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A Kettlebell Related Injury

Kettlebell lifting has come under fire many times for being a risky training modality. And yes, I agree, it can be dangerous. Many “health professionals” such as doctors, physio’s etc have argued strongly against the use of the kettle. And I do know several people who have hurt themselves training without instruction.

And here lies the key.

Without instruction.

Since I first took up the kettlebell approx 7 years ago, I was already injured and the kettlebell style of training went along way towards getting me back on my feet. Paul Cox, the Wild Geese Martial Arts head coach agrees, it is one of the things that keeps him able to work, despite his arthritic hip. Shane Nicoletti, our friend over at kettlebells Ireland told us one day that since taking to kettlebell training he has been able to start competing again in his beloved water polo. So far I’ve yet to have a student pull out of any of my training sessions due to a kettlebell related injury (so far…..touch wood….)

So why do the “health pro’s” think it’s bad? Because these are the same guys that tell you that a brisk walk is all you need, or that lifting a soup can is as heavy as you ought to go. They are NOT exercise professionals, nor have they spent years pushing the limits of human performance.

But injuries do happen sometimes. The following email came in just the other day, I’ve left it, and my reply unedited. The injury that Dave describes is one I’ve heard of from several people. All of whom, like Dave have been training solo at home. Please read on:

“Hi Dave,I have been to the Saturday morning kettlebell class a couple of times (want to go more often but shift-work gets in the way!)

I have been doing some home workouts…specifically Steve Maxwells 300 workout.

Today when doing the (one armed) Swing High Pull I think I must have twisted at the top of the move because just at this point I felt a sudden sharp pain strip across my middle back just below the shoulder blades. I stopped training straight away, but to twist my upper body now for whatever reason causes pain in

the same area. I was using a 12kg bell.

Would you have any experience with the type of injury I have described and perhaps any advice on recovery? As for prevention, I think I know what I did wrong so I guess don’t do this! I am hoping it’s only a strain perhaps and that recovery will be quick.

Any advice or info is greatly appreciated.

Can I say the classes are fantastic and I am looking forward to getting down again, soon I hope.

Many thanks,

Dave”My reply:

“Hi Dave,

Sorry to hear about your injury, but it is one that I’ve heard of several time from people doing kettlebell work without instruction.

I believe it may be cause by allowing the bell to swing too far from the body, it may be a little tricky to explain so bear with me….

As the bell is swung it is pulled out away from the body, this pulls the shoulder and therefore the shoulder blade forward.

There are several muscles that serve to stabilise the shoulder blade, they are more to prevent movement than create it. Once the bell has pulled the shoulder forwards, it is these that then attempt to pull it back, as in the high pull.

Still with me?

So, anytime you work the swing, ensure to keep the shoulder blades back and down and don’t allow the bell to swing too far away. It should travel in a tight arc, with the last section of travel in the vertical plane, try performing the swing facing a wall, about an arm’s length away and you’ll get the ideaNow, for recuperation.

Learn to "Tame the arc" and save the shoulder from injury

If you haven’t visited a physio yet, please do. I don’t recommend your GP, but find a physiotherapist, osteopath or Rolfing practitioner near you.

Then, get yourself a tennis ball. Lie with the tennis ball under you on the injury site then have a rummage around massaging it. Practice pulling the shoulder blades back and down, try clasping the hands behind the back and pulling them towards the butt, the chest should rise and the shoulders drop.

Also stretching, gently, may help. Take your arm across the body and gently assist it with the other arm, try various angles until you hit the spot, also bring the hand over the shoulder (same side) and use the opposite hand to pull the elbow down.

Gently stretch for 3 or 4 sets of 30 seconds a couple of times per day.

This is generic advise, and you really should check with a therapist.

When you get back to training, stick with two hand swings for a while. The high pull can also be done 2 handed, just ensure you pull to the sternum and don’t pull the bell into your teeth!


Dave Hedges“

Dave has since informed me that he is already on the mend. He is also booked into a physio for a proper assessment of his injury.

The reason he was injured in the first place was that he simply pushed himself too far, the high pull is a slightly more advanced drill than he was ready for.

Anybody, even a strong individual, who is new to kettlebell lifting should spend time with the 2 Handed Swing, eventually progress to the One handed Swing and then after a period of a few months (depending entirely on the individual’s ability) should they move to High Pulls and Snatch.

Always, always remember, with any training method the best progress takes time. First and foremost you must lay a foundation, then you can build it. Rush and you will get hurt, it’s not kettles fault, it’s yours.

If you have a kettle and wish to learn how to train safely and without injury, have a look at the workshop series

I run, they are specifically designed to take from absolute novice right up to instructor level.



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