Are Kettlebells Dangerous?

The Dangers Of Kettlebell Training

Some surgeons or doctors will tell you about the dangers of kettlebell training and how they’re the cause of herniated discs. They’ll tell you how some patients they treated experienced tendonitis around the elbow area from kettlebells while others experienced less serious issues like forearm bruising, lower back pain, hands ripping, shoulder impingement, and so on.

“The worse thing I have ever done is the kettlebell swing…. Made me herniate discs”

— D. Rann

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Following The Science And Kettlebell Training
Summary: Are Kettlebells Dangerous?
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Some people will tell you to “follow the science” when it comes to movements and exercises, more on that later. Of course, these surgeons and doctors might have good intentions when they say that the kettlebell is dangerous but they are ill-informed and the information is false. A surgeon or doctor who tells you that the kettlebell is the cause of an injury is the same person who will tell you that the car was responsible for the accident instead of the driver. That Mcdonald’s is responsible for obesity, and so on. People that spread these untruths cause a lot of damage to humanity by making people scared about resistance exercise and promoting inactivity.

“Due to a lifetime of impacts, injuries poor form, poor posture, lack of flexibility, and weakness – the body’s fascia takes a lot of grief. Movement with Kettlebells alone won’t cause the back to herniate. So what about the millions who herniate a disc getting out of the car or picking up the shopping?”

— Chris Stephens

Claims about the kettlebell being a dangerous tool are only made by people who have absolutely no training experience and who don’t understand that the kettlebell is just a lump of iron that doesn’t move by itself.

“I have a bodybuilding/Powerbuilding background. Back before I got coached up on how to really do a swings, I did the 10,000 kettlebell challenge. I went WAY too heavy with swings while doing this, and treated it more like a bodybuilding movement with the reps I was doing.
All of those mistakes mixed with my hardcore lack of mobility, I ended up getting the starts of a hernia and compressing my sciatic nerve. It messed me up for almost a year. Ironically, what helped me recover was the very thing that injured me, kb work, except done properly.
The moral of the story is, form becomes so much more important when you’re dealing with kettlebells, (Versus other fitness tools) because they will make you pay. You can’t treat most kb exercises like bodybuilding exercises either, (Doing them to failure). Most strength athletes see Kettlebells as strictly being cardio tools, and this is where mistakes happen. They are actually great for strength if you use heavier KBs, but even lighter ones can build a good base of strength. You don’t need a ton of reps, despite the weight being lower than you would be able to do for dumbbell exercises, because of the difference in the center of gravity.
And some people might think it’s bullshit when someone tells you to get someone who is certified to coach you on KB movements, but let me tell you, it makes a HUGE difference.”

—Big-Mac-Megatron on Reddit

A kettlebell is not inherently dangerous. A kettlebell exercise can be dangerous under certain conditions and the reason for it becoming dangerous will lay with the user. It isn’t the kettlebell that is the danger and I will explain why. I’ll also add several free videos at the end that are vital to preventing some of the common annoyances with kb training.

What happens when you never make a certain movement or enter a certain range and then you do, whether forced or voluntarily? You get injured.

If you work through all movements and ranges in a controlled manner, you develop strength, and more importantly, your mobility increases. Your body and mind get accustomed to working those movements and ranges. This will result in injury-proofing yourself.

However, when the requirements of proper progression are not met then there is a risk of injury, this applies to any form of physical exercise and not just kettlebell training. Proper progression comes down to the individual, does he/she:

  1. know how to program for kettlebell training?
    • load
    • volume
    • pace
    • complexity
    • etc.
  2. invest time into learning the proper form and technique for each exercise?
  3. leave the ego at the door?
    • pick the right weight
    • stop when the body sends signals
    • rest when the body needs it
  4. ask questions

And so on. Most of the time, especially when we’re talking about injured people, they don’t program correctly or program at all and just do as much as possible. They don’t invest time or money into education about that which they use to get the results they’re after. They pick a weight heavier than they should use because the person next to them is using a heavy weight. They don’t stop or slow down during a workout when the body sends signals that something is wrong. They don’t let the body recover.

“I got a bit of shoulder impingement from going too heavy too fast on overhead work, had to stop doing overhead press to work on T-spine mobility. If I had half a brain I would have slowed down and not had to stop completely for a few months.”

GreenStrong on Reddit

How do I know that the majority of people experience the process of diving headfirst into kettlebell training, getting injured, and repeating this several times before finally taking the right path? I’ve owned and run 3 gyms and I’ve coached people across the world. I manage exercise communities with over 150,000 people in total. I’ve written a book on Preventing Kettlebell Training Injuries (also on Amazon). The recurring pattern of skipping proper progression is present in the gym, online communities, and also shown by the popularity of book sales with Kettlebell Workouts And Challenges being our top seller. Technique books come in second and Preventing Injuries books come in last. The kettlebell is an object that doesn’t make decisions or else, I’m sure, it would pick the right path.

“I had some mild discomfort in my elbow/forearm tendons from jumping into one handed swings too soon. Fixed that by sticking to 2H swings for a bit, and reintroduced 1H swings slowly.”

Grwatz on Reddit

Following The Science And Kettlebell Training 

When people think of the prescriptive phrase “Follow the Science”, they oftentimes remember that science can change over time based on new information and research.  In fact, Galileo spent his final ~25 years of life under house arrest when on February 26, 1616, he was formally banned and banished by the Roman Catholic Church for teaching and defending the opinion that the Earth orbits the Sun.  Obviously, this is a head-scratcher for us in modern-day times as we now know definitively based on science that the sun is the center of our solar system.   

In the kettlebell community, following the science can be directly attributed to proper education and techniques as strength training enthusiasts seek to improve our bodies, minds, and overall health and fitness.  For example, I wrote an article on a community of people who dismiss the benefits of kettlebell flows and juggling.  In the article, I seek to dispel the notion that doing kettlebell flows and juggling aren’t effective for those who use light weights since you won’t develop muscle very fast.  Yet as the science shows, any movement can be beneficial for one’s heart, health, and body – even if it’s done properly with lighter weights or even no weights at all.  Training may start with lower weights, yet higher weights get deployed over time as the fitness enthusiast wants to increase his/her resistance.  

Additionally, some trainers may explicitly state that “one must lift heavy weight as that’s the only way you’ll become strong,” which may push one away from kettlebell training altogether.  Some people may not have goals to become the biggest they can become; rather, most people want to lose weight and get stronger and more toned, yet not necessarily max out in terms of size.  This is where kettlebell training shines and many kettlebell enthusiasts like myself can see and feel the physical improvements over time whereby you will look leaner with pronounced quads, shoulders, and biceps by deploying kettlebell training techniques correctly over time.

Lastly, with regards to following the science of developing one’s body effectively to achieve his/her goals, we must always remember to avoid mistakes that will lead to injury.  Hence, this is why I outline the crucial need for kettlebell practitioners just starting out to master the hip hinge before they move to the kettlebell swing. Master the clean before snatching and many attributes in between. 

Following the science emphasizes learning from others who have been practicing for many years longer than you have and a willingness to invest the time and resources to improve your strategies and techniques for developing your body with proper kettlebell training.  One must also leave his/her ego at the door.  You can learn on your own without books, videos, courses, personal training, etc, but it’ll take much longer to get to where you want to go.   

Following the science also emphasizes the foundations before moving on to more advanced techniques.  This will help you prevent injuries.  Make sure the source is reliable meaning that they have an excellent reputation in the kettlebell community and they can help you with your particular goals effectively.  In the end, we believe that it’s shrewd to invest the cost of 4 cups of Starbucks coffee per month to increase the slope of your learning and training curve with Cavemantraining. 

Summary: Are Kettlebells Dangerous?

No, the kettlebell is not dangerous. The tool or exercise is never the problem as there simply is no dangerous tool or exercise; rather, there is only a tool that some don’t fully understand how to use and therefore may use it incorrectly. There are only exercises that you:

  1. are not ready for
  2. don’t need
  3. do too many of
  4. perform with too much weight

“Put it down to stupidity, but New Year came and I was motivated to get back into 20kg swings with a view to the 10,000 swing challenge. So far so good.
However, I hadn’t done ANY training for over a month, and even that was sporadic.
Nevertheless, I thought I’d push myself with a set of one handed swings. With the same weight I would use for two-handed swings.
Suffice to say, I finished the set and then realised that my back was in absolute agony.”

SmokingMonkeys on Reddit

If you have decided to take the right path with kettlebell training, then visit our online shop for books, courses, or weekly workouts with coaching.

I like to end with the reasons why I work out and move and leave a final word on science.

I work out to be in a physical state to save my wife’s life, that of my dog, my son, or anyone else that might need it at any given time. I work out to be able to carry her or my dog to safety when required, rather than ever having to consider leaving my dog behind or put him down because I don’t have the physical capabilities to do what needs to be done.

I work out to be in a physical state to save my own life rather than having to depend on others. To feel independent. To be happier. To feel more confident. To lead an overall happier and more fulfilling life.

I work out because we no longer build our own homes, work the fields, or grow our own food. The body was designed to move and keep moving.

I work out to be able to walk and move just as easily 10, 20, or 30 years from now as I do today. To be able to tie my own shoelaces forever.

Should you blindly follow the science? Should you blindly follow anything you read on Cavemantraining? The answer is no to both. True science involves questioning, debating, researching, improving, admitting mistakes, and making corrections.

I always promote questioning in an adult and respectful manner what you see. Not allowing to be questioned means that there is no solid answer that can be defended. Not allowing to be questioned means that growth and progressions are halted.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I hope to see you in one of our online kettlebell communities to discuss the contents of this article. What is your takeaway from all this? Let us know.

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