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Kettlebell Safety: 10 Common Mistakes to Avoid

By Greg Brookes
kettlebell safety

Swing, snatch, or squat, kettlebells are here to stay! But with great power comes great responsibility, in this case, the responsibility of using kettlebells safely.

So, let’s dive in and make your kettlebell workout safer and more effective.


What are Kettlebells, Their Benefits, and Why is Kettlebell Safety Important

Kettlebells, those cast iron or steel balls with handles, have been around for centuries. They originated in Russia and are now widely popular worldwide due to their versatility!

Kettlebell exercises build strength and endurance, improve core stability, promote fat loss, and increase flexibility. And, if that weren’t enough, you can use them in various workouts like circuits, HIIT, and even yoga.

But like any exercise equipment, using kettlebells without proper knowledge can lead to injury. You could throw out your back, hurt your shoulder, or pull a muscle with kettlebells.

To enjoy all their benefits without harm, it’s crucial to prioritise safety in your kettlebell workout.


The Importance of Proper Form and Technique

Using kettlebells with correct form and technique not only prevents injuries but also gets you the most out of your workouts.

Proper technique ensures that you engage your target muscles and keeps your joints safe, helping you achieve the desired results with minimum risk.


Tips for Proper Technique

  • Start slow: The secret to proper kettlebell technique is building strength and stability gradually. Start with bodyweight exercises, then introduce kettlebells when you can maintain form.
  • Packed shoulders: Engage your shoulders and lats to keep them “packed,” providing essential joint support and stability during swings and lifts.
  • Master the hip hinge: Most kettlebell exercises rely on the hip drive. Master the hip hinge and glute activation for an efficient and safe workout.
  • Keep it close: Swing kettlebells close to your body to ensure control and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Stay tight: Activating your core throughout each exercise helps maintain stability and control.

Selecting the Right Kettlebell for Your Experience Level

best kettlebell starting weights
Best kettlebell starting weights for beginners

Choosing a kettlebell appropriate for your fitness level, strength, and experience is essential. Here’s a rough guide:

Beginner:

  • Women: 8-12 kg
  • Men: 12-16 kg

Intermediate:

  • Women: 12-16 kg
  • Men: 20-24 kg

Advanced:

  • Women: 16-24 kg
  • Men: 28-32 kg

These are starting points; progress at your own pace and listen to your body.


5 Common Mistakes when Choosing a Kettlebell

1. Choosing a Weight That’s Too Heavy

A common mistake when selecting a kettlebell is choosing one that is too heavy. This can compromise your form and lead to injury. Start with a weight you can handle efficiently and progress naturally as your strength improves.

2. Opting for a Weight That’s Too Light

On the other end of the spectrum, choosing a kettlebell that’s too light can also be problematic. A weight that’s not challenging enough may not provide sufficient resistance to promote muscle growth and increase strength.

3. Ignoring the Handle Thickness

The kettlebell’s handle thickness is important for grip and comfort during your workout. If the handle is too thick, you may struggle to maintain a secure grip, leading to potential accidents or injuries.

4. Overlooking Quality and Durability

Opting for the cheapest kettlebell on the shelf often means compromising on the quality and durability of the equipment. A poorly constructed kettlebell can lead to safety issues and will likely not last long, which means you’ll have to replace it sooner.

5. Not Considering Shape and Comfort

The shape and design of a kettlebell can dramatically impact the comfort and effectiveness of your workouts. A kettlebell with an awkward design or sharp edges can cause discomfort, affect your movements, and potentially lead to injuries.


The Benefits of Warming up

Warming up before exercising increases blood flow and loosens your muscles, reducing the risk of injury and improving performance. 

  • Joint mobility exercises: neck, shoulders, wrists, hips, knees, ankles
  • Dynamic stretches: leg swings, arm circles, hip circles
  • Functional movements: bodyweight squats, lunges, glute bridges

10 Common Mistakes When Using Kettlebells

1. Using Incorrect Form

Using incorrect form can lead to injury and less effective workouts. Mastering the correct form before adding weight is essential for the safe and purposeful engagement of the targeted muscles.

2. Lifting Too Heavy, Too Soon

Lifting a weight that is beyond your current capacity can compromise form and lead to injuries. It’s crucial to start with lighter weights, progressing naturally as your strength and technique improve.

3. Neglecting the Power of the Swing

The standard kettlebell swing is pivotal as it trains the user to correctly utilise their hips, a central feature of most kettlebell exercises. Neglecting this exercise can result in subpar performance and possible injuries.

Two handed kettlebell swing
Kettlebell Swing

4. Hyperextending the Back

Hyperextending, or arching the lower back too much during kettlebell swings, places unnecessary strain on the spine, leading to potential back injuries. It’s crucial to engage your abs and glutes to counterbalance the weight.

5. Arching or Rounding the Back

Similar to the previous mistake, arching or rounding your back during kettlebell exercises can result in muscle strain and disc herniation. Always maintain a neutral spine and activate your core.

6. Not Engaging the Core

The core plays a pivotal role in kettlebell exercises. Failing to engage it results in instability and potential injury since the core helps balance and drive the body’s power.

7. Bending the Wrists during Overhead Lifts

Bending the wrists while lifting the kettlebell overhead can lead to wrist strain or injury. You should keep your wrists straight and firm for maximum control and safety.

8. Poor Breathing Technique

Appropriate breathing is fundamental to any form of exercise, including kettlebell workouts. Holding your breath or short, rapid breathing can lead to dizziness and affect your strength and stamina.

9. Lack of Motion Control

Controlling the movement of the kettlebell during lifts and swings is essential for a safe workout. Failure to control the kettlebell’s movement can result in injury due to sudden, jerky movements.

10. Ignoring Fatigue

Ignoring signs of fatigue and pushing through can easily lead to form compromise and potential injuries. It’s essential to listen to your body and rest when needed to prevent unnecessary strain.


How to Avoid These Mistakes

  • Seek guidance from a qualified trainer or use reliable resources.
  • Film yourself and use visual feedback to correct form.
  • Increase awareness with focused practice and proper warm-up.

Tips for Preventing Injuries During Kettlebell Training

  • Build a solid foundation with bodyweight exercises first.
  • Ensure proper form and technique with each movement.
  • Perform mobility and flexibility exercises regularly.
  • Gradually increase weight and intensity based on your progress.

Recap of Key Points

To recap, ensure you’re doing the following when integrating kettlebells into your workouts:

  1. Prioritise proper form and technique.
  2. Choose the right kettlebell for your experience level.
  3. Warm-up to prevent injuries.
  4. Avoid common mistakes and seek guidance when needed.
  5. Be patient and aim for progress, not perfection.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

Exercise brings numerous benefits, but coupled with carelessness, it can lead to unwanted consequences.

When it comes to kettlebell training, safety should never be an afterthought but a primary concern. Having tackled some safety basics and common mistakes, you’re more prepared than you think.

In the wise words of Gray Cook, a renowned physical therapist and fitness trainer, “Don’t add strength to dysfunction.” While kettlebells can be a potent tool to enhance your fitness, misused, they can do more harm than good.

Always prioritise safety over lifting heavier or achieving more repetitions; your body will thank you.

Always speak to a trained professional before trying a new workout, especially with weights like kettlebells. Stay safe, keep swinging, and enjoy your journey to fitness with kettlebells!

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