Kettlebells are a great tool for all-around physical fitness, encompassing many areas such as strength training, cardio work, functional fitness, core strength, flexibility and improving motor patterns.
There are many advantages to using them over other forms of resistance training such as dumbbells or even barbells.
Due to the kettlebells unique design and weight distribution, using them allows a completely different range of motion with exercises. They are much easier to swing around and control than the average dumbbell. This makes them ideal for exercises such as the Turkish Get Up (TGU).
The TGU is a kettlebell ‘Grind’ exercise that challenges almost every muscle in the body. Although there are sandbag and dumbbell variations of the exercise that are challenging in their own right (the sandbag get up in particular). It is the kettlebells offset handle that allows the TGU to flow more naturally compared to these other variations. Furthermore, the sandbag getup is almost impossible to control with overhead movements and has to remain on a person’s shoulders. Thus losing the component of the exercise involving the overhead press and challenging shoulder stability muscles.
The kettlebell swing is another move unique to the kettlebell. Again due to the design of the bell, the explosive, swinging movements do not work quite as well with a dumbbell. Owing to the different weight distribution of the kettlebell (in comparison to a dumbbell) it essentially works different muscles doing the same movement. On the ballistic, dynamic moves associated with kettlebells, none of its counterparts come close to challenging it in working those areas.
Finally, changes in grips on various parts of the kettlebell can be challenging in very subtle ways. For example, hook grips (used for swinging and greater control) vs ‘bottoms ups’ grip used for challenging grip, wrist and forearm strength.
In Russia, there has always been kettlebells, and the US has adopted kettlebell training in many ways seeing the value of this incredible training tool. In many parts of the world however, people are still waking up to the idea of using kettlebells. Thankfully many kettlebell schools are springing up but conversion of the masses is slow progress. Many gyms I have visited in the UK, they are perceived as just another functional fitness tool. There are kettlebell classes in many of these gyms, but in many cases the techniques they demonstrate to class goers are far from textbook, and in some cases just plain dangerous.
Kettlebells are amazing tools for improving fitness in many areas…when used properly. When there is poor technique the only thing likely to be achieved is injury. If I had a dollar for the number of friends I have that have abandoned kettlebell swings and training because they have injured their back…. I’d have 8 dollars :D. For training to be effective it is important to start from scratch, start light and work your way up. It doesn’t matter what your previous background in resistance training, good technique is key. If you pick up bad technique by rushing things you will be setting yourself up for failure in the future. Breaking down the steps of each exercise and undertaking them piece by piece is a great way to perfecting the movements. This will be extremely beneficial to your training once you start going heavier.
The fundamentals of kettlebell training essentially cover a few key foundational exercises. Master these exercises and use them as your foundation for more challenging kettlebell training.
Before you do start any type of training it is important to ask yourself these questions. Do you have any health or fitness issues? No? Proceed to below. If you do. It is better that you get the all clear from a relevant health professional before attempting any kind of challenging training such as kettlebells. This is particularly the case if you have any cardiovascular issues (heart conditions, circulation issues) or respiratory issues (COPD, Asthma). If your issues are more physical in nature (such as musculoskeletal injuries, joint problems etc) it may be best to see your doctor or relevant health professional before proceeding.
What Size Kettlebell?
With kettlebells it’s always easy to select the wrong kettlebell, too light isn’t challenging, too heavy and you forsake technique to complete an exercise and injure yourself. Starting out with kettlebells it doesn’t matter, when beginning these techniques start out light (as in extremely light), the challenge can come after you have mastered the technique, grip, ballistics, breathing and core movement. So start with a lightweight 4 to 6 kgs for example. The following sections are a kettlebell workshop and not a HIIT class, so go easy on yourself and get it right first. 🙂
Warm-ups and Stretches
As with any type of resistance training always warm up the muscles prior to working out. Since you won’t be working with too heavy weights during these workshops, the warm-ups don’t have to be too intense. Several sets of light bodyweight warmups and light stretching to activate the muscles groups that you will be working.
Fundamental Kettlebell Exercises
The exercises below are the most effective and well known kettlebell moves available. As in barbell training, so in kettlebell training… ‘if in doubt, go back to big compound lifts’. I won’t say that isolation exercises are ineffective, they do indeed have a place. However, you will get far more for your money with exercises that work many big muscle groups.
Out of the exercises listed below, I would say that the most powerful and effective are the Swing, the Turkish Get Up, the Clean, the Snatch, the Squat and the Deadlift. Just big, bad, beautiful, whole-body exercises. They are a great place to start with kettlebell exercises. In terms of difficulty, you are best starting with the swing, the squat, the deadlift and perhaps the clean before progressing to more difficult exercises.
Kettlebell exercises can generally be categorised into two general categories, ballistics and grinds. A simple way of describing the differences between the two would be that ballistic exercises generally involve very fast, dynamic movements, while grinds are slow, and often involve brief pauses. Both have their benefits, Ballistic exercises incorporate a large number of muscles and muscular chains and really provide great cardiovascular workouts. (Examples of ballistic exercises include the Swing, the Snatch and the Clean). Grinds, on the other hand, challenge your ability to maintain tension and require attention to whole-body tension as well as the regulation of sustained power breathing. They are also great at providing feedback on any transitional strength inadequacies you may have and might need to work on. (Examples of grinds include, the Squat, the Turkish Get Up and the Overhead Press). To distinguish between the two types in the exercises below a (B) or a (G) will be listed beside the name of the exercise.
Take your time with the exercises, if unsure go back and look at the key steps. Keep breaking them down until you get it right. In time, I hope to get up some video footage of the moves being demonstrated, again, persevere with me :).
Once you are happy with your progress you can start incorporating the exercises into your regular workouts. Don’t be afraid of a little critique, you will always pick up bad habits in training, especially when fatigued. Don’t be shy about coming back and working on your technique from time to time. Practice makes perfect.
Below are some of the key fundamental kettlebell exercises that the Kettlebell workshop intends to cover (persevere with me I shall get them written up as quickly as I can 🙂 :
Summary of the Exercises the Workshops will cover
The Snatch (B)
A complex full body movement that can be undertaken with single or double kettlebells (start with one kettlebell!! This movement is complex and can be tricky to master). With this exercise, the kettlebell travels via movement initiated by a fluid hip hinge. This movement is chained into a high pull and propels the kettlebell into an overhead holding position.
The Kettlebell Swing (B)
The grand-daddy of all kettlebell exercises, this is perhaps the most well known Kettlebell exercise and involves the hip hinge, a very basic but important human movement.
Turkish Get-Up (G)
The Turkish Get Up is a total body exercise performed through a number of different transitions. These transitions are performed slower than ballistic exercises and involve brief pauses after each transition is undertaken. The exercise begins with a person lying flat on their back with the kettlebell being positioned above their head via an extended upright arm!
The person will then transition from a lying position to a kneeling position, keeping the kettlebell arm, extended overhead throughout. The transition continues with the person then moving from kneeling to standing, again with the bell above their head, with the locked out arm. After standing the movement is reversed so the person gradually returns to the floor. The arm remains in this position throughout the entire exercise and all transitions. The Turkish Get Up is a Grind exercise that has incredibly huge benefits.
Kettlebell Squat (G)
The Squat is a fundamental compound move important in resistance training and indeed in everyday life. Improve your squatting power and life significantly improves. The beauty of squatting with kettlebells is the variation of exercises that can be undertaken. For example, goblet squats, double kettlebell squats, unilateral training with one arm squats, overhead squats etc. They can also very easily be chained into kettlebell flows (transitioning from one exercise immediately into another).
The Clean (B)
The clean is an exercise that involves manoeuvring the kettlebell with one hand from the front of the body to the racked position. The move is powered by a hip hinge movement.
The clean can be undertaken with single or double KB’s. It is an exercise that transitions the KB from the front of the body to the racked position by way of a hip hinge movement and arm curling movement. This is done as one fluid movement.
Overhead Press (G)
Essentially a kettlebell version of the overhead press. The kettlebell is thrust from the racked position to a straight-armed overhead position.
The Windmill (G)
A dynamic exercise that develops core strength, shoulder stability, coordination and flexibility.
The Halo (G)
A shoulder mobility exercise that strengthens the muscles in the back and engages the core muscles. The kettlebell is moved from the goblet position around the head in a circular motion.
Kettlebell Back Rows (G)
The kettlebell version of the traditional dumbbell and Barbell row. The exercise is undertaken in a standing position with the hip hinged. This places emphasis on the back muscles when the weight is lifted towards the chest. There are several variations of the lift including straight back rows, ballistic rows, gorilla rows, renegade rows etc.
Kettlebell Deadlift (G)
The deadlift is one of the most important exercises you can undertake for a total workout. The deadlift effectively challenges every muscle in the body and provides a thorough workout even if used alone (such as in German volumetric training). It is an important foundational movement to build your kettlebell training on and can help improve other exercises such as the swing and the clean.
Turkish Get Up Workshop
Kettlebell Squat Workshop
Workshops Coming Soon...
Kettlebell Back Rows