Kettlebell (KB) training has been called, the most effective training tool that most of us have never heard of. Although kettlebells might seem new to most Americans, they are really just a reintroduction of a centuries old exercise device. If you have never heard of KBs, you are not alone. KBs are one of the most effective exercise tools to hit America in the last 100 years.
Kettlebells have traditionally been used in Eastern Europe for hundreds of years where they first earned their reputation as a tough training tool for both Olympians and soldiers alike. Due to their effectiveness, they have become a top training tool for conditioning not just top athletes and soldiers but also anyone interested in getting in good shape. Currently in the U.S., law enforcement officials, Marines, Navy SEALS, and various Special Forces units around the country are rediscovering the many benefits of Kettlebell training. Kettlebells were originally measured in poods, an old Russian unit of measurement equal to about 36 pounds. The standard kettlebell weighs one and a half poods or 52 pounds. There are currently KBs of all weights, making them practical for beginner exercisers through world-class athletes. For the clients I train, we use 9, 18, 26, 35, 53 and 70-pound KBs. As people increase their strength and improve their technique, they can expect to increase the poundage of the KBs they use.
A Kettlebell workout trains the entire body. It provides a serious strength training and second-to-none aerobic workout simultaneously. KB exercises work the entire trunk region, create explosive power and strength, and increase lean muscle mass. They burn more calories in a shorter time than any aerobic machine. After one kettlebell workout, you’ll realize how much more efficiently these unusual looking pieces of iron get the job done. You’ll develop a balanced, stable, aesthetic, muscular-skeletal frame that functions on an optimal level. As I introduce KB training, one word of caution. Not everyone can pick up a kettlebell or should pick up a kettlebell and just start swinging it around. You may get hurt. It’s like learning how to do a valuable movement like a squat or a bench press. It’s so good for you, but you have to know what you’re doing. If you have any pre-existing medical or physical condition, be sure to get clearance from your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
Although KB training might be thought of by many as a more hardcore or male-oriented method of exercise, this is not at all the case. There are benefits that women can expect to get out of KB training that can rival or exceed any and all other exercise formats. One of the key benefits is tightening and shaping the hips, thighs and buttocks. If you are a woman who regularly works out with KBs, your legs and thighs will experience a workout like they never have and you will finally realize why long sessions of aerobic exercise just don’t cut it anymore. You’ll also tone and shape your entire body and won’t have to worry about “getting big” or bulking up in the process.
Both men and women can expect to burn fat very quickly, increase lean muscle mass, and get an excellent cardio-aerobic workout. You can expect to get tighter, stronger, bigger and leaner. For bodybuilders, supplementing with kettlebells can train you to work more synergistically. Your muscles will learn to recruit more muscle fibers into a given movement. This can help to increase the poundage you lift in other exercises leading to increased muscle size. If you are a performance athlete, KBs can train integrated dynamic core stability. In all training, especially that of performance athletes, it is important to train with exercise movements that integrate multiple muscle groups around multiple joints. This coordinating effort, combined with the momentum of KB exercises, can lead to extreme levels of performance. Like weight training, you will increase your bone density and, because of their emphasis on flexibility, range of motion through the joints, and explosive movements, KB training will improve your performance in your chosen sport. Distance runners report that through KB training alone, they have slashed significant time off their running distance almost immediately without ever strapping on running shoes.
Even if you are only a weekend warrior who participates in recreational sports, KB training will help you to jump higher, leap further, kick faster, hit harder, throw harder, improve running speed, swim with greater power and endure longer.
One of the distinguishing benefits of incorporating KB exercises into your workout routine is the inseparable aspect of momentum. Dumbbells, barbells and machines are not as practical for safely incorporating higher levels of momentum during exercise movements. In real life, we pick up bags, we pick up babies, we move furniture, mow the lawn, shovel snow, fall on the ice, and we’re always moving things around. The swinging movements that are central to KB routines involve continuous and multi-directional momentum. Dumbbells, barbells and machines don’t generally offer that. Training with KBs is kind of awkward and teaches the body to deal with those kinds of things. The physical endurance carryover to every day physical activities is another practical benefit of KB training. From a general health standpoint, KB training helps to decrease blood pressure and resting heart rate, improve grip strength and increase upper and lower back strength, to name only a few benefits. In our daily living, at home and on the job, KB training can help us handle stress more easily and improve our confidence. Both work and play become easier as our energy and enthusiasm increase.
If you are trying to gain endurance, both muscular and/or cardio-vascular, in the shortest time possible, kettlebell training is the way to go. While kettlebells build incredible endurance, they also build strength-endurance. Running, stair stepping, and aerobics are great exercises but they don’t effectively simulate the ballistic shock and strength endurance challenges of life (falling on ice, tripping, etc), kettlebells do!
When beginning a KB training program, there is a learning curve that everyone must go through. For anyone just starting out, it is most effective to have at least one session with an instructor since proper technique is critical to optimum results. When training with KBs, treat your workouts as practice sessions. Too often we get caught up in the numbers game and choose quantity over quality, the old “more is better” attitude. That is the wrong mindset, especially with KBs! Not only does it involve a lot of wasted effort but it can lead to injuries that could be avoided. To have the most efficient and result producing workouts forget about numbers and focus on the process. Three or four perfect reps will do more for you than ten poor ones. A good rule of thumb with KB training is to go for the FEEL and not the numbers.
I personally find that a combination of weight training and kettlebell training make one of the most well rounded training programs. One of the first KB exercises I teach my clients, because it is both a simple movement and one that is incredibly effective at addressing most every exercises chief goal, is the Swing (both one-arm and two-arm version). Swings provide a dynamic stretch, strengthen the glutes, hamstrings and erectors of lower back, help to eliminate cellulite, firm up the buttocks, and give as intense of a cardio-aerobics workout as you will get, second to none.
An excellent way to build speed, endurance, and agility is to intersperse cardio w/ KB movements in a circuit-type fashion. This type of workout provides a cardio benefit as well as builds muscular endurance and strength, not to mention the fat that you will be burning. The exerciser can use three or four flights of stairs, touching every step while sprinting up, and then jogging back down. Each time you reach the bottom, you perform 10 to 15 repetitions of various KB exercises. This cycle of cardio / KB exercise / cardio / KB exercise, etc. would continue for a predetermined amount of time. You do not need to use stairs for the cardio portion; instead most any cardio exercises between KB exercises will work. One of the best things about this workout is that it can be done within fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on how hard you want to push yourself. At my training studio, I currently teach people a KB / cardio workout program that includes 30 to 45 minutes per session, 3 times per week, (Executive Workout Program). This kind of conditioning can be used at whatever intensity you need in order to improve upon your current condition. It is very effective for beginners as well as advanced athletes who are seeking explosive power and improved anaerobic capacity. Once you train this way, I am sure that you will agree this is about as effective of a workout that you can do in a limited amount of time.
For people who love to do conventional roadwork, with the inclusion of resistance training, you can take two kettlebells to the track and place one Kettlebell on one side of the track and another kettlebell on the other side. Every time you pass the kettlebell, stop and do ten snatches or swings with each arm and then start running again. No breaks, no rest, just pure sweat and determination. When you can run two miles with roadwork, you will be in much better shape than you are now. Remember to have fun with roadwork and feel free to get creative.
Since beginning kettlebell training in 1993, I have to say it is one of the most grueling, fun, satisfying workouts I have done. Kettlebells can be used anywhere and anytime since KB workouts can be done at home, outside, in the gym, you name it. They work, and the workouts can take as little as 15 to 20 minutes to complete. If you are interested in more information, there are excellent demo / training videos at no cost on YouTube.com, dragondoor.com or artofstrength.com.