Welcome to our section on Kettlebell for Beginners! Kettlebells are one of the most valuable pieces of tools within the functional training arsenal. There is a myriad of reasons why this type of training is beneficial regardless of your fitness goals.
The Cannonball with a Handle
The kettlebell (or ‘Girya‘ as traditionally called in Russia) is a training tool similar to a cannonball except with a handle on top of it. Since the 1980’s they have become a widely recognised piece of strength and conditioning equipment. Training with kettlebells involves using both dynamic moves and transitions between static holds (known as grinds). These moves cover many areas of fitness including cardio, muscular endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. The popularity of kettlebells has increased due to their ease of use, the challenge they provide and their transportability.
Anatomy of the Girya
A kettlebells structure is broken down into a handle, corner(s), horn(s), window, bell and base (see above). The kettlebell is completely unique as a resistance training tool in comparison to traditional free-weight equipment.
Due to their unique structure, a kettlebells centre of mass extends beyond the hand when used. Kettlebells also provide an unstable force when they are being handled. As a result of these factors and the kettlebells unique structure kettlebell training allows for ballistic, swinging type movements.
The explosive movements involved with kettlebell workouts force your stabilizer muscles to work overtime. Controlling the weight of the bell provides a whole-body strength and conditioning workout using just a single kettlebell. Furthermore, the ‘release’ part of a movement means that kettlebell training is much easier on the wrists than dumbbell training.
Weights and Sizes
Kettlebells come in a variety of weights and different sizes. The Traditional Russian way of measuring weight is in ‘poods‘. 1 pood = roughly 16kg and 3 poods = 48kgs. There is a variety of weight in between, however (see diagram below). Always start light and proceed to heavier weights once you have your technique correct and can safely lift the weights! Likewise, if you are used to traditional lifting methods you may indeed be used to lifting much heavier weight! Bear with us, the kettlebell is much more than a tool for building muscular endurance.
Humble Origins of the Girya
As kettlebells have become more popular over the last several decades, the claims to which country first used them has intensified. Some claim that kettlebell were first used in Ancient Greece, with evidence for these claims coming from excavations of a ‘kettlebell’ shaped tool. The claims are that this kettlebell was used for training for sporting activities such as the Olympics.
Alongside Greek and Russian claims, both China and Scotland have staked their own claims with their own variations. The Chinese claims revolve around the use of stone locks used by Shaolin monks in their intense training.
However, the majority of the evidence suggests that Mother Russia is the actual birthplace of the kettlebell. Initially, the girya was a farming tool used for measurement. Over time, the farmers began to see the value of it as a strength training tool and competitions sprung up at various farmers fairs. In its use as an actual physical training tool, the Girya is mentioned in training as far back as 1708! Russia must have possessed some incredibly strong farmers during that period!!
The Birth of Weightlifting
In the 19th century, one Dr Vladislav Krayevsky (aka ‘the father of kettlebells’) created the St Petersburg Amateur Weightlifting Society. This heralded the start of the sport of weight-lifting as we know it today. A major part of strength training involved the use of kettlebells by athletes.
Kettlebell training eventually became incorporated into the Soviet army’s training regime which proved very successful. The Soviet government also promoted them as a fitness tool for the public to decrease health care costs and improve the population’s fitness levels.
In 1948 Kettlebells became the national sport of Russia. Competition would involve three exercises (the clean, the jerk and the snatch). The first official competition rules did not follow until 1985 however when the first national competition was held in the former USSR.
During the late nineties, a former Soviet Special forces instructor Pavel Tsatouline ‘the modern father of kettlebells’ migrated to America and brought with him his kettlebell training secrets. He has written a number of successful books on the subject and held many seminars since.
Present Day Girya
Kettlebell training has since exploded internationally and it is now almost unthinkable to attend a gym and not find one lying around. This kettlebell renaissance has seen the creation of many important international kettlebell federations and organisations.