Four Easy Ways To Introduce A Kettlebell To Your Workout

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Four Easy Ways To Introduce A Kettlebell To Your Workout

Words by Mr Ryan Willms | Photography by Mr Liam MacRae

16 April 2020

Today, kettlebells have become a commonplace fixture of most gyms, but it wasn’t always that way. In their earliest form in 18th-century Russia, they weren’t, in fact, used for training at all, but for weighing out grains, meat and other produce. Though, in the intervening years, they have been used for weight training in Russia, the fact that we now consider them such a powerful workout tool in the West is down to the efforts of Mr Pavel Tsatsouline, a former Soviet Spetsnaz instructor, who moved from Belarus to the US in the late 1990s and created a revolution in the fitness world by sharing techniques from his homeland. (These are now used in training programs for the US Navy Seals, US Marines and Special Forces, among others.)

The other reason that, in recent years, that the kettlebell has become more and more relevant is that the fitness world is making a conscious move away from cosmetic isolation weightlifting focusing on one muscle, such as a bicep curl, which can neglect all of the connected tissues and muscles which can create instability. In their place, more functional training have come to the fore – exercises that allow us to perform activities of daily life more easily and without injuries. Kettlebells are perfect for this kind of work. By enabling a range of dynamic, swing-based movements, they are the ideal tool to target more than one muscle group in a single exercise, and so burn more energy than traditional weightlifting.

Why are they so effective? Well, largely because the weight of each kettlebell lies in front of its handle, meaning that its center of gravity is offset, and even the most basic kettlebell movements make increased demands on our stability and flexibility. As the weight shifts from muscle group to muscle group, our brain creates connections that integrate our bodies as one synergistic system. With more connection in our bodies’ neural networks, injuries are less likely, and the body’s strength to correct itself against imbalance increases. Forcing our body to move between muscle groups is a great way to build strength and flexibility for real-world applications, whether it’s picking up your child or bending over to tie your shoelaces. It’s a full body workout, and one that also help with your general agility and range of motion.

Of course, one of the truly excellent things about kettlebells is that, while they pack a punch, fitness-wise, they don’t take up much space. You only really need one kettlebell to get a decent workout – as in Mr Mike Salemi’s Mastering The Kettlebell programme – but it never hurts to have two.

Consider the below a primer on how to get started, and an excellent, high-intensity workout for those currently stuck at home. Just make sure you leave yourself enough room to swing.

For the following exercises you can start with timed sets and do 3 sets, 30 seconds of movement and 30 seconds of rest. Do more sets as you build up your endurance.

Warming up the body is a crucial component to the beginning of any workout, and kettlebells are an ideal instrument for warm-ups because of the dynamic motions that activate separate muscle groups in the same exercise. By engaging multiple muscle groups in a consistent motion, blood flow is increased and the body is more prepared to react to physical strain. This movement is a great place to start as it integrates the entire body, creating mobility in your shoulders and torso, activating your core and firing up your legs.

This movement I learned from rehabbing my ACL, as it connects lateral movement with core strength and knee stability. We all are likely to have imbalances in our legs from past injuries or even just sitting at our desks too long each day. The side lunge to curtsy should activate your glute muscles, hamstrings and all of the ligaments around your knee as you shift weight side to side, making it great for mobility and injury prevention.

Engaging the full body gets complicated, but don’t worry – the more you do these exercises, the more of a flow you will be able to get into, plus, the more you’ll be able to focus on angles and weight. Moving through three movements in one is a great example of how dynamic a kettlebell exercise can be. For endurance and conditioning it’s best to do less weight and more reps. This also allows you to get the form down, and then move on to increased weight with lower reps to increase your strength.

The kettlebell swing is one of the key movements in any routine and it’s an exercise that targets the shoulders, legs, back, glutes and hips. As you swing the bell back towards your body, you want to keep it close to the body, but it should swing behind your body as you squat to load the posterior chain, the key muscles on your backside including **the hamstrings, gluteus maximus, trapezius, and posterior deltoids**. Switching the kettlebell between each arm, and adding a squat in between each transition will make for an integrated movement that is going to start burning before you might expect, so start with a lower weight and use this exercise specifically for full-body endurance conditioning.

Goes with a swing