Technique First: A Case for Kettlebell Safety – By Steven Khuong, CSCS

Technique First:  A Case for Kettlebell Safety

By Steven Khuong, CSCS

As the kettlebell become more mainstream, it is pertinent that ripped hands, bruised forearms, and torn ligaments not become synonymous with the tool.  Independent of any dichotomy regarding styles or programming, people using kettlebells or teaching with them have a responsibility to protect themselves and others from injury in the process. It doesn’t matter if you choose to use the kettlebell for sport, fitness, feats of strength, juggling, or power development; having a solid technical foundation should be a prerequisite to what you creatively do later. Gripping kettlebells incorrectly can lead to blisters, skin burns, and bruising.  Not fixating the bell overhead can lead to extraneous stress on the shoulder and elbow joints as well as other detrimental effects associated with unsafe handling. Good technique is paramount to long term health and human performance.

The Current World Champion, Fedor Fuglev
(photo courtesy of

I believe we can all learn some things about safety within the context of sport.  Competitive athletes using the kettlebell simply can not afford to let the tool injure them.  Thus, they spend the necessary time mastering the fundamentals of safety and proper handling based on the kettlebell’s shape and design.  Since the formation of Kettlebell Sport around the 1940s, the tool has gone through many trials in Russia and Eastern Europe.  As a result, we have over sixty years of “crash testing” and analysis performed by many elite athletes and coaches; in fact, they’ve already laid out a highly developed system for us to reference in terms of safety.  However, even though these concepts made their way to hundreds of coaches and trainers in the United States via Valery Fedorenko since 2007, the majority of kettlebell users in the America still have little or no concept regarding the intricacies of technical handling (proper gripping, fixation, lockouts, resting positions, etc.).

Honored Master of Sport, Record Holder, and World Champ, Valery Fedorenko
(photo courtesy of

As Kettlebell Sport becomes more recognized in the U.S., a heightened awareness of how the elite athletes utilize kettlebells will perhaps highlight the importance of safety through technicality.  Using Olympic weightlifting (O-lifting) as an example, we can draw some interesting parallels.  Since O-lifting is a recognized sport within the Olympic games, people working in the fitness/athletic industry generally have a greater awareness (and respect) for the proper usage of the barbell.  Many sport and fitness certification agencies also bring awareness to standardized barbell safety via textbooks and trade journals that draw from the experience of elite lifters and coaches.  There is usually less acceptance of people using renegade techniques with the barbell within the context of athletic development.  In my experience, this is not yet true for kettlebells.  Imagine not locking out or fixating a heavy barbell as a matter of habit.  What do you think will happen to your shoulder girdle over time?  Yes, the kettlebell is sub-maximal compared to the typical loads used in O-lifting, but kettlebell lifts are executed with more repetitions in training and competition, and potentially more volume as you progress.  I have witnessed coaches cringe when an athlete mishandles a barbell for the clean and jerk, but somehow, when it comes to kettlebell lifting, I have heard the same coaches miss the danger signals entirely or worse, defend a potentially dangerous execution as a stylistic difference.

U.S. National Champion and Ice Chamber Kettlebell Girl, Sara Nelson
(photo courtesy of

I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone picking up a barbell ought to perform at the same technical level as an Olympian.  However, most of us in the fitness/athletic industry agree that there are best practices associated with Olympic weightlifting and power movements with the barbell.  There is no debate as to whether barbell jerks and snatches should be locked out overhead and handled in a way to help the athlete progress safely while minimizing injury.  I believe the same standards should be held for anyone training with kettlebells.  Regardless of styles or programming, one should first and foremost learn safe and sound technique.  This will not only serve the greater good for the future of kettlebell lifting, but also ensure that anyone using the kettlebell maximizes all of the benefits associated with it.

Steven Khuong, CSCS, is the co-founder of the Ice Chamber ( and the Head Coach of the Ice Chamber Kettlebell Team.