The Hardest Part of Kettlebell Sport... and How to Make it Easier


Whenever I give one of my athletes a tip or technique tweak to work on, they almost always lament that their lifting feels harder or more awkward. Most of us have this idea in our head that the "right thing" should immediately feel easy, but this is usually not the case. One of my favorite quotes applies well to this situation: "Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life." This can easily be adapted to apply to Kettlebell Sport: "Easy practice, hard competition. Hard practice, easy competition."

The hardest part of Kettlebell Sport is doing focused technique work. What exactly do I mean by this? I mean noticing what you need to change for maximum efficiency in your technique. Going slow, feeling each repetition, trying to make changes and then figuring out if what you see and what you feel are the same. Practicing again and again and again until the change you made becomes automatic. Then picking another element and repeating the entire process.

Sometimes I think I take the challenge of focused technique work for granted because I've always had a tremendous capacity for focused concentration. Whether it was concentrating on studying for school, practicing the piano, making small adjustments to my horseback riding skills, or simply reading for hours on end, I've never had trouble maintaining focus. When I started learning Kettlebell Sport, I was able to apply that laser focus to honing my technique. Perhaps this is why I have been so successful in the sport of kettlebells.

As a coach, I've come to realize this type of concentration is incredibly tough for most of my students (and understandably so). There's nothing more frustrating than trying for weeks or months to change a minuscule detail only to find you're STILL NOT DOING IT. However, being able to focus on teeny tiny details and practicing them time and again is crucial to success in a sport as technical as kettlebell lifting, where every nuance makes a difference over a 10 minute set.

So how do you maintain the focus to do the tough, monotonous work of constantly seeking technical perfection? The broadest answer, as always, is it depends, as each individual will find what works best for them. However, I do have some tips on how to improve your focused technique practice that will (hopefully) make it feel a bit easier!

1) Analyze your technique to see what needs adjustment. The easiest way to do this is record slow motion video of yourself lifting. The alternative would be to have a skilled coach or friend watch you lift and help you pinpoint inefficiencies. Figuring out exactly what to change is a skill in itself that each lifter should develop, and it takes time to get good at - so better get started! (If you need help with this, contact me about my technique consults.)

2) Choose ONE small element of your technique to adjust at a time. We tend to want to bite off more than we can chew... but remember, our brain can't actually multi-task. If you try to fix all aspects of your technique at once, you won't  fix any of them.

3) Use the start of your training to do your focused technique work. You will be able to concentrate better when you are not already fatigued, and light technique work can serve as part of your warm up. Do multiple short sets with a light kettlebell (8-12kg) and work on implementing the one small element of technique you want to improve. When you go to do your training sets, you are no longer doing focused technique work; you'll be too worried about making the time and hitting your reps.

4) During your focused technique work, utilize video feedback or your coach to sync up what you feel with what you see. If you can feel what the correct technique is, it will be easier to remember, especially if you are a kinesthetic learner. Video yourself every time you practice so you can check yourself - it's very easy to slip back into old habits without realizing it.

5) Practice over and over and over again. The body needs lots of repetition before a movement pattern becomes automatic. Be patient with yourself. Sometimes you won't know whether a particular technique change will make a difference until several months later when the new pattern has been ingrained and you can finally test under your competition weight. Even if the change doesn't impact your lifting in the way you anticipated, the process of implementing the technique tweak has still made you a better, more focused, more self-aware lifter - so it's never a waste.

6) Start the process all over again with a new aspect of your technique. Unless you are constantly, vigilantly working to improve your technique, it will deteriorate. At least, that has been my experience. That's what Kettlebell Sport is all about, and if you love the sport, you will likely love putting in the technique work. (If you don't, you might have chosen the wrong sport!) All the top kettlebell lifters I know are constantly revising, adapting, progressing, and reinventing their technique. The key to becoming the best lifter you can be is to seek more efficiency every year, every training cycle, every training session, every single repetition that you lift.

What is the biggest obstacle you face with regards to focused technique work? Were these tips helpful for you? Please leave a comment below.