The humble kettlebell offers limitless workout potential
If you tour any gym, somewhere within it you will find a sectioned littered with kettlebells.
Kettlebells have spiked in popularity recently, only to remind us of their longstanding history. It is unclear as to when kettlebells became a recognized tool for strength and conditioning, however, it is estimated that they have been in use for well over 300 years. The kettlebell made its first appearance in the Russian dictionary in 1704.
The man most notable for westernizing the kettlebell is none other than Pavel Tsatsouline, chairman of StrongFirst Inc. and former drill instructor for Spetsnaz. Tsatsouline authored many training books including “Power to the People,” and “The Naked Warrior,” which outlined simple but effective kettlebell training programs.
Why so popular?
The kettlebell is popular for good reason: its versatility. It can be manipulated in a multitude of ways, allowing for swinging, pressing, pulling, carrying, throwing and stability-based exercises. Entire workouts can be executed with nothing more than this one piece of equipment, whether the aim is strength, hypertrophy, power or endurance. It is relatively small (though I dare not say light depending on your selection) and relatively affordable in comparison to many other gym accessories.
There’s a lot of praise for something that resembles a cannonball with a handle. What’s more to like about kettlebells is their functionality.
Compared to training with machines or even dumbbells, the kettlebell provides variability and offsets the load so that no one rep is ever truly the same. Kettlebell exercises can at times be the biggest bang for your fitness buck, targeting numerous muscle groups and moving you through multiple planes of motion.
Two of my favorite exercises are completely unique to the kettlebell and the bread and butter of Tsatsouline’s work.
The kettlebell swing: The first is the kettlebell swing. I love this exercise because it can serve the purpose of both conditioning and power work. It targets the posterior chain and teaches individuals how to hip hinge properly with some force. This exercise involves holding the kettlebell with both hands (although there is a single arm version) and using the hip hinge to forcefully drive it in front of yourself as well as through your legs in a smooth motion. Once this exercise is mastered, it is an excellent addition to any program or a convenient stand-alone option for a conditioning day.
The Turkish get-up: My other favorite kettlebell exercise is the Turkish get-up. It may sound simple, after all it only involves standing up from a prone position with a weight over your head. However, it is perhaps one of the most technical exercises known to man. It involves an extraordinary amount of shoulder stability, core strength, hip mobility, and focus to execute properly. It uses every part of your body.
Obviously these two exercises are unique in that they will be best executed with the kettlebell, but many other exercises or implements can be substituted with it as well. Instead of barbell squats you can do kettlebell front squats to avoid loading the spine. You can do kettlebell overhead pressing instead of dumbbell pressing, with the benefit of learning how to pack your shoulder as the offset nature of the weight will want to make for a lazy scapula. The options are endless. Undoubtedly, the kettlebell is an extraordinary tool with a history of usage. Consider implementing some of its usage in your programming and you will be happy you did.
Thanks for reading as always.
Jimmy Pritchard has a BSc in Exercise Science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength & conditioning at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. He can be reached at 970-331-3513 and firstname.lastname@example.org.