Kettlebells are an amazing muscle-building and fat-loss weapon – if you use them correctly. Get the technique wrong, however, and the most likely outcome is lower back pain. To make sure you use them effectively, we’ve enlisted kettlebell king Mike Mahler to provide an in-depth guide to executing the key kettlebell lifts with perfect form so you can add them to your training arsenal.

Kettlebell swing

The two-arm swing is the first kettlebell move you should master. It will get you used to moving the bell and develop hip power.

Targets Hamstring, glutes

Essential form

  • Start with the kettlebell on the floor slightly in front of you and between your feet, which should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Bending slightly at the knees but hingeing mainly at the hips, grasp the kettlebell and pull it back between your legs to create momentum.
  • Drive your hips forwards and straighten your back to send the kettlebell up to shoulder height.
  • Let the bell return back between your legs and repeat the move.

Expert tip “Don’t make the common mistake of using the upper body too much to get the weight moving,” says Mahler. “This limits what you can lift and how many reps you can do, and makes you far more likely to develop back issues. Instead, you want all the power to come from the posterior chain and in particular the hamstrings and glutes. Put your entire body into each rep and keep the bell close to your body until the hip drive begins, and then use the hip power to swing the bell to shoulder level.”

RECOMMENDED: 5 Kettlebell Workouts For Strength, Cardio And Fat Loss

Clean

This technical lift builds on your swing skills and adds an arm movement that tests your ability to be in full control of the bell.

Targets Hamstring, glutes, back

Essential form

  • Start with the kettlebell on the floor slightly in front of you and between your feet, which should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Bending slightly at the knees but hingeing mainly at the hips, grasp the kettlebell and pull it back between your legs with one hand (with your thumb pointing backwards) to create momentum.
  • Drive your hips forwards and straighten your back to initiate the upwards movement of the kettlebell.
  • Once the kettlebell passes bellybutton height, gently pull it back and slide your fist around and under the bell so it nestles softly on the back of your wrist. This is known as the rack position.
  • Push the kettlebell out to let it swing down between your legs and repeat.

Even handed It’s important that you do a roughly equal amount of reps on both sides for unilateral (one-sided) exercises such as the clean, to avoid developing imbalances and injuries.

Expert tip “People new to this tend to over-power the clean, which causes the bell to flip over and bang up the wrist,” says Mahler. “Focus instead on opening your hand and getting it around the bell to avoid the flip and get the weight to the rack position efficiently and pain-free. The trajectory should be in a straight line so don’t swing out to the left or right or project in front like the one-arm swing. Instead, swing the bell upwards and then pull the bell up and back towards you. Let the lower body do most of the work to get the bell in place.”

Press

Overhead pressing should be a big part of any man’s strength training regime. Here’s how to nail this muscle-builder with the kettlebell.

Targets Shoulders

Essential form

  • Start with the kettlebell in the rack position (the end position of a clean).
  • Make sure your elbow is tucked in to your chest, then press the weight directly up overhead.
  • Lower the weight by reversing the bell path and repeat the move.

Bottoms up If you want to test your wrist and grip strength, and make sure your bell path is straight, hold the kettlebell by the handle with the bell above your fist. The increased difficulty encourages you to press the weight up using an efficient movement.

Expert tip “Many people get it wrong and let the bell travel too far out to the sides, which will limit the weight you can handle and the reps you can do,” says Mahler. “Try to keep the bells in as straight a line as possible and avoid pressing out too far in front of your face. Press up and back so the bell locks out slightly behind your head. Make sure the bell handle is at a 45° angle pressing into your palm to help further the mind-body connection for the most efficient form possible.”

RECOMMENDED: Kettlebells Buyer’s Guide

Snatch

The king of the kettlebell moves requires strong hip drive and complete control of the weight.

Targets Whole body

Essential form

  • Start with the kettlebell on the floor slightly in front of you and between your feet, which should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Bending slightly at the knees but hingeing mainly at the hips, grasp the kettlebell and pull it back between your legs with one hand (with your thumb pointing backwards) to create momentum.
  • Drive your hips forwards and straighten your back to initiate the upward movement of the kettlebell.
  • Once the bell passes chest height, gently pull it back and slide your fist around and under the bell, then punch it upwards so it nestles softly on the back of your wrist with your arm straight above your head.

Soft landing You should punch the bell up at the end of the move just as it nestles onto the back of your wrist. If it’s slapping the back of your wrist with a thud it’s a sign that you need to work on your timing.

Expert tip “With poor technique the snatch often looks like a clean to head level and then a press out,” says Mahler. “It should be an uninterrupted motion from the floor to overhead. As with the clean, you want to focus on getting your hand around the bell rather than letting it violently flip over and bang up your wrist. Swing the bell out and then imagine you’re trying to throw it behind you. This will change the trajectory and get it to the lockout position more seamlessly. At the top, rotate your wrist so your thumb is pointing back and lower down and towards the body to avoid straining the lower back.”

Photography: Glen Burrows; Model: Sean Lerwill