How not to squat with a kettlebell

How NOT to Rack a Kettlebell

In this article, I will cover how NOT to rack or hold a kettlebell, and more importantly, I will explain why not. At the end of the article, I link to a free resource that you can download which will show you exactly how to rack.


For those that don’t want to read the whole article, here’s the summary, and feel free to point anyone to this article when you see them teaching this type of racking.

Summary: The incorrect racking position overloads the deltoids and hinders progression.

The article can also be discussed here in a professional manner.

Got a tight neck or shoulders that are always way too fatigued (or worse)? Read the full article, as it’s worth your time.

But I Saw it in a Magazine!

A lot of people put their trust in what they see in glossy magazines, and the same goes for what’s on the news. What most people do not realize is that photos and news are mostly about what looks good and sells, and not about what is correct.

The photos that you see are taken from a large international micro stock photography provider.

How not to rack a kettlebell

Unless you have a super experienced kettlebell coach who programmed workouts for the people in the photos for a very particular reason (extremely unlikely), then they’re all wrong because the shoulders are worked intensely. The way the kettlebells are held in the photos is in effect a lateral or frontal shoulder raise which on its own is an isometric exercise.

A shoulder raise or wanting to work the shoulders is not bad, this is why I mentioned that if you have a super experienced kettlebell coach that programmed this position of the kettlebell for a very specific reason, it’s almost always wrong and damaging.

Incorrect kettlebell hold

The athlete on the left is holding 2 x 8 kgs, and the athlete on the right is holding 2 x 12 kgs, which is relatively light. First, we have to ask ourselves “why do we add load to an exercise?”. The exercise in this case is the lunge and squat. We add load so that the legs have more resistance to work against and develop strength.

So, unless the workout was specifically programmed to work the legs as prime movers and the shoulders isometrically and the athletes are extremely conditioned in the shoulders, then these holds are incorrect and damaging.

Secondly, moving in an unstable environment like this (lunges) and trying to hold those shoulders/arms still to support the weight is most likely going to overwork the shoulders. Especially if the racking position is like this in EVERY following exercise, which usually it is. When one programs a workout, one needs to look at the body parts worked, inexperienced trainers won’t see this form of racking/hold as work, but it is, and it’s neglected to be taken into account. It will burn out the shoulders. Let me run an example by you.

  • Racked Squat
  • Shoulder press
  • Clean

All three require racking, each exercise is designed to target a different part of the body. The squat targets the whole of the legs but predominantly anterior. The shoulder press targets the shoulders. The clean targets the posterior of the legs (when done with a hip hinge). With an incorrect racking position the deltoid, trapezius, and everything around the scapula is now worked with all exercises as well. It would be the same as programming a whole workout devoted to working nothing else but those muscles. It would result in overtraining that area, which can lead to a tight neck, injured shoulders, or worse.

How not to hold a kettlebell

Let’s dive deeper into isolation. One wants to isolate as much as possible (hardly ever completely possible with kettlebells) with an exercise to target the intended response. If an athlete has to work hard to keep the kettlebells in place—which they do with any of these incorrect racking positions—then they can’t focus on adding more weight or reps.

If the kettlebells are racked like they’re supposed to, which will result in minimal work to the shoulders or the rest of the body, then the focus can be on the intended result of the exercise. More load can be added, more reps can be done, and there is no overtraining of the shoulders.

Excessive biceps work is another area that can be avoided with a good racking position. The photo above “How NOT to Hold a Kettlebell” shows a lady on the right holding a pink kettlebell in a position that requires the biceps (all of the elbow flexors) to work. Again, not a bad thing if you want to work the biceps, but if your program involves other work that already targets that area, then injury will become the ramification of this incorrect hold. Especially when paired with incorrect cleaning which usually also affects that exact same area. Besides an incorrect hold, the lady is always wearing a watch and something else on her wrists, this is the first sign of a bad coach or someone that isn’t interested in doing things correctly. A quick summary of why: all this results in a bad/incorrect kettlebell grip which can result in tendonitis, more on that in the free PDF Master Kettlebell Grips by Cavemantraining.

The 0.1%

So, I mentioned that this could be a correct racking position because I believe that not everything is black or white. But I’m extremely confident by looking at the past decades of my career as a kettlebell coach and gym owner that in 99.9% of the cases we’re not dealing with a coach or program that specifically asks for this position to work the shoulders and upper body. It could be functional for some professions in which the subject needs to squat with a load in a similar position.

In 99.9% of the cases, this is not functional, not programmed right, not understood correctly, and can result in injury or overtraining.


Dave Carrier brought up an interesting point, and this is exactly how we should look at this and debate it.

“They did a CrossFit event that included the KB Long Cycle and many of the athletes were cleaning into this position as well. I wondered if they all didn’t know it was bad form or if some were just focused on a slightly shorter jerk over using the rack.”

Dave Carrier

I see what he’s saying, and that’s a great way to analyze it. I doubt that’s what they we’re looking for. But let’s entertain the idea. IMHO it would be an unstable position to transfer energy from. The push press movement would drive up and transfer the energy from the legs into the weight, during that movement it would require a lot of shoulder work to keep the weight stable. The weights are unstable in the position that they are, the only thing that can stabilize them are the shoulder and from an awkward position too.

The distance from the legs to the weight is also further, usually, the higher you put something the more unstable it becomes or the more work anything underneath needs to work for stabilization. In this case, the weight is brought further from the hips and all the way to the shoulders. With a good racking position, the energy transfers from the legs directly into the forearm and then the weight. With the weights on the shoulders, the path is not as long as it would be with a disconnected rack, but the bells are extremely unstable which makes it hard to transfer the energy into them with the jerk or push press.

How not to kettlebell squat

I personally spend a lot of time on the subject of racking with our students. It’s one of the fundamentals of kettlebell training. There are racking positions for the transfer of energy, like with the jerk or push press. There are racking positions for resting which allow for an increase in endurance. There are racking positions solely for transitions, and so on. The point is, kettlebell racking is super important and a whole topic is devoted to it.

Check out the free PDF that I wrote called Master Kettlebell Racking by Cavemantraining.

Kettlebell Exercise Encyclopedia References:

PS. As always, don’t put your trust in magazines, the news, and not even in what I write. Do your own research, ask questions, debate, and then make up your mind.

Leave a Comment

Shopping Basket