December 16th, 2014

Health N' Sports: Training safely with kettlebells

Staff Report

Health N' Sports: Training safely with kettlebells
photo provided by Norton Sports Health kettlebells

If you haven’t started training with those strange-looking iron balls with handles, you probably will be soon. Kettlebells are becoming increasingly popular because they are effective, easy to use and can improve just about everyone’s fitness level. Learn more from the experts from the Norton Sports Health.

They offer a strengthening and a cardiovascular workout all in one. Kettlebells work on the principle of motion. Hoisting a 10- to 25-pound piece of iron and swinging it around your body provides a wholebody workout as opposed to working only certain muscle groups. At the same time, kettlebells help increase balance, stability and flexibility.

Sounds like a perfect workout, right? Well, almost. If you don’t perform kettlebell moves correctly, youcan seriously injure your back, elbows, shoulders or other joints. If you’re just starting out, Sam Carter, M.D., orthopaedic and sports medicine specialist with Norton Sports Health, recommends no more than a15-pound kettlebell for women and no more than 25 pounds for men until you have developed the technique.

Most kettlebell exercises use only one kettlebell at a time. As you advance and become stronger, add repetitions and shorten recovery time between sets. Only when that becomes easier should you increase the weight of your kettlebell or move on to more challenging two-bell exercises. If you’re a pro at pumping iron and think you’re ready to swing the bell, you should know that a kettlebell workout is very different from a traditional dumbbell workout. Dr. Carter says dumbbell workouts focus on fewer repetitions but more weight. Kettlebells typically involve more repetitions that are done faster and performed longer — usually a minute or longer per set.

Dr. Carter advises to work with a trainer or someone who has been using kettlebells successfully for some time. Good technique is imperative to getting the most out of your workout and, more important, not injuring yourself.

Since most kettlebell exercises involve swinging, the key is momentum. This puts your back at risk for injury if not performed properly. In order to keep your back safe, your movement must come from your hips. This means standing with your rear pushed out slightly so that your hips can become a hinge.

For example, in a two-handed kettlebell swing, you will stand with your legs apart and swing the kettlebell up in line with your shoulders and down through your legs, hinging at your hips with your back remaining straight. Without this proper stance, you will strain your back muscles. The shoulders and elbows can also become injured from improper form. Your elbows should be kept straight during swinging exercises. Shoulders need to stay loose and mobile.

Remember, movement should come from the momentum gained through swinging the kettlebell and not through pumping action of your arms or legs. Your core should remain tight during all kettlebell exercises. This will also keep you in good form. When kettlebell exercises are performed with proper form, they are safe for just about everyone and a good change-up to an exercise routine. If you don’t know the proper form, find someone who does before you get started. And then start swinging those bells!

Basic kettlebell exercises

Two-handed swing: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold the kettlebell in front of you with both hands. Use your hips to propel the kettlebell into the air until your arms are parallel to the ground. Let gravity bring the weight down, swinging the kettlebell between your legs until it is under your rear end. Swing the bell forward and up until your arms are again parallel to the ground. Start with three sets of 10 repetitions.

One-legged deadlift: Hold a kettlebell in your right hand. Bending forward at the hip, lower the kettlebell towards the floor while lifting your left leg behind you for balance. Your back should remain straight during this exercise so that it is parallel to the floor when the kettlebell reaches the ground. Return to an upright position. Start with three sets of 10 repetitions on each side.

Squat: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the kettlebell in front of you with both hands. Bend the knees and, keeping the torso upright and the back straight, lower into a squat position, taking the kettlebell toward the floor. In the squat position, your knees should be behind your toes. Squeeze your glutes to push up to a standing position without locking the knees. Start with three sets of 10 repetitions.

To learn more about safe training, visit

The Norton Sports Health team of highly trained sports medicine specialists include orthopedists, neurologists, physiatrists and primary care physicians who work together with trainers, physical therapists, nurses, nutritionists and other care providers to design customized programs that return patients to optimal performance and fitness following a sports-related injury. Learn more at



Recent Articles