Kettlebells have now been around for some time in gyms and I would be confident in betting that numerous people have bought one at some point and no doubt it is now gathering dust just like them famous York dumbbells that you now see at a local car boot sale for loose change. A kettlebell is one of the pieces of equipment that looks easier to use than it actually is, I think that is why so many people buy them for their homes and use it only a handful of times. The idea of buying home equipment and using it is a lot harder than you think. I know several clients over the years have told me that they have boought something for the home to workout with and it never happens. I am in the same boat, pushing yourself through a workout is hard enough in itself let alone trying to do it from home. If you can push yourself at home with or without a kettlebell then I bow down to you. The main concern for people who are training at home by themselves with kettlebells is that they have poor form and that results in an injury. At the end of this blog there will be beginner, intermediate, and advanced training programmes with kettlebells.
Getting a Kettlebell
I have always used a few kettlebell movements in my own training and with my clients. However, now they play a huge part of my training and I think they should in everyone’s training. The barbell and dumbbells would have been the most versatile gym equipment but the kettlebell definitely beats both of these hands down. Only try to use the iron cast style kettlebells as the plastic ones are awful, the grip is crap which will result in you messing your hands up more than you need too. Plus the iron ones look cool as fuck. You can now get your hands on some ultra cool kettlebells such as iron man and gorilla ones. Go and check out Onnit.com (no affiliation) as these provide all these crazy type kettlebells. You will have to pay postage and packaging as they are an American brand but they are an awesome company. Don’t just buy the cheapest kettlebell there is as this will bite you in the ass for sure. Do some research before purchasing a kettlebell as the cheap ones are generally no good. You can get a kettlebell from most big supermarkets or a good retail shop but honestly I would try out Onnit first. Don’t worry I don’t earn commission or anything from this brand I just want people using the best equipment. Wolverson ( again- no affiliation) are another decent brand for kettlebells and other gym equipment. They focus mostly on functional based equipment.
One of the first movements that you would have tried or will try with a kettlebell is the swing. It looks like a simple movement when watching someone who knows what they are doing demonstrate it. However, beginners in particular all make similar mistakes. The swing is a posterior chain movement so will be working mainly the glutes and hamstrings or at least it should be. You see a lot of people front raising the kettlebell using to much of the shoulders to pull the kettlebell up. You want your arms to stay nice and relaxed during the swing focusing on squeezing the glutes at the top of the movement. If your arms start burning after doing swings then you are not doing them right. One of my pet hates in the fitness industry is when you see people in particular women swinging a kettlebell that is doing absolutley fuck all! You see it often in the gym people swinging a kettlebell that is 6-8kg heavy. Take my word that will do nothing for you. Obviously it would vary depending on fitness levels etc but I would say that most women should be swinging at least a 16kg. I have had 50 year old women swinging a 40kg kettlebell around with no issues. Have more confidence in yourself and get swinging heavy, your booty will thank you for it. If you are member of a gym and a personal trainer tells you to swing a 8kg tell them you want your money back. Personally if you can’t master the swing then do not move onto any other movements before you master this.
Will Kettlebells Get Me Lean?
The beauty of a kettlebell is the amount of exercises you can do with them. If you want to look lean and athletic then these are a great tool for getting you there. There are the ultimate tool for improving everything from muscle gain, fat loss, strength, cardiovascular health, mobility and flexibility. Forget about doing your fifty sit ups at the end of your workout add some kettlebell training to your programme and your core will work overtime. If you are after fat loss which is what the majority of gym users are there for then get hold of a kettlebell in your next workout. They are up there with some of the top calorie burners such as running. A study done by the Amercian Council on Exercise reported that the average person can burn 400 calories in 20 minutes with a kettlebell. I once had a client who participated in a kettlebell class that I ran and was wearing a heart rate monitor. The class was 30 minutes long and the lad was athletic and fit so was working extremely hard. He finished the class with a total of 692 calories burned and was destroyed at the end of the workout. Bare in mind to burn this amount of calories would require you working really hard don’t think that you can do a few reps and be hitting 400 plus calories. I think there is a lot of bullshit sale tactics in the fitness industry where you only hear the good points. It won’t be easy if you want results so don’t ever kid yourself. Its pretty simple, no matter what method you use to get results you will have to put the hard work in.
From working with clients and running kettlebell classes over the years the same problem that occurs is people complaining about lower back issues when moving the kettlebell about. Obviously everyone will have different reasons why this happens. However, some of the common reasons are because they are not using the glutes enough or that the hamstrings are exceptionally tight. My suggestion for improving this would be to review your form on all exercises in particular the swing and get stretching at least once a day. Either check your form by recording yourself or get a trainer from the gym to have a look at your form for you. One thing to make sure you have on point before advancing with other kettlebell moves is your swing, I can’t reinforce it enough.
I will explain how to do some of the movements that I love to do with clients and myself.
Swing – Yes of course that the kettlebell swing was going to be first. It would be a little stupid on my behalf if I had rambled on throughout this blog and not put it as number one. Everyone’s strength levels differ completely, so you will have to play it smart and pick a kettlebell to work with depending on your own level. Once you have decided what weight you are using put the kettlebell in between your legs and take one big step backwards, don’t worry it will make sense soon. Reach forward with both hands and grab onto the handle tight, this will ensure that it will not come out of your hands and hit someone (I have seen it happen) whilst you are carrying out the exercise. Pull the kettlebell in towards your legs but stay focused as it will want to pull you forward. This is when you need to engage your core to control the kettlebell. The reason you step back before pulling it back is so you don’t waste time trying to get the kettlebell moving. The technique that I am explaining to you will ensure you can go straight into your reps. As the kettlebell moves in between your legs you need to thrust your hips forward fast and then squeeze your glutes as tight as you can once the kettlebell reaches shoulder height. Keep the arms and shoulders relaxed at all times of the movement like I discussed earlier and always keep the core tight by squeezing your abs (we all have them).
Goblet Squat – The squat for me would be the next thing to master with a kettlebell. Everyone will have different mobility when it comes to squats so just bare this in mind. Some people will be able to squat deeper than others due to various reasons. Generally you want to squat with your feet facing forward at hip distance apart. The reason I say generally is because depending on your mobility you might have to turn your feet out a little so the squat feels more comfortable. So listen to your body and play around with your stance. Once you have your stance sorted then grab a kettlebell by the horns with a tight grip and hold it chest height. Now you are ready to start moving. With control start to bend the knees and push your hips and glutes back. Never just drop down in to a squat, you see it a lot when there is zero control with the movement and that’s how lower back injuries occur. Try to keep your knees tracking over your feet as a common issue is peoples knees tend to want to knock in towards each other which again long term cause injury. Once you have hit parallel you can begin to drive back up with control until the legs are straight again. Similar with the swing ensure that you squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. If you haven’t got the mobility to go to parallel then go to where feels comfortable and the move you do it the more you will improve.
Push Press – The push press is one of the better upper body moves you can do with a kettlebell. Grab the kettebell by the horns. Once you have your grip in the correct place you will need to hold the kettlebell about chest height. The push press is a little easier than the strict press on the upper body as you are engaging the legs aswell in the move. Bend the legs a little but be careful not to drop into a squat as this is the mistake most people do. You only need to bend the legs a little to get some drive from the glutes. As you begin to stand again start to press the kettlebell upwards until the arms straighten. Once they have fully locked out ensure that you squeeze your glutes and core tight. One of the other common errors in the move is the timing of locking the legs and arms. This should be done together as you want to use the momentum from the legs to push a heavier weight overall.
One Arm Row – I have started to use these a lot during my own workouts and with clients as I love how much the movement engages the core aswell as working the upper back. First thing first is the safety of the one arm rows. Make sure your back is in a straight line at all times and don’t rock back and forth whilst carrying out the exercise. If you start rocking then that is a signal to go to a lower weight. Start with a slight bend in the knees and then push your butt out as much as possible as you bend over to get into the starting position. Pick up the kettlebell and pull it to your stomach, retracting your shoulder blade and flexing the elbow. Then lower the kettlebell with control and repeat for amount of reps that you have.
So the question is…are kettlebells king? In my opinion I think they are. You can literally do anything with a kettlebell, whether your goal is getting stronger, fitter, or gaining muscle and getting leaner. It all can be done with some ketllebells. Get swinging guys as thats where it all starts.