In the world of fitness, there are so many options for equipment to use during your workout, both traditional and unusual. Something you may have seen around the gym but are not too familiar with are those colorful, heavy iron balls that have handles on top known as kettlebells. If you’ve ever wondered more about them or wanted to start using them, read on to learn about this effective and functional piece of exercise equipment.
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What are Kettlebells?
Kettlebells are large, cast-iron balls with handles. They come in a variety of weights and have gained in popularity over the past decade. Their origin stems from Russia, where they were primarily used as a simple tool for developing strength and endurance.
What are they good for?
The kettlebell offers a tremendous way to improve strength and endurance with little equipment. Traditionally, kettlebell exercises are broken up into two categories: grinds and ballistics.
- Grinds consist of controlled lifting, such as an overhead press, a goblet or front squat, and the turkish get up.
- Ballistics consist of quick, power driven movements, such as the kettlebell swing or the snatch.
Why do they work?
Kettlebells work for a variety of reasons. First, the programming surrounding kettlebells is simple. A very basic understanding of a few exercises can result in tremendous success. Second, kettlebells require the student to learn the principle of "body tension". Body tension is the ability to engage and create tension in all your muscles. This is the foundation of strength. Third, all kettlebell movements are multi-joint movements, meaning you're working all of your muscles in every exercise. This requires a substantial amount of energy (aka: you'll burn a lot of calories) and will help you develop lean muscle at the same time.
What’s the key focus on form when using kettlebells?
There are many elements to consider with form, most depending on the specific exercise you're learning. The most effective exercises to learn with the kettlebell are the kettlebell swing, the goblet squat, the single arm overhead press, and the turkish get up. For all of these exercises, it is important to learn how to create fully body tension as discussed above. The kettlebell swing requires on to learn how to "hinge" at the hips, as done in a deadlift. The turkish get up is a very unique exercise to the kettlebell. It is recommended you hire a professional to learn the intricacies of this excellent exercise.
How can I incorporate Kettlebells into your workout routine?
Just like anything else, it's best to begin at the beginning. In the world of kettlebells, the beginning is the kettlebell swing. Once you've learned how to swing a kettlebell properly, you can immediately use this exercise with any circuit training you do, as it will teach you how to use the back side of your body, while creating power with your hips, and burning a ton of calories.
Where can I learn more?
If you are local in Chicago, you should definitely check out our Learn to Swing Kettlebell Workshop on Saturday, March 31st at the West Loop Athletic Club It’s a great way to get familiar with the basics. Otherwise, get in touch with personal trainer for a session or two who can show you the ropes.
Andrew Leonard is a Specialist Trainer
and Personal Training Manager at
the Lincoln Square Athletic Club.