- The kettlebell comes from the Russian word “girya,” a cast iron weight that resembles a cannonball with a handle. It is the configuration of the handle with the ball that gives a kettlebell its unique method of exercise training. While in the West the term kettlebell is most commonly used to describe this weight implement, a more precise translation would be handleball, and that is really what a kettlebell is, a ball with a handle.
- A 1913 article in the popular Hercules fitness magazine increased the recognition of kettlebells as a powerful tool for weight loss. By the 1940s, kettlebell lifting became the Soviet Union’s national sport. Powerlifters, the Olympic team, and military and special forces personnel all benefited from lifting kettlebells. By the 1960s kettlebell lifting had been introduced in schools and universities. In the 1970s the sport became part of the United All State Sport Association of the USSR.
- In the last few years kettlebell training has been increasing in homes, gyms, and sports clubs around the world.
- Kettlebells have unique qualities and design which make them different in form and practice from the more widely known barbell and dumbbell. The shape of the kettlebell makes it possible to do exercises and a method of weight training that differs from the use of the other common forms of resistance bells, the dumbbell and the barbell.
- Unlike traditional dumbbells, the kettlebell’s center of mass is extended beyond the hand. This configuration allows for and encourages ballistic, or fast, swinging motions that combine cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training together and which engage the entire musculature of the body simultaneously.
- Kettlebell training has two primary uses or goals. The first of these is kettlebell training to increase fitness and function that uses a wide variety of movements along different planes, using varied repetitions, and working all body parts. Using kettlebell for fitness gives you an almost unlimited variety of movements and programs to choose from and time invested can be short or long duration as you prefer and your schedule allows. The second goal is training for Kettlebell Competition, which involves the lifter trying to get as many repetitions as possible in a fixed timeframe.
- There are two more-common types of kettlebells: the cast-iron classic or fitness kettlebell and the steel competition, or sport, kettlebell. The names can be deceptive because the competition kettlebell can be used for fitness goals while the classic bell can also be used for competition.
- Vinyl and plastic kettlebells can be found in many sporting goods stores. They are typically the least expensive versions but they are really only kettlebells in name. They do not perform like a kettlebell and the shape and design does not allow for proper mechanics of kettlebell training.
- There are two types of load for kettlebells: fixed-load and adjustable-load. Fixed-load kettlebells always stays the same, so a variety of light, medium, and heavy kettlebells are needed as part of a complete kettlebell training program. Fixed-load kettlebells are more common and preferred for convenience because it is time consuming to have to change the load every time you want to move up or down in weight.
- In contrast to fixed-load kettlebells are adjustable- load kettlebells. In this case you only need one kettlebell (or two if you are going to train double kettlebell exercises). There are several different versions of adjustable load kettlebells.
- It is common that an experienced weight trainer, who is a veteran in the weight room but unfamiliar with kettlebells, will make the statement that you can use a dumbbell or any other weight in place of the kettlebell to do the common kettlebell exercises, such as Swing, Press, or Snatch. However, this is an erroneous assumption because, in fact, there are some significant differences between kettlebells and any other form of load, by the nature of the design.
- Kettlebell lifting combines cardiorespiratory training with resistance training. The intensity of a kettlebell workout can be measured as a function of cardiovascular intensity or resistance intensity. One simple way to measure the intensity of a workout routine is to wear a heart rate monitor, which will measure intensity as a function of heart rate.
- For general health and fitness, most kettlebell workouts should be of moderate intensity. Beginners will be advised to use lighter weights at higher repetitions for safety. In other words, use a lower intensity effort for longer duration of time. A more highly conditioned athlete will work at higher intensities than a beginning exerciser, by using progressively heavier kettlebells.
*Where did kettlebells come from, and how long has kettlebell training been seen as advantageous for weight loss and muscle building?
*Why do you think the popularity of kettlebell training has increased so much in the United States over the past few years?
*What are some of the ways in which training with kettlebells is different than training with dumbbells and barbells?
*What effect does the unique shape of the kettlebell have on a person’s ability to do certain exercises?
*What are some of the reasons why you think the kettlebell should be a person’s tool of choice when addressing his or her fitness objectives?
*How many times a week and for how long each workout do you think a person should be able to reach all of his or her fitness goals through kettlebell training?
*What are the two primary uses or goals of kettlebell training?
*What are the most common types of kettlebells and what are the ways in which they are different?
*What are your thoughts on vinyl and plastic kettlebells? Can people get just as good a workout from using these as they can from using the more traditional versions?
*What are the two types of load for kettlebells, and what are the major differences between the different kinds of workouts people can experience with them?
*What are some of the erroneous assumptions experienced weight trainers who are more accustomed to dumbbells or other weights have about kettlebells?
*What are the different kinds of training that can be combined through kettlebell lifting? How can the intensity of a kettlebell workout be measured?
*What kind of intensity should a person aim for with his or her kettlebell workouts? How does recommended intensity differ between beginners and more highly conditioned athletes?
To schedule an interview with Steve Cotter, contact Maurey Williamson at 1-800-747-4457, ext. 7890, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. (From Chapter Two - "Getting Started with Kettlebells")
How Kettlebells Differ From Dumbbells
Some of the key kettlebell exercises in this book cannot be done with other weight training implements, at least not the same way. For example, as mentioned previously, a Barbell or Dumbell Clean compared to the Kettlebell Clean has many important distinctions. This is because of the shape of the kettlebell and the distance between the handle and the weight ball. The center of mass of the weight ball is extended well beyond the hand. With a dumbbell the weight is in the hand, not in front. This spacing between the center of load and handle in the kettlebell allows for swinging movements and movements that literally release and catch the kettlebell.
The design also allows for the kettlebell to sit against the arm and or body in almost every exercise. This gives greater leverage to the loads, with more parts of the body in contact with the kettlebell. The position of the handle allows the grip, wrist, arm and shoulder, legs and core to strengthen all in one line. Because you can insert your hand deeply into the handle, there is not cramping or bending of the wrist when you hold the kettlebell. The hand and forearm can be in neutral alignment. This gives your arm much greater endurance compared to holding a dumbbell in which the hand and wrist is crooked backward, putting great strain on the forearm muscles. Remember, if your forearms and grip give out early, then you can’t hold it. If you can’t hold it, you can’t swing it!
When it comes to progressively higher rep lifts, in particular the ballistic or fast lift, the ability to keep your wrist, hand, forearm and fingers neutral and relaxed, opens up the possibility of being able to work until actual systemic exhaustion. This is a key distinction between doing any lift with a dumbbell or the same lift with a kettlebell. If you look at movements like the swing or the snatch, or the clean and jerk, press, pushpress or even squats, you can see a big difference in the alignment of the hand and grip when holding dumbbells and when holding a kettlebell. For any of these exercises a person with equal training in technique will be able to do far more repetitions with a given equal load with a kettlebell as compared to the same load in a dumbbell.
The dumbbell necessitates a cramped wrist. No matter how strong and well-conditioned you are, you will get to point after so many reps that your forearm and or wrist and hand will fatigue and you will not be able to hold on to the bell any longer. Doing the same exercise with an equal load kettlebell, you can insert you hand deep into the handle and the center of the bell is lower on your forearm (instead of in the hand like with a dumbbell), which means the load is closer to your center of mass. This closer relationship between your body’s center of mass and the center or the mass of the kettlebells, gives you greater control over the kettlebell. It is closer to your center, literally. Since, with enough practice you can keep your hand relaxed and neutral, your arm will not fatigue as quickly and this allows you to work to the full extent of your cardiovascular and muscular stamina. In other words the grip will not give out first, so you can work longer. This seemingly simple concept makes a world of difference in the number of calories you can burn in a single workout. The shape and design is part of the Kettlebell Effect.
How Kettlebells Differ From Barbells
The best way to describe the difference between a kettlebell and a barbell is to say, you cannot swing a barbell between your legs. Think about it. Just think about it, don’t try it! If you do you are most likely going to smash the barbell into your shins when trying to swing it between your legs. In other words, you CAN’T swing a barbell between your legs. But you can swing a kettlebell between your legs!
This is one of the most important qualities of a kettlebell that makes it unique in both design and function. Because you can swing a kettlebell between your legs, you can activate, and exercise to great effect, what in athletics is referred to as your “posterior chain” These are the all-important muscles, joints, and fascia (chain) of the backside of your body (the posterior). In simple terms the main areas of the posterior chain are your lower back muscles, glutes, hamstrings and calves. A lot of attention is given in the current era to posterior chain development in athletic conditioning programs, and this trend has also influenced modern fitness programs, kettlebell, and in particular the movements that use the swinging motion of the pendulum, the swing, clean, and snatch and all their variations. When you swing the kettlebell back behind you between your legs, it puts a very fast (ballistic) and heavy load on these very strong muscles. The swinging motion behaves like a pendulum which means it relies upon inertia and momentum. Every time you load the posterior chain (the backward portion of the swing) it loads the chain. The muscles and joints and tissue behave like a spring when under load. When you load a spring mechanism, it naturally is ready to unload and this unloading phase (when the kettlebell is swinging in front of you) is where the speed and power is expressed. So the simple act of the most basic kettlebell lift, the swings, opens a whole new world of muscles you may never have felt before or even knew existed. The first thing most women comment about upon first swinging a kettlebell is how they can feel it in the butt and the legs. There may be no single exercise that lifts and tones the rear end more than a kettlebell swing (and snatch).
Now of course, I have spoken only so far of the unique advantage of the kettlebell when compared to the barbell and dumbbell. Kettlebells are used most effectively to develop strength endurance, not pure or limit or maximal strength. The reason is because a kettlebell is a fixed weight. Once you can lift a given weight one time, in order to progress you will have to either find a heavier load or lift the same load more times. If the weight is fixed, the only way to keep progressing is to increase the volume through increasing repetitions. So, even with heavy kettlebells, the goal is almost always to do more reps as you become fitter and in better shape.
If your goal is to build absolute strength or mass, a barbell is better suited for that beyond a certain point. If you are a very strong athlete, at some point you will want to use a barbell for core movements. An advantage of a barbell is you can load it very heavy. When you adapt to a given load you can add more weight to the bar and try to keep getting stronger. Of course barbells and dumbbells are also great but they are just different than kettlebells. A well-constructed program may incorporate barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells all together with other tools as well. More about this subject can be found in the chapters on programming.
2. (From Chapter One - "The Kettlebell Advantage")
The fitness and strength and conditioning communities have come a long way in the last one to two decades. Not so long ago our knowledge about fitness and training was limited to body-building based shaping programs, which often leaves you feeling stiff and sore afterwards. Or the long, slow distance training methods such jogging, cycling or other time-consuming aerobic-based conditioning programs, which work the heart and lungs but do not strengthen the rest of your body. Or the crowded, high-impact group exercise programs that are often tough on the knees, hips and back and can be very frustrating for those out-of-shape exercisers trying to keep up with the energetic instructor. To make matters even more difficult, most of these popular options for fitness training are one-dimensional, emphasizing either strength, muscle toning, or cardiovascular fitness, but rarely combining these important components into a comprehensive whole. In addition, by focusing on one form over another, it is not possible to build a well-rounded athletic and athletic looking body. You wouldn’t want a car that looks great but doesn’t drive, or that drives well but is an eye-sore. You would want a nice, stylish, high performance car that makes you feel good while driving it. The same is true for your body, and the time you invest into your fitness program should give you the body that performs as well as it looks, and makes you feel good!
In the last 10 years, there has been a wave of new information that has entered the fitness landscape, thanks in large part to the increasing globalization and information exchange between cultures. For example, if you are at least 35 years of age, when you look back to the exercise culture of your teenage years, our fitness role models were the Muscle Beach and the bodybuilding culture symbolized by the great Arnold Schwarzeneggar, the in-home TV aerobics programs first popularized by Jane Fonda and culminating with the popular Tae Bo kickboxing series, and the running craze initiated by the Cooper Institute and the successful book Running by Jim Fixx. We really did not have a lot of information about how to train and how to reach our full physical and athletic potentials. It was more about following the popular trends and hoping to find a program that you could stick with for long enough to see results. Unless you were able to spend your days in the gym, the majority of people never had the time or knowledge to get into peak physical fitness.
But now we have access to the secrets of yoga from Indian culture, martial arts from the Far East, and strength and conditioning and athletic preparation from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries. We can now take the best training information from around the world. Much of this information has been in practice for ages, yet we never had access to it. This recent influx of time-tested fitness training tools and programs has created a new trend in how we approach exercise and fitness training.
What Are Kettlebells?
Ten years ago, no one outside of Russia or the former Soviet Union knew what a kettlebell was, let alone ever seen or touched one. Now it seems almost every personal trainer is using kettlebells with his fitness classes and clients.
What does the kettlebell training do so effectively that other more traditional training methods do not? To answer this, it is helpful to make a comparison between kettlebells and the other more recognizable bells, the dumbbell and the barbell.
Kettlebells offer unique qualities and have a unique design which makes them different in form and practice from the more widely known barbell and dumbbell. The shape of the kettlebell makes it possible to do exercises and a method of weight training that differs from the use of the other common forms of resistance bells, the dumbbell and the barbell. The kettlebell comes from the Russian word “girya,” a cast iron weight that resembles a cannonball with a handle. It is the configuration of the handle with the ball that gives a kettlebell its unique method of exercise training. While in the West the term kettlebell is most commonly used to describe this weight implement, a more precise translation would be handleball, and that is really what a kettlebell is, a ball with a handle.
Unlike traditional dumbbells, the kettlebell’s center of mass is extended beyond the hand.
This configuration allows and encourages ballistic, or fast, swinging motions that combine cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training together and which engage the entire musculature of the body simultaneously. In addition to being excellent for all-around fitness, these types of movements use the body in a manner that mimics functional activities such as shoveling snow or working in the garden.
3. (From Chapter Nine – “Creating a Customized Fitness Program”)
Types of Training Programs
For general health and fitness aims, the most common focal points for training programs are those aimed at fat loss, muscular strength and endurance, or strength and power.
Traditional fat loss programming involved the long, slow distance of cardiovascular training, such as running, cycling and other forms of steady state aerobics. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, founder of the world famous Cooper Institute, was instrumental in promoting aerobic conditioning for healthy heart, lung, circulation and weight control. Dr. Cooper developed both the term aerobics and the aerobic method of training. James Fixx wrote the best-selling book The Complete Book of Running in the mid-1970s, which helped to further establish the fitness craze via running. To this day, running is one of, if not the most common form of exercise system for health and weight-conscious advocates to participate in. It requires only a pair of running shoes and off you go. While running and other aerobics are certainly very effective for weight loss, beyond a certain point, some if not most of the weight lost will be muscle!
The reason for this is that long duration aerobic exercise elevates the cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone. The longer the workout lasts, the more cortisol is released. Cortisol has a catabolic effect on the muscles tissues, which means it can cause breakdown, or wasting of the muscles. In addition, prolonged aerobic training can increase inflammation and will do little to increase fat loss. Because of this catabolic nature of long duration aerobic activity, the introduction of higher intensity, shorter duration interval training has proven to be very effective for fat-loss programs. These short, intense bursts of power, repeated several times with little or no rest between sets, have a more anabolic, or muscle-building quality, with little or none of the catabolic effects found in long-duration aerobic training.
Generally speaking, optimal hormonal response to exercise occurs up to about 45 minutes of exercise. The most important hormones for strength and muscle gains, and fat loss, are testosterone and growth hormone. After 45 min or so of prolonged exercise, the hormonal levels begin to drop and the hormone cortisol starts to surge. Cortisol does the opposite of the anabolic growth hormones and testosterone, causing the catabolic breakdown of muscle tissues. As such, the prolonged, long, slow distance type of endurance training can be counter-productive for fat loss and even make you fatter, as the body starts losing hard-earned muscle tone.
A very interesting and influential study was performed by Dr. Izumin Tabata in 1966. In his study, Dr. Tabata selected 7 subjects and had them perform a training exercise 5 days per week for 6 weeks. Each session included 8 sets of one specific exercise and was performed at a very high intensity. The particulars of each training set was 20 seconds in duration and 10 seconds of rest and in total, each Tabata workout was 4 minutes in duration. The other group performed 60 minutes of cardiovascular (aerobic) training 5 days per week for 6 weeks.
Upon completion of the 6 week study, the Tabata found that the cardio group that trained with longer duration, moderate-intensity showed just a minor improvement in aerobic capacity but no improvements in anaerobic capacity. On the other hand the H.I.I.T test group (High Intensity Interval Training) showed improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic capacities.
These so-called Tabata protocols have become a popular form of high intensity training for serious exercise enthusiasts and athletes alike. The original Tabata protocol was a 5 min warm up, 8 min of 20s maximal intensity exercise, followed by 10s of rest, and a 2 min cool down. However, Dr. Tabata’s study was done on highly trained endurance athletes. For general fitness population it is too intense and not likely to be able to complete or stick with it. Therefore, most adaptations of Tabata utilize 8 intervals (a 4 minute set-after warm up). The shorter, more intense interval-based training like Tabata or circuit training burn a lot of calories, but avoid the cortisol spikes associated with muscle loss, and thereby allow more recovery, which is where the strength and growth producing anabolic phase of recovery takes places, while you rest and recover after the workout.
There are advantages and disadvantages of both aerobic and anaerobic based fat-loss programs, therefore most effective fat loss programs incorporate a mixture of anaerobic and aerobic exercises.
Muscular Strength and Endurance Program
In my experience, nothing works more effectively than kettlebell training for muscular strength and endurance goals. This point has been emphasized throughout the book and it is precisely the blend of load, speed and duration that gives such versatile utility. If you goal is a blend of strength and endurance, a consistent, progressive kettlebell program is probably all you will need. Dumbbells, barbells and bodyweight conditioning protocols can also be performed for increases in muscular strength and endurance.
Strength and Power Training Program
For maximal strength, barbells reign supreme, as they can achieve heavier loads in all the basic lifts, such as Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Cleans, Snatch and Overhead Press. Kettlebells have a place, as do sandbags and strongman type training methods, but barbells are definitely the foundation if your goal is to achieve maximal strength and power through your training program.
To improve power, you have to move a load as quickly as possible through a full range of motion. Medicine balls are a great tool for doing that, as they can be accelerated with maximal velocity and then released at the point of full extension, thereby fully expressing your power in the movement. Remember that power is define as the amount of work performed per unit of time and therefore there is a distinction between strength and power. While strength, or the amount of force that is produced, is a component of power, it is the speed of movement that differentiates power from strength. Therefore power development programs must include full-speed movements.