Kettlebells 101

January 6, 2021

Kettlebells may be the most interesting (and sometimes most misunderstood) free weight. Weightlifting as a fitness practice has been around since ancient times in Egyptian and Greek societies. But kettlebells were developed in the 18th century in Russia, and initially used as a counterweight to measure grains.

Eventually, the kettlebell found its way to the circus, where strongmen impressed their audience with their lifting. By the 1940s, Russian soldiers were being trained with kettlebells. And in the 1970s, “kettlebell lifting” was the Soviet Union’s national sport.

Today, the kettlebell is also popular in the U.S.  Let’s take a closer look at how this all-in-one body conditioning tool works.

Unique benefits of the kettlebell

You can find kettlebells in gyms (including CA’s fitness clubs), sporting goods stores and of course, online. The beauty is just how versatile they are. They work just as well for HIIT workouts with high repetitions and low-rep heavyweight lifts. They’re also amazing for swings and compound moves. 

These weights have a unique design with three distinct parts: the bell, handle and the horns.

  1. The bell is the main weight; it is typically cannon-ball shaped and is below the handle and the horn.
  2. The handle or gripper connects to the kettlebell sloping slightly downward at both ends to create the “horns.” In most dumbbells, a handle connects as two evenly-weighted bells with a level center. But the kettlebell’s center-of-gravity is offset several inches from the handle.
  3. The horns are located on each side of the handle and are connected to the main bell. 

So, what are the unique benefits you can expect to receive? Kettlebells enable you to make your workout aerobic and anaerobic simultaneously for a major boost to your heart health. Plus, they offer improved mobility, range of motion and strength (especially core strength).

In a Louisiana University research study comparing kettlebell swings, deadlifts and cleans to a standard sprint training program, they discovered that the maximum heart rate was only slightly higher in the sprints, while calories were burning faster with the bells.

Another benefit is that k-bells strengthen your stabilizer muscles. The stabilizers aren’t one specific muscle group, but rather the muscles that are acting to stabilize one joint so you can have proper form for your movement in another joint. They keep certain parts of the body balanced and steady while the primary muscles do their thing.

“The stabilizers are the muscles or joints in the body that help you control movement better,” says Daniel Silva, CA personal trainer. “When the stabilizers are weak and then you start doing massive movements, that’s when injuries happen, because the smaller muscles haven’t been stimulated yet.”

When you’re using a machine, you don’t necessarily need to stabilize, since it’s fixed in one place. But if you’re training with kettlebells, you have to stabilize it to push it in the right path. Plus, because k-bell movements are multiplanar, they work your core from all directions. 

How to incorporate the “K-bell” into your workouts

One of the best things about kettlebells is their incredible versatility. Next time you get to the gym, grab a kettlebell and try some basic exercises. 

Want to strengthen your legs? Try some lunges and squats. 

Need to tone your arms? Try some kettlebell figure 8’s, swings and rows.

Is it time to target your abs? Consider some Russian twists.

The kettlebell can help you work it all! If you want professional expertise adding kettlebells to your strength training routine, check out CA’s personal training programs (virtual options available). We have more than 30 skilled, friendly trainers who would love to help you work toward your strongest, healthiest self.

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