Kettlebells are one of the most popular pieces of exercise equipment around, and for good reason. They are incredibly effective at building strength and conditioning the whole body. But what exactly is a kettlebell? And how did they come to be so popular?
A kettlebell is a cast-iron weight with a handle on top. They vary in weight from around 4kg to 48kg. They are believed to have originated in Russia, where they were used as a form of weightlifting. However, they really started to gain popularity in the West in the early 2000s. This was thanks to the rise of CrossFit, which incorporated kettlebell exercises into its workouts.
Since then, kettlebells have become increasingly popular with people from all walks of life and experience levels, and are now a fixture in many gyms and homes alike.
But what exactly makes them so special? If you're undecided when it comes to them, hopefully by the time you read this to the end you'll develop a greater understanding of if they are right for you or not.
Why Should You Use Kettlebells?
Of course, before getting overly attached to kettlebells, there should be ample justification for why you should be using them. Here are a few reasons why people love them:
Kettlebells are Relatively Inexpensive and Can Be Easily Stored At Home.
One of the major draws of using kettlebells has to be that they don't cost a lot, and they are small enough to be stored at home without taking up too much room. For the price of one month's gym membership, you could purchase a set of kettlebells that would last you for years.
Not only that, but they can effectively replace many gym machines and dumbbells, so you're really getting your money's worth. Their durability is also top-notch, making them a single lifetime purchase with just basic level maintenance.
High Level Of Versatility
If your budget is a major consideration that led you to choose a kettlebell in the first place, then you'll be delighted to learn about their high level of versatility. What this means is that with a single kettlebell, you can perform a variety of exercises to work out different muscle groups.
This is opposed to other pieces of equipment like machines, which might only work for one muscle group at a time. In terms of bang for the bung, kettlebells are right up there with dumbbells.
Kettlebells Can Help to Build Muscle.
One of the main reasons you might be working out in the first place is to gain lean muscle. To do that, you will need to perform resistance training- but this can get cumbersome really fast if you rely on specialized equipment to get this done.
A single kettlebell, on the other hand, can help you target so many muscle groups in one go, at varying rep ranges that can stimulate hypertrophy. Of course, you also need to have a plan that focuses on progression over time, in terms of work done or resistance used.
Kettlebells Offer a Great Full-body Cardiovascular Workout.
People often think that in order to get a good workout, they need to focus on one muscle group at a time. This idea couldn't be further from the truth, especially when it comes to kettlebells.
Using kettlebells for your workouts will allow you to work every muscle in your body, from your shoulders down to your calves. Not only will this make you stronger and more conditioned, but it'll also help improve your balance, coordination, and flexibility.
Want to make them even better? Perform circuits. These high-intensity sessions will not only stimulate muscle growth but will incinerate hard-to-lose fat in the process from the elevated metabolism and insane calorie burn.
The Best Kettlebell Exercises
Don't know where to start with kettlebell training? It's easy! In fact, kettlebells are designed in such a manner to offer maximum ergogenic support and comfort, by utilizing the body's natural movement patterns.
Include the following movements in your workout:
The Kettlebell Swing
The namesake poster child of kettlebells everywhere, the swing remains one of the most effective kettlebell exercises you can choose. This exercise is so good owing to the fact that it taps into the strongest muscles in your body- those of the posterior chain which include the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
Of course, the swinging itself also recruits many other muscle groups including deltoids, forearms, muscles of the back, and core making it a bonafide beast of an exercise.
As you master the technique required to perform the kettlebell swing and increase the resistance used, the movement can drastically improve both aerobic and anaerobic training capacity, translating well to other exercises.
Kettlebell thrusters are one of the fastest ways to achieve body recomposition on the planet since they are effectively an upper and lower body exercise in one.
Essentially a squat and shoulder press combined, this exercise is perfect for those who want to build muscle and torch body fat. The thruster can be done with one or two kettlebells, with the double Bell variation being the most challenging.
1. Hold a kettlebell in each hand with your feet hip-width apart.
2. Drop into a squat, then press the kettlebells overhead, extending your legs and hips until you are standing upright again.
3. Make sure to keep your core engaged throughout the entire movement.
The farmer's walk is a criminally underrated movement today, even though it has the potential for monstrous strength and size gains, not to mention calorie burning.
The premise of it is stupidly simple- pick up a weight (or two) and walk. However, doing this for any significant distance or time is anything but easy. This exercise will work your grip, forearms, traps, lats, core, and even calves if done correctly.
If you're looking to get strong and muscular fast, look no further than the farmer's walk.
1. Grab a pair of fairly heavy kettlebells, and hold them at your sides with your feet hip-width apart.
2. Keeping your core engaged, lift your heels first and walk with the kettlebells.
3. Make sure to keep a strong posture and walk for a specified period of time, usually 30-60 seconds.
Protip: take brisk, but shorter steps to really turn up the intensity of this exercise.
Kettlebell Chest Presses
Of course, no piece of equipment can truly be proud of itself if there isn't something for the chest in there, right?
Kettlebell chest presses are possible, wither using a bench or on the floor. Indeed, it does require a greater degree of stabilization than using dumbbells or barbells, and that is because of the backward position of the wrist relative to the forearms and how the kettlebells hang.
This increased requirement for stability, however, makes the kettlebell chest press an excellent exercise for those looking to improve their pressing strength and stability. Not only that, but the added range of motion provided by the kettlebells will work muscles that are often neglected in more traditional pressing exercises.
Alternatives: Use a yoga or stability one (but be sure that it can support the weight!)
The renegade row is a fantastic exercise for working the entire back, but be aware that it isn't necessarily the easiest movement in the bunch.
It is a great exercise for developing rotational stability and strength in the shoulder, while also working the biceps and core. Plus, it's just darn fun to do!
To perform the renegade row, you will need two kettlebells and open space to work in.
1. Get into a push-up position with one kettlebell in each hand
2. Row the left kettlebell up to your chest, while keeping your hips and glutes stationary
3. Lower the bell back to the start position, then row the right kettlebell to your chest
Do not allow your body to rotate during the movement- this is a key indicator of poor rotational stability and will lead to an inability to generate force through the back muscles.
The kettlebell snatch is a total-body exercise that is perfect for developing explosive power.
It is a complex movement, but one that is worth learning as it can be applied to many other exercises. It is much more than an effective muscle and strength builder, as it can also improve cardiovascular fitness in a jiffy.
1. Start with a light kettlebell and stand with feet hip-width apart
2. Bend at the hips and knees, then reach down and grasp the kettlebell with one hand
3. explosively extend your hips, knees, and ankles to lift the bell up and over your head in a fluid motion.
4. Let the bell fall back down to the ground or between your hips, then repeat with the other hand
5. Continue for the desired number of repetitions
Pay careful attention to your form on this exercise- sloppy movement will quickly lead to injury. Remember to keep your core engaged throughout the entire movement.
The Turkish get-up may look easy, but it's actually one of the most challenging exercises you can do with a kettlebell. This movement targets almost every muscle in your body and requires excellent stability and coordination.
The get-up begins with you lying flat on your back with a kettlebell in one hand.
1. Lie flat on your back with a kettlebell in one hand and your arm straight
2. Drive your hips and feet off the ground so that you are sitting up, then reach for the kettlebell with your other hand
3. Place the kettlebell on the ground by your foot and extend your arm straight
4. Stand up, then reverse the steps to return to the starting position
5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, usually just about 6-8 for beginners.
Be sure to keep your core engaged throughout the entire movement- this is what will help you maintain stability. If you find that you are unable to complete all the steps, go back to the last step that you were able to complete and work on gradually increasing your range of motion.
Kettlebell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
The kettlebell single leg Romanian deadlift is a great exercise for improving balance and stability. It also works the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back in a big way.
As you might have noticed by now, many kettlebell exercises strengthen the large and powerful posterior chain muscles of the body. These muscles are also the greatest contributor to functional strength, meaning they help us perform everyday activities with better efficiency and reduced risk of injury.
1. Stand with a kettlebell in your left hand and extend your right leg behind you, keeping your back straight
2. Hinge at the hips and lower the kettlebell down the front of your right leg, keeping your back flat and extending your right arm forward for balance
3. Drive your hips and left foot forward to return to the starting position, then repeat
4. Alternate legs after completing 6-8 reps
Kettlebell Goblet Squat
If you're worried that your leg training might not be up to par while using kettlebells, you've never been introduced to the goblet squat.
A strict quadriceps heavy movement, the goblet squat will quickly make up for any perceived weaknesses in your lower body.
1. Grasp a kettlebell with both hands and hold it at chest level
2. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes turned out slightly
3. Squat down as if you are sitting back into a chair, keeping the kettlebell close to your chest
4. Drive up to the starting position, then repeat
5. Aim for 12-15 reps
Be sure to keep your back straight and core engaged throughout the entire movement. If you find that you are able to squat down further than before, try adding a little more weight to the kettlebell.
A Word Of Warning
While kettlebells are extremely beneficial for both muscle growth and fat loss, there are a few things that you should know before either heading out and buying them in bulk, or using them solely in your workouts.
For one, quality matters. Low-quality ones might have uneven weight distribution, which could easily lead to an injury. Cheap kettlebells might also be made from low-quality materials that can chip and rust over time.
The handle also matters since it is the base of how you are able to maneuver the kettlebell. Ensure that it is not too thick or uncomfortable (or even too smooth) or you might be unable to use them.
Kettlebells are a great way to spice up your workouts, providing a new challenge and helping you to achieve better results in less time. While they might look simple at first, there is a lot that goes into using them correctly and safely. Be sure to learn the basics before jumping in, and always focus on quality over quantity.
Kettlebells are a great addition to your arsenal of workout tools, but there is no need to make them the only thing you use. Incorporate them into your current routine, and see how much better you can become.
But always remember- they are just a tool. Unless you consume a diet rich in nutrients, protein, and of course, sleep enough, you won't see the gains you are capable of.