Over the last few years, kettlebells have become quite popular in sports clubs, crossfit boxes, and individually owned personal training studios – and for good reason. Kettlebells are unlike any traditional weight or machine found in gyms, and kettlebells will give you a workout unlike any traditional equipment.
Believe it or not, there’s even evidence that kettlebells go back as far as Ancient Greece. In Athens, there is a 143 kg kettlebell at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, hinting that kettlebells may have made an appearance in the Ancient Olympic games. (1)
The more modern use of kettlebells as we know it today, however, started as far back as the 18th century. In 1704, the “Girya” (meaning kettlebell), was published in the Russian Dictionary, with the definition of a weight to measure grains. With strength viewed as an honorable quality among the Russians, men started swinging and lifting kettlebells at fairs and festivals to show how strong they were.
Kettlebells have long been a symbol of strength in Russia, and a common tool for athletic conditioning and health. Yet their debut in America didn’t come until the late 1990s. Since then, they have become a staple in most gyms around the country.
The Benefits of Kettlebells
- Combine Cardio and Strength Training – One of the greatest benefits of kettlebells is their ability to raise your heart rate. Swinging a heavy object not only takes strength, but also cardiovascular endurance. After only a few seconds of performing most kettlebell workouts, you will feel your heart rate increase significantly.
- Quick, Efficient Workouts – Because kettlebells work both cardiovascular endurance and strength endurance, they are the perfect solution for those with busy schedules. With the intensity of kettlebells, workouts must be kept short to prevent muscle fatigue that can compromise form. (2)
(Related: 10 Effective HIIT Workouts)
- Increased Fat Loss – Workouts that combine cardio and strength training come with the added benefit of raising your metabolism. Throwing a weight around for even just a few minutes can raise your metabolism all day long, helping to increase weight loss and decrease body fat.
- Develop Coordination – Because kettlebells are so different from traditional exercises and work in multiple planes of motion, they require more coordination and neuromuscular engagement.
Tips for Training with Kettlebells
- Always start out with a lighter weight than what you think you should use. It’s better to start lighter and learn how to perform each exercise correctly. Choosing a weight that’s too heavy can lead to injury and pain in your lower back.
- Always keep your wrists in a strong neutral position, there should be no bend in them at all. Also, make sure not to grip too tightly. Your grip should be firm, but you shouldn’t white-knuckle the handle. A loose, but strong grip will allow the handle to slide properly during the exercises.
- Make sure to keep your shoulders relaxed and never swing with your arms. They should just be along for the ride during your swings. The movements should always come from your hips and your core.
- Always engage your abdominals. Your core will keep you balanced and protect your back. (4)
Total Body Kettlebell Workouts
These full body kettlebell workouts will allow you to work on some of the basic moves. Again, always use a lighter weight to start; none of the exercises should be painful. Repeat this circuit 2-3 times, depending on your fitness level.
- Kettlebell Swing – Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell in line with the middle of your feet. Squat down to pick the kettlebell up and wrap your thumbs loosely around the handle. Use your legs to lift the kettlebell, keeping your shoulders down and back. Soften your knees as you hinge from your hips. Using your glutes and your hips, power through your heels and explode your hips forward to swing the kettlebell forward, making sure to squeeze your glutes and engage your abs. The kettlebell should come to about shoulder height, and hinge at your hips to lower back down, letting the kettlebell do all the work. Repeat for 15-20 swings, making sure the swings are smooth and fluid.
- Front Squat – Turn the kettlebell upside down and hold onto the sides of the handle with each hand. With feet shoulder-width apart and knees and toes very slightly turned out, lower into a squat, keeping your abdominals engaged. Pressing through your heels, power back up to standing, engaging your hamstrings and squeezing your glutes at the top. Repeat 15-20 times.
- Windmill – Hold the kettlebell in your RIGHT hand, with the kettlebell directly over your RIGHT shoulder. Feet should be wider than shoulder-width apart and your LEFT knee and toes turned out. Hinging at your hips, and pressing your hips to the RIGHT, slide your LEFT hand down the inside of your LEFT leg. Using your RIGHT side obliques, press back up, keeping your shoulder stable. Complete 15 repetitions and then repeat on the LEFT side.
- Single Arm Row – Holding the kettlebell in your RIGHT hand, hinge at your hips and place your left hand on your left thigh. Keeping your back straight and almost parallel to the ground, pull your RIGHT elbow high, squeezing your shoulder blade and back. With control, lower back down and repeat for 15 repetitions, then switch to the LEFT side.
- Lunge & Press – Start holding the kettlebell in a racked position up by your LEFT shoulder. Step your RIGHT foot back into a lunge as you press the kettlebell overhead. Pressing through the front heel, engaging your hamstrings and glutes, bring your right foot back forward to standing and lower the kettlebell back to the shoulder. Repeat 15 times and then switch sides.
- Turkish Get Up –
- Step 1: Start on your back, LEFT arm extended out to the side and holding the weight in the RIGHT hand directly over your shoulder. The RIGHT knee should be bent with the foot flat on the ground, LEFT leg extended on the ground.
- Step 2: Using your LEFT arm for support, push yourself into a seated position, RIGHT arm still straight up, LEFT hand flat on the ground.
- Step 3: Lift your butt off the ground, supporting yourself on your LEFT hand and RIGHT foot. The majority of your weight should be off your LEFT leg. Again, adjust your right arm so that it is always staying directly over your shoulder throughout the whole exercise.
- Step 4: Bend your LEFT leg, bringing it back under your hips, knee on the ground.
- Step 5: Push off the LEFT leg and hand to bring yourself into a kneeling position.
- Step 6: Stand up, bringing your LEFT foot in line with your RIGHT foot, standing tall with your RIGHT arm fully extended holding the kettlebell.
- Step 7: Reverse the movement back into the starting position. Repeat 5-10 times on each side.
Work on these basic movements using the kettlebell to gain strength, stamina, and power. Add 2-3 kettlebell workouts into your weekly routine for some killer kettlebell benefits.
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