Aptly named due to its similarity in appearance to some sort of old-school cast iron kettle, the kettlebell is a workout tool that can trace its roots all the way back to 18th century Russia and the circus strongmen that used them.
Fast forward a few hundred years and you will have definitely happened across these initially odd-looking tools at the gym, and that’s because kettlebells have quickly become an essential tool for building functional strength, be it for a professional MMA fighter or someone who’s can barely make it off the couch.
And here’s why…
When you perform strength exercises using a barbell, such as a bicep curl, bench press or upright row, these movements are more often than not isolating specific muscles, with maybe the odd secondary muscle group as a bonus.
Perform the same movements with a kettlebell on the other hand, and you have yourself a more dynamic workout that will not only benefit the muscles the exercises traditionally target, but it will work your core too.
That’s because they’re ‘unstable’. When you perform movements with a kettlebell, the weight is unattached or unfixed, meaning a movement as simple as holding it aloft forces your core muscles to stabilise your body while you’re holding it.
Combine this with specifically developed exercises and you have yourself a full-body workout tool.
Kettlebells offer the best of both cardiovascular and strength training due to the explosive, ballistic nature of many of the exercises performed.
This makes kettlebells an ideal exercise aid for those wanting to lose a few extra pounds or those wanting to stack a few on.
The compound nature of the majority of the exercises also means that with kettlebell workouts, less time is required actually in the gym as a multitude of muscles are worked simultaneously.
In short, kettlebell workouts are a cost, time and energy effective way to train without the hassle of changing weight plates or the monotony of limping around on a treadmill for hours on end.
Now here’s some example movements of varying difficulty so you can get a flavour…
New to kettlebell workouts? Start here!
- Kettlebell Swing: Perhaps the most iconic exercise in the kettle bell family, the kettle bell swing is noted as being a mainstay in the ballistic training world. Training pretty much all of the core muscles and upper body, the kettlebell swing is performed by lowering the weight between the legs in a squat before projecting upwards and swinging the weight above the head before lowering it in a controlled manner once more. Use a light weight first before progressing to heavier weights and don’t drop it on your head!
- Kettlebell Halo: The kettle bell halo is a great warm up tool or workout for the shoulder girdle. The kettlebell can be either held by the bell or the handle and is rotated around the head with the elbows being tightly tucked in. This exercise can exist as part of an active recovery or a dynamic warm up by using a light weight. Heavy weight should be avoided due to the dangers of being around the head and damaging the rotator cuff.
- Kettlebell Lunge: This kettlebell workout is the beginner version of the more advanced split jerk shown below but the fundamentals are the same. Starting in a neutral position, a lunge is performed whilst thrusting the kettlebell up in an overarm press motion. This dynamic exercise works not only the limbs involved but the core also due to a lack of balancing limbs. The kettlebell lunge is therefore an ideal beginners exercise when performed with a light weight which helps to burn calories and build up to more challenging kettlebell workouts. The kettlebell lunge can also be one of the most difficult exercises when performed with heavy weights.
Ready to up the ante? Try our intermediate workouts.
- Turkish Get Up: The Turkish Get Up, which focuses on a controlled movement of raising and lowering the body from the floor with a weight held above the head. Due to the unbalanced nature of the kettle bell the core is even more active when performing this movement with a kettle bell. This exercise is best performed in a controlled manner with a weight that is light enough to be held over the head for extended periods of time and is fantastic for developing sports specific core strength for MMA, Cycling and Swimming.
- Kettlebell Military Press: A variation of the standard military press offers a much more dynamic workout for the core. As the kettlebell becomes unstable at the point of its highest reach, this variation of the military press offers a much more engaging workout for the core. This military press is best performed with a light weight in order to get comfortable and controlled before progressing.
- Kettlebell Tricep Extension: This isolation exercise is another great example of how kettlebell workouts engage the core during training. By standing to perform this routine, the user is automatically engaging the core and can perform deep breath inhalations due to the isolated nature of the exercise. This will allow for a more controlled workout that can be easily progressed by adding more weight.
Ok then show off, let’s see what you’ve got!
- One-arm Kettlebell Split Jerk: This mouthful of an exercise is performed by cleaning the kettle bell from between the legs to the shoulder before pressing the weight above the head whilst jumping into a split position or a lunge and then standing upright from that. Again, the kettle bell will work the stabilising muscles of the core as you rise into standing more than a normal jerk and press though the weight will be nowhere near as high.
- Kettlebell Snatch: The kettlebell snatch is one of the hardest exercises to perform with regards to kettlebell workouts. Though the snatch is one of the most effective whole body workout routines, swinging the kettlebell too hard will cause the base of the bell to hit the forearm with force. This can be damaging to the arm and is less than ideal when one is training hard. To counteract this, the kettlebell should be allowed to rotate in the hand as it is swung and released in the same manner. This will allow for a far smoother action and, as a result, a far more effective kettlebell workout.
- Advanced Kettlebell Windmill: Combining a military press with an eccentric workout for the obliques, the kettlebell windmill is just about as evil as it looks. Using the military press noted above, the torso is eccentrically directed away from the point of the kettlebell whilst the weight is kept in place by the extended arm. This exercise actively engages the obliques and provides a serious core strengthening workout as all the core is engaged to keep the weight secure above the head and the back from hyper-extending.