Erik’s Beginner’s Guide to Kettlebells Part 5: Training Routines and Other Resources

This part includes a few resources for training routines and quick recommendations for protecting your arms and hands.

  • Part 1 is a short rant on why kettlebells are efficient training tools, especially for busy people.
  • Part 2 has my thoughts on picking a starting weight and recommendations for buying kettlebells.
  • Part 3 collects a list of helpful videos for basic exercises.
  • Part 4 has a list of helpful videos for slightly more advanced exercises. 
  • Part 5 includes a few resources for training routines and quick recommendations for protecting your arms and hands.

As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor, trainer, fitness expert, or person of any particular talent. I’m just a dude trying to stay healthy. If you have concerns about injury or safety, consult an expert. A real expert, not that Instagram fitness “model” you’ve been stalking.

Training Routines

After you’ve familiarized yourself with the basic exercises and have gotten comfortable with executing them with proper form, you probably want to start planning a training program or training routines.

The magic of kettlebells is that they’re incredibly versatile. You can find training routines and programs to improve your strength, conditioning, or mobility, and you can target the parts of your body that you want to improve the most. If you’re pressed for time or mental space and just want something to get you sweating, you can easily string together 4-5 exercises and proudly call it a work-out.

If you’re uncreative, as I am, and want someone to plan your routines for you, there are tons of resources online. I’ve collected a few that I’ve found useful below. I also included a few tips on protecting your arms and your hands. 

Onnit Academy

One of my favorite resources has become Onnit Academy. Onnit’s knowledge base offers 20-30 minute routines consisting of a handful of exercises. They have options tailored for strength, conditioning, and muscle growth, so you can pick based on your goals.

The Extreme Kettlebell Cardio Workout

There’s a wealth of instructional DVDs available. I’ve tried “The Extreme Kettlebell Cardio Workout” by Keith Weber. I got the DVD along with my first kettlebell and found it to be great for losing fat. It’s a bunch of exercises strung together into routines, which you can string together as a monster workout if you feel like punishing yourself (it took me more than a year to be able to pull off all of the routines in one session). The “Swing Workout” below is probably a good routine for beginners.

I would suggest "Extreme Kettlebell Cardio Workout 2: Exceed Your Limits" and "Extreme Kettlebell Cardio workout 3", along with "The Extreme Kettlebell Cardio Workout: Awaken the Athlete Within". Each of these videos is considered "extreme", therefore it is best to work your way up to them. However, they are great for improving in strength.

Pavel Tsatsouline’s Books

Pavel Tsatsouline is a famous strength and conditioning effort, and for good reason. His methods are highly effective, and his presentation is accessible. Tsatsouline was one of the early proponents of the kettlebell in the U.S. and has written several books on kettlebell training.

Simple and Sinister, outlines a training program consisting of nothing but swings and turkish get-ups, which are great for conditioning and strength. The program is highly structured and highly quantifiable, so you can easily track your progress, which feels nice in the early days of training.

If you have the time and energy to set up a training regimen of your own, Simple and Sinister is also a solid read on structuring your own training programs.

Enter the Kettlebell is a more comprehensive guide to training with kettlebells, covering forms for more exercises and various other training programs. Enter the Kettlebell and Simple and Sinister have a significant amounts of overlapping material, but I’ve read both and have found interesting nuggets of information in each.

Other Equipment: Protecting Yourself from Yourself

You should be able to train with kettlebells without incurring significant injury or damage. But what you should be able do and what you actually can do are often worlds apart, so you might need some protective gear in the early days of training as you beef up your form. 

Arm Guards

Unless you have perfect form, you’re going to bang up your forearms doing cleans and snatches (you’ll see when you get there). A hard smack from a heavy kettlebell is a great way to punish yourself into better form, but while you practice, it’s probably worth finding some protection to reduce the damage you inflict on yourself. 

Fortunately, arm guards are inexpensive. If you’re unfamiliar with them, arm guards are essentially sweat bands with hard plastic strips inside of them to help dissipate impact. You can pick some up on Amazon for $20.

Hand Recovery

After a few training sessions, you’ll start to develop some nice calluses on your hands. Some amount of callus is good to protect your skin, but you don’t want them to get too thick. Thick calluses can get pinched by the kettlebell handle, which is painful enough when going through large amounts of reps. If not taken care of, calluses can tear. A torn callus is not pretty (they bleed), and will force you to put a break on any training while it heals.

If your calluses start to bug you, soak your hands in soapy water and file the calluses down with pumice stone or a file. If you’ve never worked construction, Corn Huskers lotion is great for smoothing and toughening-up hard working hands.

Other Resources and Feedback

These posts are meant to be a quick entry point for friends and aren’t meant to be comprehensive, so if you’re left with any questions, there are tons of other resources for kettlebells online.

See, the good thing about the Internet is that there is a ton of information available. But the bad thing about the Internet is that there is a ton of information available.

I mentioned these throughout the posts, but if you want more resources, the following people or companies have helpful information available online or in books: Onnit, Rogue Fitness, Steve Cotter, Pavel Tsatsouline, My Mad Methods, Keith Weber

Erik’s Beginner’s Guide to Kettlebells Part 4: Less-Basic Exercises

This part collects helpful videos for slightly more advanced exercises.

  • Part 1 is a short rant on why kettlebells are efficient training tools, especially for busy people.
  • Part 2 has my thoughts on picking a starting weight and recommendations for buying kettlebells.
  • Part 3 collects a list of helpful videos for basic exercises.
  • Part 4 has a list of helpful videos for slightly more advanced exercises. 
  • Part 5 includes a few resources for training routines and quick recommendations for protecting your arms and hands.

As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor, trainer, fitness expert, or person of any particular talent. I’m just a dude trying to stay healthy. If you have concerns about injury or safety, consult an expert. A real expert; not your school mate who suddenly put on a bunch of muscle and now posts workout pictures to Facebook. 

Respect the Kettlebell. Respect Yourself

Once you’ve nailed the very basic exercises in Part 3 and have learned how challenging a kettlebell exercise can be, you should try the more advanced exercises below.

The next set of exercises are still within the realm of basics, but they can each result in some sort of bruising or concussive injury if you’re not careful. So before you put a kettlebell over your head or try to swing it around your arms, I want you to take a moment to remember something important: when you put something heavy in your hands, the only thing keeping you from severe injury is restraint over your own stupidity.

If putting a kettlebell overhead feels unstable or whacky, put it back down and then don’t try to pick it back up. If you lose control of the kettlebell, let it hit the floor. Floors can’t get concussions, but you sure can. 

Maybe you’re the type who likes to go “110%.” You think you’re Neo in The Matrix and you can make nature succumb to your will. If Yoda asked you to pul an X-Wing from a swamp using the Force, you’d have no problem doing so. That’s cool. But pretend that isn’t the case when you’re training.

Seriously, respect the kettlebell. It isn’t an enemy to vanquish with your unlimited motivation and will-power. It’s a giant hunk of metal that obeys all the normal laws of physics. And when you’re tired or have sloppy form, physics will definitely win out over your motivation. So respect your physical limits as well.

Rack Position

The rack position isn’t an exercise, but is an important position in various kettlebell exercises, including the end of the clean and the beginning of the press. Learning how the rack position looks and feels will help you avoid bruising your arms when you move to heavier weight.

Clean

Much like the clean in olympic lifting, the clean is a pull taking the kettlebell from the floor up to your chest (to the rack position). The clean is not only a good exercise, requiring quick, punchy movement from your hips, it's the easiest way to get the kettlebell up for presses. Unfortunately, you can easily bruise your arms if you’re not doing cleans properly. Make sure to keep your grip loose and pivot the kettlebell around your arm rather than flipping it over. The video below is a quick intro on the clean, but if you have the time, strength boss, Steve Cotter, has a thorough explanation of clean form and variations.

Press

The press (or strict press, or military press) is a basic “grind” exercises. Swings are quick and punchy, but the press requires slow and constant work. I have pretty bad shoulder mechanics from hanging out on a computer all day, but the press has slowly helped me improve my ability to reach straight overhead. The video below has quite a bit of detail on the press and interesting variations on the press once you’ve nailed the basic idea.

Snatch

The snatch is a slightly more technical exercise, but is worth practicing for how much of a challenge it offers and for how badass it feels when you properly execute it. The snatch starts similarly to a clean, but instead of racking the kettlebell, you punch it overhead. Proper execution requires enough of an explosion from your hips to push the kettlebell overhead and requires a lot of work from the rest of your body to do so stably and safely. Just like the clean, you can easily bang up your arm, so keep a lose grip and bring the kettlebell around your arm rather than over your arm. Below is a quick intro to the snatch, but if you want a more thorough rundown, Steve Cotter has a helpful video on how to avoid bruising your arms

Turkish Get-Up

The turkish get-up is a simple exercise. 1) Start on your back with the kettlebell at your chest. 2) Press the kettlebell  3) Stand up, maintaining the kettlebell overhead the entire exercise. The turkish get-up will put your shoulders through every position of hell, so it’s great for building shoulder strength and stability.

As intimidating as it looks, the get-up can be broken down into a few stages. Each stage can be done in isolation, so you can practice your weakest spots. With enough reps, the turkish get-up provides for a workout all on its own. Below is a quick run through of the turkish get-up, but if you want a more detailed explanation, here’s another thorough explanation from Steve Cotter.

Check Yourself

After you’ve gotten familiar with some of the basic exercises, you probably want to move into finding or creating training routines and programs. I’ve collected a few resources in Part 5, along with a couple of tips for protecting your arms and hands.

Erik’s Beginner’s Guide to Kettlebells Part 3: Basic Exercises

I've gotten great results from training with kettlebells. Several friends ask me for resources. I couldn't find a solid starting point for ultra beginners, so I made my own.

This part collects a list of helpful videos for basic exercises.

  • Part 1 is a short rant on why kettlebells are efficient training tools, especially for busy people.
  • Part 2 has my thoughts on picking a starting weight and recommendations for buying kettlebells.
  • Part 3 collects a list of helpful videos for basic exercises.
  • Part 4 has a list of helpful videos for slightly more advanced exercises. 
  • Part 5 includes a few resources for training routines and quick recommendations for protecting your arms and hands.

As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor, trainer, fitness expert, or person of any particular talent. I’m just a dude trying to stay healthy. If you have concerns about injury or safety, consult an expert. A real expert, not that one guy across the hall from you who just started CrossFit and reminds you about it every day.

Be Modest and Start with the Basics

Let me start by opening up with some honesty. I think kettlebell exercises look a little weird. Some look downright goofy. And if you’re a beginner, you’re going to be starting with some small weights. You can get fancy with juggles and slingshots, but even those won’t make you look cool, and if you don’t have the basics down, they’re dangerous. So keep it simple.

If you’ve got a sensitive ego, train in the privacy of your own home. Or at least train where that cute guy or gal won’t see you. If you must impress someone, impress them with the results, not the routine.

I’m a beginner, so I won’t try to explain all the details of proper form myself. So I’ve collected some basic moves along some instructional videos* below. And you can easily find more guides for each exercise online. 

I can’t emphasize enough, the best part of training with kettlebells may be in the efficiency, part of which results from having simple exercises. The exercises below may look easy, but try them before you knock them. If you’ve been doing the typical gym routine, I promise the exercises will challenge you.

Part 4 has a handful of slightly more advanced exercises once you’ve nailed the form on the exercises below.

If you want a single, aggregated resource on proper form, Pavel Tsatsouline’s book, Enter the Kettlebell, is a great primer on kettlebell form and training programs.

*Some of the videos may have rad metal riffs to accompany the demonstrations. You’re welcome.

Swing

The swing is the most basic and fundamental kettlebell exercise. It’s great for increasing strength in your back, abs, it does wonders for hip flexibility, it’s easy on the knees, and, most importantly, it will give you a great ass. If you want a quick way to get your heart-rate up, you can bust out a few swings and be on your way.

The key thing to remember as you learn the swing is that hips are the driving force behind the exercise. Tim Ferriss deconstructs the swing in a helpful way:

The kettlebell should feel like it’s floating once you’ve driven out with your hips.

One-Armed Swing

Once you’ve gotten the swing down, you can do the one-armed swing. It’s the same thing as the swing, except with one hand holding onto the kettlebell. One-armed swings work your grip and your back a bit more than two-armed swings since you have to control all the weight with one hand and more with one side of your body. Make sure that your free arm is swinging along your body with the kettlebell. Don’t use it to support yourself or you could injure your back. Here’s a random bro doing one-armed swings correctly.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a low stress way to practice squatting, especially if you’re like me and have poor mobility restricting you from properly executing squats. As the guy in the video explains, you hold the kettlebell at chest level and squat. You can hang out at the bottom of the squat to work on opening your hips.

Halo

The halo is a good warm-up for shoulders, which are the work-horse once you get into pressing, snatching ad get-ups. The halo will help gradually increase your shoulder range of motion if you’re restricted.

Once you’ve gotten some reps in with these basics and you feel ready to put the kettlebell in places where it can hurt you, move on to advanced exercises.

Erik’s Beginner’s Guide to Kettlebells Part 2: Finding Kettlebells

I've gotten great results from training with kettlebells. Several friends ask me for resources. I couldn't find a solid starting point for ultra beginners, so I made my own.

This portion includes my thoughts on picking a starting weight and recommendations for buying kettlebells.

  •  
  • Part 1 is a short rant on why kettlebells are efficient training tools, especially for busy people.
  • Part 2 has my thoughts on picking a starting weight and recommendations for buying kettlebells.
  • Part 3 collects a list of helpful videos for basic exercises.
  • Part 4 has a list of helpful videos for slightly more advanced exercises. 
  • Part 5 includes a few resources for training routines and quick recommendations for protecting your arms and hands.

As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor, trainer, fitness expert, or person of any particular talent. I’m just a dude trying to stay healthy. If you have concerns about injury or safety, consult an expert. A real expert, not your meat-head cousin Joey who bench pressed 400lb. that one time. You don’t know what he was on when he did that.

Starting Weights

Kettlebells come in a few weight intervals, which is part of the appeal if you’re looking for a simple and efficient way to exercise. Kettlebell weights were traditionally measured in the amazing-sounding unit, the pood, which is roughly 16 kg. or 35lb. Kettlebells generally come within some range of the .5 pood increments:

  • .5 pood: 8kg. or 18 lb.
  • 1 pood: 16kg. or 35lb.
  • 1.5 pood: 24 kg. or 53 lb.
  • 2 pood: 32 kg. or 72lb.

For the sake of simplicity, it makes sense for men to stick to .5 pood increments. Women may need to go up in .25 pood increments. Less is often more, and you can make incredible gains in fitness using no more than a few kettlebells. You’ll probably want to start with two: a lighter kettlebell for presses and a heavier kettlebell for swings. 

Finding your starting weights isn’t a science. Training with kettlebells doesn't involve complicated calculations of one-rep-maxes or lean body mass. Instead, your starting weight should meet two criteria: 1. You can safely complete a press for your lighter kettlebell and a swing for your heavier kettlebell. 2. Completing a few reps of swings or presses feels challenging (but safe). 

Most men should be able to start with two kettlebells: 16 kg. (35 lb.) and 24kg. (53 lb.). However, if you are like me and you work a desk job and have never been an athlete, you might have to start lower. My first kettlebell weighed 25 lb., and I considered myself decently fit at the time. 

Note: I’ve never trained with women, so I can’t comment too much on the weights women should start at, but Pavel Tsatsouline, arguably the progenitor of the American kettlebell market, recommends 8 kg./18 lb., 12 kg./26 lb., and 16 kg./35 lb. as starters for ladies. 

Finding a starting weight for kettlebells is a great way to rid yourself some of the conventional notions that make exercise confusing. Online forums are full of complaints regarding the lack of granularity in kettlebells weights available, presumably because they’re looking for that Goldilocks weight that’s heavy enough for a challenge, but light enough for them to complete their prescribed workout. But exercise shouldn’t be about completing some overly-detailed regimen. It may sound like a violation of natural law, but workouts don’t actually need to come in sets of 10. You can get stronger by doing a single repetition of something heavy. If 16kg. is too heavy for you to complete 10 reps of overhead presses, do 5. Next time, you might be able to do 6. 

Try Before You Buy

Before you buy your own kettlebells, I highly recommend borrowing one from a friend or finding a gym with kettlebells. I’ve seen kettlebells cropping up at more big-box gyms like 24 Hour Fitness, but if there are any CrossFit gyms in your neighborhood, they will definitely have them. 

Gather a bit of momentum on your training by building some familiarity with a couple of basic exercises, such as the swing and the press, before buying your own kettlebells. Play around with your borrowed kettlebells to the point where your excitement is around the actual training, not around trying something new. 

I’m not trying to save you money. This is a recommendation for compliance. Buying gear for a new hobby tends to be a trap that leads to failure. The sense of completion brought about by buying new toys (unpacking video!) is often enough to satisfy people into never actually doing their new hobby. But if you can’t find a gym or if you don’t have any friends, kettlebells are inexpensive, unobtrusive, and can look cool lying around a bachelor/bachelorette pad, so isn’t a huge tragedy if you buy one and it ends up gathering dust. 

Buying Kettlebells

So you’ve already tried your hand at kettlebells (or if you're a total baller) and you’re ready buy some for yourself. You’re not going to find great kettlebells at your local sporting goods store, but there are tons of great options online. Unfortunately, the market for kettlebells can be overwhelming, especially since reviewers tend to be the loudest people on the internet.

You’ll find fancy features and technologically advanced production methods, but at the end of the day, you’re looking for a metal ball with a handle; it’s hard to go wrong. Just make sure it has thick handles. You can look for features that you think are important, such as the way the kettlebell is painted (which affects grip), but that may be getting into the unnecessary detail, especially for beginners. 

The price of kettlebells, like anything else, will vary from brand to brand. On the high end, you’ll find Dragon Door, which are supposed to be the best kettlebells for some reason or other. These guys are expensive though, and kettlebells will run about $3.25 per pound, including shipping. 

On the affordable side are kettlebells from Onnit and Rogue, coming in at about $2 per pound, including shipping. Both of these manufacturers have solid reviews all around, and given the price, are a great place to start. I’ve tried both and highly recommend either brand. If you live where one of these companies is headquartered (Onnit is in Austin, Rogue is in Columbus), you can save on shipping, cutting the costs of your training equipment nearly in half. 

If you stick to a less expensive brand, kettlebell training becomes amazingly inexpensive. As I mentioned above, an ambitious man will need a 16 kg. (35 lb.) kettlebell and a 24 kg. (53 lb.) kettlebell to start, bringing the grand total for workout equipment to $176. Once you’ve beefed up a bit, you can get a 32 kg. (72lb.) kettlebell for another $140. $316 isn’t too bad for fitness equipment, especially since you could, theoretically, use nothing more than those kettlebells. If you're training with more weight than 32 kg., I should be looking to you for advice. 

If you’re looking for fun (but admittedly, unnecessary) features, you can buy kettlebells cast with mean-looking faces. Demon Bells makes a set of kettlebells cast as ghouls (their 54 lb. "Daimon" is extra slick). Onnit makes a primate-themed line called Primal Bells, including a .5 pood monkey, a 1 pood chimp, a 1.5 pood orangutan, and a 2 pood gorilla. I have the gorilla, and I must admit, it’s pretty rad.

Once you’ve found your starting weights and have access to kettlebells, you should start training with basic moves.

Erik’s Beginner’s Guide to Kettlebells Part 1: Efficient Fitness

I've gotten great results from training with kettlebells. Several friends ask me for resources. I couldn't find a solid starting point for ultra beginners, so I made my own.

This part is a short rant on why kettlebells provide for efficient training, especially for busy people.

  • Part 1 is a short rant on why kettlebells are efficient training tools, especially for busy people.
  • Part 2 has my thoughts on picking a starting weight and recommendations for buying kettlebells.
  • Part 3 collects a list of helpful videos for basic exercises.
  • Part 4 has a list of helpful videos for slightly more advanced exercises. 
  • Part 5 includes a few resources for training routines and quick recommendations for protecting your arms and hands.

As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor, trainer, fitness expert, or person of any particular talent. I’m just a dude trying to stay healthy. If you have concerns about injury or safety, consult an expert. A real expert, not your 24 Hour Fitness trainer. Come on. You’re better than that.

Why Should You Exercise with Kettlebells?

If you’re already sold on kettlebells, you can skip to Part 2 to find a starting weight and learn about buying kettlebells. 

If you’re not sold on kettlebells, there are a few reasons to check them out. Primarily, they provide an efficient, low-friction way to work out (I almost wrote “easy," but that would be misleading). 

Efficiency is Definite, Fitness is More Likely

I won’t try to sell the fitness results kettlebell-training produces because everyone gets different results for different reasons. Anecdotally, exercising with kettlebells has gotten me into the best shape I’ve ever been in. I’ve gotten great improvements in my strength, endurance, flexibility, speed, and muscle tone. But I also benefit from eating well, sleeping 7 to 8 hours a day, and being 25 years-old at the time of this writing. As the balding-cream commercials warn, results may vary. 

The thing that I will advocate most about kettlebells is that they are an incredibly efficient way to exercise. All the overhead costs associated with exercising, including the physical space necessary to train, daily time expenditure, cash cost, and cognitive effort, are low for kettlebells, especially relative to power-lifting or cross-training. 

If you’re a semi-busy person, the relative cost of any exercise will be higher for you, so the low cost of exercising with kettlebells may be the best reason to check them out. More efficient exercising means you have more of an opportunity to exercise, which means you’re more likely to hit whatever fitness goals you have for yourself.

Kettlebells are Simple

On the fitness side, kettlebells provide a comprehensive workout with a few simple pieces of equipment. Kettlebells are distinct from dumbbells in that their center of gravity is weird, so it takes quite a bit of effort to stabilize your kettlebell as you work out. Additionally, almost all kettlebell exercises consist of “compound movements,” so a few exercises replace many. Rather than use an entire rack of weights or one of those crazy, total-gym machines that look like complex S&M toys, you can get away with using a couple of metal balls that fit in your closet. And if you think you need dedicated equipment for cardio, the constant tension of holding the kettlebell coupled with the quick movements in some of the exercises will get your heart-rate up fast, so you can pass on the elliptical (which has to be the longest-running prank in fitness ever pulled). 

Gyms are Hell

It may sound silly, but busy people know that the upfront cost of going to the gym can be prohibitively high. The typical post-work workout-routine looks something like this: Drive to the fancy gym where you pay $90 per month for access to a juice bar. Wait for your turn at the treadmill. Run. Wait for your turn at the squat-rack. Squat. Wait for your turn at the bench. Bench. Wait for your turn at the pull-up bar. Pull-up. Drive home. Kill yourself. 

Not going to a gym eliminates much of the upfront cost of training by allowing you to start instantly and by eliminating the need for any of the social inconveniences involved in gym life. If you train with kettlebells, your post-work workout-routine looks more like: Pick up a kettlebell. Go somewhere with 8 feet of clearance. Hammer out a full workout in 30-50 minutes. Fight injustice and rescue kittens for another 30-50. 

Being able to crush a workout in half an hour gives you less excuses not to crush workouts.

Hunks of Metal are Cheap

Additionally, large orbs of metal are remarkably cheap. Unless you’re already in solid shape, you’ll only need two kettlebells to get started, and they'll cost about $176 in total. Training with kettlebells reminds me of the scene in The Dark Knight where the Joker burns the giant pile of money. When the mobster asks why he’d burn his money, the Joker responds, "I'm a guy of simple taste: I enjoy dynamite and gunpowder and gasoline. You know the thing that they have in common? They're cheap."

Compared to a gym membership, the $176 fixed starting cost is low. You won’t get access to a sauna, the gym social-life, or a personal trainer, but you’re tying to get fit, not spur the economy. Be like the Joker. Keep it cheap and effective.

There’s No Need to Get Complicated

Finally, because you will only be training with one or two kettlebells, there’s much less to keep track of while you’re in the middle of a workout. Anyone who struggles with information overload is going to struggle with their workout, so eliminating the need to remember weight progression is a big deal. Gone will be the need to calculate 30%, 75% and, 90% of your one-rep-max for a single training session. Instead, training sessions become a function of proper form, reps, and time.