Five ways Kettlebell Strength Training Will Makeover Your Body
Kettlebell training is one of the most efficient training tools you can use to burn fat, lose weight, and gain functional strength. This 45-minute, high impact, all body workout, gives you the benefits of three different fitness classes — such as spin, power pump and step aerobics — in one.
A kettlebell is a cast iron ball, of varying weights, with a flat bottom and a handle. Participants perform various drills, or exercises, while holding or swinging the kettlebell, such as the squat or the swing, engaging the entire body, resulting in increased lean muscle mass, core strength, endurance, flexibility and balance.
Kettlebell training has been around for centuries, and it’s believed that kettlebells were used to train Russian strongmen and Soviet Forces. Pavel Tsatsouline, a former Soviet Special Forces instructor, immigrated to America in 2000, bringing this Russian fitness tool with him. Kettlebells are gaining in popularity, in part because it’s time efficient, but also because you can see and feel results in a short period of time — within two weeks of starting your program.
Ryan Toshner CSCS, CK-FMS, RKC II, Owner, Fitness Coach, and Certified Kettlebell Instructor of TNT Performance in Brookfield, WI, weighs in on the five ways kettlebell strength training will makeover your body.
1. Strengthens the backside. Hamstrings, butt, and lower back, are often neglected in our regular work out routines, and because of this, are the most commonly injured areas on the body. “The swing, is the first thing I teach people, it’s fantastic for working the backside,” says Toshner. A two handed swing is performed by holding the kettlebell in both hands, and swinging the bell between your legs like a pendulum, while moving from a semi-squat to a standing position. Begin in a standing position, with feet shoulder width apart. Place the kettlebell out in front of your feet. Lean forward from the waist, and bend your knees slightly. Grab hold of the handle with both hands, and as you swing the kettlebell back between your legs, load your hamstrings by pretending you’re going to sit in a chair, and don’t let your knees extend forward of your toes. Move from a semi-squat position to a standing position, swinging the kettlebell to shoulder height, and thrust your hips — squeeze your quads, abs, and glutes, lock your knees, and snap your hips.
2. Burns calories and fat like it's going out of style. A recent study conducted by The American Council on Exercise (ACE) and UW LaCrosse, concluded that kettlebell training burns 20.2 calories per minute — the equivalent of running at a six-minute mile pace for 20 minutes. One of the reasons it’s so effective is that you do a lot of work in a little time. In a typical class, you may do 200 swings, followed with a 10-minute routine of 75 snatches, 50 squats, and 25 presses along with a warm up and cool down. “When you’re lifting free weights at a traditional gym, you might be lifting a heavy weight, but you’re not doing as many repetitions in a work out as you would with kettlebells, so you’re not doing the same amount of work,” explains Toshner. “Additionally, if you attend a power flex or body pump class, you may only be using body weight, or a light dumbbell. You might be doing more repetitions and you get a little cardio out of it, but because the weight isn’t that heavy, you really don’t get the strength benefits.” By using a heavier weight combined with a multitude of repetitions, you build muscle mass. Muscle mass burns calories and improves your metabolic rate, helping you to shed unwanted pounds.
3. Increases functional movement and strength without building bulky muscles. Kettlebell exercises increase functional movement, due to the full range of motion these drills require — your whole body is working to move, or swing, as well as stabilize the kettlebell, building the proper balance of mobility and stability. “It’s important to build a strong foundation of mobility and stability so your body functions more efficiently as a whole,” explains Toshner. “ You have to restore structural things first, then build strength, and then begin working on fat loss. Everything in life works in cycles — days and nights, the seasons — your fitness plan should as well.” Ladies, you won’t bulk up, you’ll tone up, from your kettlebell workouts. “Women don’t produce enough testosterone to build bulky muscles,” explains Toshner. “Because of the large muscle movements required in kettlebell workouts, people that are overweight tend to lean out, and people who are thin tend to fill out, but with a strong, lean, functional physique.”
4. Improves cardiovascular endurance and flexibility. “With kettlebell training, strength is the main focus; cardio and flexibility improvements are incidental,” says Toshner. “In one 45 minute kettlebell work out, you get the combination of strength training, cardio, and flexibility, the perfect balance.” It’s equivalent to completing three separate “stations” of lifting weights for 30 minutes, riding a bike for 45 minutes, and then stretching for 25 minute. Muscle endurance — the number of times, or the length of time you can lift a weight — is accomplished by lifting a lighter weight for more repetitions. Cardiovascular endurance is accomplished by continuous motion. Flexibility is accomplished through the fluid and full range of motion. A typical kettlebell workout routine incorporates all of this. For example, a routine may include working for 40 seconds, with a 20 second break, for a total of 20 minutes, alternating each set, from a press, to a swing, to a Turkish get up, to a squat; while also switching from light, to medium, to heavy weight, increasing or decreasing repetitions accordingly.
5. Increases core strength and stamina. The core — abs, oblique, lower back — all of the erector muscles in your spine are meant to stabilize you, and make it easier for your appendages to do what they need to do. “Torso, midsection strength, and endurance makes any activity easier,” says Toshner. “And everything that you do in kettlebells has a core component.” Whether you’re swinging, snatching, or pressing, your core is always engaged as you work to maintain balance during each movement. The Turkish get up is an excellent core workout; throughout the ten steps, your core is fully engaged, as you lift yourself off the floor, and stand, while holding the kettlebell above your head.
The results of kettlebell workouts are endless. You’ll sit taller, you’ll walk taller, you’ll feel healthy and strong, and the functional strength you gain will make every day tasks a breeze. The movements that you do during a kettlebell workout, along with the strength conditioning and flexibility that you develop, is very functional, and the benefits spill over into everyday life.
“With kettlebell training, the focus is on hip mobility, hip and core strength, back side strength, hamstring strength, glutes, lower back, shoulders; muscles that you use to shovel snow, help friends move couches, climb the stairs, or push yourself up from the ground,” says Toshner. “Kettlebells in general, as well as the movements that you go through because of them, really have a good strong functional component to help you in everyday life.