One of the most common issues that kettlebell beginners report when they start with kettlebells is that they experience excessive pressure on the forearm, bruising, or pain from the bell part of the kettlebell. This results in either giving up on kettlebell training, using an incorrect grip, or wrist guards. However, with the correct technique and grip, this can all be avoided. The solutions are listed below together with a video of one of the most important drills you need to learn.
How to Fix Kettlebell Forearm Issues
I’ve literally spent days analyzing the kettlebell grip and how it can produce forearm pressure, bruising, tenderness, and pain. But most importantly how to prevent these issues! I’ve done this for the kettlebell books written on Cavemantraining. I decided that part of this information should be free and contributed to Kettlebell Fundamentals, especially since this is one of the major causes for people to give up on kettlebell training before they’ve even started.
There is some forearm conditioning that needs to happen when a kettlebell beginner just started kettlebell training, but there is also a lot of technique that will help prevent forearm pressure caused by the bell. Here are some of the most common causes:
- Flexed wrist
- Weak wrist
- Fingers gripping tight around the handle
- Hand inserted in the middle of the handle
- Cleaning and banging
- Letting the bell rest on the forearm
If you really need to, get yourself some wrist guards or sweatbands, but from my experience as a kettlebell coach I find it best to get conditioned and focus on the correct technique. If you get to a stage where the weights you’re lifting are very heavy and you’re doing high reps, go and get those wrist guards!
Here are some techniques which will help reduce or prevent forearm issues created by the pressure or impact from the kettlebell:
- Keep the wrist straight
- Use proper hand insertion
- Push the thumb up
- Maintain a close-to-vertical forearm
- Share the weight between the hand and forearm
- Work with proper kettlebells
An incorrect insert where the hand is in the middle of the horn will place the middle of the bell on the forearm which will create the most pressure.
A proper hand insert is where the top corner of the handle is positioned on the webbing between your thumb and index finger, from there the handle is resting on the ball of the thumb, and the bottom corner of the handle is past the heel of your palm. The bottom horn is resting against or is close to the side of your forearm without causing pressure. The weight is distributed across the ball of your thumb and the heel of your palm, and your forearm is free from excessive and annoying pressure.
The following video shows the hand insertion in slow motion so that you can see exactly what happens during the clean.
Due to the design of the kettlebell a good hand insertion does not mean all the weight is in the handle and resting in the palm, there is actually more going on, there is part of the weight that indeed rests in the palm downwards, but there is also a part that pulls laterally on the palm and a part that rests on the forearm.
What follows are the above points explained in more and different words plus a few points added that can also assist with the prevention of kettlebell forearm bruising and pain:
A) The majority of the weight from the kettlebell should be shared by the palm, forearm, and upper arm in the racking position, and not just be on the forearm (where the bell rests). With that in mind, it should be noted that due to the design of the kettlebell it’s not possible to completely remove the pressure from the forearm.
B) Practice hand insertion with a kettlebell on the ground or through assisted clean drills. See the video below.
C) A good hand insert at the corner of the handle (between the horn and handle) will change the angle of the bell in relation to your forearm, the round bit of the bell that normally provides the pressure is now positioned differently.
D) Your fingers do not need to grip around the handle during anything overhead, doing so requires wrist flexion.
E) Wrist extension might feel like a good thing to do for relieving pressure, but it actually creates more pressure by the weight distribution being moved from the forearm to the palm.
F) Condition the forearm with a light kettlebell weight, maybe you can press heavier but your forearms are unconditioned to the pressure, stick with a lighter weight till conditioned.
G) A tighter grip with the tips of the fingers, while all other techniques are perfect, might also assist in relieving pressure.
H) Don’t keep pressing with an incorrect grip on the kettlebell, stop, reset, and/or adjust with the other hand.
I) The more you position your forearm toward being horizontal and away from being vertical, the more forearm pressure will be created. The more you bring your forearm laterally outwards and away from being vertical, the less pressure on the forearm but more pressure on the shoulder, a position not recommended.
J) A weak wrist might prompt you to flex it, wrist flexion will increase bell pressure.
K) If you tried everything, try with a flat open hand (see photo above).
In summary, there is no need to experience any aches, pains, or annoyances from kettlebell training if you have the right kettlebell design and technique. Learn the correct racking position and kettlebell grips.
NOTE: all hands are different, what works for one might not work for the other, most of the above are common across all people, but with that said, there still might be instances where something does not work. Process the above information, play with it, analyze it, and create your own perfect environment.