Looking for an inexpensive and simple – yet surprisingly effective – full-body workout you can do nearly anywhere?
If so, using one of these funny-looking objects that resemble a bowling ball or cannonball with a handle is worth considering.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the object above – the kettlebell – because its use has been rising in popularity over the last few years.
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Depending on your fitness goals, the kettlebell just might be the ONLY piece of exercise equipment you’ll ever need. There are at least 52 exercises you can do with this incredibly versatile piece of equipment – all in the comfort of your own home or yard.
The Swing is arguably the most important exercise that can be done with a kettlebell.
Jason Ferruggia explains in his brilliant piece Kettlebell Swings: The 1 Exercise That Fixes 99 Problems:
It will allow you to loosen your tight hips and strengthen your butt so that you’ll develop the rear end of an athlete. It will bulletproof your low back by creating an armored brace around your midsection, and it will get rid of that paunchy gut.
I could not have said it better myself.
Other benefits of kettlebell workouts include…
- Fat loss
- Serious calorie-burning: A study conducted by the American Council on Exercise found that the average kettlebell workout burns 20 calories a minute. To put that into perspective, that’s a whopping 600 calories in 30 minutes!
- Cardiovascular conditioning; improvements in endurance
- Strength increases in your entire body, including your posterior chain (back, glutes, legs, and shoulders) and core muscles; improved posture and balance
- More bang for your buck: Equipment is inexpensive and portable, and workouts provide both cardio and strength training.
- Makes completing everyday tasks easier: Kettlebell workouts are known as “functional workouts” because they strengthen the muscles you use in everyday life.
You may have seen people doing kettlebell swings, and perhaps you’ve even tried them yourself.
The exercise looks deceptively simple, but it can be tricky to master. Unfortunately, many people do them incorrectly, which can lead to injury.
The good news is that once you learn the proper technique, you’ll be on your way to implementing this fantastic exercise into your regular routine.
The best tutorial I’ve ever seen on learning the kettlebell swing is right here.
Keira’s YouTube channel also offers excellent videos on stretching and other kettlebell exercises, including the press, the snatch, and the Turkish Get-up.
In this video, ever-witty fitness expert Jen Sinkler compares bad Swings and good Swings.
See? Swings are not squats – they are a hip-hinge movement, like a deadlift. This forces you to use your posterior chain muscles to move the kettlebell.
Of course, you CAN do squats with kettlebells, and we will cover that in another article.
Once you have mastered the Swing, you can move on to learning variations of the movement, like hand-to-hand swings:
To begin learning how to Swing, choose a kettlebell weight that you think will be challenging for you – but not so much that you can’t complete several sets of multiple repetitions. For beginners, 15 – 20 pounds is reasonable. If you are already in average to pretty good shape, you can begin with 20 – 35 pounds, and if you are experienced in weight training, you may be able to start with more than 35 pounds (especially if you are male). Too heavy is not ideal for learning proper form, and too light isn’t ideal because you need a little weight to load (feel) your muscles to learn the technique properly.
Look for kettlebells that have a handle that is wide enough for you to comfortably hold with both hands. Smooth, shiny handles may look pretty, but they can become slippery once you start sweating. Sharp edges on the handle will irritate your hands. Kettlebells with a slightly textured feel won’t be slippery, and won’t tear up your hands.
After you master your Swing technique, you’ll be ready to move on to trying different kettlebell workouts.
Tracy Reifkind, author of The Swing!: Lose the Fat and Get Fit with This Revolutionary Kettlebell Program, is one of my favorite kettlebell experts. At the age of 41, she took control of her health and lost over 100 pounds by changing her lifestyle, and kettlebell workouts have played a huge role in her transformation.
Tracy has a wide variety of kettlebell workouts on her YouTube channel. So does Lauren Brooks, and StrongFirst is also a great resource.
Tips to Help You Avoid Injury
- Warm up for at least 5 minutes prior to beginning a kettlebell workout. This could be brisk walking, light jogging, or cycling. Heck, even dance around your workout area – do whatever works for you.
- If something doesn’t feel right, there’s a good chance it’s not. If you feel pain or discomfort, stop what you are doing.
- You may experience some muscle soreness the day (or even two days) after your workout, and that is normal. Pain in joints or pain that is debilitating is another story – those can be signs of injury and should be checked by a medical professional.
- Using proper form is far more important than how much you can lift or how intense or long your workout is. Focus on getting your technique perfected before increasing repetitions and/or the weight of your kettlebell.
- As I mentioned earlier, kettlebell swings can really help strengthen your back and core, but you also can injure your back if you don’t do them with proper form.
- If you go to a gym, you can ask a personal trainer to watch your Swings and correct any mistakes you may be making. Keep in mind that some personal trainers do NOT know how to use kettlebells and may instruct you incorrectly. I’ve seen it happen. If your gym has kettlebells, hopefully at least one of the staff members has been trained in how to teach members to use them properly. If the trainer tells you to swing the kettlebell overhead, run! Often called the “American” swing, this exercise puts you at a much higher risk of injury.
- If you are going to do your kettlebell workouts at home, do them in front of a mirror if possible.
- Watch instructional videos over and over if you need to. I have been using kettlebells for years, and I still refer to videos (like the ones in this article) periodically as a refresher.
We can largely thank a man named Pavel Tsatsouline, a former Soviet Special Forces physical training instructor who has been called “the modern king of kettlebells”, for introducing the ancient Russian strength and conditioning tool to the West.
Pavel is the author of several books, including Enter the Kettlebell!: Strength Secret of the Soviet Supermen. It is hard to find videos of Pavel doing swings online, but you can click here to watch him do a Russian Kettlebell Challenge.
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