Injury Prevention Tips

How not to get hurt with kettlebells

Kettlebell warm-up
Jump Squats. Steve Cotter/IKFF

There is a saying that has been associated with sports, weightlifting and gyms and connotes a macho, win-at-all-costs mentality. The saying is “no pain, no gain”. Many young athletes have been brought up being told this by coaches, friends, and teammates. But is it really good advice? Is it necessary to achieve pain in order to get benefits or feel accomplished from your fitness routines? Actually, "no pain, no gain" is very bad advice and heeding that advice is a sure recipe for injury, burnout and poor results in training.

Although pushing yourself in training is a necessary step to go beyond your current level of strength and fitness, you have to be smart about how hard and how often to push. In pushing, do not ignore your body's warning signs. If you feel burning or weakness or extreme fatigue (RPE over 8), the smart thing is to stop, rest and maybe call it a day, or at the least take a few minutes to catch your breath, so that you may continue in the workout without slipping into sloppy, dangerous form. In place of “no pain, no gain”, “live to fight another day” is probably a better mantra to follow when it comes to your longer term success in your kettlebell program.

If you can follow this line of thought, and prefer to maximize your odds of achieving longevity with your kettlebell routines, and minimize the likelihood of injuring yourself during training, here are a few important tips to keep mindful of while progressing with your workouts:

Always take at least 5 minutes to warm up your body and concentrate your mind

Keep plenty of water or other healthy fluid nearby and stay hydrated while training, especially on hot days

Maintain a healthy balance between pushing and pulling movements, vertical and horizontal movements, upper body and lower body exercises, single and double kettlebell lifts, static and dynamic lifts.

In other words, don’t do only the same few exercises every workout. Instead, understand that the body needs to move in different planes and ranges of motion and be familiar with the different kinds of movement patterns

Use a Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, which is your own subjective rating of how intense your kettlebell set is. In a 4-day per week training schedule, aim for 1 light intensity (RPE 4-5), 2 moderate intensity (RPE 6-7) and 1 high intensity (RPE 8+) workouts each week. 

Be aware enough and smart enough to back off if you feel any tightness, burning, pulling or otherwise pain while lifting kettlebells. If you can catch a slight muscle pull or another injury when it first occurs, you stand a better chance of avoiding the long-term consequences of ignoring the early signs and possibly causing a more serious injury. Live to fight another day!

Mix in some rest days, in which you do not train at all, or do only gentle mobility and stretching exercises. Don’t lift kettlebells every day, because your body needs time to recover between intense kettlebell sessions.

Consider working out with kettlebells at least 3 days per week, but not more than 5 days per week. 

Balance your kettlebell workouts with other types of productive exercises, such as running, swimming, bodyweight exercise or playing your favorite sports. This will help to keep your kettlebell training from becoming stale and allow you to incorporate different ranges of motion not normally addressed with kettlebells.  

End every training session with a cool-down and stretch, to simultaneously reduce tightness and stiffness from the just-completed workout, and to better prepare your body for your next workout

Prioritize consistent stretching exercises after kettlebell workouts, to increase the range of motion of your muscles.

While the adage of “no pain, no gain” sounds cool, it just is not a smart approach to apply to your kettlebell training. Instead, take good care of your long-term health and “live to fight another day”. 

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