Craig Fingrutd: RKC, AKC, MKC
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Izzy Barish: AKC

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Guidelines and Safety

There cannot be enough said on safety when using the kettlebell.  Your environment is the first thing to look at when it comes to safety.   If you lose the kettlebell while training, you had better hope you do not have anything breakable or anyone near you.  The kettlebell is made of cast iron.  Even the smallest of the bells can cause damage.   Make sure there is enough space between you and any training partners at all times.    

Workout on a flat surface and not on a surface that has an incline, is bumpy or broken.  Working outside on the dirt, grass or sand are all excellent places to train as long as the surface is flat. 

In addition to the surface being flat, do not stand on a surface that is too slippery or sticky.  You do not want to slip off your feet when holding or flipping a kettlebell.   In the same regard, if the surface is too sticky you could have problems with any technique where you need move your feet or drop your body to the floor.

Wherever you decide to train make sure you do not have the sun in your eyes either from direct sunlight or from sun glare off windows or mirrors.  The same goes for other lighting.  You do not want a bright light in your eyes when working out.    

Your footwear should have flat bottoms or go with bare feet.  Do not wear anything with a heel where the bottom of your foot will lose contact with the ground.  Do not wear any over engineered sneakers either.  They might feel and look good, but they can throw off your body alignment as well as lose contact with the ground.

In most cases you will develop callus on your palms.  If you do you need to take care of your hands.  If the callus gets too big you will be in danger of tearing the callus and that will set you back in your training.  You need to take off the extra skin and reduce the size of the callus.  There are many ways to deal with this.  Some like to use pumas soap or other rough soap to smooth them out.  A nail file will work as well.  If you come out of the shower or tub, rub one hand against the other very quickly and this will easily remove the extra skin since the skin is so soft.  There are also creams available that can help you take care of your hands.  If you do tear open a callus you can wrap it up but it will still hurt if you continue to train until it is fully healed.  One way to help heal your tear is to urinate on your hand.  Believe it or not it will make the skin hard after 2 days.  Dousing your yellow fluid over your open callus will sting a little, just suck it up, you can take the pain.  You might be making a face right about now or laughing but I have personally done this on recommendations by Steve Maxwell.  The tear was deep and long at the base of the forth finger.  The hand fully healed in less then five days.  I was amazed, you will be too.

Do not round your lower back when picking the kettlebell up or when putting it down.  It is easy to hurt your back by simply picking up a piece of paper off of the floor let alone a kettlebell.  If you injure your back you will be losing training time with the kettlebell and in whatever other disciplines you study.  Training with good form will transfer directly into everything you do, including picking up anything you drop on the floor. 

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A rounded Back (poor form)
  An arched back ( good form)  

Keep your shoulders packed when performing most of the techniques with the kettlebell.   This protects the shoulders and puts the brunt of the work on the scapula and the lats.  Packing the shoulder is when you have the shoulder pulled back and down.  This will naturally make your chest expand out and your stomach retract.  You should feel a continuing pulling back in your scapula and lat when doing an overhead or front press.  Do not over extend your shoulder in the front plain when moving your arms over your chest.  This could be doing floor presses, bench presses, pushups, etc.  Also do not extend the shoulders out of your packed position when pressing the kettlebell overhead.  Overextending your shoulders is dangerous and you are opening yourself up to injury if you do not pack your shoulders.  This is why many people that workout have shoulder injuries.  They overextended their shoulder, making the shoulder vulnerable to being hurt.  Most people have no clue what it means to pack your shoulders.  You can also see this in the way many people stand or sit, they round their shoulders forward.  Your scapula is what carries your shoulders.  When your shoulders are rounded forward, this will throw out the proper alignment of your upper thoracic, shoulders, neck and head.  This will result in poor posture were the spine is out of proper alignment.  Again, good form will lead to good posture.

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Packed Shoulders (Good)
  Hunched Shoulders (poor)  
  a   a  
  Shoulders are packed down and back (good)   Shoulders are rounded forward (poor)  
         

Keep your wrists straight, do not bend them.  There are a handful of techniques were you do bend your wrist but for the majority of the techniques this is not the case.  Your wrist should be straight and not bent at any point of the technique.  Do not try and catch the kettlebell if you lose it during an exercise.  Instead of trying to catch or stop the bell, get out of its way and let it fall, or guide it down to the ground.  The worse that can happen is you damage the floor or the kettlebell itself.  An injury can occur if you try to catch the bell and you are not in good body position.  We have dropped the kettlebell thousands of times.  Not once has a kettlebell ever been damaged, although a cement floor has been chipped.  We have never dropped the bell on our toes or feet and we always workout bare foot.

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Wrist straight (Good)
 
Wrist bent (Poor)
 

 

Keep the neck neutral aligned, not too far forward or backward. There is a tendency to not move the head with the trunk of the body but instead keep the head up and facing forward. This typically happens when dead lifting the kettlebell off the floor or at the bottom of a swing. Instead of looking forward, do not move your head at all. Keep the head in line with the body. At the bottom of a swing you will be looking down at the corner of the floor ahead of you. Also be careful not to dip your head down when looking down, this will pitch your head to far forward and cause neck strain.

Do not try and catch the kettlebell if you lose it during an exercise. Instead of trying to catch or stop the kettlebell, get out of its way and let it fall, or guide it down to the ground. The worse that can happen is you damage the floor or the kettlebell itself. An injury can occur if you try to catch the kettlebell and you are not in good body position. We have dropped the kettlebell hundreds of time and not once has a kettlebell ever been damaged. Although a cement floor has been chipped. We have never dropped the bell on our toes or feet and we always work out bare foot. This is a concern of many beginners new to the kettlebell. You will move before the kettlebell hits you, or at least we hope you do.

Do not stop moving when you finish an exercise especially if you are sucking wind or your heart is beating hard.  If you stop moving your blood pressure will spike and that can be deadly.  Instead of standing still or sitting down, keep your body moving.  Walk around the room or walk in place until your breath and heart rate return to normal.

Do not go to failure.  Many people that lift weights or train in other disciplines believe in going to failure.  We strongly suggest against this.   There is no need to go to failure when training with the kettlebell.  Think about this.  You are performing a 2 hand over head press.  You start to fail.  The weight of the bells can come crashing down on you, or you might drop the weight with your hands gripped in the handle and end up hurting your back.  It is not worth it.  Trust us.  You will be able to build up your conditioning, strength and endurance without putting yourself in a possibly dangerous situation.

Do not engage in other strenuous activities before you train with the kettlebell.  It is ok if you want to perform another discipline such as a martial art after training with the kettlebell but not the other way around.  There are several reasons for this.  Kettlebell training can be extremely core in nature as well as aerobic and anaerobic depending on the techniques being performed.  Done properly, several few minutes of swings will wipe out most people.  If you are already spent from another activity you will not be able to apply the correct amount of tension in the body.  You will probably also lose your focus and concentration.  This can lead to injury as well as bad form.  Proper form and technique are paramount to working with the kettlebell.  It is not worth your time to train if you can not do it correctly. 

Keep your concentration and focus throughout your technique.  This includes all phases of your exercise, the beginning, middle and end.  If you become distracted by something you could lose your focus and concentration.  There are a host of possibilities that can happen but the bottom line is you can get injured.  Staying focused 100% of the time throughout the exercise will lead to perfection of the technique.  Without it, your form will never be what it could be.   

Always use good form when handling the kettlebell.  This should be followed at the beginning, middle and end of a technique.  Do not pick up the kettlebell without good form, no matter what the size of the kettlebell.  At the end of an exercise do not drop the kettlebell to the ground.  Put the kettlebell down with control and good body form. 

The size and weight of the kettlebell is not that important.  What is important is using the correct form, emphasis and focus of the body as well as expression of the technique.  If you can not perform the techniques with a light kettlebell with solid form, then why try a heavier bell?  Your form will not improve and you are at risk of injuring yourself.  This is not traditional weight lifting.  You need to move away from the mentality that the more weight you can more, the stronger you are.  There is a time when you will want to use heavier kettlebell's.  This should be after the form of whatever you are performing is correct and after you can handle the current weight you are using.  We train with heavier kettlebell's but not all the time.  A beginner will ask what weight should they use.  An adult male should would workout with 16kg (35lbs) or possibly 20kg (53lbs) size kettlebell.  A woman would start with an 8kg (13lbs) or 12kg (26lbs).  This is just a guide to use for a beginner.  Change the weights accordingly depending on your overall strength.  Again, keep in mind the size of the kettlebell is not as important as perfection of the form.

Try and find a qualified certified kettlebell instructor in your area.  This is one of the best ways to continue to learn and improve your technique.  There are different schools of thought, different certifications and different ways to train.  Check out a class, talk to the students then meet with the instructor and discuss their qualifications.  We are also here to help, so drop us a line and we will see if we can be of any assistance. 

It is impossible to cover ever situation when it comes to safety.  You need to rely on your own common sense.  If you use good judgment all the time and you will always be safe.  Take care and be safe.