Introduction | How to start kettlebell training | Tip #1: Try a 6 Week Program | Tip #2: Kettlebell-only day | Tip #3: One exercise at a time | Tip #4: Bring the bell to your home | Principles of kettlebell program design
If you’ve been scratching your head over how to start kettlebell training, scratch no more! In this article, I will share with you four simple tips to integrate kettlebells into your routine.
In addition, you will learn from a leading expert the basic principles of building a kettlebell training programme. These principles provide you with tried-and-tested techniques for tailoring a programme that will suit your fitness needs.
But this is not all about how to start kettlebell training, it’s also about engaging with kettlebells. To help you get started, throughout the tips, you will find lots of links to exercise tutorials, workouts, and even a readymade 6 Week Kettlebell Training Program.
Related: Get started with the Best Competition Kettlebell
How to start kettlebell training?
Honestly, there are more ways to get kettlebells into your routine than there are bells in the known Universe. However, when it comes to embarking on a new form of exercise, first you need to ask yourself a few questions.
After all, you could be given the very best advice on how to start kettlebell training, but if you’re a beginner, currently over-committed, or generally lack commitment, then that advice won’t count for much.
The author of The Russian Kettlebell Challenge succinctly sums up the point after describing the diametric training approaches of two professional powerlifters. ‘It is hard,’ Pavel reminds us, ‘to say what is right for you.’ And the only way to find out what’s right for you is by experimenting with different methods.
Because prescriptive advice on how to start kettlebell training would be useless to a wider audience, I’ve outlined a range of approaches.
How to start kettlebell training tip #1: Try a ready-made program
By far the simplest way to get more vitamin K into your training diet is to stop reading this tip and start implementing this 6 week kettlebell program. The program is fully customisable and can accommodate even the most chaotic lifestyle.
If you’ve only got room in your weekly schedule for a couple of workouts, that’s absolutely fine, just trim the program to suit. Alternatively, if you want to immerse yourself in the kettlebell method, there are two options available.
Option 1: jettison your current regime and implement the program as you find it. Option 2: if you’re emotionally attached to your regime (I know I am mine) and can’t let it go, amalgamate elements of the two.
6 week kettlebell program
Another plus of the 6 week kettlebell training program is that it doesn’t discriminate between abilities, experience, or current fitness levels. New exercisers and advanced trainers (and the myriad stages in between) will find the programme in some way useful.
And because it’s been produced as a PDF, you can print it off and stick it somewhere prominent – such as the fridge door. Making your goal visible, the author of The Power of Habit tells us, is one of the pillars of effective habit formation.
When a goal, objective or aspiration is constantly slapping you in the face, it becomes fiendishly difficult to ignore. Consequently, your conscience will be constantly badgered to take action.
Related: Check out the awesome Benefits of Kettlebell Training
How to start kettlebell training tip #2: Start one day at a time
Have you ever considered habituating a ‘kettlebell-only’ training day? No! Honestly, you should. And let me be the first to say, it’s one of the easiest methods of merging exercise modalities. Here’s how to do it.
Decide on the most appropriate day for spending some quality time with your bell. Monday, Tuesday . . . it matters not, your kettlebell will always be there patiently waiting for your attention.
During this formative stage of your kettlebell education, you should stick to simple exercises – such as swings, squats, and deadlifts – and short workouts. Ten to fifteen minutes for beginners and twenty to thirty minutes for experienced exercisers.
Keep kettlebell workouts short
But why such short workouts? Kettlebells engage the body in ways that gym-based exercises can only fantasize about. Also, kettlebells have a healthy knack for unearthing deep stabiliser muscles that typically slip beneath the radar of conventional forms of training. Thus, even physically fit people will likely suffer chronic DOMS after a twenty-minute kettlebell workout.
Of course, as the weeks pass by, and your body adapts to the demands of kettlebell training, you can begin incrementally increasing the duration and intensity of your sessions. Optimally, you want to aim for two to five 20 to 45-minute weekly workouts.
If Tip #2 isn’t compatible with your current commitments, maybe let’s see if our third and final Tip suits your requirements.
How to start kettlebell training tip #3: A light sprinkling to start with
Assuming that you exercise regularly and that you have a fairly fixed routine, it might well be possible for you to seamlessly slot kettlebell exercise into your current workouts. This could be achieved in a couple of clever ways.
The least intelligent of the two that I’m going to suggest is bolting a ten-minute kettlebell complex onto your workout. Anywhere in the workout will do so long as you get a bit of bell in there. The complex could be comprised of an assortment of kettlebell exercises such as swings, squats, and under-the-leg pass. Alternatively, focus on one exercise at a time.
Kettlebell training ideas
To your complex, you could apply a few different training methods. Repetition ladders (one rep per exercise, followed by two, three, and so on for the stipulated duration), AMRAPs (as many reps as possible), and EMOMs (every minute on the minute) will provide structure to your workout.
The second suggestion is pure stealth. You are to replace one or two of your pre-existing exercises with a kettlebell equivalent or variation. For example, barbell squats can be substituted for kettlebell goblet squats and dumbbell shoulder presses can be replaced with kettlebell jerks.
You can apply the same tactic to a wide range of ‘orthodox’ exercises – see the list below.
How to start kettlebell training tip #4: Bring the bell to your home
If you’re trying to learn a new training system, especially one that is unconventional, it can be difficult to do so in a public forum such as a gym. The number of times I’ve heard someone say that they’d like to try an exercise but didn’t dare due to all those judgemental eyes.
Learning a new technique can be daunting when you’re surrounded by ‘seasoned pros.’ I remember the first time I threw a kick in a Thai boxing gym – in Thailand! I was training in the presence of world-class fighters, and I was chronically self-conscious that they were chastising my every move.
Because many kettlebell exercises are comprised of a series of complex sequences, a lot can go wrong. The first time I performed a swing I was thrown forward two feet and had to ditch my bell. And just the other week I punched myself in the face while jerking (read into that what you will).
Thankfully, both times I was training in my home gym. Thus, my ego suffered only a minor knock. Had those fails happened in a public gym, the dent would’ve been much deeper.
Benefits of home kettlebell training
Such experiences can be off-putting for new trainers. In fact, they can result in the complete cessation of that training method. I know someone who said they’d never again attempt a barbell snatch on account of falling over the first time they tried. Even the thought of such setbacks can dissuade a beginner from having a go.
One easy way to mitigate this potential embarrassment is to bring the bell to your home. There you’ll be able to develop your kettlebell-handling skills without the unwanted pressure of public scrutiny. (Find out what kettlebells you need for you ability and training goals.)
Also, because your kettlebell is now supper-accessible, you’ll be able to squeeze more workouts into your week. After all, what excuse do you have when your bell is in the next room?
Related: Best Competition Kettlebell for the home gym
Best kettlebell program key features
If I’ve done my job right, at this point in the article you should (hopefully) have a few ideas of how to start kettlebell training. We’re now going to turn our attention to methods of application and program design.
This is more for those that permanently want to integrate kettlebells into their routine. To provide you with the best advice on how to achieve this, I have outlined the key principles of Pavel Tsatsouline’s kettlebell challenge program.
The following principles were taken from our Pavel Tsatsouline Workout blog.
Pavel kettlebell program
Aim for 2 to 7 kettlebell workouts per week – the duration of your workouts should range from 20 to 60 minutes. Alternatively, you can implement designated kettlebell training days. For example, snatching on Monday, swinging on Wednesday, and full body strength on Friday.
Perform as many kettlebell exercises as you wish in your workouts but ensure to vary the intensity of your output – train hard on some exercises and easy on others.
Organise your exercises in a circuit and cycle through them for the session duration. Here’s an example of a Kettlebell Circuit.
When organising your circuit, it’s good practice to interlace challenging exercises with simpler ones. For example, after snatching you could go into deadlifting.
The set and rep range that you apply is down to your discretion. However, for those new to kettlebell training, Pavel does offer some guidance here. He states that ‘anywhere from three to as many as twenty sets per exercise is acceptable.’
Due to the inherent danger of kettlebell training (Pavel warns us, not without a sense of pleasure, that ‘most kettlebell exercises can be dangerous and even fatal’), we should never go to failure. Vary the intensity of your lifting yes. But DO NOT try to push beyond your physical limits.
As a rule, always perform more than 5 reps per set. Kettlebell competitions are essentially AMRAPs (as many reps as possible). Standing in front of an electronic rep counter, gireviks – kettlebell lifters – strive to amass as many reps as possible before the timer runs out. We should endeavour to emulate this competitional requirement in our training.
The classic Girevoy Sports competition exercises – snatches, cleans, jerks, and the fabled long cycle – can be performed in any number of repetitions, from one to hundreds.
Ensure to vary the speed of the movement. Unlike conventional resistance training, which typically involves slow, controlled lifts, there is a pacing structure in kettlebell training. Rather like a cyclist, who may vary the pace of her performance during a 16k time trial, determined by cadence or speed, a girevik also practices pushing the tempo during a 10-minute AMRAP, determined by reps per minute.
Related: But is Kettlebell Training Enough? Get answers . . .
Tip #2: Set aside one weekly workout for kettlebell training. As you develop your kettlebell handling skills and build up the requisite strength to control them with confidence, begin the process of expanding the duration of your kettlebell contact time.
Tip #3: Incorporate one or two simple exercises into your general routine. The kettlebell swing (an exercise that Tsatsouline identifies as a ‘foundation exercise’ that’s perfect for ‘finding your way around the K-Bell’) and goblet squat are prudent choices. Both build whole-body strength but are technically straightforward.
Tip #4: Bring the kettlebell to your home, this way you’ll be able to master the fundamentals in a zero-pressure environment.
Need more training ideas?
Get over 80 exercise plans in the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits & Workouts Volume 3.