Welcome to Kettlebell 101. This is a comprehensive guide to everything you ever wanted to know about these funny looking weights!
Maybe you saw them at the gym and wondered what they were for or how to use them. Perhaps you were first introduced to them at CrossFit class or just saw them in a workout video. Before grabbing one and hauling it around, it's best to learn some background. So why are these strange looking weights popping up everywhere? What do they do, and are they really that much more effective than traditional weights?
Kettlebells are basically bowling balls with handles. Some are made of plastic, and others are made of metal. However, despite their strange appearance, kettlebells have a multitude of benefits. Their design is directly connected to their effectiveness, and the results they yield well documented. Kettlebells are used in workouts that combine strength training, cardio fitness, and flexibility all while working the core of the body. Benefits include higher levels of endurance muscle gains, improved flexibility, and of course, like any good workout, weight loss.
Originally kettlebells came from 18th century Russia. At that time, they were a slightly different shape and were used by farmers to measure the weight of grain and meat. Over time, the design changed, and they were eventually introduced into Olympic weight lifting.
Many of the kettlebell lifts we use today are variations of those classic Olympic lifts but of course, on a much easier level. The average person is not looking to train like an Olympic weightlifter. However, modern kettlebell lifts are easy to master and work the entire body, which makes them a fabulous addition to a workout routine.
Kettlebells have also become a CrossFit staple. This is because they enable you to learn proper speed coming from your hips, which is crucial in power and speed sports like CrossFit. Want to brush up on your CrossFit knowledge? Learn all about this incredible fitness crazy HERE.
Why are Kettlebells perfect for building strength and endurance?
Kettlebells alternate periods of contraction and relaxation in the muscles. This enables the body to have a workout based on promoting strength and endurance.
Why are Kettlebells perfect for building strength and flexibility?
From the most basic of swings to more advanced movements such as the windmill or single leg deadlift, kettlebell exercises build on both strength and flexibility. This is important in sports such as CrossFit. Kettlebells are also known for their incredible ability to build ab muscles through contraction and conditioning movements.
Why do Kettlebells provide such great conditioning?
Kettlebells are so effective at conditioning because they enable you to increase your strength and build up speed in your movements. The cardio level is enhanced as compared to other exercises, and al exercises flow smoothly from one to the other, often without needing to put the kettlebell down. Basically, they give better strength and endurance in a shorter amount of time.
Why Choose Kettlebells over Free Weights or Machines?
Many people wonder if they should make the switch and why. Here's your answer.
Kettlebell workouts are different from free weights or machines because they force you to mimic real-life activities. This is due to their odd shape and off-center mass force. Free weights have a tighter center of gravity and use mostly the major muscle groups only. Machines force you to workout on a pre-determined path of movement. The kettlebell difference actually trains you with a whole-body workout movement more than any of the other weight training options.
Kettlebell Leg Exercises
If you are choosing to use kettlebells to enhance your leg day workouts, make sure that you know how to use them properly first. Like any new fitness routine, knowledge, and a slow growth into the technique will help you to gain strength and avoid injuries.
Below is an outline for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced level athlete.
BEGINNERS START HERE
The most important kettlebell exercises are based on hip hinge movements that work the hamstrings, quads, and buttocks. These movements are known as swing, clean, and snatch. The following three movements focus on this hip hinge movement.
The Single-Arm Deadlift
Although it references the arm, make no mistake. This exercise works the legs, all while strengthening the core and lower back muscles. Start with the feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Place your kettlebell in front of you and use your hip hinge to bend forward with a straight back and pick up the kettlebell.
The Single-Leg Deadlift
Similar to the single arm deadlift except this time, place the kettlebell in front of you and one leg behind you. As you hinge forward to pick up the kettlebell, raise your back leg so that it is straight and in line with your body on the grab, and you return to a standing position at the end of the lift.
The targets of these lifts will be the abs, thighs, hips, hamstrings, and glutes. All will be worked while developing your balance and stability.
The Goblet Squat
This one challenges the quads even more than a deadlift and also builds the hamstrings and buttocks. It does this by keeping the thighs parallel to the floor and squatting deeply. If your squat is too shallow, the buttocks will not engage correctly, and you will not be gaining the benefits of the kettlebell.
Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, and the kettlebell handle firmly grasped between your two hands. Keeping the back straight, squat deeply, hold, and return back up again without compromising the position.
After having mastered the above beginner's exercises, then it's time to move forward into the swing.
The Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing will work almost all the muscles in the body, however there is a focus on hamstrings, glutes and the back. This is a dynamic exercise that will demand an explosive hip thrust that kettlebells are known for as well as increasing the heart rate significantly as you move.
Begin with your feet hip-width apart and the kettlebell on the floor between your feet. Keeping the body straight as you hinge forward from the hips, pick up your kettlebell. The swing comes as you bend your knees and swing the kettlebell between your legs and back up again to eye level. It is important to remember that this movement is driven by the momentum of your opening hips.
The Reverse Lunge
Before starting the reverse lunge, you will want to make sure that your goblet squats are clean and easy to execute before starting the reverse lunge. This is because goblet squats are necessary to develop the strength needed to perform this lunge-based movement.
It's crucial to ensure that your back knee hovers above the floor in each repetition to really make sure that the maximum amount of work is being done by the legs and buttocks. Ned to make it easier to start? Practice without the kettlebells until you feel comfortable adding more. Want to challenge yourself? Try heavier kettlebells!
MOVING ON TO ADVANCED
This one is obviously the most demanding of all the kettlebell workouts.
The One-Handed Swing
Just like the kettlebell swing from the beginner level except this time, you only swing with one hand. This will force a more significant rotation and therefore work the core muscles even harder. Keep in mind that there will be a greater rotation to one side, and therefore it's essential to engage your core even more.
The Side Way Lunge
A sideways moving lunge is just a variation on a basic lunge but with even more focus on the quads and buttocks. It's essential to keep the chest up and the heels firmly planted on the ground throughout the entire movement. Once again, practicing the motion before adding the kettlebell is recommended. Side lunges also require good flexibility in the adductor muscles.
The Pistol Squat
Pistol Squats require good hip mobility and leg strength. They work the hamstrings, quads, buttocks, core, and cardiovascular effort. In the beginning, you can hold a resistance band or strap directly in front of you. Once this movement has been achieved and mastered, you can then switch to the kettlebell. Hold one kettlebell directly in front of you with both hands.
With all the kettlebell exercises listed as well as the many others available, it is important to build and progress from beginner to advanced, with each one. Even if you feel that your fitness level is advanced, try the beginner and intermediate exercises first before jumping in to advanced. Kettlebells work multiple areas of the body and require a stronger core than you might expect. A slow progression is always best as it builds strength correctly and avoids injuries. As well, it's not about how heavy your kettlebell is but the amount of repetitions that you can do. This should always remain the ultimate goal.
Want some exceptional kettlebell inspiration? Try following along with this VIDEO.
Need more reasons to start using Kettlebells?
- Kettlebells are a great tool to help you progress smoothly by changing up the exercises or adding repetitions. No need to buy new equipment!
- It is easy to learn how to use kettlebells and tons of variety to keep you interested.
- Kettlebell training will teach you to move more ergonomically. Your range of movement will become more natural, all while getting stronger and more flexible. You will find this to be especially useful in everyday movements.
As we have seen, Kettlebells are very effective in enhancing the strength and endurance as well as flexibility of the legs. However, they are more than just a single muscle group workout. Kettlebells work the entire body; legs, arms, back, and core in a natural way that often emulates real-life movements. Whether you are looking to improve your CrossFit or be better equipped to load up your truck, kettlebell exercises will undoubtedly be a great asset to add to your workout regime.