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How I Teach Kettlebell Classes

If this is your first time here, you might be wondering what those big iron balls up there in my logo are all about. Well, my friend, those are kettlebells. Among other things, I am a certified kettlebell instructor. I use them for strength training, cardio, swatting away some personal demons, as teachers, and for the sheer joy of it. I know a lot of personal trainers read this blog and also find it through the search engines. So if that’s you, today I’d like to tell you about how I teach kettlebell classes. You might find something you can use, or I might convince you to swing by my class.

I had been training with Russian kettlebells for about 18 months when I got certified. I did it because I thought it would be fun, not because I had any real intentions to train people. I’m a librarian, not a personal trainer. But questions would arise about this little obsession of mine, and I eventually got enough requests from people who wanted me to train them that I decided I would give it a try. After all, I had been taught how to teach, so why not see how it went?

Read this if you’d like to more about my own strength training history and how kettlebells fit in. If you’d like to see how I actually structure my classes, read on.

New kettlebell students vs. the veterans

Every week I have new people in my class. Sometimes they have used kbs before, but I always start with the assumption that they have never touched one in their lives. With my new clients, the first thing I do is ask them if they have any injuries I need to know about. Then I ask them again. The second answer they give is usually more honest than the first. Sometimes people just need their memories jogged, so I might ask “Any problems with your knees, shoulders, etc.”

I also have some regulars every week, some who have been with me for nearly a year. When the class starts, I ask everyone if they have a goal to work on.

Everyone must have a goal

My goal is always that once someone takes one of my classes, they’re going to come back for a long time. They usually do. If someone shows up more than once, I insist that they have a goal to work on that is kettlebell related. It can be that they want to do more reps on an exercise that usually involves long sets, like the kettlebell snatch or the long cycle clean and jerk. Or it can be that they want to increase their weight on a particular lift, like if they wanted to bottoms up press the next size kettlebell up from where they’re currently at.

For the first 10-15 minutes, everyone works on their goal movement. My regulars have already been exposed to biofeedback testing via the Gym Movement protocol, so they know which movements to test that will contribute to the goal they are working on.

While they’re doing that, I get to know the beginners and teach them some of the fundamentals. I do not believe that perfect form exists so I do not try to teach it. I teach students how to test their movements–when they pursue movements that test well and they avoid the elements of effort, they are as safe as they can be.

But many of the kettlebell movements are completely unfamiliar, so I take some time to demonstrate the military press, the turkish get up, the snatch, and so on. Then I teach them how to find variations that will meet them where they are at and allow them the greatest possible progress. Lots of them get pretty excited when they realize that they will largely be in control of their own workouts, and that my job is not just to blow the whistle, but to help them interpret their bodies’ own feedback.

Once everyone has completed their goal-oriented training block, I usually divide the room into three stations. Each station will involve one movement–or its variations that test well. We typically cycle through each station once, then we have about 10 minutes left in class.

We usually spend the remainder either doing farmer’s walks with heavy weights or doing the primal pattern crawling drills.

Mixing things up

One other thing I do about once a month is to take a coin and write the numbers 1-6 on the board. I choose someone to flip the coin. If we are on #1 and they flip heads, they do 1 minute of a movement that tests well. If we are on #1 and they flip tails, they do 2 minutes of the movement.

This goes on for however many flips of the coin we get through. If everyone flips heads, we get through a lot of different kettlebell exercises. If everyone flips tails, then they do fewer movements but get more practice.

I also throw in at least one grip training exercise into the circuit. I never realized how underdeveloped many people’s grips are until I saw that the women who have been taking my class for a while have learned how to get a stronger grip, while many of the new men who drift through are far behind these ladies.

Once in a while I have so many people that blowing the whistle is about all I can do, but the process is constantly being refined. If people are obviously engaged and do not get all of the attention they need, I set individual appointment. But once someone has learned to test their movements, they have fewer questions for me and more for themselves, which is wonderful to see.

So that’s about the sum of it for now. I may be writing something very different in another year. Anyone have anything they’d like to share that works well in the group setting?


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mike Eves November 6, 2011, 5:35 am

    Hi Josh:

    Really wery well written and the best point you make, and everybody should take notice here, is that perfect form does not exist. i.e. there is no one true form. Kettlebell training is constantly evolving as new techniques and methods are passed down. Other than the basic fundamentals it should not be a rigid model as everybody has different strengths and anatomy. You could apply this to most things in life and sports – high jumpers would be still doing scissor and straddle jumps if it wasn’t for Mr Fosbury in 1968.

    Another good point is taking control of your own workouts, you can’t be there for them all the time and if they can’t workout without a trainer’s support it’s never going to work for them anyway – “the cure is you”.

    Best wishes