What are kettlebells?
Have you ever wondered what those cannon ball looking things with handles are, taking pride of place next to the good old dumbbell rack?
I’m sure by now you’re fully aware that they are called kettlebells but have probably been too intimidated by this new funky looking weight, to walk over to test it out.
Well new they certainly are not, and just like your gentle giant friend who at a distance initially looked very intimidating, you will quickly learn that under that steely hard exterior lies one of your best allies.
It might seem like kettlebells have been the latest fitness fad invented to convince every gullible fitness freak to part with their cash. In fact, kettlebells have been around from time immemorial and they are definitely here to stay.
Where Did Kettlebells Come From?
There is evidence to suggest that the kettlebell dates back to the ancient greeks.
Anyone who’s ever seen the movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ will know that us greeks like to attribute everything back to our forward-thinking ancestors.
The general consensus though, is that kettlebells were introduced to the masses by a russian physician named Vladislav Kraevsky in the late 1800s and by the early 1900s russian soldiers had started using kettlebells as part of their strength and conditioning routines.
By 1948, kettlebells became an official sport in Russia and interestingly in 1981, because they believed in its many benefits, mandatory kettlebell training was enforced upon the masses to cut down health costs and increase productivity.
Kettlebells started to pick up steam in America in 1998 after Pavel Tsatsouline, a former Soviet special forces physical trainer was interviewed by a popular strength training magazine.
In 2001, Pavels first book ‘ The Russian Kettlebell Challenge ‘ was published and from there, the popularity rose to the point in time now where anyone into fitness either owns a kettlebell or has at least tested one out.
Read this interview from the same time period to understand pavels mindset on physical fitness and for some fascinating insights on kettlebell training.
If you want to be trained by the master himself from the comfort of your own home then click here.
My kettlebell journey
My first introduction to kettlebells was around 2010 through someone I deem my health and fitness mentor and a bit of guru on anything related to the body.
I entered our first kettlebell session brimming with gusto, ready to show my elder that this lightweight ball with a handle had nothing on my years of physical exercise and martial arts training.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
What ensured was a prolonged beat down by a much older and smaller gentleman swinging a heavier kettlebell with a smile on his face while I winced from the whole body burn. That humbling first session opened up my eyes to new world of possibilities and showed the limitations of everything I was doing and thought I knew.
Why use kettlebells.
A kettlebell is small and portable
Having no space to work out and no storage is no excuse to not own a kettlebell. A single kettlebell is all you need and more than enough to give you challenging workout. Being such a small piece of equipment, it can be stored anywhere and because it is made of cast iron it can even be left outside in the garden with no adverse effect.
It is a relatively low cost piece of equipment (and an investment in the health of your children and grandchildren).
For the price of one month’s gym membership, you can buy a kettlebell for life and because it is so robust you will only ever have to buy it once and it can eventually be passed down many generations.
Kettlebell training increases aerobic capacity (makes you fitter)
In this study, 17 female NCAA division 1 collegiate soccer players were split into 2 groups and trained 3 x a week for 4 weeks, One group performed 20 minutes of kettlebell snatches(15 seconds work followed by 15 seconds rest) and the other group circuit weight training. What they found was the kettlebell group significantly increased their VO2 max wheres as the circuit weight training group had no significant change at all.
Kettlebells will make you stronger.
Even though a kettlebell is a relatively light piece of equipment it will easily tax your muscles and make them stronger. According to Pavel, performing high rep kettlebell snatches and clean and jerks have been shown to make you not only stronger in various strength exercises but even stronger than you would have been in those exercises if you only trained them exclusively.
Which leads me nicely onto my next point.
Kettlebells give you a whole body workout.
When using a kettlebell you are not trying to isolate a single muscle like you would when using a dumbbell.
Take the kettlebell swing for example.
As you stand shoulder width apart holding the kettlebell with both hands, you grip your feet to the floor tightening your hamstrings and engaging your hips, glutes, core muscles, lats, pecs, shoulders, back and forearms to generate the force to swing the kettlebell up.
You are not only training all these major muscles simultaneously but the small ones as well, which you can’t target with static movements.
Kettlebells will burn A LOT of calories.
What you will find when swinging a kettlebell is that because you’re using so many muscles in unison, your heart rate goes up really quickly. A study by The American Council of Exercise tested subjects performing the kettlebell snatch for 20 mins. What they found was that they ‘’were burning at least 20.2 calories per minute, which is off the charts. That’s equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace. The only other thing I could find that burns that many calories is crosscountry skiing uphill at a fast pace.”
The study concluded that kettlebell training will provide a very good resistance training workout and help you lose weight and is ideal “For people who might not have a lot of time, and need to get in a good workout as quickly as possible’’
How to get started with kettlebells.
If you’ve never picked one up I guarantee you’re reading this while doing your best John Mcenroe ‘’ you cannot be serious ‘’ impression in your head.
No, seriously. Those weights will kick your arse.
When I first started using kettlebells it was with a 10 kg(22 lb) kettlebell and it gave me fits.
If you are a man or women with little to no training then you can even start with lighter weights than recommended and the good news is you only need one kettlebell to get started.
What exercises shall I start with ?
I would recommend that you start off very basic and get used to working with a kettlebell. The kettlebell swing is considered the king of kettlebell movements and is the best place to start. As mentioned before, the swing is a full body workout which will also burn a massive amount of calories along with giving you a great cardio workout. It is very simple once you get the movement down but it still challenges me, to this day.
If you’re struggling for ideas you can try doing a tabata style workout where you perform explosive swings for 20 seconds with 10 seconds rest for 8 reps.
Or you can slowly work your way up to a maximum number of swings without rest. For a true test of your will, try building up to 100 swings. (Not for the faint hearted !)
With any kind of resistance training, it’s always important you have proper form to avoid injury. One of the programs that has taught me alot is ‘Mastering The Hard Style Kettlebell Swing’. This programme will help you build a solid foundation and is filled with detailed, scientific structured progressions and is a great resource for all levels.
Kettlebells are amazing fitness tool and I highly recommend you start using them now. If you already have one but haven’t bothered utilizing it, I hope that I have exited you enough to dust it off and start swing your way to a fitter, stronger, and leaner you.