Kettlebells have become increasingly popular in the fitness world, and for good reason. They are an incredible tool to build strength, conditioning, unilateral coordination, endurance, and mobility. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of misinformation on the internet about kettlebell training. People throw a kettlebell around for a few weeks and call themselves experts, when in fact it takes much more than a little practice or even a certification to truly be an expert on kettlebell training. As someone who has spent many years lifting kettlebells, is a World Champion in the sport, and is certified under multiple different organizations, I consider myself well-versed in the world of kettle. I want to help clear up some of the misconceptions I see and hear that might prevent some people from experiencing the joy of lifting kettlebells!
Myth #1: Kettlebell lifting is inherently dangerous and especially bad for your back.
Like any other type of weightlifting, there is always a risk of hurting your back, or injuring any other part of your body, especially if you use improper form or if you progress in weight too quickly. There is no evidence to suggest that kettlebells are more dangerous than any other tool or that injuries are higher with kettlebell training than any other type of training modality. When used correctly, kettlebells actually strengthen your back like crazy. For more on this topic specifically with regards to Kettlebell Sport, check out this article.
Myth #2: There is only one correct way to lift kettlebells.
There are many people out there who will tell you there is only one way to lift kettlebells correctly, and all other ways are dangerous / stupid / ineffective. The truth is, the people who are so dogmatic about style are either selling something, brainwashed by an organization, or they take themselves way too seriously. People ge confused by seeing hardstyle, Kettlebell Sport, or some hybrid of the two and want to know which style is “correct”. Movement can take so many different forms, and I’m of the camp that believes there is no “wrong” way to move, so long as you have progressively prepared your body for the way you move. The kettlebell is a tool, and a tool can be used many different ways for many different purposes. Use the style of lifting that aligns with your goals and how you like to move – it’s that simple. Oh, and if you’re going to claim to be a kettlebell expert, please make sure you know about all the ways to use the tool, not just one… and always be open to learning new ways to use it!
Myth #3: You can’t get strong and/or big by lifting kettlebells.
Building strength and size can be done in many different ways, and also depends on numerous factors (genetics, diet, training program, body type, to name a few). With kettlebell weights going up to 203 lbs, there is absolutely no reason why a person would not gain strength and/or size from working with kettlebells. Can you bottoms up press double 88 lb kettlebells over your head? If not, you have a ways to go before you max out your strength potential with kettlebells. For most people, building size has more to do with volume trained and caloric intake than the amount of weight you train with. Go look at pictures of gymnasts who train solely bodyweight and tell me I’m wrong!
Myth #4: Learning to lift kettlebells is super easy.
Some people would like you to believe that learning to lift kettlebells is easy. While I appreciate their effort to try to lower the barrier to entry, I disagree with giving people false expectations. Yes, there are some easy kettlebell exercises. When it comes to the ballistic lifts, however, learning to use kettlebells is a skill that takes time to develop. Most people I teach get frustrated when they can’t pick up the kettlebell swing within the first 10 repetitions, when in fact it can take months or even years to truly master the swing. This is not to discourage anyone from learning kettlebells; simply to readjust expectations. Skills take time, and you will build plenty of strength, coordination, and mental focus in the process. Any skill worth having is worth working for. People need to stop searching for the magic pill that produces an end result… all the magic is in the process.
Myth #5: Kettlebell training is for everyone.
Kettlebell training is NOT for everyone. As I relayed in myth #4, learning kettlebells is a skill that you must have the patience for. If you just want to sweat and get a workout in (which is fine), do something else that is easier from a technical standpoint. Kettlebells are for people who enjoy the technical aspect of lifting; people who want to spend focused time honing their technique with light weight, not just crushing a workout. As far as the ballistic kettlebell lifts go, they are not for beginners or people of any fitness level. You should master the simpler, less complex movements first. Without a strong base level of squat and deadlift strength, you have no business jumping into movements like heavy swings or double snatches.
Myth #6: You should swing kettlebells over your head because that’s what they do in CrossFit.
Unless you are a CrossFit athlete / competitor, there’s no reason to do the “American swing.” You can get all the benefits of the American swing WITHOUT the potential back and shoulder injury risk by doing a swing to chest level. If you are going to do the American swing, try not to shove your head through and let the bell pull back on your shoulders; push the kettlebell UP at the top instead of back.
Myth #7: You can learn everything you need to know about kettlebell lifting from YouTube videos.
While the internet provides lots of great information and inspiration, I wouldn’t recommend learning kettlebell lifting solely by watching videos. First of all, anyone and their mom can post a video on the internet – it doesn’t mean they are qualified to instruct you. Secondly, more often than not, what we think we are doing and what we are actually doing are two very different things. As I discussed before, kettlebell lifting is highly technical and takes a long time to master. Why not shorten the process and reduce your risk of injury by working with a qualified professional? There are some things you just won’t learn without having someone coach you in person.
Myth #8: Anyone who is kettlebell certified knows how to use kettlebells well.
Unfortunately, there are many fitness professionals out there who use kettlebells with their clients when they are not actually qualified to do so. Having a certification does not a kettlebell expert make! Any coach worth their salt has done a ton of kettlebell lifting themselves. If they can’t back up their kettlebell certification with good technique under heavy weight, I wouldn’t trust the “credential”.
Myth #9: Kettlebells will magically give you incredible core strength.
While kettlebell training does increase your core strength, you should have a base level of core strength and stability before picking up a kettlebell (or any weighted implement for that matter). If you can’t control and feel core engagement while lying on the floor doing a basic core exercise, there’s a very low chance you’ll be able to get the core engagement you need to safely swing a kettlebell. Master your bodyweight before loading up the weight on any exercise. Once you do have the ability to contract your core during a ballistic movement, you can definitely increase the strength of your abdominal and back muscles with kettlebell training. Of course, there’s no “magic” to it, just proper technique and progression and a lot of hard work.
Myth #10: Kettlebells are too technical and difficult to learn; you should do CrossFit instead.
This myth might seem contrary to #4, so let me explain. While kettlebells are technical and hard to learn, that’s part of the reason why so many people get hooked on lifting them! You are more likely to stick to something, fitness routines especially, that you invest in and that give you goals to work towards. If kettlebell lifting was easy, what would be special about getting good at it? Everybody would be able to do it, and the end result – of learning the skill and your body’s physical changes – wouldn’t taste as sweet. Plus, when compared to learning the barbell Olympic lifts needed to safely do CrossFit, kettlebells are more accessible for the average person. Kettlebells allow for a much wider range in flexibility than barbells do, and the weight is much lighter, which makes them a safer, more realistic option for almost everyone.