Small But Mighty: Kettlebells

Originating in Russia, kettlebells are a ball shaped weight with a handle (see pic). They are not a new piece of kit but in the last 18 months there has been an explosion in their popularity due to the calorie-burning, fat shredding benefits that can be achieved in a very short workout time. They also have unisex appeal, are easily transportable and are relatively inexpensive (I spotted some on the shelf in my local supermarket recently).

They look scary...and so they should.

Unlike traditional dumbbells, the irregular shape of a kettlebell causes the centre of gravity to extend beyond your hand so calls into play your stabilising muscle groups as well as the muscle you are targeting. They can be lifted, pulled, pressed or swung and in contrast to the slow and controlled movements of dumbbell/barbell training, many Kettlebell movements use momentum so engage the entire body.

Although weight bearing, the majority of kettlebells exercises are also cardiovascular. Try a series of ‘Get-Ups’ (details below) and I promise you will be shattered afterwards! When done with correct technique and using an appropriate weight, 20 minutes is sufficient to complete an effective full body workout with kettlebells.

If you have been weight training for a while and want to rev up your sessions, kettlebell training is well worth a try. I’ve used them for a while in an ad-hoc way but after recently qualifying as a Kettlebell Instructor I’m a convert and now incorporate them regularly into my workouts. The instructor course finished with a hardcore 45 minute circuit which was fantastic fun and gave me many ideas to share with clients but for two days afterwards I hurt and I mean really hurt- the pleasurable pain that can only come from a really tough workout where you have trained completely out of your comfort zone. If like me, you secretly like this type of pain…you will love kettlebell training.

Many gyms now offer kettlebell fast classes and incorporate kettlebells into circuit training sessions. Ask your instructor to show you the basic moves including how to grip the kettlebell safely. There are also many clips online and a number of DVDs on the market. Here a just a sample of basic moves for you to try out if you are fit and well. Ensure you are warmed up first:

1.Deadlift
a. Place a kettlebell at your feet. Stand up tall with feet hip-width apart. Your legs should be straight but with a slight softening in the knee.
b. With a straight back, reach down to grasp the handle of the kettlebell with an overhand grip, hinge from the hip, keep your legs straight.
c. Stand up tall to lift the kettlebell from the floor, keep your legs straight, the kettlebell hangs down in front of you.
d. Hinging from the hip, lower the kettlebell back towards the floor but don’t let it touch. This is one rep. Repeat.
Tips. There is a temptation to squat as you lower the weight but try to keep your legs straight (just a slight softening at the knee for safety) and engage your glutes & hamstrings. You should be able to wiggle your toes at all times. Look forwards and keep your back flat. You will need a fairly heavy weight for this so that you are drawn towards the floor.
Progression. Use a BOSU to increase instability or stay on the floor but try one legged deadlifts (where you extend one leg behind you).

2. Swings
a. Start in the deadlift position above. Grasp the kettlebell in both hands with an overhand grip and stand up tall remembering to keep a softening in your knees.
b. Swing the kettlebell between your legs
c. Return by swinging upwards. Do not take the kettlebell past shoulder height. This is one rep. Repeat.
Tips. As with the deadlift, avoid the temptation to squat when lowering the weight. Keep your chest lifted. Add a ‘thrust’ in the hips on the upwards movement.
Progression. One handed-swings – as you bring the kettlebell to shoulder height, swap hands.

3.Renegade Row
a. Place two kettlebells on the floor in close proximity. Assume a press-up position above them and grasp the kettlebell handles (the kettlebells should be in line with your shoulders)
b. Keeping you left hand/left kettlebell where it is, lift the right kettlebell in a rowing motion (bend arm, keeping elbow close to your body and draw the KB up
c. Return right arm to start position them row the left arm. This is one rep. Repeat.
Tips. Keep your back flat. When rowing, keep the arm close to your body (no chicken wings!) Choose a relatively heavy weight, not so heavy that you cannot row it but sufficiently heavy that it provides stability whilst on the floor.
Progression. Between rows, add a press up (hands grasping KBs but KBs stay on the floor)

4. Get Ups (no hands)
a. Lie on your back on a mat with a kettlebell in your right hand and your right arm outstretched above your head.
b. Lift your shoulders and back off the floor and with the kettlebell raised above your head, sit up. c. Keeping the kettlebell raised, bring yourself to standing without using your free hand as a support. d. Stall tall with the kettlebell raised, then lower yourself back down the way you came, do not use your hands. e. The finish position is back on the mat, with your arm holding the kettlebell outstretched above your head. Swap hands and repeat. This is one rep.
Tips. Keep your eyes on the kettlebell throughout and straighten the arm holding it at all times. The movements do not need to be hurried and there is no set way to ‘get up’ but try to move smoothly throughout, at a decent pace and go straight onto the other side without rest. Do as many reps as you can.
Progression. Increase the number of reps and the speed but without compromising on your form and technique.

These are just four basic moves but there are many, many more you can do including squats, bench press, shoulder press, flys, windmills, lunges and jerks. Pretty much anything you can do with regular weights can be done with kettlebells To increase the challenge, stability balls and BOSUs can be added but before doing this, ensure your technique on the basic moves is perfected and if in doubt, always check with a fitness professional.

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