Hands down, kettlebell exercises offer one of the best overall fitness options you can do. It can rapidly increase your fitness and flexibility levels, while simultaneously help you lose weight. While kettlebell popularity has experienced a resurgence, it is still not as well known as many other popular options. Hopefully, this article will change that for you.
The modern kettlebell is a cast-iron workout tool that looks like a cannonball with a handle. But the earliest tradition of kettlebell-like devices goes back to the Scottish highlands where handles were put on curling stones.
Whether through trade or coincidence, the notion of an off-center weight with an iron handle made its way to Russia. There it would become a national sport and, under Russian influence, would pervade the eastern bloc countries.
For centuries, kettlebells were more or less a secret of eastern Europe. While they were known in the US from the late 1800s, they were then used mostly among strongmen and bodybuilder types. Because the building of strength was not understood as well as it is today, bodybuilders tended to lose their flexibility and become muscle-bound.
Consequently, anything that looked like bodybuilding was viewed as ruining one’s ability to perform certain activities. This was true even through the 1950s, when college football players were discouraged – even forbidden – from lifting weights for fear it would ruin their performance.
In the West, strength has traditionally been viewed as synonymous with muscle mass. The more muscle you had, the stronger you were thought to be. The logic of this can be hard to overcome, but we understand now that strength is related to the ability of the muscle to contract, not with its size.
Kettlebell exercises excel at developing this strength in their users. So, in Russia, kettlebells became a way that anyone could gain awesome strength without gaining muscle mass. To this day, Russian women use kettlebells without losing their feminine physique (for examples, see the ultra-petite figures of competitive kettlebell athletes Ludmilla Nuzhnykh or Ksenia Dedyukhina).
MODERN KETTLEBELL RESURGENCE
Since the 1990s, kettlebell use has seen a huge resurgence in the West. This is due largely to the work of Pavel Tsatsouline of the Russian Kettlebell Challenge and Valery Fedorenko of the American Kettlebell Club. But their work would not have gone as far were it not for the realization that kettlebells have three additional and very significant benefits beyond strength.
In modern times, we have come to understand that a key benefit of kettlebell exercises like swings develops flexibility. Since kettlebells are ballistic tools, they encourage full range of motion for joints and the full range of contraction for muscle groups like your shoulders and your chest. These tend to be neglected in other forms of exercise.
A second key benefit that has contributed to the kettlebell’s resurgence is its ability to expedite fat loss. Everyone knows that burning fat means using more calories than you eat. The kettlebell allows you to do this without calorie-counting. In several independent studies, kettlebell exercises come out tops for burning calories in the shortest time possible.
Most recently, the American Council on Exercise concluded that the kettlebell snatch burns 1200 calories per hour. At 20 calories per minute, that pace is the equivalent of running a 6 minute mile or cross-country skiing rapidly uphill.
For comparison, a spinning class only burns 9.6 calories per minute, and even kick-boxing only comes in at 8 calories per minute, or 480 calories per hour. So a simple, 25-minute workout of snatches will burn more calories than an hour of kick-boxing.
[DiabetesWellBeing.com Editor Note: For those of you who glossed over the last two paragraphs, re-read them. Kettlebell Exercises really offer something, no other form of exercise can even touch.]
Finally, because kettlebell exercises work multiple muscle groups in each repetition, kettlebell workouts can be significantly shorter. The result is that, in a 20-minute workout twice a week, you will see visible, significant benefits in as little as two weeks. In a single repetition of the kettlebell swing, for instance, you use every muscle from your calves to your biceps, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, abdominals, lumbosacral muscles, shoulders, and chest.
As the timing of the exercise is based more on the momentum of the kettlebell than on your lifting of it, the swing is an excellent cardiovascular exercise that, used intensively, can put the heart rate of even die-hard athletes to over 200 bpm (within 99% of the heart’s estimated max). Combine that with increasing the max absorption of one’s lungs and you find the swing causes fat burning faster than just about any exercise – except possibly the kettlebell snatch.
Kettlebell exercises are also safer for the body than a lot of other exercises. Considering that we are talking about a cast iron weight that can put you in the hospital if used incorrectly, this may sound absurd. But, aside from the same safety considerations you would give any weight-bearing exercise, the actual routines are safer than their weight-lifting counterparts.
For example, the traditional wisdom of bodybuilding is that a squat is ineffective unless your hips drop below your knees. The problem is that doing so places ridiculous amounts of strain on the knee assembly – your patella, patellar ligament, and attending tendons – without exercising the relevant muscles any further.
Kettlebell technique uses a box squat to raise and lower the bell. In this exercise, the hips drop about as low as your knees but no lower. This causes good contraction of the quadriceps, glutes, abdominals, and attending muscles and ligaments that you normally use in a squat without putting your joints at such risk.
SUMMING IT ALL UP
The saying goes that strength is the new thin. For both, kettlebells have proven over the centuries to deliver abundantly and quickly. Simply put, no other exercise delivers strength gain, flexibility and fat loss so efficiently.
Guest Author: Albert Lukaszewski. Albert is the creater of KettlebellExerciseFitness.com.