Training with kettlebells

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Getting started with kettlebells



Exercise principles


Practise with perfect form – watch , copy , watch, copy , watch , copy. One perfect repetition is better than 5 bad ones.


Practise in front of mirror for some of the techniques e.g. presses


Practise as often as possible. You are training your  nervous system to control your muscles & joints via the fancy process of “neurosynaptic facilitation”. 

Much better to practise a little often,  than every now & again. Musicians practise constantly to achieve excellent results. If you practise often your results will also be outstanding.


You can practise throughout the day whilst staying fresh (in the trade known as “greasing the groove”) – this can help stave off recurrent stiffness and muscle tension.. Plus , it’s a fun way to break up the day’s routine.


Learn well the basic moves – swing , squat , clean , press – with attention to perfect form , that is controlled movement with proper positioning and breathing.


Start with low weights , low reps , plenty of rest between sets and few sets.


Progress to moderate weights , few reps , little rest and multiple sets


Progress to trickier moves only when the torso (“core”) is strengthened – this may take a few weeks if you are out of conditione. Your degree of confidence will dictate what you will attempt, but with an appropriate weight (not too heavy) all the moves are achievable. When I started my self-taught yoga , my whole body was one tight knot and I couldn’t imagine achieving some of the postures in years , if ever. Now , aided by the unique advantage of kettlebells , nothing is too difficult. And in fact it all feels a lot safer now! Yoga has an high injury rate , partly because  a large number of participants are getting older and have years of tightness , weakness and poor balance to overcome.


When you have learnt to generate whole body tension and the concept of power breathing you are equipped to try anything , safely.


Practise tricky stuff before your muscles get tired. Fatigue ruins concentration and you don’t want to drop the bell or wrench a joint. So , it is  appropriate do harder moves before cardio type stuff.


All the tricky moves can be practised at an easier “partial movement” level (as with yoga) …so there is really no excuse! Watching or having the movement demonstrated is so much easier (and maybe safer)than trial and error.


Low reps (1-6) build strength. Do as many sets as you can do with perfect form, as often as you like. Do too much , and your neuromuscular system is overloaded – “overtraining”. In general , work up to no more than 80-90% of your “1 repetition maximum” for strength gains.


High repetitions (15-50 or beyond)  build stamina and mental toughness, but keep the weight relatively low. Don’t go to the point of failure unless you have demanding conditioning goals and you want to occasionally test your progress or compete in other sports.


Rehab should aim for a slow steady increase in work capacity (volume).


Bodybuilders : high reps, heavy breathing and  eating lots will build size. And more importantly , you will develop useful strength and flexibility – the opposite to becoming gorilla-like , musclebound and acute/chronic injury prone. But remember , high volume does not mean “going to failure” (with the risk of injury and burnout).




 Men : Become stronger than  you look!


Kettlebells build dense , strong muscle ,  NOT puffy “vascular” muscle with little functional work capacity.


Ladies! Kettlebells will not make you big & muscly unless you are incredibly determined to end up this way , and take anabolic drugs. Almost always,  you will end up leaner , toned (the basic swing and squat tightens the bum and thighs like no other exercise) and more lithe – in some cases , and obviously dependent upon body type , approaching the “dancer’s “ physique.


Learn the basic conditioning / “core’ moves,. then mix in others for variety and challenge.


Then determine your long term goals .


1)      general all round strength/conditioning/flexibility for daily tasks and weekend sports

2)      rehabilitation

3)      sports-specific and cross training

4)      specialised strength training

5)      “Body sculpting” for those concerned with “beach appeal”


You will notice significant enhancement in your progress in your Pilates , yoga and routine gym work if you choose these as your primary physical health modalities. Personally I do not need the social contact and communal body odour , and chances are , you too will appreciate exercising in your own time , at your own pace and at a venue which is of your choice – in as little clothing as is appropriate for the climatic conditions!


The old time Victorian strongman,  world famous  pioneer of physical and health education , Eugene Sandow , summed it up perfectly if a little quaintly :


“Exercise …ought to be taken in a well-ventilated place , not in a contracted bedroom or thronged hall , where the atmosphere is likely to either be close , and therefore poisonous , or contaminated by many breaths , each throwing off at every expiration about twenty cubic inches of impure air , which occasion headaches , laboured breathing , and stagnation of the life-processes. …During the exercise , the body should be lightly clad , free from any close-fitting or impeding garment ; and where practicable a cold plunge bath – even a mere dip in and out – should follow the exercise.”



It is very important to take the leap of faith and lose some inhibitions...and become accustomed to regular play as well as personal challenges. This mindset removes the drudgery of exercise.

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