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April 10, 2009

Open Letter to Celebrity TV Trainers about Kettlebell Workouts - RE: Jillian Michaels on The Biggest Loser

Ok, so Jillian Michaels made the most common first time kettlebell swing mistake.

Jillian used her arms to muscle the kettlebell up, instead of driving from her butt.

This is a super common mistake.  In fact, everyone makes this mistake the first time they pick up a kettlebell.

You pull with your arms, and then the next day your back hurts.  You go ask an RKC Instructor, and he or she tells you to drive the whole movement from your butt.

Nothing to be embarrassed about.

My issue then is making this mistake on national TV in front of an audience of millions who think you are showing correct form.

How To Get Hurt Using A Kettlebell

There are two simple ways to get hurt doing a swing:

1.) Rounding your back forward while doing a swing.  It's putting your spine in a weak position, while swinging a heavy weight.  It's bad news.
(that's the mistake Bob Harper made when he having people do dumbbell swingson The Biggest Loser last year).

What to Do Instead: Arch your back like a deadlift or a squat.

2.) Pull with your arms and lower back.  Pulling with your arms is going to force you to pull from your lower back, also putting unhealthy stress on the lower back.
(this is the mistake that Jillian made doing kettlebell swings on The Biggest Loser this year.  Jackie Warner from Workout made the same mistake)

What to do instead: Drive from your glutes and hamstrings.  It takes the load off of your arms and your lower back - similar to a deadlift.

So I found this video of it on YouTube  - if it was me I wouldn't have laughed at the end 'cause no one learns anything when they're being laughed at.  And clearly Jillian can learn some things about kettlebell movements. 

It's just wrong... in every way.   All of it.  Every single thing she does is wrong.  Squatting the kettlebell instead of sitting back, using a light kettlebell (you couldn't use a correctly sized kettlebell and do everything that wrong), all arms...  well, lets just focus on not getting hurt for starters.

The two ways to get hurt are the two most common
things people do the first time they do swings.

I don't want to see that on TV, get hurt, and then think that kettlebell swings are dangerous...  When in fact what's dangerous is doing them wrong.

I'll Teach You To Do The Kettlebell Swing Correctly

Jillian, Jackie, Bob...  celebrity/TV trainers of the world:  I just want to you to demonstrate correct form.  I know you are trying...  You just need to get some instruction on how to do it.

I recommend all celebrity trainers get five sessions with an RKC Certified Instructor.

I'm going to make an offer to any trainer who is on TV:  If you fly out to Denver, I'll teach you how for free. 

Or maybe you aren't a kettlebell instructor, and you don't want to be.  If your producer makes you do a kettlebell segment I can still help you at least demonstrate it correctly on TV.

If you are doing part of the show on kettlebell workouts I'll be your technical adviser.

I just want your audience to see kettlebell movements performed with correct form. 

What Not To Do

I'm going to ask that all trainers, not just celebrity trainers, but ALL trainers not teach kettlebell movements if they don't know to do them correctly.

Actually, I'll make the blanket statement:  DO NOT TEACH ANYTHING YOU DON'T KNOW HOW TO TEACH.

The reality is, knowing how to do a kettlebell swing correctly is only the first step.  There is a big gap between knowing how to DO something, and knowing how to TEACH something.

It doesn't matter if you are a celebrity trainer - if you haven't gotten some instruction from an RKC Certified Instructor, you don't know how to do a kettlebell swing. 

And if you aren't RKC Certified, you don't know how to teach it.

I've Got A Fever, and the Only Prescription is More Cow Bell

Save up to 30% on Dragon Door's classic Kettelbells

Every time "Don't Fear the Reaper" comes on the radio, someone in the gym runs up, points at the kettlebells and yells: "More cow bell!  More cow bell!"

Ultimately, it's really good that kettlebell workouts are going mainstream. 

I think it's just at that point where Stability Balls were ten years ago - everyone knew they were cool and trendy, but most people were doing totally ridiculous things with them.

I really appreciate the publicity that comes from big name, celebrity trainers talking about kettlebells. 

I think it's awesome now another million people will know what kettlebells are...  and not call them "kettle balls" or "cow bells".

Darwin Award Nominated Actress

Kettlebell training is on par with learning a martial art.  Except dropping a kettlebell on your head will hurt more than getting hit in the face.

If you aren't ready to get instruction from an RKC, then please at least get the book and DVD Enter the Kettlebell, by RKC Head Instructor Pavel. 

Even a quick review of the DVD and you'll have a better idea of how to do the swing than most celebrity trainers.

Into The Future?

Jillian was right about a few things:  Kettlebells are a great way to burn fat, lose weight, and to have more fun working out.

Maybe celebrity trainers will get some more information about how to do kettlebell swings correctly. 

And then the next time you see kettlebells on The Biggest Loser, or Fit TV, or Workout...  then millions of people will learn how to do kettlebell swings with awesome, powerful, safe, effective form. 

I'm hoping they all take me up on my offer.  Or if not me, then another RKC.

Seeing kettlebells on TV at all is an enormous step forward for the fitness of America.

Seeing them done correctly would be the next level.

Josh Hillis is a Level 2 RKC

Find out how Josh can be your coach at Josh Hills Platinum Coaching Club

Josh is the author of the ever-popular fat loss e-book: The Stubborn Seven Pounds

If you've already completed The Stubborn Seven Pounds, take it to the next level with one of these two programs:

"I've seen more results in 6 weeks training with Josh than I saw in the previous two years working out on my own" -Stephanie Weis

Josh has been featured in USA Today and The Denver Post.

P.S. Really amazing trainer, my new friend, and fellow author Joel Marion just got done recording some REALLY eye opening videos on the pitfalls of dieting and how you can actually use your favorite foods to lose fat *faster*. I'll be sending you a direct link to check out these really awesome videos tomorrow, so make sure to keep a close eye out on your email. Believe me when I say you're definitely NOT going to want to miss these!


Wow, you weren't exaggerating!! That's pretty horrible, and a lot of embarrassing.

That's not a swing! Well, it comes to show that being famous doesn't mean you know everything... The director of the show could have been smarter and gotten her an RKC trainer to teach her how to demonstrate it right. Too bad, I liked her...

I appreciate that you commented about the laughing and handled the matter professionally. This is, as you've shown here, a great teaching tool.

I met with Tracy Reifkind to have a 1-to-1 session with her. I now know what I should be feeling when I am working with the KB properly. I love it! Thanks, Josh.

I thought the same thing when I saw that on Biggest Loser last week! I'm no expert, but I have been using kettlebells for about 6 months (learned from the experts from dvds, books and blogs). I was surprised, because usually Jillian seems to know what she is talking about. I agree with what you said, too -- if she were using a heavier kettlebell she probably would have shown better form!
I found that even when I first started, doing a swing with a 10 lb kettlebell was difficult to do properly because it is too light (I have a 10 lb kettlebell which I bought stupidly thinking that there was no way I'd be able to swing a heavier bell!!)

That offer to the celebrity trainers I will honor as well. Jillian, Bob if you read this and are in North NJ seek me out at If you can't do it don't teach it...If you can't do it I can teach you.

What was that, a two pound kettle bell? And don't get me started on form, holy crap that was beyond bad. For shame, I know that woman knows proper squat form, she harps on it like mad in her vids. I can't believe she was that off...

That is even worse then my KB form:-).

The current kettlebell swing fad is going to make a lot of back doctors rich. I already have one destroyed joint and believe me, it's not something you want to live with. I'll trust the opinion of my orthopedic surgeon who says there is no such thing as a "safe" kettlebell swing. It's a destroyed lower back and destroyed elbows & especially rotator cuffs waiting to happen, no matter how "correct" your form is. Really, is being fit today worth life in a wheelchair in 20 years?

Seriously, the thing was invented by Russians. They can't even build a truck that runs, let alone understand human physiology. I laugh at the people in the gym doing kettlebell swings and other fad exercises while I got really fit really fast by going back to basics and being consistent with my training.

Stuart McGill, PhD, is a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, ON, Canada). His advice is often sought by governments, corporations, legal experts and elite athletes and teams from around the world.

He's done some work with Pavel, and thinks kettlebell swings are great.

If it works for my chiropractor, my sports medicine doctor, and all of my clients (my client's backs have felt BETTER after kettlebell lifting), and world renowned spinal biomechanics expert Stuart McGill, PhD, then it's fine with me.

It's like deadlifting or squatting - very dangerous when done wrong. Amazingly safe and effective when done correctly.

Hi there!

I just came across this blog post. Pardon me for laughing at the end of the vid clip that I shot...the entire debacle just struck me as funny at the time. I can't make any apologies for it because that's just how I roll.

Thank you for pointing out that I was "wrong" for doing so, though, and implying that I would laugh at someone who was trying to learn a specific exercise. I would just like to say that if this would have been a "real" person (aka not Jillian the actress), hell no I wouldn't laugh at them for doing something completely wrong. I have been in this industry for almost 16 years now, and I believe I know just a little something about how to work with clients.

So, before you use words that could perhaps discount another fitness professional's standards, please think before you type. :)

Yours in Health,
Sarah E. Rippel

Hi Sarah!

I've read your stuff and I think you're awesome.

That one line that I wrote about not laughing at someone wasn't directed at you or a commentary on you at all.

I totally get that you know the difference between laughing at the really bad form of a famous television trainer vs. a client.

So it wasn't a commentary on you at all, and I wasn't discounting your standards at all either.

I was just covering that, because I know there are a lot of people out there reading this who probably are squatting their swing and pulling with their arms. I didn't want them to feel laughed at.

So, my apologies if you felt attacked at all. I really wasn't thinking about you when I wrote any of this. I wrote that solely for all of the people out there new to kettlebell swings.

And I never said that you were "wrong" - I said that Jillian was wrong!

Hope this clears that up. It looks like just a misunderstanding.


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