You’ve been swinging the same kettlebell for a while now. You know a heavier bell would increase the training effect, but the next bell seems like a huge increase in weight from your old favorite. Are you moving up too fast?
 
Despite their versatility, kettlebells have one primary drawback: the gap in available sizes presents a significant increase in weight. Those fortunate enough to train in a fully-outfitted, kettlebell-focused training facility might not have this problem, but people who train in small facilities, with small groups outdoors, or completely solo will run into it at some point. 
 

The Problem

Kettlebells are typically available in 4kg (~9lb) increments, with 8kg (~16lb) increments more widely available. A jump of 4kg presents a significant percentage increase in weight. For example, sizing up from a 24kg kettlebell to 28kg means a 16.7% increase in weight. Jumps this large are unthinkable in barbell training. To add to the dilemma, the price (and shipping cost) of building a complete set of kettlebells can get expensive in a hurry. 
 
So how can you optimize the training effect while safely increasing weight and not breaking the bank? I will lay out a set of guidelines to help you determine when you are ready to make a jump and how to do so safely. I’ve separated the guidelines into two parts: swinging movements (the swing, clean, snatch, etc.) and overhead movements. Increasing your weight in each area requires a different strategy and set of criteria.
 
These criteria are not set in stone and do not need to be completely satisfied to safely size up. Your primary criteria should be the ability to demonstrate smooth proficiency and feel a sense of ease with your current selection of kettlebells.
 
These strategies focus on introducing the next weight at a pace that allows your body to adapt to the increased load. They utilize scaled versions of the desired movements, sets with low repetitions, and structured rest intervals. The aim is to allow your body to feel the demand of the new challenge with ample recovery to maintain your form and composure.
 
kettlebell rack
If you don't have access to every kettlebell weight, you need a smart strategy to progress. [Photo courtesy Texas Kettlebell Academy]
 

Overhead Kettlebell Movements

You are ready to size up when you can perform:
 
  • A smooth set of 5-10 single arm presses
  • A set of 3 bottoms-up presses
  • Multiple consecutive windmills and Turkish get ups with ease and poise
 
These guidelines seek to determine the level of proficiency with which you can both move and stabilize the weight overhead. If you pass the above or similar tests, you can feel confident in sizing up.
 
Sizing Up Strategies
Begin by developing the ability to control and stabilize the new weight overhead. Perform an assisted press, allowing the opposite arm to assist your pressing arm to overhead lockout. If you feel confident and controlled in a standing lockout, use the following movements to challenge and strengthen this control.
 
  • Overhead Carries - Walk forward, back, and side to side. Any motion you add to the overhead position will challenge your control. Stepping onto or over obstacles also presents a fun challenge.
  • Overhead Lunges – Perform all of the lunge variations you know: walking and standing both forward and backward.
  • Overhead Squats - A full depth squat presents a significant challenge to most athletes’ mobility. Use an above-parallel box squat to develop your overhead control. Attempt the more challenging full-depth squat if your mobility and stability allow.
  • Windmill - Do not feel the need to prioritize touching the ground or maintaining perfectly locked out legs. The point of these windmills is to test and develop your overhead control of the heavier kettlebell.
  • Turkish Get Up - A Turkish get up is the best way to challenge your entire system to adapt to the new weight overhead.
 
Progressions
Once you feel confident in your overhead lockout, use the following movements to increase your strength in pressing the kettlebell overhead.
 
  • Jerk - Jerks allow you to adapt to moving the bell overhead and control the lockout without requiring the strength to press it.
  • Push Press - Push presses add the requirement of feeling the full weight in a bent arm. You can play with using a smaller and smaller hip drive to increase the amount of strength required to finish the press.
  • Bent Press - Bent presses offer the opportunity to press the kettlebell overhead with the mechanical advantage of pushing yourself under the weight rather than moving it straight overhead.
  • High Volume Pressing – Use a lighter weight with high volume sets of presses. Pull ups and rows add a perfect accessory compliment to high volume pressing for maximal strength gain. Remember, the best way to press a lot, is to press a lot.
 
Sample Session for Increasing Your Press Weight:
 
Every Minute, On the Minute for 10 Minutes (EMOM 10)
  • Turkish Get Up – remain standing
  • 2 Windmills
  • 2 Lunges (1 per leg)
  • Get back down – downward half of Turkish Get Up
*alternate arms each minute until you have performed 5 sets on each arm.
 

Swinging Movements

Nearly everyone is able to swing a larger kettlebell than the one they use typically. If you are a competent swinger, playing with a heavier weight will not only make you stronger and more explosive, but will also force you to maintain perfect form in the areas that you might have slacked.
 
You are ready to size up when:
 
  • Set of 20+ kettlebell swings have become easy. They do not feel at all intimidating and do not spike your heart rate.
  • You can maintain perfect form on longer sets of 40+
  • You can smoothly snatch the weight for an unbroken set of 10-20 reps.
 
These guidelines aim to determine the proficiency in your swing form, and your ability to maintain it. If you pass the above tests and/or feel a sense that you can smoothly move your bell for extended sets or complexes, you can feel confident and safe in swinging a larger bell.
 
Sizing Up Strategies
You have my permission to simply try a few swings with a heavier bell, no other preparation (except a proper warm up) required. The rule of thumb is to begin with low repetition and ample rest. If you want to ease into the new weight slower try this progression:
 
  • Deadlift - Perform a set of deadlifts with your new weight. This movement pattern is nearly identical to your swing form and will allow you to adapt to moving the heavier bell.
  • Swing Hike – Set up to begin a set of swings. Pull your shoulders back and engage your lats to hike the bell back as though beginning your first swing. Stay in the bottom position and simply let the bell pendulum forward. You can perform these as single repetitions by allowing the bell to rest on the ground between swings or link multiple repetitions together by actively pulling the bell back as its begins to swing toward you.
  • Hike, Swing, Hike - Perform 1 hike (as above), then swing, finish with another pendulum hike.
 
Sample Sessions for Increasing Your Kettlebell Swing Weight
The focus of these workouts is to allow you to feel the new weight in a challenging yet safe manner. To create your own, use the guideline: low repetitions and structured rest. You want to challenge yourself to continue moving, yet allow ample rest to maintain your form. If the new weight intimidates you, begin each set with 1 pendulum hike as described above.
 
Sample 1
  • EMOM 12
  • 6-10 Swings each minute
 
Sample 2
  • Kettlebell Breath Ladder
  • 1 Swing, 1 Breath
  • 2 Swings, 2 Breaths
  • 9 Swings, 9 Breaths
  • 10 Swings, 10 Breaths
  • 9 Swings, 9 Breaths
  • 2 Swings, 2 Breaths
  • 1 Swing, 1 Breath
 

Don't Let Fear Stall Your Progress

Do not let your apprehension in sizing up allow your progress to stagnate. Use these guidelines to safely and confidently grab that next kettlebell. Push your press to new heights. Develop greater power and proficiency in your swing. It’s time to size up!
 
And when we say swing, we're only speaking Russian:
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