The Humble Kettle-bell – If it works for the Russians, it’ll work for you

IMG_20141115_085820A kettlebell is basically a cannonball with a handle. They come in different weights and nowadays in different colors. Going back, this evil-looking iron ball can trace its roots to Russia where it was used to weigh crops in the 18th century. Then in the 19th century strongmen with outrageous mustaches dressed in diaper-like pants used it to impress lonely housewives at  circuses.

Today the kettle-bell is firmly entrenched in the world of fitness as one of the premier tools to sculpt the perfect body. Comparing the kettle-bell to other ‘fitness apparatus’ it easily takes top spot for providing the most bang for your buck.

A 24kg (1.5 pood or 53 lbs) kettle-bell costs in the region of $60 or R950. Compare that to a Concept2 rower ($1050 or R15 750) or an entry level mountain bike ($1 600 or R25 000) and you must admit that it’s in a class of its own. Hell, even a pair of Asics running shoes ($160 or R2 400) costs more than double.

On a rower you row and with running shoes you run but with a kettlebell the options are endless. Wikipedia lists no less than 45 different exercises you can do with a ketllebell and if you have two, you can almost double that number. It also holds a door open in gale force winds.

The one exercise that does stand out however is the kettlebell swing. There are two versions. The Russian swing which sees the kettlebell travel up to eye-level and the American version which ends with the kettlbell above your head. There’s a big ongoing debate on which one is best and just because people are bickering about it, you should do both. I will not go into the merits of each (maybe in another post) suffice to state that chances of picking up an injury is greater doing American swings.

You need to know how to do a proper kettlebell swing before you actually train with them. Check out the links above and become familiar with the movement. Start out with a light bell and as you grow more confident and stronger, you can progress to something heavier. It is generally accepted that a 24kg bell for men, and a 16kg bell for women are the recommended weights.

And then there’s the matter of durability. I’d like to see you break a kettlebell. The thing will be standing there, staring at you long after you replaced your rower’s chain, wrecked your bike and worn out your shoes. It is like Chuck Norris, simply indestructible.

Here’s why you should do kettlebell swings:

The kettlebell swing burns fat at a rate of knots. Swinging kettlebells (Russian or American) is a high-intensity activity. Meaning you’ll burn more fat quicker compared to most other exercises. Strap on a heart rate monitor, set the timer and do as many kettlebell swings as possible in 5 minutes and see how you feel!

It functional. Meaning the muscles they strengthen are muscles you’re more likely to use in everyday life. Picking things up (like your kid) or loading things overhead (like getting luggage in the overhead compartment) will all be easier because of swinging kettlebells. It improves posture (targeting the core muscles) translating into more efficient movement. If you’re a runner, you’ll become a better runner, ditto for cyclists.

They’re efficient. Not only will you get stronger, you will also get fitter. Killing two birds with one stone. Grip strength in particular goes through the roof translating into heavier deadlifts and being able to do more unbroken pull-ups (both of which makes you stronger). Swinging kettlebells makes you strong. Period. Apart from strength gains swinging kettlebells will also increase your aerobic capacity. Following a simple progression you’ll be able to sustain a high heart rate for an extended period of time. It boosts the engine. If you’re planning on becoming a cage-fighter, go buy yourself a kettlebell.

It’s a full-body exercise.  Apart from targeting almost every muscle in the body it puts particular emphasis on the core muscles. Lower back, glutes, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors in particular. A stronger core equals a better you.

To summarize, if you want to get into shape (stronger, fitter, leaner) there’s not many ‘tools’ out there coming close to the kettlebell. No matter your fitness level, there’s a kettlebell which will suit you. No matter your sport or area of focus, swinging kettlebells will make you better at it.







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Professional dad, prone to accepting random challenges of endurance. Novice writer and would-be mountaineer. Firm believer that you can burpee your way to hapiness. I'm not taking myself seriously and neither should you. Trying each day to make less mistakes than yesterday.

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