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How to Workout at Home With Limited Weights

How to workout at home with limited weights

This should really be called, kettlebells, the love affair. When I first laid eyes on a kettlebell my first thought was, “that’s gonna hurt me” which is the sentiment of many of our new patients. But I soon learned it’s not the tool but user error leading to injury.

Lifting kettlebells was not love at first sight. I asked “why a kettlebell” instead of a hand weight or a machine? How do I lift “the ball” up to my chest without knocking out my two front teeth? If I catch the bell on the back of my forearm, will I break my delicate wrist bones? Valid questions coming from a place of fear and the unknown.

Sure enough taking the time to learn good form has made all the difference. A couple bruises as I worked through form but no broken teeth or bones here. Luckily, Mr Matt Semrick was there to guide the way.

Why I love lifting kettlebell

They’re versatile, snatches are doable at the beach.

They help manage and negotiate form when you are first learning good form. Unlike the barbell, where form has to be super tight throughout the entire lift to execute well.

They help train type 2 muscle fibers through ballistic movements like the kettle bell swing. Type 2A muscle fibers are our fast-twitch fibers that helps us move dynamically through the world. Harder to do a ballistic movement with a barbell, just takes so much more training than a kettle bell.

They travel well. Training swings here in Brazil. That’s right! I dragged two 14 kilo bells (ahem, 60 pounds) down to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014.

They help train unilateral movements when bilateral symmetrical movements are painful. We have patients with hip impingement and pain when they do deadlifts and two handed kettlebell swings. But they can do a single arm kettlebell swing with no difficulty or pain. So we work with their range and their capacity to program single arm swings to still get that hinge pattern into their strength routine.

The benefits of using kettlebells

The strength of your grip and shoulder stability go hand in hand. There’s a direct connection of grip strength to how well you stabilize your shoulders and vice versa which helps with good posture. In fact, grip strength is a predictor of how well you age.

The offset weight with the bell on one side of the wrist makes for great maneuverability pressing overhead and helps “pack the shoulder.” The perfect example of this is Maggie Rintala in the Czech get up. I train this movement flow every other day.


If you’re anything like me, once you realize your love for kettlebells, you can’t live without them. Your home gym is a minefield of kettlebells. Say “Bye Felicia” to your indoor bike and treadmill. Yes, kettlebells are expensive so you try to get only the essentials, but they are so versatile.

How to get stronger using the weights you have

Wondering to make your workout more challenging without necessarily buying more weights? Here’s how to start to push your potential and strength capacity without having to spend your whole paycheck on heavier bells.

Slow Mo reps

Ever try to bang out reps to get through your least favorite workout? Yeah, me too, and mine is squats. Instead of banging out 3 sets of 10 bouncy squat reps, try pulling yourself for 4 counts down into the squat and a true 4 count up to stand from the bottom of the squat. Oooh, baby baby, feel that burn after a couple of reps. This slow mo approach also applies to a great push up. Lower down for 4 seconds to tap your chest onto a yoga block and 4 counts back up to the top of your plank.

Constant tension

Kobe, Michael, Simone, Pavel, the list goes on. Elite athletes build tension super fast and relax equally as fast. Building tension is the name of the game when it comes to getting strong without getting injured. Any “energy leaks” in the body are a potential site for injury. A weak core and flared lower ribs can lead to compression and low back pain. An unstable, hyper mobile shoulder that wings off the ribs can lead to chronic neck pain. When you train with constant tension through a lift, you fatigue the muscles faster without necessarily increasing load.

Focus on the eccentric

What the heck does eccentric mean? Its loading the muscle as the muscle lengthens. For example, the eccentric phase of a bicep curls would be from a fully curled position to straighten your arm. The bicep is lengthening in this part of the lift as it is loaded, contracting and getting long. By focus, I mean slow it down and keep the tension through the eccentric phase of the lift.

Add a pause

If you think a pause is a time to rest, think again. Try a pause at the bottom of your push up, bottom of a lunge or in the hole of your squat. Make sure you have a good brace in your core and you are stacked ribs over pelvis. Sometimes form can fatigue and fall apart with the pause, don’t make this junior mistake. This pause will get you working hard without adding more weight to your lift.

Add a rep

Bells up, ladder those reps. What does it mean to ladder? A ladder would look like 3/4/5/6. Lift 3 reps then take a break. The lift 4 reps then 5 and so on. By the last set, your last rep should feel really hard to lift.

Less rest break

I suggest shorter rest breaks for those with a solid strength training program for 3 month or longer. If you’re used to taking 45 second between sets of swings, drop it down to 30 seconds to push your capacity.

So if you only have a couple of weights at home, these strategies are perfect to push your capacity and still get a workout in. Even if you have only a couple kettlebell sizes, you can do so much with very little. If you are wondering how to program a great kettlebell workout that you can do from home, email us at with subject line ‘MATT home workout’ or give us a call 212-355-0445.

In Good Health,

Dr Emily Kiberd