In my nearly 1.5 decades of mastering and coaching just about every major fitness discipline, I haven’t encountered a safer overall strength and conditioning tool. After years of coaching Powerlifting, Boxing, Bootcamp, Crossfit, Sprinting and Gymnastics, I chose to make kettlebells my ultimate specialty, because I see the results they bring and the joy and versatility they offer. I choose kettlebells every day because I continue to experience that for most people they are the best path to fitness.
In saying that, every tool (and I mean, EVERY tool, think barbell, trx, dumbbels, bodyweight etc) is only as good and as safe as its master’s skill, mindfulness, and quality of coaching.
My goal is to enable more people to safely and effectively use kettlebells, to build unshakable fitness habits and create unbreakable motivation deep into old age. So here are some safety rules that we live by at the Academy. They are not complicated, are mainly based on basic common sense, will help you make the most of your kettlebell training and prevent injury to yourself and others.
1) Keep your spine safe. Learn to use correct muscles when lifting and brace your core on every rep. There is a reason why KBA members are used to randomly getting karate chopped in the stomach in the middle of a swing or a snatch – the essential habit of bracing your midsection when moving under load will save your spine in training and in life.
Prevent hyperflexing or hyperextending your lower back. Lumber spine is not designed for independent flexion or extension under load. That’s why we get lower back pain so easily – the muscles of the lower back are not meant to move it, only to maintain it in a neutral position. Learn to keep your lower back neutral and build a habit of using other muscles (glutes, hamstrings, quads, mid/upper back) to accomplish the movement.
2) After protecting your spine, the next big item is keeping your shoulders safe. Engaging your lats, and packing the shoulders down into their sockets will serve you not only in higher power output and great posture but in healthy shoulders for life.
3) Always use progression. Know it or refer to a professional who does. Master one level before moving up to the next and regress when you must (e.g. to re-learn a skill). I recently had to do that with a Girevoy style One Arm Long Cycle. It made me a better lifter and prevented injury down the line. Life is LONG, humility is a virtue and patience is a skill.
4) Don’t train to failure. Or at least know why you do it if you decide to do it. From a fitness, strength, longevity, health, skill and efficiency perspective training to failure, espcially past the point of good technique, is pointless, dangerous and counter-productive. The main reason to do it is ego satisfaction and instant gratification. Go into it with your eyes wide open.
5) Just because it feels hard, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because it feels easy doesn’t mean it’s right. Your body only knows the movement habits that you have been repeating for years, is doesn’t recognise whether they are efficient or inefficient, safe or unsafe. New movement will always feel awkward. Persevere and use a coach.
6) The body hangs on to established habits, whether efficient or inefficient ones. It takes approx 300 repetitions to embed a movement habit. It takes approx 10,000 repetitions to un-learn it and establish a new one. Have patience. And try to learn it right the first time.
7) Do not train through joint pain. In addition to aggravating it, your body will be learning a faulty habit by subtly altering your movement pattern to protect the joint. Refer to Rule #6.
8) Maintain the skin of your hands. Your hands are the part of the body that comes into contact with the bells every time you train. Practice correct technique, pumice down any protruding calluses and use coconut oil or cream to help skin regenerate. Calluses are functional as long as they are well-maintained.
9) Learn to train in flat-soled minimalist shoes or barefoot. Running shoes with an elevated heel, shoes with cushioned or overly rigid sole do not provide biofeedback to lower legs, reduce the flexibility of the soles and toes, impair stability and can cause injuries due to incorrect alignment. Learning to train without shoes when your feet are weak is in itself a progression. Consult with your trainer if you are having trouble adjusting.
10) Have at least 1 meter of space around you in every direction when you’re training. No furniture, other people, animals or children are to be in your space while you’re holding a bell. Exception: a coach or a spotter during a TGU.
11) Pick the kettlebell up and put it down like a professional. In every set. No exceptions. No matter how tired you are, your first rep is the pick up and your last rep is the safe return of the kettlebell to the ground. Make this a firm habit. It is called integrity. If you are too fatigued to exercise integrity, see rule #4.
12) If a rep has gone wrong, instead of trying to save it by breaking form, you may drop or safely guide the kettlebell to the ground. See rule #10 for the safety of others. Try to minimize such reps, unless you are practicing juggling. See rule #13. If you have reps going wrong on a regular basis, revisit your progression, see rule #3.
13) For kettlebell juggling (which is an advanced skill that you might want to learn after mastering all the fundamentals) you will be dropping the bell a lot and that’s okay. Practice in the sand or on grass, where the kettlebell won’t roll away when dropped.
14) Dry your hands when they get sweaty and/or use chalk.
15) If you have ripped the skin on your hands, wear bandages while touching the kettlebells, both for your own safety, but also that of others who use those bells.
16) Listen to your coach or trainer at all times