By Christopher Pregony, BS, CSCS
What is it and where did it come from?
The kettlebell is one of the most versatile pieces of exercise equipment on the planet. When people ask me what they should purchase for their home routines, it is my first recommendation. The kettlebell looks like a solid cannonball with a handle. Unlike a dumbbell, its center of mass extends beyond the handle. Having the center of gravity being 6–8 inches away creates less stability, which helps recruit more muscles compared to the dumbbell.
Early versions of the kettlebell can be traced back to ancient Greece, but we can thank the Russians for developing and popularizing the version we know now. Pavel Tsatsouline, a fitness instructor who trains Russian special ops using the power of the kettlebell, brought the piece of equipment to prominence in the U.S. with his book, “Enter the Kettlebell.”
What does it do?
What makes the kettlebell so unique is its versatile applications. Most kettlebell exercises center on working the posterior chain, which consists of all the muscles you would see if someone was running away from you. Our world is in front of us, which leads to protracted shoulders, neck and core. This in turn leads to back issues. The kettlebell works to bring our bodies back to balance by working the opposing muscles.
The kettlebell allows its user to train using multiple modalities. Since so many muscles are engaged while doing the movements, exercisers are able to do more reps. It also allows people to do high intensity workouts while toning the muscles at the same time. By using more muscles at once, the quality of the workout is increased and more calories are burned.
Kettlebells come in a variety of sizes and weights. Start small and add weight as you progress. Most of the following exercises can also be done with two kettlebells. As with any exercise, proceed with extreme caution. Consult a fitness professional before starting your own program.
The Russian Swing
This is the cornerstone of the kettlebell. Hold the bell with both hands and swing it through the legs. The hips should do most of the work, with only a slight flexion of the knees. Thrust the hips up to drive the bell up to chest level. This move works just about every muscle in the body.
This exercise is pretty much a front-loaded squat. Flip the bell upside down (handle pointed toward the floor) and wrap your hands around the bottom. Hold the bell to your chest while performing a squat. This exercise obviously works the legs, but you would be surprised how much your core must engage while being front loaded.
Squat + High Pull
Hold the bell by the handle and squat down until the bell hits the ground, keeping the bell close to your body the whole time. On the way back up, pull the kettlebell up with elbows up high toward the chin. As you go back into the squat, let the bell go back toward the ground. This exercise works most of the body, with an emphasis on the upper back.
Hold the kettlebell by the sides of the handle with both hands. Holding the bell close to your chest, drop down into a squat. On the way back up, press the bell over your head. On the way back down, the bell returns to the front racked position. This exercise works the whole body, with an emphasis on the shoulders.
Grab the kettlebell by the handle and let it hang between your legs. Hinge at the hips while keeping your back straight. Try to aim to place the kettlebell right between the feet. Be sure to stay soft in the knees, and keep your hips back. This works the lower back as well as the hamstrings.
Sample workout 1
Perform three to five rounds of 10 reps of each
Swings x 10 reps
Goblet Squats x 10 reps
Squat + High Pull x 10 reps
Thruster x 10 reps
Romanian Deadlift x 10 reps
Sample workout 2
Repeat as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes
Swings x 15 reps
Goblet Squats x 15
Thrusters x 15 reps
* Vary the weight depending on ability.