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A kettlebell is a cast iron ball with a U-shaped handle on it, usually wrapped in plastic coating. People say it looks like a basketball or cannonball with a suitcase handle. The kettlebell concept originated centuries ago as an old Russian toy and Soviet military training tool, but it has recently gained much popularity in the U.S. as a result of the “functional training” fitness trends. The traditional Russian weight (or girya) is 35 lbs, but the commercial weights can range from 5 lbs to 175 lbs. Unlike dumbbells and barbells that have the weight evenly distributed across your hand, the unique physique of the kettle bell places the center of mass beyond the handle forcing you have to counterbalance unevenness. This design increases the perceived amount of resistance, and allows swinging and momentum movements through full range of motion. It also makes the drills more difficult, effective and taxing on the muscles of your body.
Kettlebells should be used after a strong muscular strength and endurance foundation is in place to maintain optimal postural control and engagement. Kettlebell exercises can mimic other resistance exercises, such as the hanging side lateral lift – which are usually performed as with a dumbbell or plate—or the front squat—which are usually performed with body weight, barbells, or dumbbells to add resistance. Kettlebells also fall into a classification of their own with their unique movement patterns. Typically, people use kettle bells in fluid motions, keeping the weight close to their body or swinging them through their legs for total body workout. The most common and unique to the kettlebell workout is the one handed, two handed and alternating arm swings. The swing is especially important because it positions the spine to learn to move from the hips, contract the abs to stabilize the core for strength and control and press through the heels to activate the glutes. This technique greatly reduces the risk of back injury.
In order to effectively create a kettlebell plan, it is important to follow the principle of specificity—that is, to make sure the movements mimic your desired fitness goal. If you are at a normal activity level and want improvements in daily functioning, exercises like the snatch or the farmers walk is recommended because it mimics the daily tasks of lifting a heavy bag over your shoulder. Kettlebells can also be sport-specific type of training. If you were a swimmer, movements like the windmill would be a great choice because it mimics the rotation of the spine and arm strength during the breast stroke. Tennis players may choose exercises like the backhand and forehand swing, and basketball players may choose exercises like the one handed clean and the between the legs pass to work on jumping and ball handling skills.
Here are some more examples of exercises:
The benefits of kettle bells exercises are:
- It provides variation to the usual weight lifting routine
- It provides overload through a longer range of motion associated with greater muscle mass and better flexibility
- It works multiple muscles simultaneously, stretching and strengthening the agonist, antagonist, and hard to target stabilizing muscles
- Improves your metabolism, cardio, and aerobic conditioning, especially with ballistic or explosive and speedy lifts – one study by ACE Fit Matters found that participants burned on average 202 calories per minute in an intense kettlebell workout—equivalent to running a 6 minute mile race
- Its time efficient, fast paced, dynamic- its tough, a “no nonsense” workout tool that combines strength and cardio with out isolated muscle movements—more effective in less time
- Can help ease pains and aches, especially in shoulders and knees, by correcting misalignment and compensations in the body
- Improve posture and back pain by focusing on the postural muscles
- Relatively low-cost, ranging from $20 to $99 each depending on weight, and requires a minimal amount of workout space
Like everything else, kettlebells also have some limitations. First, the training load may not be high enough for athletes or very fit people who are working to maximize strength, because typically they are only available up to 88 lbs unless purchased from specialty store. Second, it is difficult to progress the training load. Kettlebells are usually incremented in 4.4 kg, which allow only slow progressions that are difficult to tailor. And lastly, Kettlebells are not good for people want hypertrophied results because its lack in isolated movements. It is also not recommended for people with back injuries or pain because it swings and jerks the spine that can hurt an injury if performed incorrectly.
Nevertheless, kettlebells are a great, innovative and intense variation to weight lifting and practicing functional strength. They have been found to improve muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, aerobic capacity, and body composition. The best way to start kettlebelling is to find a certified trainer or specialty studio to help introduce the, at times awkward, but purposeful exercises. If you are looking in the Richmond, VA area, Tailor Made Health and Wellness provides in-home training and is a great option for an individualized workout plan. A less costly option would be to buy an exercise book, a kettlebell, a mat, and a stop watch and dive in yourself as long as you don’t have any physical limitations or pain. To find more information about kettlebells, the top sites are visit Dragon Door, the International Kkettlebell and Fitness Federation, Art of Strength, American Club, and Kettlebell Concepts.