Whether your day in the gym consists of super-setting curls or perfecting the second pull of your clean, you may have some idea of how barbells and dumbbells can be used. But there’s a third type of “bell” moving through all planes of movement, requiring a shifting center of gravity that you should also be using to enhance your fitness routine: the kettlebell.
Since we can’t workout your core nor cardiovascular fitness with this article alone, I’m going to go ahead and get you to workout your brain instead of a brief history of these glorious training implements. Modern kettlebells made their first appearance as the girya in 18th century Russia, where they were used as counterweights in markets.
Due to our innate human desire to push heavy weight, it wasn’t long before the Russians were using kettlebells in weightlifting. In 1900, Dr. Vladislav Krayevsky, a pioneer in weightlifting wrote The Development of Physical Strength with Kettlebells and without Kettlebells, dating the Russian kettlebell obsession back decades ago. Russia was sold on the concept of kettlebell lifting for increased strength and even made kettlebell lifting a national sport in 1948.
Americans were slower to discover the power of the kettlebell, but now these fitness tools are becoming extremely popular in the United States. You’ve probably seen more and more people swinging them at your gym.
If you’re wondering why kettlebells are quickly becoming your trainer’s favorite tool, consider the following:
- Kettlebells develop power-endurance, or the ability to sustain quick bursts of muscular energy over an extended period of time. Strong power-endurance is fundamental for any type of athlete from an NFL fullback to a recreational league midfielder.
- Managing a kettlebell’s varied center of gravity is transferable to real world functions due to most of the weight being positioned about six inches outside of your grip. Imagine picking up an injured person or a large bag of rice, in both cases your center of gravity is constantly changing.
- Working in different planes of movement uses stabilizer muscles and forces you to brace your core much more than in traditional weight lifting (think deadlift or bench press). One study showed that after working with kettlebells twice a week for two months, participants increased their abdominal strength by 70 percent.
- You’ll improve your cardiovascular fitness by working and pressing weight overhead (movements like Turkish get-ups, American style swings, or the kettlebell snatch). Your cardiovascular fitness will improve because the muscles you usually use to breathe will be recruited to assist in your movement and your diaphragm will perform double duty instead.
- Lastly, kettlebells are one of the quickest ways to burn calories in the gym. Kettlebell workouts involve recruiting multiple muscle groups simultaneously over many repetitions. In fact, a typical kettlebell session burns 20 calories per minute!
How to Get Started
Although nothing beats working with a certified expert, here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re going at it alone:
- Keep a braced core throughout your movement
- Control your breathing by inhaling as you hinge into the swing, and exhaling as you come up
- Generate power from your lower body, not your shoulders
- Putting a towel through the kettlebell handle and keeping it tight throughout the swing is a great way for beginners to ensure proper form
Once you’ve got the swing of things (no pun intended!) and are ready for more advanced movements, try this:
The Secret Service Snatch Test
- Do the max number of kettlebell snatches you can in 10 minutes
- Put the kettlebell down and switch your arms as needed
- Prescribed weight is 24kg for men and 12kg for women
- Scores: 100 = lethargic, 150 = good, 200 = really good, 250 = ridiculous, 275 = record
Post your score in the comments below!