Many people—men and women alike—genuinely enjoy lifting heavy things and often feel most at home in the gym. For others, however, walking into a weight room is a heart-pounding, sweat-inducing, exhausting endeavor. For these people, the physical stress of exercise is combined with emotional stress triggered by a sense of anxiety and apprehension about navigating a “masculine” world of dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells.

As health and exercise professionals, it is not uncommon to recognize this sense of apprehension among our female clients, in particular. So, how do you help them overcome their apprehension—and resistance—and learn to love lifting weights?

To answer that question, we turned to four female health and exercise professionals who have found their power and voice through lifting heavy. You’ll discover how weight lifting, specifically kettlebells, has the power to not only improve the physical health of the women who use them, but can also “improve self-esteem, self-efficacy and well-being,” according to Katherine MacShane, in Do You Even Lift Bro?: A Psychodynamic Feminist Analysis of the Mental Health Benefits of Weight Lifting for Women (2014).

Benefits for Beginners

You don’t need convincing that physical activity offers huge benefits, or that strength training is an important key to staying healthy and active throughout the lifespan. But for our female clientele, strength training can offer more than just leaner legs. In additional to the obvious physical benefits, people who participate in weight lifting receive significant psychological benefits as well, including reduced stress and alleviation of depression (MacShane, 2014).

 Jessica Hopkins

Jessica Hopkins, C.S.C.S., a veteran personal trainer and performance coach in Seattle, Wash., and former Legends Football League Seattle Mist team captain, knows this all too well. When Hopkins introduces her female clients to weight lifting, she doesn’t start with kettlebells. “After a client has been training with me for a little while (it varies from client to client),” explains Hopkins, “I will eventually lead them to the weight room and typically progress from machines to dumbbells/free weights and eventually to kettlebells.”

She’s watched her clients progress from feeling insecure about going into a weight room to being excited about mastering new skills with the kettlebell. And this excitement doesn’t stop at the gym. “Their level of comfort in a weight room and their ability to try and adapt to new things is useful in all areas of life,” Hopkins says. “It’s fun to remind clients of their first time coming to the weight room and how nervous or anxious they may have been and recognize how far they’ve come, not only in their physical endeavors but also in their mental and emotional strength and confidence.”

Hopkins’ favorite kettlebell exercise to use with her female clients is the goblet squat. This functional movement not only promotes range of motion in the hips, it improves stability in the trunk due to the front-loading of the kettlebell. She’s found that this exercise not only benefits her teammates on the football field by developing lower-body strength, but also assists her active-aging clients who want to improve core strength, but may not feel comfortable moving down to the floor to perform traditional ab work. 

 Anna Woods

Benefits for Busy Moms

From the football field to the barn—this is where you’ll find Anna Woods, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and sheSTRENGTH owner. Woods has transformed her Kansas barn into a Mecca for Midwestern women to find their strength again after having kids and putting their families first. For clients like these busy moms, weightlifting with kettlebells has been shown to positively impact their levels of perceived daily stress (MacShane, 2014; Koplas, Shilling and Harper, 2012).

It is important to note, however, that it’s not always easy for women to get started training. According to MacShane (2014), “it can be challenging for woman weight lifters to find female training partners, role models and coaches who are experienced in working with women lifters." For this reason, Woods has made it her mission to empower women and promote a community, both local and virtual, to reduce stress, educate women on using weights like kettlebells and promote the mantra, “I am enough.”

Woods, who has coached her clients to use kettlebells for a number of years, strong believes in the effectiveness of this tool. “I think when a woman feels her own strength—and in my opinion that strength is physical, emotional and mental—her eyes are opened to just how powerful she is. All those negative things she hated about herself before become tools, and she finds herself in an environment where those struggles are actually for a purpose. Her mindset is changed and she views weight differently. She no longer runs from a number on a scale,” notes Woods, “but instead chases one on a bar or a kettlebell.” 

When it comes to helping her clients learn new kettlebell movements, Woods believes cueing is essential. For example, asking her client to “shut the car door with your butt because your arms are full of groceries” can help the client effectively relate to the hip-hinge movement in the kettlebell swing and develop power in the posterior chain without causing strain to the lumbar spine.

Anna’s personal favorite kettlebell exercise to use with her clients is the halo. Due to its integration of the shoulders and trunk, this movement is a great warm-up tool for those with shoulder mobility goals, and also promotes focus at the beginning of a workout.

 Way-Jen Enlow

Benefits for Bolstering Confidence

ACE Certified Pro and YMCA group fitness instructor Way-Jen Enlow says the kettlebell has helped her female clients progress smoothly from the busy mom life to the active aging life of retirees and grandmothers. She also believes that integrating kettlebell work into her group fitness classes has helped to the boost confidence of the attendees.

“I've seen the confidence of women increase and watched them build a community,” explains Enlow. “I’ve watched women’s confidence grow in the way they handled equipment, tried new exercises, and would share tips on what cues helped them best. We even had to order heavier bells for the class, as everyone got stronger and felt increasingly confident in using more weight.  This, in turn, inspired other women to try even one rep of an exercise at a new weight they didn't think was possible.”

Enlow notes how happy her participants seem to be at the end of a workout. “The mood at the end of class is contagious—a shared feeling of exhaustion combined with smiling faces to continue about their day,” says Enlow. “Several ladies have said, ‘Any day I can get to kettlebell class is a good day.’”

This shift in mood can be attributed to something called the Control-mastery Theory (CMT), which, according to psychotherapist Joseph Weiss (2002) “assumes that [clients] are highly motivated, both consciously and unconsciously, to solve their problems, to rid themselves of symptoms, and to seek highly adaptive and important goals, such as a sense of well-being, a satisfying relationship or a meaningful career.”

As a health and exercise professional, this is an important theory for you to understand, as it is “a cognitive relational approach to psychological functioning that can be readily used to explain the phenomenon of increased sense of personal power, confidence and agency experienced by women who participate in weight lifting” (MacShane, 2014). According to this theory, women who choose to pick up something heavy—such as a kettlebell—and learn new skills, put in the work to master movement and progress in weight, can begin to rewire their personal belief system, thus empowering them to reach for their goals, both in and out of the gym.  

For the women in Enlow’s classes, the kettlebell swing is a staple movement that enhances these positive changes in mood while integrating power, strength and coordination. It also brings the heart rate up for a fun and functional challenge. Furthermore, the kettlebell swing has also been shown to be an effective exercise for hamstring activation, according to this ACE-sponsored research study.

Benefits for Boosting Body-image

Kael Roberts, a personal trainer and lifestyle coach, has experienced firsthand how kettlebells can change a belief system and set into motion a tidal wave of positivity. She strives to help her clients with positive thinking through her book, The Power of One Positive Thought, which includes lessons she’s learned from challenging times in her life. This inspiration paired with kettlebell workouts are her recipe for success for her female clients.

“There are so many different uses for the kettlebell, all of which helps my client understand the movement of their bodies better,” explains Roberts. “With better understanding and control over the way their bodies move, most clients see a significant improvement in confidence level, just from training on one piece of equipment.”

Similarly, according to Depcik and Williams (2004), women who lift weights like kettlebells may also experience a greater reduction in body-image disturbance than women who do not lift weights. This includes clients who may have experienced sexual abuse, intimate partner violence or abusive caregiving resulting in low self-esteem and/or self-efficacy (MacShane, 2014). It is important to note that, when working with clients who have been through significant trauma, you must ensure that a mental health professional is part of your referral network, as psychotherapy is outside the scope of practice for health and exercise professionals. However, engaging clients with positive thoughts, challenging them with new skills and teaching them empowering movements with a kettlebell are all well within your scope.

Roberts’ favorite skill to teach her clients is the kettlebell snatch. This metabolically challenging move, when used appropriately, can save time in a workout while promoting full-body efficiency.

Putting it All Together

The following workout, which is appropriate for both men and women and features the four movements mentioned by the trainers featured in this article, is a great way to introduce your clients to the benefits of kettlebell training. Before combining the movements into a circuit, make sure your clients have mastered each movement individually for several reps in a row. Complete the recommended number of reps for each exercise in the order given and then rest for 60 seconds before moving on to the next round (for a total of three rounds).







4 circles right, 4 circles left






Goblet squat






4 left arm, 4 right arm

Rest 60 seconds before repeating the exercises

Final Thoughts

When working with female clients, understanding their specific goals is important. These goals, however, may not entirely be linked to a change in their physical appearance. Depending on genetics and diet, some women are able to dramatically change their shape with the use of weights such as kettlebells, and it is important to help female clients understand that this change is a positive one, with benefits beyond fitting into a new pair of jeans.

“Weight lifting leaves little room for apologizing for taking up space,” writes MacShane (2014). “Women who lift weights actively pursue a goal that allows them to more confidently inhabit their bodies and to use them as tools to accomplish tasks. Women weight lifters feel more capable of action, of competent movement, and of agency in the world.”

Bottom line: Whether you choose kettlebells or some other form of resistance, don’t let your female clients miss out on these amazing benefits of strength training.


For more information on how to effectively use kettlebells with your clients, check out these ACE resources:

 Best Exercise for Hamstrings

 Kettlebells Mastering the Swing


Depcik, E. and Williams, L. (2004). Weight training and body satisfaction of body-image-disturbed college women. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 16, 3, 287-299.

 Jay, K.F.D. (2011). Kettlebell training for musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health: A randomized controlled trial. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, 196-203.

Koplas, P.A., Shilling, A.E. and Harper, M.S. (2012). Reduction in perceived stress in healthy women older than 30 years following a 24-week resistance training program: A pilot study. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy, 36, 2, 90-101.

MacShane, K. (2014). Do You Even Lift Bro?: A Psychodynamic Feminist Analysis of the Mental Health Benefits of Weight Lifting for Women. Northampton: Smith ScholarWorks.

Weiss, J. (2002). Control-mastery Theory. In: Hersen, M. and Sledge, W. Encyclopedia of Psychotherapy (pp. 545-549). New York: Elsevier Science.