Mastering the Basics: A Master SFG’s Advice on Getting Started With Kettlebells

Editor’s Note: Today we're honoured to have an article and video from THE ONLY female Master Instructor within the StrongFirst Organization. Introducing Master SFG, Karen Smith. -Chris


A Master SFG's Advice on Getting Started With Kettlebells

by: Karen Smith, Master SFG


Master SFG, Karen Smith

Where do I start?

Maybe you're new to Kettlebells and not sure exactly where you should start?

Or you feel overwhelmed trying to weed through the massive websites/youtube channels or social media outlet?

With so much information available how do you know which is correct?

Or maybe you're a seasoned expert with a few years of training but have engrained a few bad habits?

Well, Chris has put together a strong group of coaches to help  you tread through the Kettlebell waters safely and efficiently to get the most out of your training.

And I'm honoured to be one of them.

I pride myself on having a coaching and instruction style that breaks down the most complex into very simple and usable steps.

THE GOAL today is to help you know exactly where to start (or to revisit the basics to help you break through plateaus).

Here's how I recommend you begin…

  1. Learn the proper set up.
  2. Assess if you have the proper mobility.
  3. Learn proper foot, bell, hand and eye placement.
  4. Learn the Deadlift (hip hinge movement)
  5. Pattern the Deadlift
  6. Load the Deadlift
  7. Practice the Setup and Deadlift till proficient
  8. Once proficient, then add to your training program.

You already know that Kettlebells are an efficient training tool when you take the time to learn proper and safe movement.

BUT – as you probably know as well – time should be taken to PRACTICE and understand the movement.

Remember, PRACTICE. Don't “work out”.

So with that in mind, we're going to revisit the deadlift…the foundational movement that all the ballistics are based off.

Remember, a swing is just a series of high speed deadlfts.  And even our Chief Instructor in StrongFirst says that he still chases the “perfect swing”.

So how do you get the “perfect swing”?

You master the basics… and the DEADLIFT is where to start.

Here's what you'll need…

Wall, Dowel Rod, (1) kettlebell, You

Proper Set Up for the Deadlift:

  1. Stand with you heels and back to a wall
  2. Step out one foot length from the wall
  3. Stand with your toes forward and feet shoulder width apart
  4. Grip a Dowel Rod with 1 hand behind your neck and 1 hand behind your low back
  5. Make sure the Dowel stays in a 3 point contact (head, t-spine and sacrum)
  6. Inhale through you nose when beginning to hinge at the hips
  7. As you hinge the knees should bend as an after thought but your shins should stay vertical
  8. Reach for the wall with your hips while keeping your feet gripping the ground
  9. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings and glutes when you tap the wall
  10. Press through your feet and stand up with an explosive exhalation (power breath)

** Note: if your glutes did not reach the wall it could be for one of the following reasons:

  • You are not hinging enough or your hamstrings might be lacking flexibility
  • You are squatting vs hinging, which would make you sit lower and not reach the wall

** Note: If you lose contact with any of the 3 contact points on the dowel rod while reaching for the wall it could be for one of the following reasons:

  • You are squatting vs hinging (sacrum)
  • You are looking up or pulling chin in (c-spine)
  • You are rounding your back (t-spine or lumbar)

After learning the proper set up and grooving solid hinging technique you may begin loading your KB deadlift.

Use the exact same set up but instead of using the dowel, you may place a KB between your feet.

Once you inhale and hinge, grip the bell with your hands and engage your lats prior to pressing through the ground and standing with an explosive exhalation.

You can continue to practice and strengthen this foundational skill while you begin to learn the proper Kettlebell Swing and other hinging movements.

Remember, being good at anything is about mastering the basics – the fundamentals.

Stay tuned for tomorrow where I'll have a solid training session for you!


Karen Smith, Master SFG

Coach, writer, entrepreneur, fitness expert and mom. It is Karen’s passion to empower, motivate and mentor others to reach their true potential, either in person or thru online distance coaching & program design.

She is a seasoned personal trainer and strength coach who travels the world instructing and certifying individuals of all ages and fitness levels from beginners to elite US military/Law enforcement. She was the fourth female to claim the title of Iron Maiden. Karen is based in Dallas, Texas but can be found teaching workshops in a different state most every other weekend. She specializes in Bodyweight Strength and Kettlebells. Karen has been a certified trainer for the past 15 years, but has been active in fitness since early childhood as a gymnast.

Karen is currently a Master instructor with STRONGFIRST, an advisory board member for Nike and Girls Gone Strong. She is contributor for Kettlebellworkouts.coms Karen can be reached through her personal blog or via email


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