Kettlebell Training Guide

The Complete Crash Course

Have you ever wondered about kettlebells? They were a very foreign concept to me until I began my Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) training. Kettlebell training is very prevalent in MMA gyms as well as in CrossFit gyms. It wasn’t until I began learning about them and utilizing them in my own training that I found out it’s because they’re so insanely effective.

I’m always talking about the hunt for exercise that you actually enjoy as the key to sustainability, and kettlebells are a great option for many, many people. Today, I’m sharing a complete crash course on everything you need to know in order to get started with kettlebells.

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What are kettlebells?

Kettlebells are weighted iron balls with handles on them. They’re commonly described as looking like a cannonball. They’re usually black and made of iron – hence the phrase “swinging iron.” The handles on them are sometimes referred to as “horns,” and they can usually be found in weights ranging from 5 pounds to 100 pounds. Russian kettlebells are still commonly measured in “poods,” which are about 36 pounds. You will occasionally find kettlebells that are measured in pounds in the U.S., but the majority of kettlebells are weighed in kilograms (kg).


I’m always talking about the hunt for exercise that you actually enjoy as the key to sustainability, and kettlebells are a great option for many, many people. Click To Tweet

Where does kettlebell training come from?

Though it’s known that Chinese Shaolin monks used stone padlocks resembling kettlebells, kettlebells originated in Russia more than 350 years ago. Kettlebells were initially used as counterweights to weigh solid goods on open market scales.

How do I use kettlebells?

Kettlebells are used in a handful of different ways. You can use them similarly to how you would use traditional dumbbells and do things like curls, lunges, and squats with them. Kettlebell training also consists of explosive, more intense movements, like swings, clean-and-jerks, snatches, and more. Kettlebell training commonly mixes slow, controlled movements and powerful, explosive movements – you get a little bit of everything depending on how you use them and what your routine looks like.

Kettlebells originated in Russia more than 350 years ago, they were initially used as counterweights to weigh solid goods on open market scales. Click To Tweet

Why utilize kettlebell training instead of traditional weight lifting?

Kettlebell training has some important benefits that you might not necessarily find with traditional weight lifting. Here are some important notes on kettlebell training:

  1. Burns 20 calories per minute (this is substantially more than other exercises).
    • That means that a short, 20-minute workout burns as much as 400 calories. That’s the equivalent of running a 6-minute mile – and I don’t know about you, but it’s been awhile since I ran a 6-minute mile.
  2. Often times, kettlebells don’t isolate a single muscle group like most exercises with a dumbbell and barbell do.
    • This means that instead of “focusing on your biceps” you’re “focusing on engaging the body.” Your typical kettlebell training exercise will engage your core, glutes, back, calves, and forearms. With kettlebell training, it’s much more common to work multiple muscle groups at once – which is part of why they’re so effective.
  3. Kettlebells combine strength training and cardiovascular training into one exercise.
    • This means that you get the benefits of both kinds of training – such as improved flexibility and range of motion. You’ll also see significant enhancements to your strength, endurance, lung capacity & respiratory ability, and power.
  4. Kettlebell training is what’s known as “functional training.”
    • This means that the exercises you’re performing – because they’re engaging multiple muscle groups at once –  actually improve your ability to do daily tasks. You’ll find yourself having an easier time doing things like going up flights of stairs or carrying groceries.
  5. Being that kettlebell training works so many muscle groups at once, combines strength training with cardiovascular training, and burns more calories than most other exercises, it’s great for promoting weight loss. Additionally, because nearly every movement in kettlebell training originates from the core, it’s also very effective at toning the midsection.
  6. Kettlebells are also extremely appealing because there’s no need for a large number of weights.
    • You can typically do a full kettlebell workout routine using only one or two kettlebells, with that number only ever really going up to three or four if you really get into it. This takes up significantly less space than needing different size dumbbells or barbells for all of your exercises and having an entire home gym ($$).

All forms of strength training pair well with a nutritionally balanced diet. If you need still need more help with your eating habits, you may be interested in my article How To Meal Prep.

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What size kettlebell should I use for kettlebell training?

When you’re considering trying out kettlebell training, you typically will need one or two kettlebells, plus a third, lighter kettlebell for overhead movements. Below, I’ve broken out some of the recommended starter weights based on fitness / activity level and gender:

Men –  

  • Athletic:
    • 16kg (35lbs) and 24kg (53lbs)
    • Overhead – 12kg (26lbs) or 20kg (44lbs)
  • Average / Active:
    • 16kg (35lbs) and 20kg (44lbs)
    • Overhead – 8kg (18lbs) or 12kg (26lbs)
  • Beginner:
    • 12kg (26lbs) and 16kg (35lbs)
    • Overhead – 8kg (18lbs)

I’ve had the most luck by being conservative with weight and choosing 3 kettlebells, each 4kg apart. I use a 16kg and 20kg kettlebell, as well as a 12kg kettlebell for overhead movements.

Women –

  • Athletic:
    • 12kg (26lbs) and 16kg (35lbs)
    • Overhead – 8kg (18lbs) or 12kg (26lbs)
  • Average / Active:
    • 8kg (18lbs) and 12kg (26lbs)
    • Overhead – 6kg (13lbs) or 8kg (18lbs)
  • Beginner:
    • 6kg (13lbs) and 8kg (18lbs)
    • Overhead – 4kg (9lbs) or 6kg (13lbs)

Being that kettlebell training works so many muscle groups at once, combines strength training with cardiovascular training, and burns more calories than most other exercises, it's great for promoting weight loss. Click To Tweet

What do I need to know about kettlebell training?

There are some important notes that I have to share with you before you get started with your kettlebell training:

  1. Your form is crucial.
    • Though form is important with all strength training, because you’re working multiple muscle groups at once, you need to be especially careful. Risk of injury from poor form is increased with kettlebells. You won’t have one area that feels funny, you’ll have a lot of areas that are in pain!
  2. Kettlebells are NOT a lower impact exercise.
    • You need to make sure you do thorough stretching before and after their use, and you need to be mindful of existing injuries like joint pain. Stay hydrated, use joint support if you need it, and don’t be afraid to lower your weights.
  3. Because so many of these exercises originate from the core and kettlebell training tones the core so intensely, it also works your lower back.
    • It’s important to pace yourself and not overstrain.
    • I won’t get too much into the science behind this, but in order to build a proportionate body, your body needs to work both sides of muscles. I.e., biceps AND triceps, hamstrings AND quads, core AND back.
  4. ALWAYS, and I do mean ALWAYS, look at the bell when you’re holding it above your head.
    • This allows you to prevent the bell from moving back and forth or too far out of your range of motion from where you can support it.
    • The secret to not dropping a bell is to be smart about the weight you use, go lighter when it’s overhead, and ALWAYS keep your eye on the bell. Under no circumstances should you have a kettlebell over your head and not be looking at it.
  5. Kettlebells require less training time.
    • Since they are not low-impact and are higher-intensity, they don’t require as much time as other forms of exercise. Whereas with traditional strength training you might lift weights for an hour for an isolated muscle group, with kettlebells you only need 20 – 30 minutes for a full-body workout.

Kettlebell training is a great form of exercise. It’s extremely effective, it’s very affordable, and with the right information, it’s totally beginner-friendly. Hopefully this crash course gave you enough information to decide if kettlebell training is right for you.

Thanks for reading!

With love and hope,

– Jon

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