As you get into training with kettlebells, you might read advice from trainers who -- with the best intentions -- offer information to the effect that “women can start with 15 or 20-pound kettlebells.” Don’t always believe this. This pat answer doesn’t really tell you what to know about the wide range of weight you need -- and don’t need -- for a good workout with these cannonball-shaped weights.
The Turkish Getup
Believe it or not, this mainstay exercise of a good kettlebell workout actually entails that you work out with no weight at all at first. The Turkish getup involves complex movements to get you from a mat to a vertical position with your arm extended straight up. Even a 10- to 12-pound weight may be too much at first. “Learn the progression of the Turkish getup with only your body weight at first, then progress to a 5-pound dumbbell, then a 10-pound kettlebell,” advises Lorna Kleidman, a three-time kettlebell champ who teaches in New York City. “The most important element of the Turkish getup is the shoulder stability required on both sides. Work to develop this stability before adding weight.”
Rows, Cleans and Presses
You may want to equip your nest with a set that includes KBs of 10, 15, 20 and 25 pounds to cover all the typical workout options- - no-frills versions without vinyl covers are available affordably. Ten pounds may be plenty heavy as you start bread-and-butter KBs exercises such as cleans and presses. Shoot for a weight that allows you maintain good form for about 15 reps of the row, and about 10 to 15 snatches, Kleidman advises. Pavel Tsatsouline, author of “From Russia With Tough Love: Pavel's Kettlebell Workout for a Femme Fatale,” advises staying in the more traditional pood system of kettlebell weights that come in 18-pound increments, such that you work with 0.5 poods, or 9 pounds; 1 pood, or 18 pounds; and eventually 2 poods or 36 pounds.
If you have power in your legs and glutes -- as do many Nestie athletes, particularly those who enjoy soccer, cycling and spinning -- you might be able to hit the 20- to 25-pound range for your kettlebell swings. Still, “most women begin the swings at 15 pounds; then once they feel how comfortable it is, can easily progress to 20 pounds and up,” Kleidman notes. But be sure to always use proper form, she cautions. “This is a big movement, and care should be taken by beginners if attempting them at the end of a workout when you are fatigued. You can always perform the swing with lighter weights if this is the case.”
The RKC Snatch Test
If you plan to be a Russian Kettlebell Challenge instructor, or you want to take the RKC Snatch test as a personal goal, you’ll need to jump to 12, 14 or 16 kilograms lifted 100 times in five minutes. These weights equate to roughly 26, 31 and 35 pounds, respectively -- quite a jump from the 10- to 20-pound range you may be more used to. “Progressing from one weight to another is very challenging at first, especially when you’re jumping 4 kilograms or 9 pounds!” Kleidman notes. “The best way to accomplish this is to train with all three different weights -- 12, 14 and 16 kilograms,” she advises. “Mix up the weights throughout the week for a few months, and soon the 16 kilograms will no longer feel insurmountable.”
An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.