Kettlebell workouts are awesome: they torch calories and recruit lots of muscles, thanks to the off-center weight of the bell. But whether you’re a kettlebell newbie or a seasoned pro, chances are you’ve misused a kettlebell at some point. Let this be your guide to getting the most benefits from your kettlebell workout.
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Mistake #1: Your weights aren’t heavy enough
Just like you wouldn’t lift weights that are too heavy, you shouldn’t grab a kettlebell that’s not heavy enough. “You can’t really activate your muscles with weights that are too light,” says strength coach Lee Boyce, C.P.T., owner of Boyce Training Systems in Toronto, Canada.
Fix it! Skip the 8-pounders and start off with a 10- to 15-pound kettlebell. If you’re more advanced, you can go even higher: Boyce says a 25-pound kettlebell is a pretty standard weight for most people. Try doing a kettlebell swing-- a great exercise for beginners -- and see if you can do the move with proper form. You can always go up or down a weight size.
More from Women's Health: The Beauty of Lifting Heavy Weights
Mistake #2: You overcomplicate things
Kettlebell snatch? Turkish get-up? If you don’t know what a move is (or how to pronounce it), don’t do it -- especially if you’re just starting out. “These exercises are probably too advanced for somebody who’s learning how to use kettlebells for the first time,” says Boyce. Performing a complicated move without knowing the proper technique is a one-way ticket to injury.
Fix it! Learn basic kettlebell moves and work your way up to the hard stuff. Try a hand-to-hand exchange, front squat , or maybe a kettlebell clean to test your muscle strength. If your joints feel great after a few sets, then you can step up your workouts.
Mistake #3: You do too many reps
“With most kettlebell actions, your body has to be in perfect coordination,” says Boyce. And since these exercises typically require multiple muscle groups, your body is more likely to tire easily. Which means you could be more apt to hurt yourself if your form breaks down.
Fix it! Limit yourself to 5 reps per set to start so that your muscles learn to adjust to the exercise. Once your body is used to the move, then you can up that number.
Mistake #4: Your arms do all of the work
Many kettlebell exercises are designed to target many muscles in your body -- especially your glutes and hamstrings. But some people let their arms do the heavy lifting. Swinging with your arms only totally defeats the purpose of these exercises, says Boyce.
Fix it! Focus on the motion of your lower body, which should be the driving force behind exercises like the kettlebell swing. Thrust your hips forward so that your arms naturally move away from your body -- you’ll be less likely to rely just on your arms to complete the move.
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Mistake #5: You use the same form as you do in dumbbell exercises
Usually, it’s okay to substitute kettlebells for dumbbell in exercises—like presses and curls—which many experts actually recommend, says Boyce. But for some exercises like the snatch, you need to switch up your technique depending on the weight you’re using.
Fix it! If you’re not totally sure what you’re doing, ask a trainer for help—particularly when it comes to the more advanced moves. While the motions may look similar, some exercises require different timing and hand positioning.
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