Kettlebells have grown in popularity since they were endorsed by many celebrities. More importantly though they’re popular with health and fitness specialists and it’s a type of hand weight which makes training easier, once you know what you’re doing. If you’re new to kettlebells you’ve probably looked at them in the gym and not known where to start – here we’re hoping to change that.
We’ll admit kettlebells look a little odd when you’re not used to them but don’t be put off they can be beneficial for both cardio and strength workouts and what’s more you’ll get the same level of workout in less time. Here’s the lowdown on these handy little weights.
A Bit of Background
Kettlebells originated in 18th century Russia and were used by the military at the time. They have been key to Russian fitness culture ever since and first appear, in the Russian form ‘Giryas’ in their dictionary as early as 1704. Classic fitness magazine Hercules declared giryas a fantastic weight loss tool in as early as 1913.
Kettlebells found their way to America as a tool for training American armed forces, giving them the chance to catch up with the Russians. They grew hugely in popularity for general fitness training in the 21st century however with celebrities getting stuck into kettlebell workouts and personal training professionals following suit. There are even specialised kettlebell training classes across the UK.
The weight itself is shaped a little like a teapot (without the standard handle) and made traditionally from cast iron. A handle goes from side to side of the weight which creates a centre of mass displacement. This means the weight constantly pulls against your hand and the handle, requiring both strength and coordination to work out with. More than this other muscles also need to be used through your shoulders, arm and trunk to exercise with the kettlebell effectively.
The largest kettlebell is said to weight 80kg although usually you’ll find them in weight ranges from 2kg to 24kg and it’s likely your gym will have some available to you.
Kettlebell training is heavily based on technique. It requires a different technique to free weights or machine training so you may benefit from attending a class at your local gym as a preparation for your personal workouts. Most women start off using 8kg although some will start with 12kg and most men start with 12-14kg kettlebells.
The starting stance for kettlebell training is known as the ‘power stance. You need to stand with your feed a shoulder-width apart with your weight firmly on your heels and the kettlebell held between your feet. Your spine needs to remain in its natural neutral position and you could contract your pelvic floor whilst bracing your abs to use your hips to create a sitting position. From this stance you are able to begin performing kettlebell exercises.
The first exercise most people begin with is the standard swing. The swing combines strength and cardio and targets your back, abs, core, glutes and legs. Your upper body also gets a good workout.
Beginning in the power stance you simply swing the kettlebell back between your legs and then forwards whilst forcefully snapping your hips and contracting your glutes and quads. The kettlebell should then be allowed to free fall back between your legs and then you can complete as many reps as you can manage. This is just the beginning as there are hundreds of kettlebell exercises including your traditional favourites switched up a little as well as brand new exercises. Give that humble squat a go with a kettlebell in hand and you’ll soon feel a difference.
Benefits of Kettlebell Training
It’s all well and good introducing you to this new weight training tool but what’s the point? What does it do differently? Some experts would claim that the kettlebell is the ultimate fitness tool as it provides both resistance training and cardio training in a single exercise. It also classes as a high intensity work out and so a short, quick session is all you need to get the same effects as you may from an hour or so of moderate training at the gym.
Kettlebell workouts burn at least 20.2 calories a minute according to experts and this is equivalent to cross-country skiing or even high-intensity running. Swinging your kettlebells regularly will help increase your power, endurance, mobility, flexibility, co-ordination and speed. Your muscles may be screaming for mercy but you’ll definitely feel the benefit at the end of the workout.
Once you’ve perfected your kettlebell technique then you’ll see a whole world of exercises opened up to you. The exercises available to you are infinite as you can mix it up in any way you want and once you increase your ability you can switch it up to the next sized weight.
Bradley. they may look like teapots but they're great for your core work Not all resistance machines can do that. Not being rude but if you've not actually tried them how can you judge? (and tea is very good for you!!)
the great thing about kettlebells is you can keep the exercise simple. As this article says, simple squats are incredibly powerful moves when used with a kettlebell. just a shame more people don't use them.
To Tanya and Melissa (and all other women feeling curious about kettlebells but intimidated) - the session I went to was women-only one as well and I can't recommend it enough. Kettlebells really aren't just for men!
As the article says, they look like teapots. I can't see the need to swing teapots around the place when there's a perfectly good assortment of resistance machines at the gym that do the job just fine.
Melissa - we have a women's only kettlebell session at our fitness centre and it's really great. It's done like a step class with the addition of a few light kettlebell movements and each week we have the option of moving up the weights. It is great fun!
Our gym has just started a kettlebells class and it's great. The way the kettlebell pulls against you is a great incentive to keep fighting back. It's like being in competition with your body - really good workout!
I've not tried these. But I might give them a shot now!
Thanks for this article, I might feel brave enough to give it a go now. Always thought they were the preserve of men who looked like the one in this pic ;-)
I was a bit put off by the look of kettlebells but a friend persuaded me to go to an introductory session with a fitness instructor - now I'm addicted! It's a great way of achieving definition. Definitely worth consulting a professional, though, as I imagine the opportunities for injury are rife.