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So, you’ve probably been won over by the no-BS simplicity and straight-forward training style of the mighty kettlebell. If you’re anything like I was, you’re probably already feeling the bite of the iron bug and can’t wait to jump into the deep end feet first!
As much as you’ll come to love the raw power and strength you’ll feel as your body changes and improves over the course of weeks and months, now’s the time to slow down, take a deep breath, and make sure you get to everything on this checklist.
A lot of ready-made exercise programs half-heartedly throw out some mostly ignored recommendations before you begin their program. I, on the other hand, whole-heartedly suggest that you go through the following suggestions to make sure that you get the most out of your training. Kettlebell training is highly scalable regardless of age, ability level, and experience level, so it can range from basic to complex and beyond. Most people think they’re better off than they are, but take it from me – your first dance with a kettlebell will be a memorable one. The following list will ensure that you sweep your kettlebell of its feet and NOT vice versa.
1. Get a doctor’s approval
Kettlebell training by its very nature is intense. Like, REALLY intense. So not only do you have to ease your way into it, you have to make sure that you’re ready to ease into it. This is no light-hearted suggestion for anyone. Even super studs like Michael Castrogiovanni, one-time wrestler and now an SFG Team Leader, were sucker punched on their first try. In his first 7 minute workout (that’s right, one minute less than you’ll spend on 8 minute abs) this 25 year-old athlete raised his heart rate to 221 beats per minute (physiologically, his theoretical maximum heart rate was 195 bpm!). Needless to say, he was in love and immediately began training with kettlebells seriously.
The point of this is not to scare you; far from it. If you take away anything from this, take away the fact that “I don’t have time to exercise” has just become an invalid excuse. If you really don’t have even a few minutes to exercise, then what are you doing surfing the web and reading this? Everyone can spare 7 minutes! Most people think they’re better off than they are, and periodically someone has an issue that should be handled before taking up an exercise regimen, so make sure your doc agrees with you before you go nuts.
2. Proper footwear (ideally ZERO footwear)
The best footwear for kettlebells – are you sitting down for this? – is bare feet. Contrary to what various shoe companies would have you believe, the shoes you drop the most pretty pennies on will not improve your performance. At least not for strength training. Why?
For a variety of uninteresting reasons. But, since you’re here, you might as well listen to a few of them: Your feet (and your hands for that matter) have something called mechanoreceptors on the bottom of them. These receptors send input to various muscles in your leg and signal it to fire, or tense up. Cushy shoes, such as your overpriced Air Jordans, dull the input to your feet so much that oftentimes your muscles don’t fire like they should. On top of that, cushy shoes have raised heels, which push your weight too far forward for proper kettlebell lifting, which can cause a host of back or knee injuries. Barefoot is your best bet all the way.
But if you HAVE to wear shoes (you wuss), Converse All Stars (also known as Chuck Taylors) are great, as they are simple, have a flat sole, and aren’t cushy in the slightest. If you don’t mind people pointing and staring, you could also try Vibrams Five Fingers. You’ll feel just like a kid in footy pajamas again, which is great if you’re into that sort of thing (I’m not. I’ll take the Chucks, please).
3. Plenty of room
Make sure that wherever you do your kettlebell workouts, you have more than enough room to move freely without feeling like you’re going to bump into anything, destroy something if you accidentally drop the kettlebell, or break something you care about.
This includes ceiling space. You’re not likely to accidentally fling your kettlebell through the ceiling or anything, but kettlebells are especially good for overhead strength movements such as military presses, jerks, snatches, Turkish Get Ups, among other things. This means at least an extra 6 inches, if not an extra foot or more.
I have yet to accidentally hit a ceiling, but in my years I have definitely dropped a kettlebell on accident , including on a carpeted floor. If you want a huge dent in otherwise tough carpet, by all means, drop a kettlebell as light as 35 lbs and enjoy the minefield look you give to your floor. Your best bet is to get sturdy padding or rubber coating for your floor so you don’t end up getting yelled at by your wife/husband/gym owner. Better yet, get outside and get some sunshine and fresh air! Find a field and go nuts.
4. A 12-week plan
Among the biggest mistakes people make when they start doing kettlebell workouts is they just dink around with no goals and no plan. Even if you don’t have a specific goal in mind, at least starting out with a plan will give you an idea of where you can go and what you might be able to achieve, just so long as you actually follow it. Why 12 weeks? Because you’ve never accomplished anything truly awesome in one week. 12 weeks, on the other hand, will give you time to build up outrageous and otherworldly results – ones that you wouldn’t get by program hopping every two weeks.
When I started doing kettlebell workouts, I started as simple as could be: with Pavel’s Program Minimum. It consisted of 5 minutes of Turkish Get Ups (alternating arms on each rep) and up to 12 minutes of swings in intervals twice a week. That’s it. This program still works incredibly well for beginners and advanced lifters. Why over complicate things?
The Program Minimum works so well because it covers just about any muscle you could hope to develop and targets many more than you probably didn’t even think about. It’s simple and basic, and can take you from here to eternity. Would could ask for anything more?
The key to any kettlebell workout plan is to stay simple and basic and for the most part take it easy! Treat your kettlebell practice as if you are practicing an instrument. Would you pick up your guitar and play until your fingers bled and you had to take two weeks off to let them heal? Or would you practice until you stop improving and then come back to it in a day or two to continue? Which method would work better: the one where you practice more frequently, or the one where you have to avoid practice for weeks because you jacked yourself up? Strength is a skill, and a very powerful skill at that. Kettlebells will give you more than they take from you provided that you push yourself without being stupid, and most of all, stick to your plan! Find an SFG instructor in your area to help you with a simple, no BS plan and get cracking!
5. Get a quality kettlebell
I hold this truth to be self-evident: not all kettlebells are created equal! There are quality kettlebells and absolutely terrible kettlebells. There are okay kettlebells as well, but what kind of body are you looking to get? An okay body, or a rubber neck-inducing, get-the-whole-neighborhood-talking type of body? I know what kind I prefer. And when it comes to kettlebells, believe it or not, the higher quality the kettlebell, the more you can get out of it. That’s not to say that your crappy store-bought kettlebell won’t work – I still have and use the one I bought from Scheels Sporting Goods nearly 5 years ago – but always remember, kettlebells aren’t a purchase, they’re an investment – both in your equipment you use to tackle your flab and weakness, and in yourself. You want a rockin’ bod for life, right? So get equipment that will help you on your journey.
It’s also worth noting that purely as an issue of safety, the higher quality kettlebell, the better. A colleague of mine and fellow StrongFirst kettlebell instructor from the UK, James Breese, tells of the time he was preparing for his certification with a cheap, locally bought kettlebell when disaster almost ensued. He was snatching a 53 lb kettlebell over his head when all of a sudden, the bell itself came loose from the handle and fell close behind him! If it had fallen off a second earlier, it no doubt would have been on a collision course with his head! 53 lbs falling on your head would put all the money (and lots more) that you saved by not investing in a quality kettlebell into the pocket of your surgeon. Not a good use of your money or time.
It might seem rough, but grin and bear it and buy a nice kettlebell or two. Dragon Door is my personal favorite all around, and you can’t beat their quality.
Print off this checklist and memorize it! Remember: you’re investing in yourself, so rather than putting together a laundry list of things you think you want/need to do, follow the simple basics, have some faith in your program, and whatever you do, enjoy the process! Self-improvement in all its forms is a marathon, not a spring, so take some time to enjoy what you’re doing and fall in love with the iron for life!
Wanna blast fat, get rid of extra inches, and get fitter and stronger than 99% of the people around you?
Then get started on the 8-week kettlebell and bodyweight challenge!
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