Vail Daily column: Train well with kettlebells
February 24, 2014
Over the past decade, kettlebell training has become overwhelmingly popular in mainstream fitness culture. Consequently, the immense attractiveness and demand for kettlebell training by the informed gym rat has caused a disruption in quality control measurements, and some exercisers have been misguided.
Today we look at what kettlebells are, what their unique advantages are and how to properly program them into a comprehensive training program.
WHAT IS A KETTLEBELL
The kettlebell or girya (a Russian word) is a cast-iron weight (resembling a cannonball with a handle) used to perform ballistic and static exercises. Kettlebells are traditionally measured in weight by the Russian unit pood, which (rounded to metric units) is defined as 16 kilograms (35 pounds). Common kettlebell weights are the 16, 20, 24, 32, 40 and 44 kilogram.
If you are the type of exerciser who is looking to shape up and desire simplicity, look no further than the kettlebell. It will develop strength, power, aerobic and anaerobic fitness in minimal time, help you lose weight and ingrain proper movement skills. Take the money saved avoiding the gym membership and purchase that new mountain bike you’ve been eyeing all winter.
Some companies have made the jumps in between weights closer by casting them in 5 pound increments up to 100 pounds for easier transitions to successively heavier bells as fitness increases.
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PROS OF USING A KETTLEBELL
The most significant advantages to kettlebell training over other resistance training mediums is convenience, cost and fitness economy. Kettlebells are quite small even in the heaviest weights. Apartment dwellers can own two or three bells that will take up no more space than a small corner of an entryway closet.
Secondly, the average exerciser can obtain a range of bell sizes and it will only cost a few hundred dollars compared to the expensive annual membership costs ($1,500) at popular health clubs in the valley. For fitness economy, kettlebells alone develop a large range of fitness qualities in minimal time.
A popular exercise program, the "Program Minimum" from Pavel Tsatsouline's "Enter the Kettlebell," requires the exerciser to perform the get-up and swing a few days per week. The get-up is a static strength building exercise that requires the exerciser to lie on his back and press the bell straight up over his chest in line with his shoulder joint.
He proceeds to "get-up" off of the ground, keeping his arm locked out and the bell over his head the entire duration of the movement until he is in a standing position with his arm pointing straight to the ceiling. He completes the exercise by lying back down on the ground while keeping his arm locked out with the bell overhead.
The swing is a dynamic exercise for which the exerciser hinges at the hips by pulling the weight in between his legs, and then explosively "swings" the weight to chest height repeatedly for a designated number of repetitions or for a set time interval. Between the get-up, which develops core strength shoulder stability and leg drive, and the swing, which develops cardio by elevating his heart rate, he can develop well-rounded fitness in 15 minutes per day a few days per week.
Even though kettlebells can be used for various squatting movements, pressing exercises, swing variations and countless ways to organize the training program, kettlebells have a few limitations that are masked by their sudden popularity.
The biggest misnomer is that somehow kettlebells are magical and that they will transform the average person's strength into something superhuman. The heaviest kettlebell weights: 32, 40, and 44 kilograms are reserved for the strongest exercisers. These bells, however, are extremely light compared to barbell weights for even novice trainees. A novice trainee would have no problem back squatting 135 pounds for 5 repetitions using a barbell, yet only a few small companies even make kettlebells that heavy.
For developing high levels of strength, power or muscle size, kettlebells are severely limited compared to barbells because kettlebells aren't nearly heavy enough. If you are interested in gaining muscle weight and strength by using progressively heavier weights for whatever reason, the kettlebell would be my very last choice as an exercise tool.
ENOUGH FOR MOST USERS
However, I will argue that the vast majority of exercisers can develop more than enough strength using kettlebells. I mean really, how strong do most casual exercisers need to be? The kettlebell more than qualifies to get most people strong enough for a variety of tasks. For this reason, some trainees that I work with use kettlebells as the staple training tool most of the time. We use a variety of kettlebell exercises, pull-ups, and other body weight only exercises that yield very substantial fitness results.
If you are the type of exerciser who is looking to shape up and desire simplicity, look no further than the kettlebell. It will develop strength, power, aerobic and anaerobic fitness in minimal time, help you lose weight and ingrain proper movement skills. Take the money saved avoiding the gym membership and purchase that new mountain bike you've been eyeing all winter.
If you plan on engaging in kettlebell training, the only caveat is to seek out a coach with a strong understanding of the technical nuances to avoid the risk of injury.
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards' passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.