Can Kettlebell Training Improve Back Health?

I often have new students or prospects inquire about the benefits of kettlebells for their back health.  I’ve had the honor of helping many people with a wide range of back issues build healthier backs and many have reported reduced pain, sometimes within a single session or even with a single cue.  However… I feel it is important to point out that there’s nothing magical about the kettlebell, the magic resides in the right combination of the individual and the methods you bring to your training.

Methods Matter

When done properly kettlebell training improves back health by addressing stability, mobility, strength, endurance and power production of the entire midsection including the hips, “abs”, lats and glutes. The kettlebell’s unique design allows for specialized techniques that can’t be duplicated with other tools and teach the body to reflexively support and stabilize the spine with the muscles listed above. HOWEVER, it is imperative to understand that in order achieve these results it takes more than access to a kettlebell. One must have the right combination of appropriate techniques, progressions, loads, and programming  that are suitable for the individual. In short, it’s not about the kettlebell…  the methods brought to kettlebell training are what determines the result.

“As a chiropractor, I’m always looking for instructors of exercise programs that are knowledgable in the body and how it functions. Scott definitely fits the bill. I was very impressed with the testing that he did prior to letting me join the kettlebell class. It was very informative and revealed areas of “trouble” that I didn’t realize I had. The actual class had me sweating and working hard. He directed a terrific class and focused on ways to work the entire body. Loved the experience and how Scott would give tips as the class progressed. I appreciated a great work out”-By Kathy Kloewer / Omaha, NE

Kettlebell training for back health is NOT a one-size-fits-all proposition. 

Because a small percentage of people have spines that are intolerant to particular forces produced by fundamental kettlebell techniques and certain injuries will not permit certain movements kettlebell training can be appropriate or inappropriate depending on the combination of the individual and the methods used.

Furthermore, the risk-to-benefit ratio changes depending on the context, the individual, the technique and the load. Single Leg Squats and Double Kettlebell Snatches or Jerks are awesome, but I have very few students that should use them and fewer that need to use them. Most people can get by with less complex and lower risk movements. There are always multiple ways to achieve a similar result with different techniques and methods.

Before beginning kettlebell training, consult with your doctor or have your trainer consult with your doctor (with your permission). Then find a trainer who knows how to assess what movements and techniques are appropriate for you with a tool like the Functional Movement Screen.

“I trained with Scott for over a year. He is a great teacher who takes time to explain every aspect of kettlebell. I have 2 herniated disks in my back so I was skeptical at first but with proper instruction and focus on safety I was able to experience kettlebell without any pain. In fact my back never felt better and I was able to get in the best shape since I played football in college.I would highly recommend kettlebell and Scott as an instructor to anyone!!” – Jeff Dewispelare

Not All Trainers Know How To Use Or Teach Kettlebell Techniques

The unique properties of the kettlebell lend it to specific uses with specific techniques and applications that aren’t common knowledge to trainers with expertise in the use of other equipment. Before starting kettlebell training I recommend taking a workshop from a reputable source such as enrolling in a one-day SFG User Course or finding a trainer who has learned HOW TO TEACH kettlebell technique from a reputable source like StrongFirst.

“I was nagged by shoulder instability, a weak lower back and sore knees.  Since I have been instructed/advised by Scott all of those above deficiencies have been improved and some of them have simply vanished. I can say that I would not be at this level of fitness if it wasn’t for the proper instruction that I received from Scott. He knows what he is doing, he instructs you on the proper form, the logic behind the movement and joins you while you work. He always shows interest in your improvement and will assist you in achieving you fitness or athletic goals.”
– Hartono Wer Omaha, NE

A Good Training Session Should Make You Feel Better, Not Worse

After learning safe technique the biggest mistake most people make with kettlebell training is doing too much too soon or too much in a single session. As with any new form of training, take time to learn the techniques and build-up your work capacity gradually. The goal of a good training session should be to improve health and your ability to function outside of the gym, as  opposed to trying to be a hero during your workout-of-the-day then incapacitated with soreness or injury afterwards. Keep the long-term goal/big picture in mind and remember that the ability to train consistently and improve a little bit every day improves health, however trying to achieve all your fitness goals in single workout will do the opposite.

 Further Reading 

Optimizing Back Health With the Kettlebell Swing – by Scott Iardella

The Best Spinal Stability Exercise for the Kettlebell Swing – by Geoff Nupert

My Journey to the Kettlebell – By Professor Stuart McGill

Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads. – McGill, Marshall




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