Kettle bells, ahh. As I’ve been investigating and learning their endless applications I’ve also became more and more excited about them. Kettle bells can be used for movements ranging from explosive Olympic lifts to more endurance-oriented Tabata protocols. Many kettle bell exercises provide full-body conditioning, which increase your strength and cardiorespiratory systems simultaneously.
So why would I want to share my precious gym time with kettle bells? I’ll never give up traditional lifting, but with all the fun and advantages kettle bells offer I’d be hiding my head in the sand if I didn’t use them. And since I have access to kettle bell experts (see video demonstration below), I want to share this killer fitness tool with you.
So how is kettle bell training beneficial, and what are some of the differences between kettle bells and free weights?
- When using a kettle bell single-handed, holding the weight outside your hand makes your center of mass unstable and forces you to counterbalance and stabilize your body. When your body is unbalanced, your secondary muscles are forced to work harder and become stronger. And conditioned secondary muscles mean a more solid, injury-free body.That’s the very definition of functional training – mimicking real-world movements in your training routine so that your body is conditioned to handle all kinds of scenarios. For example, if you become off-balance one day when you step off a curb, strong stabilizer muscles will kick in and keep you upright instead of your low back or ankle… which may fail or become injured. Functional training also increases athletic performance.That’s not to say you don’t use stabilizer muscles in traditional weight lifting. Compound movements such as the dumbbell chest press and deadlift recruit plenty of stabilizer muscles (the rotator cuff and abdominals, respectively), as do unilateral movements. But kettle bells almost always require you to use your body as a whole (and many times unilaterally), which translates into more functional training opportunities.
- When done in an interval format, kettle bell exercises (such as the snatch) can burn up to 20.2 calories per minute, according to one study. In this way you can save time by doing 20 minutes of kettle bells instead of 30 minutes of weight lifting and 30 minutes of cardio.
- If increased muscle mass or max strength is your goal, traditional barbells have the advantage since you can load the bar with very heavy weight. You can also isolate muscles more effectively with dumbbells/barbells due to hand position.
- If you adapt a dumbbell move for a kettle bell move, you need to adjust your grip or hand position, which can also obviously affect the training result. Kettle bell exercises give a single arm more range of motion than a dumbbell. This requires more functional strength than the fixed path/hand position of a barbell and dumbbell.
Mastering the Kettle Bell Swing
The swing is the foundational kettle bell move and is highly effective for training the entire posterior chain and core, including your back and shoulders. The swing burns calories and conditions your body in a functional manner, contributing to back strength that can help prevent injuries. The swing can be used to train for power, endurance, and both aerobic and anaerobic capacity.
John, having become certified in kettle bell training, agreed to demonstrate the swing for this post, and I must say he did a crazy good job. You can do the swing either two-handed or single-handed; here John does it two-handed. A side note… This is my first attempt at an exercise video and I was holding my phone in the wrong orientation. So please excuse the rather strange appearance it left me with!
There are many bad examples on YouTube of the swing, and learning from written instructions is basically impossible. Ideally you should have someone knowledgeable watching your form.
I’ve been doing the kettle bell swing wrong for a long time myself. First I was using my knees too much. Then I was raising my arms at the wrong time. It was only when my friend and fellow trainer John Sager watched my form that I learned the correct method, and I’m still working on it. The power of a swing comes from driving your hips forward and flexing your glutes as the bell swings upward. This also helps to prevent the quads from taking over.
Once you’ve mastered the swing, try the snatch, Turkish getup, cleans, clean and jerks, rows, and presses! Many thanks to John for doing this video for me!
A special thank you to Anda over at Leaving Fatville for my new web site banner! If you’re looking for a patient, accommodating, flexible graphic designer, be sure to give her a holler.