The 4 Most Common Mistakes Beginners Make When Training With Kettlebells & How To Avoid Them

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
May 09, 2012

“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” – Winston Churchill


*Special Note: This is a guest post by Joe Vennare of


Kettlebell training is one of the fastest growing and most popular fitness trends since Spinning.

Take a look around and you can find them anywhere; on the Biggest Loser, on the shelf at Wal-Mart and in the corner of your local fitness center.

Unlike most fat loss or muscle building fads, kettlebell training is deserved of the hype.  Instead of hopping on and off exercise machines at the gym, you can use a kettlebell to develop lean muscle mass, core strength and cardiovascular stamina.

Because kettlebell training can be so rewarding, everyone wants to get in on the action.

Unfortunately, many individuals using kettlebells are doing so incorrectly.  

A lack of knowledge with respect to the purpose and execution of kettlebell exercise results in improper form and increased risk of injury.

To help you get the most out of your kettlebell workout and keep you safe while doing so, I have compiled the Top 4 Mistakes beginners make when training with kettlebells.


Mistake #1: Training Isolated Movements

The kettlebell should not be used to train isolated movements or single muscle groups, like biceps curls.  Instead you should be performing compound, total body movements.

Knee Health Score 2

Kettlebells are designed to be used for dynamic or ballistic exercises. 

The asymmetrical design of the kettlebell places the center of mass away from the body to train strength, balance and explosiveness. Exercises like the kettlebell swing recruit multiple muscle groups, increase the heart rate and teach the body to work as one unit, not isolated muscles.


Mistake #2: Pulling with the Arms

It is common to see people trying to use a kettlebell by bending at the waist, rounding their back and pulling with their arms in an attempt to move the weight.

However, it is the hips, not the arms or upper body that are used to move the kettlebell. 

Using the larger muscles of the lower body, including the quads, glutes, hamstrings and core, you are able to move more weight and burn more calories.

The movement goes a little something like this:

1. Beginning with the feet shoulder width apart and the knees slightly bent, grasp the kettlebell with long arms. Keeping your chest up and core engaged as you sit back as if you were sitting into a chair.
2. Pressing off of the heels, drive from the hips while rising out of the squatted position.  Thanks to the momentum and energy created by your legs, your arms will only be needed to finish the full motion of a swing.


Mistake #3: Because it looks cool on YouTube

Some people would have you believe that kettlebell training is a performance spectacle. They post videos of themselves throwing or balancing on kettlebells, then helicopter spinning them mid-workout.

See the below video as an example of what I am talking about:

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge proponent of kettlebell training, as they are a mainstay in my training program, but you do not have to be hardcore or do fancy tricks to train with a kettlebell.

When done correctly, kettlebell training is suitable for individuals of all ages and fitness levels.

Instead of jumping into an “elite” form of kettlebell training that focuses on the amount of weight lifted or the number of repetitions completed for time…

*Use a kettlebell for functional movements, completed with proper form, to safely improve strength and cardiovascular performance. (Note from Todd: I totally second this! Good point Joe.)


Mistake #4: Compromising Form

This final point builds on the previous mistake.  If you are using kettlebells because you think it looks really sweet, you are probably using incorrect form.

Does your wrist and/or low back hurt when you finish your kettlebell workout? 

These are not signs that you are training hard or outcomes to be expected as part of training with a kettlebell.

If you have pain or bruising on your writs you are performing the clean, clean and press or snatch incorrectly.  It is common for people to flip the bell over top of their hand, causing it to slam onto their wrist.  Instead of flipping the weight over your hand, you should be rotating the elbow down as you pull the kettlebell up, catching it at shoulder height.  The weight should be absorbed into the body while squatting slightly and keeping the wrist in a neutral position.

If you are having pain in the low back, I am willing to bet you are bending at the waist and using your back to swing the weight. Instead of hinging at the hips, try driving your chest up, shoulders back and down, while squeezing shoulder blades together. Then, activate the core while driving off of the heels, engaging the glutes and rear end.  Your legs, hips and core should be doing the work, not your low back.


Kettle Bell Beginner Action Plan:

As a multi-sport athlete, kettlebell instructor and someone who uses kettlebells in my workouts trust me when I tell you that learning how to use and implement kettebells into your training program will be well worth the effort.

When you are ready to start kettlebell training, I suggest you begin to practice kettlebell swings, thrusters and twists in addition to your normal workouts.  Then, when you are comfortable with the movements, give this kettlebell workout a try.

Knee Health Score 1

The Beginner Workout:
3 Rounds
10x Body weight squats
5x Alternate lunge each leg
5x Push-up

4 Rounds
20x Two-handed Swing
10x Kettlebell Twist
20x Kettlebell Thruster
10x Kettlebell Twist

You can find a full video library of kettle bell exercises by clicking here: Kettle Bell Video Library


Joe Vennare Bio:
Joe is the Co-Founder of Hybrid Athlete and the Director of Programming for Kettlebell Cardio and Race Day Domination.  Joe is also a sponsored multi-sport athlete competing in triathlon, ultra-marathon and adventure racing.

Show/Hide Comments (3 comments)
  1. Griffin

    Great post.

    I’d like to add a few points.

    Beginners should start with the basics, proper deadlift and then learn the 2 handed swing etc..

    No matter how many times you see it on youtube or Crossfit, never do a two handed swing over your head!

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Great point Griffin. Yes, two handed swings above the head can be dangerous, especially for beginners.

      Thanks for the additions.

      I appreciate it!


  2. Todd Kuslikis

    Thanks Joe! Love the post!

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