Kettlebell Exercises

By Coach Izzy

If we were given the task to list all available kettlebell exercises we could spend years, if not decades, compiling all existing and continuously growing variations. This is possible thanks to the shape of kettlebell, lending itself to many different experiences and motor recruitment patterns by doing something as simple as changing where we choose to grip the bell.

There are those who stick mainly to basic kettlebell exercises and argue you need nothing more.  They have built tremendous power and strength on basics alone and there is no denying their results.  There also those who design variations of the fundamentals for specific purposes and argue the application should match the needs. They too have built great strength and power and their results back up their arguments. And then there are those who have taken it up a notch and would get bored with anything not involving heavy kettlebell juggling or noteworthy tricks.  They have also built great results in the form of strength, power, and tremendous stamina.  There is no doubt that if variation is what you are looking for you will find it with kettlebell exercises.

For all the arguments out there, there is one common point of agreement.  You will not get anywhere with kettlebell exercises if you do not master the foundations. Should you choose to stick only to basics, mastery is what will keep you safe and you can even change the tempo and size of the bell for seemingly minor but significant changes.  For those who decide to increase their repertoire, mastery of the basics will ensure a safe and smooth acquisition of new kettlebell skills.  It is fairly common to find kettlebell aficionados who fail to learn new moves simply because their understanding of the fundamentals is deficient.

How can a lifter learn to clean or snatch the kettlebell properly when the swing is lacking? The swing is not appreciated as the cornerstone of skill and how we teach our bodies to move as one to maneuver the kettlebell with smoothness and safety.  The lifter with poor understanding of the swing will have bruises and achy joints to show for the effort invested and he or she can forget about juggling bells.  That’s just a disaster waiting to happen!

The lifter who cannot rack the bell properly can forget about pressing heavy weights with safety.  As long as that skill is lacking, the kettlebell will follow an inefficient path and instead of strengthening the shoulder and upper limb, will end up putting undue strain to the upper limb, shoulder, and spine.  The lifter who cannot rack or press the kettlebell properly will have a hard time getting into the relaxed state needed for proper execution of the push press or the more technical push jerk.

The intention may be there but the lack of skill will make the timing of the transition from relaxation to tension very difficult and the lifter will never be comfortable with the kettlebell overhead.  The lifter who has not developed the timing for the jerk will not be able to develop the timing for the snatch.  Moving the bell from the power position to the overhead position in one smooth motion requires mastery of the swing, comfort with bell overhead, and precise timing.

The same principles apply for the more complex strength lifts like the Russian military press, the windmill, and the Turkish get up.  The lifter who cannot rack or put the bell overhead properly will be limited in the range of motion and strength development possible with these exercises and will see tremendous frustration and injury if attempting the more technical side presses, bent presses, and the two-hands-anyhow. Even something as simple as the kettlebell front squat becomes a chore for those who cannot rack the bell properly.

As the popularity of the kettlebell keeps increasing, the distinction between those who master the basics and those who scoff them in the hasty search of flashy moves will be more evident.  There will be those who move the kettlebells in complex patterns with such mastery, they unwillingly mask the time and effort invested in the fundamentals, making it look easy.  And there will be those with such poor grasp of kettlebells, the mere sight of them holding a bell will be enough to make people clench their teeth in anxiety and turn their sight away in disgust or fear.

Whether you choose to stick to fundamentals, or venture on variations, or go as far as juggling bells is irrelevant.  What is important is to understand that progress in all those forms of training depends not on the size of the bell or frequency of training but rather, in the mastery of the fundamental lifts.  Be patient, aim for mastery, improvement, and have fun while at it.

See you on the exercise floor

About The Author


Coach Izzy has been part of the Strength and Conditioning field for over 25 years. He speaks of the advantages of self-sufficiency and the drawbacks of relying on the liner approaches the health world seems fond of.