If you walk into any gym today you’ll likely see someone (make that more than one) using kettlebells to work out. There’s absolutely no denying: kettlebells are sizzling hot right now. Frankly, the first time I saw someone using kettlebells in the gym I thought that I’d entered into some sort of surreal reality – maybe a movie designed by Salvador Dali.
It turns out I was stuck in the stone age – kettlebells have been used in Russia since the 1700s and in the United States since the 1960’s. But it’s only since Pavel Tsatsouline developed the first kettlebell instructor program in 2001, that they’ve really kicked into high-gear.
Okay, it’s got some history – I like that – but what can this cannonball with a handle do for you? According to proponents of the K’bells here’s why they’re awesome:
Quick, full body workout.
In 20 – 30 minutes you can effectively work out all your major muscle groups.
Combines cardio and strength training.
Awesome, get stronger and fitter at the same time. Plus this is a great way to incorporate high-intensity interval training.
Works your core.
Each kettlebell workout helps to increases core stability – i.e. the full core including your abdominals, oblique’s and back muscles.
Enhances functional performance, stability and flexibility.
Keeps it simple.
And cheap. You can ditch expensive gym memberships because just one kettlebell is like having a very portable gym of your own – which makes it great for setting up your own inexpensive home gym.
Builds lean, muscular physiques.
The nature of kettlebell workouts is that they focus on strength, endurance and flexibility, as a result they tend to produce lean, strong bodies (as long as you eat right and sleep right too). So it’s more like Brad Pitt in Fight Club than Arnie in… well Arnie in anything. (Note: you can build a lean, muscular physique with conventional strength training equipment too – dumbbells, barbells, we still love you).
Variety is fun.
Kettlebell workouts are fun. Maybe it’s just because you get to swing a heavy weight around, who knows?
Excellent for fat loss.
The American Council on Exercise performed a study on the effectiveness of kettlebell workouts for fat loss. To cut a long story short, in 20 minutes they burnt an average of 272 calories (excluding calories burnt through the substantial anaerobic effort).
The study found that when you took the anaerobic effort into consideration, the participants were burning at least 20.2 calories per minute – which, according to the team, is ‘off the charts’. To put it into perspective: “That’s equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace. The only other thing I could find that burns that many calories is cross-country skiing up hill at a fast pace.”
Kettlebell workouts introduce a slew of exotic exercises, which means there’s a lot to learn if you want to have as good a form as possible – given the dynamic nature of the exercises good form is crucial to prevent injury.
Not for getting huge.
If you’re looking for massive strength, or size gains, then dumbbells and barbells are going to be your equipment of choice. That’s not to say that you can’t put on a decent amount of muscle with kettlebells, because you can, but past a certain weight they become far too cumbersome to use effectively.
Tough on the hands and wrists.
As you get stronger, you’ll probably have to get at least two kettlebells of different weights for different exercises – e.g. upper body vs. lower body. In the beginning, one kettlebell will be enough to get started.
Getting the right kettlebell for you
Kettlebell expert Lauren Brooks recommends the following minimum weights to start with:
For women: 18lb (8kg), 26lb (12kg), 35lb (16kg)
For men: 35lb (16kg), 44lb (20kg), 52lb (24kg)
As a beginner you can start off with just one kettlebell, but if your budget allows it having a set of 2-3 allows you a lot more versatility with the exercises.
Where to get your kettlebell
Here are some of the top recommended ones:
Importance of proper form
According to kettlebell instructors the biggest mistake beginners make is not getting proper instruction. Now obviously you’d expect them to say this, but given the nature of the exercises you really can injure yourself if you don’t do them with the correct form. Case in point – yours truly! The first time I picked up a kettlebell and tried one of the exercises, I almost knocked myself out. So get some instruction and save yourself from injury. Ideally you want to get some proper instruction on the exercises from a certified kettlebell instructor (from a respected organization).
If this is out of your reach, the next best thing is to get a good instructional DVD by a certified kettlebell instructor.
That said, if your budget is really stretched, there are also some really good instructional videos on YouTube, but you need to be much more discerning about the quality of the instructor.
Below this you will find a version you can print and videos on how to perform the exercises.
We’re in love: working out with kettlebells is awesome! A solid kettlebell workout will torch through calories like they’re nothing, while building endurance, flexibility and strength. They’re a great way to cut your costs and simplify your workouts in the long run, but there’s a learning curve, so it’s important you get proper instruction – ideally one-on-one from a certified kettlebell instructor.
If you’re looking for that sexy, lean, toned and muscular look then these little beauties will get you well on your way to that look; however, if you want to pack on serious muscle, then your focus is going to need to be on conventional strength training equipment. Bottom-line, it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to achieve with your physique and fitness, these guys deserve a place in your workouts.
Have you used kettlebells before? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!