Working with kettlebells can burn fat, tone muscles and improve endurance, balance and agility. Kettlebell benefits include:
- Large, sweeping movements are easy. This means you can take muscles and joints through a wide range of movement.
- The centre of gravity of the weight is not in your hand. This challenges balance, core strength and coordination.
- The handle allows for letting go and passing/catching, which also trains core strength and improves coordination.
- Being able to do large movements and pass the kettlebell from hand to hand means a continuous, flowing aerobic workout is possible (with lighter weights).
- Because the kettlebell is easy to hold and move around, you can do arm and leg movements at the same time, giving an all-over body workout. Being able to train several muscle groups at once means you can cut down on your workout time.
There’s quite a wide choice, both in type and weight. If you haven’t used them before, here are some tips on choosing:
- The different types available are vinyl, plain cast iron and coated cast iron. Vinyl kettlebells are cheaper and a good option to start with. However, if you find you like working with them and want to move up the weights, cast iron ones are better to grip. Coated cast iron gives some cushioning, so they are less likely to damage flooring etc.
- The most important thing for comfort is that the handle is wide enough for both your hands to grip. You would think this is an obvious design feature, but it’s surprising how many have handles which are too small to be comfortable.
- Start with small weights – only move up to bigger weights when you are confident you are working with good technique. Remember that you should be able to maintain core abdominal engagement throughout the movements. You should only progress your weights when you can do this. Remember also that if you want to make it more cardio, you need to use light weights and high reps.
- Adjustable kettle bells might seem like a good idea to save money and storage space, but in practice it interrupts your workout having to keep changing the weights.
- A low cost way to get started is to buy a mixed set of vinyl kettlebells, like these (affiliate links):
On Amazon.co.uk this 2kg/4/kg/6kg set
Or, on Amazon.com, this 5lb/10lb/15lb set:
Technique points for maximum kettlebell benefits
- Movements should be smooth and controlled – which means you need to use a manageable weight
- You should maintain core engagement throughout
- The lower back shouldn’t arch to help get weights up in the air. If you find yourself doing this, either you need to use a lower weight, or you have done enough reps and need to rest.
- When straightening at the knees, don’t force the joint backwards
Number of reps guide
There are 3 main types of training effect: muscular strength, muscular endurance and aerobic endurance. There isn’t a clear division between the 3, it’s more of a continuum. The lighter the weight and the more reps you do, the more you move towards endurance training. But the following is a rough guide to reps numbers.
- Muscular strength: The muscles get stronger and able to lift more weight. Choose a weight that you can do between 8 and 15 reps with to train for strength.
- Muscular endurance: The muscles become able to do more reps for a given weight. Choose a weight that you can do 16-25 reps with to train for muscular endurance.
- Aerobic endurance: The heart becomes able to deliver more blood to the working muscles and the muscles become more efficient at breaking down glucose to make energy. To train for aerobic endurance with kettlebells, choose a weight you can do 30+ reps with and don’t rest between exercises.
The kettlebell swing
This exerise achieves most of the kettlebell benefits.
- Works the major leg muscles
- Works the back, core and shoulders
- Challenges coordination
- Can be used to train for strength, muscular endurance or aerobic endurance
- Can be adapted to challenge coordination and core more by doing one handed and switching at the top and/or bottom (advanced)
Before attempting this exercise, please read my general exercise safety guidelines, You should also warm up your muscles and make sure you read “Technique points for maximum kettlebell benefits” above.
Hold the kettlebell with both hands – arms are straight, but don’t lock the elbows out
Stand with feet a bit wider than hip distance
Shoulders should be held back, chest forward.
Bend the knees as you take the kettlebell between your legs. Keep the back straight and the head in line with the spine.
Engage the core muscles as you straighten the legs, at the same time lifting the kettlebell out in front of your body. Remember not to lock the elbows.
Stop when the arms are parallel to the floor and reverse the movement, bending the knees as you take the kettlebell back through your legs.
So that’s how to do the swing. It’s best to start with a lower weight to learn good exercise technique. Then if you want to train for strength, move up to a bigger weight.
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