Not long ago I was asked by a colleague what (in my opinion) is the biggest mistake people make with kettlebell training? I suspect a lot of people would guess that my answer would be something involving technique – they make such and such technical mistake on their swings, or their get ups, or their snatches, etc. So, it may surprise you that my answer had little to do with that. I think the biggest mistake people make with their kettlebell training is not going heavy enough – aka using too light of weights relative to their ability.
Most people get the majority of their exposure to kettlebell training from Instagram and YouTube. Naturally, people who run accounts on those platforms have a tendency to create content that they think will get a lot of views and interaction. This typically leads to them trying to create kettlebell posts that look cool and draw the eye, with the unfortunate dichotomy that the posts also usually lack substance, and rarely resemble what the content creator ACTUALLY DOES to for their own workouts. In a word, they lack authenticity.
In spite of this, the impression most people get is that kettlebell training is all about fancy flows, since that is what they are predominantly exposed to. Keep in mind that these fancy flows require light weights due to their complexity and typically awkward positioning. While these flows might be fun (remember, there is nothing wrong with doing a workout because it is fun), they leave a lot to be desired for those who have goals of building legitimate strength & endurance, as well as improving their physique.
To me this is akin to martial arts practitioners seeing fancy, cool moves and spending their time trying those flashy moves rather than working to master the fundamentals. Any seasoned martial artist will tell you that to make REAL progress you have to diligently practice the fundamentals, and you can’t let yourself get bored with them, nor can you let yourself get distracted by “shiny objects” that pull you away from the priorities you should be working on.
So, now that we know what the biggest mistakes are, let’s wrap up with some items to work on / work towards with your training. To start, if you are serious about using kettlebells to get stronger, build endurance, and improve your body then you need a minimum of two dedicated training sessions each week. Within those sessions, focus on simple, time-tested exercises such as swings, get ups, military presses, and snatches. Finally, with those exercises you need to use heavy enough weights that are legitimately challenging for you – and as you get stronger you need to “graduate” to heavier weights.
So, how heavy should you go? There are countless variables in that question, but in the spirit of being concise I’ll try to cut right to some useable information. Typically the kettlebell exercise that allows the heaviest weight to be used is the 2-handed swing. If you are around my size (about 190 pounds) then you should work towards using AT LEAST 32kg / 70 lbs for that exercise, and eventually swinging it with just one hand. If you are closer to Mira’s size (about 130 pounds) then you should work towards using AT LEAST 24kg / 53 lbs for your 2-handed swings, and again eventually work towards swinging it with just one hand. Needless to say, there is no rule saying you need to START AT THOSE WEIGHTS. If you are brand new to kettlebells that would be a poor decision – so go ahead and start lighter than that, and progress towards those numbers as you gain strength. Once you start training with weights in that range on a regular basis, you will then build some serious strength and see all the right kind of changes in your body.
– Tony Gracia