoulder. It is great for exercises like shoulder presses, lunges, and squats. Tuck your thumb in tight around the horn and have the handle face the inside of your body. Again, keep your elbow in tight and make sure the wrist isn’t overly extended.
This is a more advanced grip that engages the forearms extensively. You’ll want to grip the kettlebell tightly by the handle and bring it up, balancing the ball above your hand. From here, you can do holds, presses, hammer curls, squats, and other variations.
Thumb side/Pinky side (“OK”) Grip
These are two of the most popular grips you’ll encounter, especially the Thumb Side grip which is used for most of the traditional kettlebell exercises. The Pinky Side grip is is used in exercises that require you to pass the kettlebell quickly from one hand to the other (Around the Body series, for example). Make sure you grab the kettlebell where the horn meets the handle (right on that corner).
The Kettlebell Rack
The rack is one of the most essential components of kettlebell training. Learning how to properly rack a kettlebell will open the doors for a wide array of kettlebell exercises (as you’ll soon see in the video). You’ll want your elbow in tight against your abdominals with the kettlebell resting on the bottom part of your palm. Keep your wrist straight and everything nice and tight.
To learn how to bring the kettlebell into each of the mentioned grip positions, check out Kettlebell Ninja: Build a Better Body with a Kettlebell.
I love kettlebells because they give you freedom to be creative with your exercises and your workouts.
There are two types of kettlebell exercises:
- Traditional kettlebell exercises
- Non-traditional kettlebell exercises
Traditional kettlebell exercises are those that originated from girevoy sport and are still used in competition today. These include the snatch, jerk, and long-cycle clean & jerk.
But there are a number of other exercises that I think, although not used in competition, still fall under the traditional exercise umbrella because they’re known to be done with a kettlebell only. These include the ever-popular kettlebell swing (and all its progressions and regressions), the clean, and the Turkish get-up.
Non-traditional kettlebell exercises are exercises that are typically done with dumbells and barbells, but can also be done with a kettlebell. Instead of listing them all off, take a second to watch this video I created where I showcase 69 kettlebell exercises:
When getting started…
If you’re just getting started with kettlebell training, your first step should be to develop good grip strength. Without good grip strength, you’re limited with what you can do.
To do this, focus solely on the Around the Body Series and Around the Head Series as shown in the video above. Progress to the Deadlift Series and eventually work your way up to the Swing Series. Progress at your own pace and don’t try to do anything you’re not comfortable with.
To learn how to execute dozens of kettlebell exercises with ultimate proficiency, check out Kettlebell Ninja: Build a Better Body with a Kettlebell.
Kettlebells will not only allow you to be creative with your workouts, but also extremely efficient.
Since I know many of you are often strapped for time, kettlebells can give you the freedom and power to create short yet very intense workouts. Within 20 minutes you can get your heart rate up and muscles firing.
There are a number of ways you can incorporate kettlebells into your workouts:
- Circuit training: kettlebell exercises can be mixed into circuits, or exercise sequences. You can choose 4-5 kettlebell exercises and put them in a circuit. Or you can mix your kettlebell exercises with bodyweight exercises, jump rope exercises, or cardio exercises to build a variety of workouts. The possibilities are endless.
- Reps for time: performing as many repetitions (with good form) as you can in a short, limited time span is the structure that’s used in most competitive kettlebell events. This kind of training is tough but it improves your work capacity like nothing else. Simply choose one exercise and set a short time (like 5-10 minutes) and see how many proper repetitions you can crank out in that time. Keep writing your numbers down and get a puke bucket ready.
- HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training): HIIT is a very popular form of training because of its metabolic effects. Choose a kettlebell exercise (for example, the kettlebell swing) and set up your intervals, say 30 seconds of swings and 30 seconds of rest (a modest 1:1 high-intensity to low-intensity ratio). Now alternate between the two for a set period of time, like 5 minutes and perform this sequence a few times. Again, get that puke bucket ready.
- Ladder format: This is a strength training strategy outlined in Enter the Kettlebell!. You start the ladder with one rep, then take a very short rest. Move to two reps and take another short rest. Three reps; another short rest. Move your way up to whatever number you want. This works great with single-armed exercises like the clean & press, snatch, or jerk, but you can use it for any kettlebell exercise you want. If you want to make it even more challenging, once you reach your final rep, go backwards (down the ladder) until you reach one rep again.
- As a warm-up: This isn’t necessarily a workout structure, but I thought it would be useful to point out that the kettlebell can be used as an effective warm-up tool, particularly on days that involve a lot of pulling movements. Exercises from the Around the Body and Around the Head series work great for this.
The kettlebell training programs below can give you more insight into the kind of workouts and training programs you can take advantage of.
To learn how to structure your own kettlebell workouts, check out Kettlebell Ninja: Build a Better Body with a Kettlebell.
Kettlebell Training Programs
The following kettlebell training programs and resources will help you take your kettlebell training to the next level. Click on the learn more links (affiliate) to get more details on each of the training programs.
Enter the Kettlebell!. Widely considered as the bible of kettlebell training, this guide is a must-have if you truly want to master the art of kettlebells. In over 200 pages of detailed exercises and workouts, the world renowned Pavel Tsatsouline shows you how to build incredible strength, endurance, and power with the kettlebell. [Learn more]
Kettlebell Burn 2.0: The Ultimate Kettlebell Fat Burning Program. This program, designed by RKC instructor Geoff Neupert, is strategically designed to help you achieve maximum fat loss with the kettlebell. If you need a structured program to follow for effective fat loss, you might find this useful. [Learn more]
Kettlebell Training Secrets. If you’re unsure how to structure your workouts or if you’re always looking for unique and effective kettlebell workouts to try, you might find this useful. RKC Geoff Neupert has a special little insider’s club where he regularly shares awesome workouts, nutritional guides, exercise descriptions, and all sorts of other useful information that can help take your kettlebell training to the next level. [Learn more]
I have put together one of the most comprehensive and interactive kettlebell training programs on the market. If you’re interested in learning how to properly select the right kettlebell for yourself, how to handle the kettlebell safely and efficiently, how to develop essential fundamental movement patterns and mechanics, how to execute a progressive series of kettlebell exercises, and eventually how to build your own powerful kettlebell workouts, among other things, then check out Kettlebell Ninja: How to Build a Better Body with a Kettlebell:
The kettlebell should no longer be a mystery to you.
Now that you have the basic understanding of kettlebells, how they work, and what one can do with them, there’s only one thing left to do.
Start playing around with the kettlebells at your gym or get your own. Get a feel for them. Try the basic kettlebell exercises and slowly progress as your strength and conditioning improves and as you feel more comfortable.
Remember your safety rules at all times and, if possible, try to find a qualified kettlebell instructor in your area that can give you instruction and feedback to ensure you’re on the right track.
It’s your turn to take advantage of the most powerful fitness tool on the planet!
I have two things I’d like you to do quickly:
First, if you found this kettlebell training manifesto useful or you think it can be of use to others, please show some love and share it for me. I would be forever grateful!
Second, I want you to leave a comment below telling me about your experience with the kettlebell. If you’ve never used it, tell me what’s been holding you back. Feel free to ask any questions!