The kettlebell has been around for a while by now – and although fitness trends come and go, many experts predict that the cannonball with handles will not just be a short fitness craze - it’ll stay for long. Why? Because the kettlebell is one of the most efficient and effective ways to get total-body toning, core strengthening, improved posture and balance as well as increased cardiovascular fitness. Let’s have a closer look at this little devil.
The essence of the kettlebell
The kettlebell supposedly came about in the 1700’s in Russia and was mostly used as a training tool by the Soviet army as well as by Soviet sports athletes. After the end of the Cold War, the Western world was introduced to some of the Soviet’s training methods, including kettlebell training.
In recent years more functional types of resistance training have become increasingly popular – and this has lead to the revival of the kettlebell. Instead of using machines that support our body in all places except the few muscles we’re working on, it has become more popular to combine resistance training with a more all-round approach where the body is forced to balance right and as such is subject to a more holistic type of workout.
In short – instead of isolating muscle groups as you do with most machine workouts as well as with dumbbells, with a kettlebell you work all your major muscle groups. You work more muscle groups because you have to work constantly to control the shifting center of gravity of the kettlebell as you move it around your body.
Although most (if not all) gyms have kettlebells, I do prefer to have some at home so I don’t have any excuses to miss out. If you wanna feel like a real crossfitter or a "real caveman/cavewoman", check out the kettlebells from Onnit, more specifically the Primal Kettlebells.
Why a kettlebell and not just a dumbbell?
With a kettlebell, the handle has been moved from the bulk of the bell, which places its center of gravity away from the hand holding it, as opposed to with a dumbbell. The weight to be moved is therefore most often further away form the body, which constitutes a more challenging workout - and a more challenging workout is a more effective workout. With this type of workout, you need to stabilize, coordinate and stay balanced, and there’s a constant shift between using and relaxing the muscles.
The shape of the kettlebell also makes the type of workout more versatile – you can change between several different exercises without having to change your grip or stop.
With kettlebells you can do a variety of exercises – but its primary use is for working “large” muscle groups – meaning the ones that involve several muscle groups and joints. I’d recommend not attempting to do isolated exercises with kettlebells, as the outcome will be minimal compared to the exercises training more muscle groups.
A few safety advices
Although training with kettlebells is relatively “simple” once you got the basics, I’d recommend asking a qualified instructor before trying it out for the first time. However, here are a few pieces of general advice to follow:
- Be aware of your surroundings – you’re about to swing around with a massive iron ball. Make sure you’ve got enough room for that!
- Do your workout barefooted or in shoes with thin soles – staying balanced and in control is important, and therefore you need a feel for the ground you’re standing on. This can be relatively difficult if you’re working out in normal fitness shoes.
- Don’t forget your technique – many people tend to forget to keep a straight back when they’re getting tired towards the end of their workout. This is quite dangerous, as continuously lifting a heavy metal ball without keeping your back straight easily can result in back injuries.
- Learn the basic exercises first – learn deadlift before the kettlebell swing, and squats before thrusters. To avoid injury, it’s important to know the exercises properly before moving on to the next ones.
All in all, the kettlebell is interesting for whoever is enthusiastic about his/her workouts – nomatter if you’re aiming to improve your cardio, metabolism, balance, muscles or flexibility. It’s basically only about how you put your workout together.
If you do start working out with kettlebells, you might also want to consider getting yourself a pair of fitness gloves to take care of your hands and wrists. They don't have to set you back a fortune - these gloves from Fit Four are only around $15 at the moment.
That said, it can easily become tough to find out which exercises to do due to the large amount of possibilities. The following constitute the “sacred 6” – the fundamentals of kettlebell training:
#1: The Swing
Personally my favourite KB exercise – it’s extremely effective, and I find it a lot of fun as well (maybe I’m a bit geeky here, sorry). In the KB swing, you combine strength training with cardiovascular conditioning in one movement. Although it looks easy, it can take quite a bit of practice to learn to perfection. Important factors are a straight back, shoulders back, hip power and keeping the weight on your heels throughout the movement.
I’d strongly encourage you to learn and practice the kettlebell swing, as it is one of the highest-value exercises – I’ll guarantee you won’t regret it!
#2: The Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is named after the way the weight is held, and is one of the easier exercises to learn of the kettlebell set. Contrary to what many people believe, the goblet squat is not just an exercise working your legs – it’s a total body movement. As such, it is recommendable to most people – whether you’re a newbie to strength training or a real buff, or the individual (like myself) who wants to increase mobility, move well and stay healthy.
#3: The Turkish Get-Up
This is a tough one. The Turkish get-up is a very powerful full-body exercise that will improve shoulder strength and resilience, hip strength as well as mobility.
It will have you start by lying on the floor, then stand up, then lie back down, etc. As such, it teaches you to move more fluidly – and with the added load of a kettlebell, you’ll be sure to work on your strength and mobility. A great exercise that’s one of my personally dreaded ones – but nonetheless, it’s always worth it. I’d recommend first practicing the movement without the kettlebell for beginners.
#4: The Clean
The kettlebell clean is in my opinion on the same “toughness level” as the snatch (coming later). Before you get started with the clean, make sure you’re good friends with the kettlebell swing (preferably both two-handed and one-handed). Very important to remember in order to avoid injuries from the clean is to have very little to no upper body movement. Also, your shoulders should stay steady and on the same pane.
#5: The Strict Press
The kettlebell press is a great exercise to learn, once you master the first three movements and possess correct shoulder mobility and stability. Contrary to what it looks like, it’s not merely a shoulder exercise – to perform the strict press properly, you do need to use all your body. The shoulder is put in a better position for pressing by the kettlebell, as it forces you to stay upright by pulling back on the arm. You have a more natural plane of motion relative to your shoulder joint with the kettlebell, as opposed to with a dumbbell.
#6: The Snatch
This so-called Tsar of kettlebell exercises is most likely one of the most physically as well as mentally rewarding exercises. Your body will love you for it. The snatch basically follows the same principles as the one-handed kettlebell swing, except from the fact that you don’t keep the kettlebell out in front of you but closer to your body.
Before you start on the snatch, I’d recommend that you practice doing some deadlifts with at least three times the weight you want to swing.
One general note on kettlebell training: If you’re not sure how heavy a kettlebell you need, I’d highly recommend you start a little lower than you think. Better to decide it’s too easy, then go grab the heavier one than to try to show off and then end up with an injury.
If you got yourself hooked on the kettlebells, I'd recommend you check out the Onnit Academy for more workout tips.
If you're into resistance training, you should join our Facebook group Girls, Go Lift! where we share workouts & clean eating tips. See you there!