Knowing when to increase or decrease your kettlebell weight can mean the difference between success, making very slow progress or dare I say it, injury.
In order to make progress with any type of exercise program you need 2 things: consistency and progression.
Consistency can be a challenge for many people which is why I’m a firm believer in building exercises habits.
You don’t always need to be doing the best exercises or pushing yourself, just showing up and doing something is a positive step towards making progress.
Progression in its simplest terms just means challenging your body so it is forced to make adaptations eg. adding muscle, boosting mitochondria, burning fat etc.
There are 4 ways you can add progression to any kettlebell workout routine:
- Increase the duration or repetitions of an exercise
- Reduce the rest periods between exercises
- Increase the load (add more weight)
- Use a more challenging exercise or variation of an exercise
Lets take a look at each of these progression options and see how they can be implemented into your kettlebell training program.
Increase the Duration or Repetitions of an Exercise
This is a very simple way to progress any exercise program. Each time you exercise just add a few more repetitions to your exercise.
- Monday: Kettlebell Swings x 10
- Tuesday: Kettlebell Swings x 11
- Thursday: Kettlebell Swings x 13
- Friday: Kettlebell Swings x 14
Here’s an image of the Kettlebell Two Handed Swing Form:
You could also change the duration rather than the repetitions to achieve the same results.
- Monday: Kettlebell Swings x 20 secs
- Tuesday: Kettlebell Swings x 25 secs
- Thursday: Kettlebell Swings x 30 secs
- Friday: Kettlebell Swings x 35 secs
It is important to note here that progression will vary from exercise to exercise and also depend on your starting weight.
So if you start with a weight that is very manageable you will progress quicker or be able to make larger leaps between each day than if you start with a weight that is right up against your limits.
Everyone is different and depending on: age, diet, sleep, genetics, experience etc. will determine at what rate you can progress.
However, I would recommend that everyone err on the side of caution and progress slowely rather than too quickly.
One of the most common causes of injury is being too enthusiastic and progressing too quickly.
Injury will slow down your progress more than progressing slowly.
I also recommend adding progression goals into your workouts to help improve focus and motivation.
So using the kettlebell swing as an example you could set a goal of 60 seconds non-stop or maybe 100 swings with small rests in-between.
Reduce the Rest Periods between Exercises
Adding rest periods between kettlebell exercises allows you to add more volume to an exercise without jeopardising technique.
- Kettlebell Swings – 100 non stop
- Kettlebell Swings – 25 then rest x 4
The amount of rest you take between exercises will depend on your goals.
If your goals are more strength based then you would allow longer between exercises whereas for cardio gains you would allow less, perhaps only 10-30 seconds.
So a strength based workout may look like this:
- Double Clean and Press x 8
- Rest 90 seconds
- Repeat for 3 – 5 sets
And here’s a cardio based workout:
- Kettlebell Swings x 25
- Rest 30 seconds
- Repeat a total of 4 times
You can then progress either of these workouts by decreasing the rest periods, say down to 80 seconds or 20 seconds respectively.
The swing progression may look like this:
- Monday: Kettlebell Swings x 25 reps (4 sets with 30 seconds rest between exercises)
- Tuesday: Kettlebell Swings x 25 reps (2 sets with 20 seconds rest, 2 with 30 seconds)
- Thursday: Kettlebell Swings x 25 reps (4 sets with 20 seconds rest)
- Friday: Kettlebell Swings x 25 reps (2 sets with 15 seconds rest, 2 with 20 seconds)
You just have to be a little careful with reducing rest periods for more strength based workouts because you do need to allow longer for muscle recovery in between sets otherwise it becomes more of a strength/endurance based workout.
As with all exercise programming understanding your goals from the start is very important.
Increase the Load (add more weight)
Adding more load to an exercise by increasing the weight of the kettlebell is a simple way to add progression to your workout program.
However, caution must be taken, adding too much too soon can be a quick way to get injured.
Using the two methods above of increasing repetitions/duration or reducing rest periods should be done first before adding more load.
I like to give the body good exposure to a lighter load before adding more.
For example with the kettlebell swing I like to see a full 60 seconds of non stop two handed swings before increasing the kettlebell weight.
Here are the goals I set for my clients before moving up a weight:
- Men 12kg (25lbs) – Two Handed Swing x 60 seconds non stop
- Women 8kg (18lbs) – Two Handed Swing x 60 seconds non stop
Once these goals are met Men will increase to a 16kg (35lbs) and Women to a 12kg (25lbs) for the Two Handed Swing.
Strength can be very movement specific so just because the weight has been increased for the two handed swing does not mean it will be increased across the board for all other exercises.
For example, I like to see 5 or more non stop Turkish Get Ups on each side before increasing the kettlebell load for Get Ups.
Here’s an image tutorial of the Kettlebell Turkish Get Up:
Use a more Challenging Exercise or Variation
Let’s say you only have a 16kg (35lbs) kettlebell and you work your way up to 60 seconds of non stop two handed swings.
Buy a heavier kettlebell and repeat the process?
Training like this can be an expensive way to progress.
A better alternative is to challenge your body in a slightly different way with a more challenging exercise.
Here’s what an exercise progression of the swing looks like:
Here’s an image of the Kettlebell High Pull:
So once you can complete the Two Handed Swing for 60 seconds non stop you move onto the One Handed Swing and work up to 60 seconds non stop on each side.
Once you have managed that you progress to 60 seconds of High Pulls on each side.
Finally you work up to 60 seconds of Snatches on each side.
At this point you may consider mixing in other exercises or treat yourself to a heavier kettlebell and start the process over again.
A Combination for the Perfect Solution
When I get asked “when is the best time to increase the kettlebell weight” I need to know a little more about what has gone before.
Based on the progression options laid out above adding more weight is often the more risky solution.
Progressing slowly and logically by increasing the repetitions/duration and then reducing rest periods is a safer place to start.
Once you have provided adequate exposure to the kettlebell weight and expired all other training options then adding more weight is the next logical step.
For example the kettlebell swing progression would look like this:
- Two Handed Kettlebell Swing – 60 secs (work up to this slowly by adding more reps each workout and reducing rest periods)
- One Handed Swing – 60 secs each side (as above work up to this slowly)
- Increase the weight and start the process again
I outline exactly how to progress the kettlebell swing daily in my 21 Day Kettlebell Swing program demonstrating how you can reach valuable milestone and mix up exercises, rest periods and repetitions.
Got a question about kettlebell progressions let me know below: