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Progressing your Strength with Kettlebells

The key to improving yourself through training is progression. There are several forms of progression, we will talk about various methods as we go. But right now I want to talk about the simplest and probably best known form of progressing, adding weight to your lifts.

This topic came up yesterday while chatting to one of my Lunchtime Fitness regulars. He has recently started using the 24kg kettles for much of his double work and was asking about how he could add some barbell  work into his home routine.

This highlighted an issue.

A barbell can be loaded in tiny increments. The smallest I have here at WG are 1.25kg plates, but you can get smaller. So if this week I deadlift 130kg for sets of 3, next week I’ll add the small plates and lift 132.5kg for the same reps and progress will have been made.

Not so with the kettle. They go up in 4kg jumps, which becomes 8kg if you’re using doubles. So this week I press a pair of 32’s overhead for 5, next week I’ll press a pair of 36’s….I don’t think so! 64kg one week to 72kg the next? An increase of 12% (these jumps are even more extreme for less strong lifters, going from a pair of 8’s to 12’s is a massive 50% jump!). The Deadlift example was a mere 2% increment.

So the standard gym adage of add weight each week simply cannot apply to the kettlebell. So progress must be made more slowly with kettles. Usually be adding volume rather than weight. In other words if I’m pressing 32’s for 5 this week, next week I’ll either try 6reps or I’ll attempt an additional set of 5. A model I use a lot for my strength oriented guys lifting the kettles will be to start out with 3 sets of 3 reps, each week they add a set until they hit 5 sets of 3 reps. At this point we begin adding reps to each set until we eventually get to 5 sets of 5 reps. Total volume at the beginning is 9 reps or  576kg’s lifted, by the end of the series the volume has increase to 25reps or 1600kg’s lifted.

By the time you get here you will have truly mastered that weight and will be ready to move up to the next kettle but starting over with 3 sets of 3reps.

This is the difference with the kettle, you must master each weight before moving to the next, the jumps are simply too big to allow anything else.

In my mind, this is a safer form of progress and one which I also apply to all barbell work. Even though I have the option of making small increments each week on a bar, I often choose not to, instead prefering to master the weight before increasing it.

It may be a slower road, but it’ll give you greater results over a longer time scale, often with a reduced injury risk.



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