Chris McGrath by Chris McGrath

KettlebellsAs kettlebells continue to grow in popularity, so do the options for kettlebell training and education courses and programs. All training tools and modalities carry a level of risk and kettlebells are clearly no exception. The associated risk of a training modality often correlates with the degree of skill needed to practice that modality. Traditional kettlebell training incorporates whole body, dynamic movements, and in many cases, explosive power movements that rely on speed and momentum. It is important to realize that most personal training clients have never been exposed to these training skills. Because of that, great care, consideration and preparation should be taken when introducing kettlebells to clients. With proper training, they can be a great addition to a trainer’s repertoire. The key is to ensure the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Are you considering using kettlebells with your clients?

There are no specific requirements or prerequisites to pick up or train with a kettlebell. After all, in its simplest form, kettlebells are simply another form of weight training. However, when looking to incorporate kettlebells into your program, it’s best to learn two fundamental principles that experts use in their educational programs:

1) Fundamental Movement Abilities

Traditional kettlebell training should only be practiced on clients with sound movement abilities. Therefore, training education should cover strategies that help identify and address a client’s movement abilities and possible movement restrictions to determine his or her readiness for the big stuff.

2) Movement Coaching Abilities

A responsible training course should help the trainer develop an expert skill-set in coaching kettlebell movements. Knowing an exercise is one thing. Being proficient in coaching a dynamic movement, however, is what separates the best from the rest. If a training program does not spend adequate time on helping the fitness professional develop these skills, you may be placing your clients at risk or, at the very least, a lowered capacity to obtain the benefits that kettlebells can offer.

These two principles should be part of the foundation of any responsible kettlebell training course. Here is a quick checklist to help you determine if the program you are considering meets these requirements:

v  Safe training practices are highlighted.

Let’s face it: the word “safe” doesn't always sell. The biggest exercise hits on YouTube rarely tout safety as the primary objective. We are easily impressed with the end result, but we’re not nearly as excited about the steps that take us there. Yet as professionals, it’s our responsibility to ensure safety is just as much a part of the program as effectiveness. This holds true for the education we choose. While “safe” doesn't sound particularly marketable, a good kettlebell education program will likely demonstrate its commitment to safety by emphasizing things like:

  • Starting clients at appropriate levels
  • Coaching proper form
  • Incorporating sensible progressions

If the education program you are considering spends most of its marketing highlighting sexy YouTube exercises but doesn’t emphasize sound training principles, keep searching!

v  Movement screening and evaluation are addressed.

One size does not fit all, especially when it comes to kettlebell training. And when incorporating complex movements with resistance and speed, it does not matter how great the exercise is on paper if it is performed by a body that moves dysfunctionally. Some courses offer a detailed combination of kettlebell training with movement screens and corrective exercise strategies. This can be highly valuable and recommended for those who have little experience in this area. At the very least, look for courses that address basic movement screens to ensure your clients are ready for kettlebell training.   

v  Regressions are just as important (if not more so) than progressions.

Any course can show off challenging exercises and highlight videos of an elite athlete demonstrating perfect form. But your average client is unlikely to be able to emulate these same feats. A course that places more of its focus on how to increase challenges is likely out of touch with both the average client and the trainer who has little experience with kettlebells. Exercise breakdowns and regressions are arguable the most important aspect of a foundational kettlebell training course. After all, virtually anyone can make an exercise more challenging. The true genius comes with being able to teach your clients how to execute dynamic and challenging exercises with perfect form.     

No matter what training program you like best, it’s important that you spend enough time developing safe and effective kettlebell training and coaching skills before you implement the modality with your clients. Some trainers have extensive experience in advanced forms of training and coaching, while others are just beginning their personal training careers. Your unique background and experience should determine how much studying and practice you should devote to kettlebell education. For example, a trainer who has extensive experience with Olympic-style power lifting should already have a strong understanding of the principles that carry over to kettlebell power movements. While the techniques may be different, the principles are very similar. The learning curve would naturally be much shorter for a trainer with power-lifting coaching experience than for a trainer who has no experience in traditional power training with weights.

Personal trainers who are learning and practicing power training with resistance for the first time should spend extra time studying and practicing before using kettlebells with their clients. In addition to completing a comprehensive, practical training course, you may find it beneficial to team up with experienced trainers who can provide constructive coaching. Additionally, investing in reputable videos and books from the experts can help you better understand how to take a responsible and effective approach with all of your clients.

Despite the higher degree of risk often associated with this modality, kettlebells should not be viewed as intimidating. The degree of skill required is simply an element to respect when seeking a kettlebell training course. Many people have trained successfully with kettlebells at the highest levels without causing injury by simply respecting the skill required and the progressions necessary to perform safely and effectively. In fact, a sophisticated kettlebell training course may not only help you become a better kettlebell trainer, it should help you become a better trainer overall.

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