The Top 3 Kettlebell Training Mistakes

I just got back from teaching the RKC and RKC2 in Hungary. And it was a blast!

First, I love Hungary – great food, great people, beautiful country.

Second, the people who attended the RKCs – both of them, are SERIOUS about kettlebell training.

It was one of my best and most memorable RKC experiences – especially the RKC2 weekend. We had a smaller crowd – about 26, which made for a “cozy” environment with lots of one-on-one time when and where necessary. In fact, it almost had a “mentorship” feel instead of a certification feel. We as instructors spent a lot of time answering questions – all sorts, not just kettlebell, in depth.

Which brings me to the following mistakes that I saw across the board which most people using kettlebells these days are making. Here they are –

1. Hyper-focused on “conditioning” and “metabolic workouts.”

Look, this stuff is great, but first and foremost you need to get your technique down. You can do that in many different ways – books, dvds, meeting with an RKC (that’s the best way – most economical too from a time v. money standpoint).

Get your technique down and “train.” Don’t “work out.”

The workouts will come later.

Here’s a case in point – One of the guys on my Level 2 team was a pretty big fellow – over 220lbs. But it looked like he had spent all his energy on his conditioning.

How do I know?

He failed his strength test.

And I stopped his snatch test. Why?

Because although he had a good pace, his technique was bad to the point of being detrimental to his [shoulder] health. He wasn’t locking his arm over his head. Sure, it was behind his ear, but his eyes and head were down and his arm wasn’t perpendicular to the floor.

When I asked him what his focus had been, sure enough, it had been the conditioning portion of the test.

So don’t obsess over “met-con” or “feeling like” you got a “good workout.”

Which brings up the next point –

2. Focusing on “met-con” instead of strength

Ok, it sounds like I’m bashing “metabolic conditioning”. I am.

Without sounding “preachy” let me explain something to you in the bluntest of ways.

When I went through my RKC in 2005, we still had the one-hand switch Snatch Test. I had to perform 74 reps at my bodyweight.

Here’s where what I am about to say will disgust you –

I only trained for 3 weeks for the Snatch Test.

That’s it.

Here’s exactly what I did –

I snatched using the 32kg and figured out that if I could do 3 sets of 15/15 that I could do the 74 reps with the 24kg.

So I did that for 3 weeks, did the Snatch Test to confirm my training was on point – passed it easily – took a week off, then went to the RKC and officially passed it.

How’d I get away with doing so little?

Because I am strong. And I was stronger then. And that has ALWAYS been the focus of all my training. ALWAYS.

And that’s a KEY Secret – if you focus on your maximum strength, it’s easy to pull your conditioning levels up to where you want/need them to be.

But if you do the opposite – focus only on “met-con” it’ll take you forever to “get in shape.”

That’s why when training people for the RKC I typically have them do a combination of heavy double swings, heavy Snatches (up at least one bell size if they can manage it), and then lighter Snatches for speed.

And it always, always, always works.


Because people get strong.

In fact, one of my online clients I just trained for the RKC 2 in July, was snatching the 32kg and doing heavy double swings. The result?

Easiest Snatch Test he’s ever done.

When you apply this concept of training for strength and then pulling up your conditioning to follow, you too will see phenomenal gains in your conditioning.

2b. Training Strength as a Skill

This is one of the core tenets of the RKC and in every single one of Pavel’s books, yet, many, many kettlebell users have gotten away from this and fallen into the “met-con” trap.

So, this is really a culmination or combination of Mistakes 1 and 2.

Train your strength as a skill – that is, staying fresh, and training frequently, and it will make your conditioning that much easier.

3. Ignoring Your Weaknesses and Training Your Strengths

In one our Q&A sessions at the RKC2, one of the candidates, a real smart guy (chiropractor) asked about setting up the perfect program for his needs. Being the “program design expert” that I am, I was about to give him “the answer” when Rif jumped in.

I’m glad I kept my mouth shut cause Rif had a brilliant reminder.

“Train your weaknesses first.”

Whatever they are in the context of your goals.

Is your technique weak? Train that first.

Whatever your goal is, find the weakest link in accomplishing that goal and train that first.

Rif is a classic example.

He’s been doing a TON “weak link” training for the past – I think he said – almost a year. It has been his priority.

As a result, he’s been able to do double Presses again.

(Rif’s got some pretty major injuries he sustained as a competitive gymnast – like full joint dislocations – ouch!)

And here’s the cool part – he was able to do Pistols this past weekend – and that includes Pistols on his bad knee!

Now in case you missed it – that’s a DIRECT RESULT of determining his weaknesses and training them.

Here’s the Bad News – most people, most kettlebell users, not only are enamored with “met-con” but they also fail to train their weakest links.

And what are those?

Well, before we get there, consider that one of the reasons we all use kettlebells is because of Pavel.

Look, there’s just no getting around it – he’s an Icon.

He looks great. He performs great.

And for most of us, we want that kind of look and that kind of strength.

What’s one of the things Pavel does that many of us (myself in the past included) don’t do?

Specialized flexibility and mobility work.


And that’s one of the things that makes Pavel, well, Pavel.

Now here’s the cool part –

You can now have direct access to Pavel’s EXACT flexibility and mobility routine.

Here it is.

But it’s only for a select few – in fact, I believe there’s only 9 spaces left.

You should get in on it.

I’ll see you there.

(Yes, I’ll be there. Pavel and I are going to “tag-team” on some advanced kettlebell stuff.)

I almost forgot to tell you exactly what Rif told me he’s been working on to help him achieve those double kettlebell presses (with a shoulder with messed up ligaments) and Pistols (on a knee that’s been fully dislocated – twice!) –

It’s been specialized flexibility and mobility training. See the similarity between Rif’s success and Pavel’s?

Why shouldn’t you have that kind of success too?

10 comments… add one
  • Russ Moon Aug 18, 2011 @ 12:19

    “program design expert” – that’s just one of your strengths

    Strength – “easier for to get strong (strong being relative to previous performance) and be able to drop down in weight for those “muscle rigor mortis” level reps than to do the marathon reps w light weight and step up to the Bulldog or Beast.”

    Training Weakness First – I have been converted, now they are either first or separate training sessions.

    The heavier weight when it comes to conditioning time should have a more taxing effect, thus reducing time to improve your conditioning.

    Thank you for sharing these glimpses into the mindset of the MRKC both yourself and MRKC Reifkind. I know this is pure water.

  • Rickard Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:02

    Am I a bit stupid but is’nt this post in the line of ETK ? Has people forgot the basic or am I missreading in some way?

  • Billy Meyer Aug 18, 2011 @ 15:51

    Humbling post when you apply it to yourself. Your posts seem to be right on time for where I am. Ready to get to work. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  • Eric Moss RKC Aug 18, 2011 @ 22:45

    one thing I noticed from double swings and cleans was how much it improved my vo2 max snatch cadence. a 2 rep difference in a 15 second time period is nothing to sneeze at

  • Pretty Big Fellow Aug 19, 2011 @ 5:53

    I’m just 215. The rest is true. Thank you for your kind mentorship and your uncanny ways to make us leap months of experience by saying only a few words. Looking forward to meet you again!

  • Tamas Szabo Aug 19, 2011 @ 6:17

    It was a great pleasure learning from you. I’ll n ever forget your TGU. I fully agree that practising the technic givesa plus in the dnatch test. In the last two months I didn’t test at all, but concentrating more on the movement. On my ballistic days I did heavy swings and power snatch until my form was perfect. 100 power snatch with correct performance is even harder than the same amount of normal snatch. I didn’t have any problems with the snatch test on the RKC and at the same time I didn’t have any missed reps.
    I hope that we will meet on RKC 2 next year.

  • Paul Lyngso Aug 19, 2011 @ 13:21

    I think I know that online client of yours 🙂

    By far the easiest Snatch test I’ve ever done, with only ONE day per week of “Light Conditioning” with Heavy snatches and swings. The experience has made completely change the way I look at training.

  • Laura Sep 13, 2011 @ 12:29

    Amen on the met-con!
    I just came across the blog post from RKC Dallas Hartwig and it really echoes what you’re saying here:

  • stephen Sep 18, 2011 @ 20:14

    I agree totally that if you train with weight heavier than what you intend on lifting you will increase your strength much more rapidly. However, what if you can’t successfully snatch the 24kg more than one or 2 reps. How would you go about using a bell 30 or 40 percent heavier in training?

    I am just asking because that is my dilemma right now. Have done the Swings and Get-ups preacribed in ETK and I am working on week two of the “Right of Passage” as outlined in PDF by Anthony Delugio. Focusing on Press ladders and pullups. But I still struggle snatching my 20 Kilo bell.
    I would love some insight here. P.S. I loved the tips on the double kettle bell cleans and squats they are right on the money.

    Thanks again

  • Steve Corso Jul 12, 2014 @ 16:36

    Hi Geoff–

    I actually have a quick technique question. I have VERY short legs and Kettlebells above a certain size will not pass through when I do doubles without scraping the insides of my knees or clanging together awkwardly and throwing all of my form off. When I used barbells to do cleans and snatches, my hands always fell outside my legs, so I decided to try to do that on my double C&P’s. At first, it was harder not having the rebound pressure from my arm contacting the inside of my thigh, but I got used to it. Is there anything less effective or technically “wrong/dangerous” about using this technique? Any possible increase in the frequency of a certain type of injury? Thanks.

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