Sometimes getting a workout in at the gym can feel intimidating, or inconvenient. There are several barriers that seem to add up to a total lack of motivation. Whether you are new to resistance training—or looking to expand on your exercise routine—kettlebells are a great solution when it comes to accessibility.
Training with kettlebells is not limited to a specific population. With some guidance on proper form, this modality can improve grip strength, muscular strength, power, endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Like most things, it’s not about what you use, but what you do with it. Specialized programing can help individuals realize these goals by changing the physiological demands placed on their body.
If you decide to try this modality the next time you’re at the gym, it is important to remember some postural cues to maintain your safety. With a kettlebell swing, a stance should be taken where the feet are slightly outside the hip-line to make space for the weight to pass through the legs. In the start position, the weight should be grasped with both hands on the handle. The movement should start in a squat and finish with the knees and hips extended. Because of this explosive contraction, the weight should naturally swing upward due to the momentum created in the lower body. As you repeat this motion, remember to keep your toes pointed forward and a neutral spine.
When combining high intensity interval training with kettlebells, the result is a stimulation much like interval cycling at the same level of exertion. This suggests that adherence to this type of programming would result in positive anatomical adaptations to the cardiovascular system. These adaptations are important in improving one’s VO2max—a measure used to determine the efficiency of the cardiovascular system during exercise. A better VO2max shows that the body is utilizing and transporting oxygen more effectively to the muscles. Individuals with a higher VO2max are considered to have a higher likelihood of longevity.
Kettlebell training is where accessibility meets results. If an individual is trying to improve on metrics relating to weightlifting (back squat and power clean), or their maximum vertical jump; KB training is proven to be valuable. For example, a 6-week training program designed to increase power-clean and back-squat 1-rep max’s can be approached with multiple techniques. The most obvious method would be to consistently train these lifts at the gym. While this is effective—what happens when you can’t make it to the gym?
As you might’ve guessed, a KB training program can be utilized. Requiring only one weight and a small amount of space, this training style offers a suitable alternative to traditional weightlifting. In fact, when comparing performance improvements between specific weightlifting and KB training, the results are remarkably similar. This outcome directly relates to the physiological demands placed on the body while performing similar biomechanical movements.
If we were to break down the kettlebell swing, we can observe that it is a compound movement involving the flexion and extension of the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder. While maintaining an upright and neutral spine, it also involves the isometric contraction of the core, back and forearm flexors. This time-under-tension should not be overlooked, as it increases the stability of the trunk muscles and builds grip strength. Having a strong trunk is important for longevity and sports performance. A stable core will allow athletes to transfer forces through their body more effectively as they are able to achieve more global muscle involvement. For the average individual, it helps with posture and helps prevent injury to the low-back.
Whether you’re an athlete, weekend warrior or fitness enthusiast, there’s a benefit that can be gained from this single exercise. With only one piece of equipment needed, it’s time to overcome your barriers to physical activity and start here.
By Sheri Graff
Full Body Kettlebell Workout
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Hold the kettlebell in front of your thighs with both hands, palms facing in. Position your feet slightly wider than shoulder distance apart, with your toes pointed slightly outwards at about a 45-degree angle. Keep your back straight, chest up, and core tight. While inhaling, bend your knees and lower your body until your thighs are slightly below parallel. Push through the heels while exhaling and straighten the legs to return to the starting position. Squeeze glutes at the top. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
– Stand on two raised platforms (ie. workout benches) to increase the depth of the squat
– Add a pulse at the bottom of the movement for an extra burn!
2) Deadlift to Upright Row (Hamstrings, Glutes, Shoulders)
Hold the kettlebell in front of your thighs with both hands, palms facing in. Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart, knees slightly bent. Hinge at your hips and push your glutes back as you lower your torso and the kettlebell toward the ground. Keep your back flat and shoulders back. Your torso should be in a neutral position, almost parallel to the floor at the bottom of this movement. Keeping your core tight, push through your heels and drive your hips forward while returning to the standing position. As you stand, bend at the elbows to pull the weight up along the line of your body until your hands are just under your chin. Lower the kettlebell in a controlled manner and return to the starting position. This is one repetition. Perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps per arm.
3) Kettlebell Halo (Shoulders, Chest, Core)
Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Grip the kettlebell by the handle in a bottoms-up position. Hold it close to your body, at chest height. Lift the weight to eye level and slowly circle it around the back of your head to the left. As the kettlebell goes behind your head, it should be handles up. Return to a bottoms-up position in front of your body. Repeat the movement but in the other direction. Note: To avoid lower back strain, think about tucking your pelvis while performing this movement. Perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps in each direction.
4) Reverse Lunges (Glutes and Quads)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms by your sides and hold a kettlebell in each hand. Take a step backwards with your right leg. Lower your body down, bending both knees to 90 degrees. Gentle touch your right knee to the ground. Keep your back straight, shoulders back, and core engaged. The kettlebells should stay close to your sides throughout. Pull through the heel of the front leg and return to the starting position. Repeat the exercise with the opposite leg. Perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps per leg, alternating each time.
– If you are a beginner, start by trying the exercise with no weight and your hands positioned on your hips for support. Add kettlebells when you are ready.
5) Kettlebell Bent-Over Row (Lats and Back)
Start with the kettlebell on the left side of the bench. Position your left leg on the ground, and your right knee on the bench. Place your right hand on the other end of the bench for support Hinge at the hips to bend forward, keeping the back flat. Make sure your shoulders and hips are square with the floor. Use the left hand to pick up the kettlebell with your arm hanging straight at your side. Lift the kettlebell to your rib cage, engaging your back as you pull. Pause and lower it back down. Complete movement for specified amount of repetitions, then switch sides and perform the exercise with the opposite arm. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps per arm.
– If you do not have a workout bench nearby, you can simply hinge forward at the
hips and perform the row with the kettlebells. Remember to keep a neutral position, with your back flat.
6) Kettlebell Plank Pull-Through (Core)
Begin in plank positions with your hands beneath your shoulders and legs in a shoulder-width stance. Place your kettlebell just behind your right hand. While keeping a tight core and flat back, reach with your left hand and grab the kettlebell. Remember to keep hips flat and square throughout the entire movement. Pull the kettlebell under your body out to your left side. Release the kettlebell and position your left hand back onto the ground in the starting position. Now pull the kettlebell through again, using your right hand this time.
Repeat, alternating sides each time for 2 sets of 8-10 reps/side.
– Position feet wider if you are a beginner, and closer if you are advanced.