For trainers that take pride in proper exercise form, nothing drives them crazier than seeing a client (or youtube “guru”) perform popular kettlebell exercises with improper and potentially dangerous form. While there are a variety of styles involved in kettlebell training, there are some universal mistakes that should be avoided. Here we’ll talk about and demonstrate some of the most common kettlebell exercise mistakes with three of the most popular exercises: Kettlebell Figure 8’s, Kettlebell Swings, and Kettlebell Cleans.
The Most Common Kettlebell Figure 8 Mistake
The Kettlebell Figure 8 Exercise is a dynamic hinge drill that involves passing a kettlebell from hand to hand between your legs. At Onnit Academy, one of the primary training cues you will hear over and over is “neutral spine.”
This cue is extremely applicable to the majority of hinging drills where spinal flexion is a possibility. Neutral spine means exactly what it sounds like; the action of keeping your spine in line.
Why don’t you want spinal flexion? Because it puts your back at risk by disengaging your core muscles while simultaneously adding a risky rotational movement into the equation.
Add in some high repetition set schemes and you have everything you need for an injury. In the video above you’ll see what a disengaged core looks like.
In the correct version, you’ll notice that my chest is up, back is straight, core is engaged, and I’m actively fighting the rotation caused by the dropping the kettlebell between my legs in each rep.
The Most Common Kettlebell Swing Mistake
While performing the Kettlebell Swing with a squat movement rather than a hinge movement is technically the most common mistake, I’m going to assume that you know that already. The most common mistake (assuming that you know that you’re supposed to be hinging) is exactly the same as the most common Figure 8 mistake: spinal flexion. Ballistic movements make this mistake especially dangerous because you are combining an explosive movement with a weight that is as far from your core as possible, increasing the effective load that you’ll be dealing with.
Again, engaging the core and maintaining spinal alignment is paramount in performing this drill effectively. This is accomplished by pushing your hips behind you as the kettlebell drags you down into the starting position with the kettlebell in between your legs. Maintaining a neutral spine extends all the way up to your neck; you’ll notice in the video that I’m not looking forward at the bottom of the rep, my head is in line with the rest of my body.
Now, I know there’s a few wisenheimers out there that may have an issue with my arms being bent at the top of the Kettlebell Swing demonstrated here. Unlike some forms of this exercise, Onnit Academy primarily uses the swing for hinging power development at the start of each repetition; for this reason, it doesn’t matter how my arms end up, they’re simply acting as a pivoting joint to facilitate the initial explosive movement.
The Most Common Kettlebell Clean Mistake
While a neutral spine is also a big issue with the Kettlebell Clean, I’m going to switch it up by talking about the mistake that makes my cringe more often; the flop. The flop is a common mistake for beginners, and the primary reason why people say that kettlebells “hurt” and then seek out wrist guards (I’m talking about using wrist guards for the standard use of kettlebells, not the way Kettlebell Sport (GS) people need them). The flop is when the kettlebell isn’t properly cleaned into the Rack Position; rather than keeping the kettlebell tight to the body, it is flung up and out, forcing the user to pull it back into themselves. This causes a painful flopping action that can cause bruising.
This is avoided by having a loose hook grip on the kettlebell and keeping the kettlebell as close to your core as possible throughout the movement. Rather than flinging the kettlebell up and over your arm, you should be allowing it to rotate around your arm.