Ep 1: Introduction to Hardstyle Kettlebells

What's the deal with kettlebells (KBs)?

They're becoming pretty popular in the fitness realm and in athletics.

But is this just another fad? Will we be ditching our KBs in a couple years like we ditched our ThighMasters in the 90s? I still have mine :(

I don't think so. KBs are here to stay and a valuable tool for fitness and rehab professionals.

Why Kettlebells?
  • Small in size 
The weight to space occupied ratio is hard to beat when it comes to KBs. I can keep 5-6 light KBs in a milk crate in my car for my work! Most people can even buy 1-2 KBs for home use and have a handheld gym.

The important thing to note is that even though the weights can be light, especially for those that lift weights, the nature of hardstyle movements make the weight feel heavier. A 24kb/53# KB doesn't sound like much. Yet, when you go to swing, snatch, or do a get up, that weight seems MUCH heavier. The result is good results with relatively light weight. This is why Andy Bolton improved his deadlift (1,000 pounds!) by swinging a 48kg/106# bell!

The small size also allows the bell to go in between the legs. Why's this important? This allows you to ballistically load your posterior chain in a way that's tougher to do with most forms of resistance. The result is a resilient, explosive, and adaptable posterior chain.

  • Affordable 
A 24kg/53# KB will cost you roughly the same as a month at a good gym. The gym membership lasts one month. The KB will last forever.

  • Time Efficiency 
Hardstyle KB training condenses tremendous amounts of work into a compact period of time. This can allow time devoted to exercise/fitness/rehab to be drastically reduced.

Tim Ferriss is famous for his pursuit of time efficiency and improving per hour output. In the Four Hour Body, he sought out a tool that would give him the most bang for his buck and time. What do you think he found? Kettlebells

  • Offset weight 
The placement of the handle above the weight offers an increased level of difficulty when performing different lifts with the KB. When you go to press the weight overhead, for example, the force of the weight is not directly over the supporting structure as is the case with dumbbells. This results in the weight "pulling" you out of your desired movement pattern. The effect of this is improved shoulder stability and motor control.

The offset weight also mimics most real world objects that we have to lift or toss - awkwardly shaped and heavier on one end. Learning to lift and move kettlebells can translate into learning how to better handle real world objects you may have to lift or toss.

What is Hardstyle Training?

I like to think of hardstyle training as a beautiful dance between tension and relaxation. Hardstyle training grows the ability to create tension when/where you desire while also growing the ability to relax when/where you desire. The result is improved strength, motor control, endurance, and energy conservation. (For a more robust explanation, read what Brett Jones had to say.)

Hardstyle KB training traditionally consists of two types of lifts: Ballistics (quick lifts) and Grinds (slow lifts).

  • Swings 
  • Cleans 
  • Snatch 
Many more...

  • Grinds 
  • Deadlift 
  • Squat 
  • Turkish Get Up 
  • Shoulder Press 
Many more...

These lifts can be used in combination to create some very powerful training/rehab sessions.

Who's it good for?

Remember...KBs don't hurt people. People hurt themselves.

I could argue that KB training can be used with most human beings. Yet, there's always exceptions.

Be sure participants are cleared medically for physical activity. If you're using these in rehab, I highly recommend tracking vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, O2 saturation). This becomes more important as you apply KBs with older adults.

Precautions (not exhaustive)


Red Light - Don't think about it
  • Poorly managed hypertension 
  • Unable to stand unsupported 
  • Vertigo, Poor tolerance to change of position 
  • Pain with the particular movement 
  • Mobility restrictions that don't allow required ROM 
  • Cannot perform hip hinge without compromising spinal integrity 
Yellow Light - Proceed with caution 
  • Cardiovascular &/or cardiopulmonary disease 
  • Balance impairment 
  • Hypertension 
  • Sedentary individuals 

Red Light - Don't think about it 
  • Poorly managed hypertension 
  • Pain with particular movement 

Yellow Light - Proceed with caution 

  • Cardiovascular &/or Cardiopulmonary diseases 
  • Mobility restrictions 
  • Sedentary individuals 
  • Unable to stand unsupported 
  • Balance impairment 
  • Difficulty managing hip hinge and compromising spinal integrity 
What should you wear?

Barefoot is the preferred way to train with KBs as you have great surface contact area and greater energy transfer to/from the ground.

If you are going to wear shoes, wear something that: 
  • Has 0-9mm drop from rear to front of shoe. This will depend on ankle ROM. 
  • Wide toe box 
  • Limited cushion (<15mm stack height) 
  • Flexible sole 
If you'd like to work towards training barefoot, do yourself a favor and read this article on T-Nation.

In regards to your hands. Barehanded is preferred. This can be difficult for some as you have to build up callouses to be able to do high volume KB lifts. To do this, you have to take care of your hands and prevent blisters. Ripping a blister will put you out of commission for a few days if you're not careful. 
  • Keep your calluses slim and trim with a pumice stone. 
  • Moisturize every night. 
  • Use a little chalk when lifting. 
  • Read this helpful post on more specifics

If gloves are a must, consider these options: 
What size KB's do I need to get started?

Each person is different. Here's a post on where to start with purchasing your kettlebells.