Eight Reasons to Train With Kettlebells

It’s no secret that I love kettlebell training. As much as I enjoy other tools like barbells, sandbags, and rings there is just something about the kettlebell that makes it a mainstay as my primary training modality.  It’s definitely the favorite child, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

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So why kettlebell training? Well, there is a whole host of reasons for implementing this multi-pupose tool into your workout regimen. Let’s examine a few:

1. Versatility

Looking to improve your endurance? Strength? Flexibility? Maybe you want to build muscle or lose fat? Yeah, a kettlebell can help you with all of those.  This thing is like the swiss army knife of fitness. If you are smart with programming a kettlebell can provide the training stimulus to help you with any of those worthy goals.

Grinds (think squat, deadlift, press, etc.) with heavy weight, high tension, and low reps can help you build muscle and strength. Ballistic moves (swing, snatch, clean) lend themselves to higher reps which can skyrocket your endurance and burn a ton of calories at the same time. Flexibility is touched by all of these, as they recruit multiple areas of the body to take it  through it’s full range of motion, requiring stability every step along the way.

You can program workouts to focus exclusively on each of these areas or, as is often the case, you can combine them to create an intense, efficient session that rolls it all into one. As far as bang for your buck goes, the kettlebell is king.

2. Injury Proofing

Go find me a kettlebell enthusiast with bad shoulders or low back pain.

I’ll wait…

….

What’s that? You can’t? That’s because kettlebell training will help both of these areas.  The associated lifts utilize shoulder packing, which is a very protective and stable position for the shoulder. In addition, the unique design of the kettlebell with it’s handle and offset weight, allows the user to move it along the body’s natural patterns, unlike a barbell. The use of the stabilizer muscles, which get forgotten about during isolation lifts, get recruited, and are key for strong, efficient movements.

As far as back pain goes, proper kettebell technique strengthens the glutes and hips through the use of a hip hinge pattern and teaching you to generate power from these areas. Strengthening these muscles will cause you to use your back less. Additionally there is a focus on abdominal bracing throughout all of the movement, which will build up your core strength more than any number of crunches ever will and further protect the back.

Then there’s the improvements to mobility and flexibility. The easier it is to move your body through it’s full range of motion the less likely your are to get injured. Although I’m not a physical therapist, nor pretend to play one on the Internet, I’ve effectively used kettlebell training to rehab back and shoulder injuries from pushing my barbell work too hard.

3. Develop Skills

Napolean Dynamite taught us that girls like guys with skills and you’ll be acquiring an entire set of them for sure. Kettlebell training requires a certain level of skill as many of the moves are surprisingly technical. I learned this firsthand when I attended an RKC workshop and completely overhauled my form. Developing skills takes practice. That can be empowering for some people as it turns into a point of focus to continually strive for improvement. In the fitness industry, and particularly when it comes to fat loss, too much emphasis is put on achieving maximum calorie burn during the workout and punishing yourself.

Instead we work on skills. Refining and improving technique leads to easier movements. Easier movements means more work can be done in less time and that can skyrocket results. Besides, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a flawlessly executed snatch or Turkish get up. It’s something to be proud of.

4. Fat Loss

This was touched on earlier but worth reiterating. The basic formula for fat loss may look something like this:

Sensible Eating + More muscle (weight training) + Calorie burn (Cardio) = Fat Loss.

While the kettlbell can’t control what you put in your mouth (one of it’s few shortcomings), it can definitely help with the other two. A study from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) showed that just a minute of swings can burn up to 20 calories, which is the equivalent of running at a 6 minute mile pace (1). It’s easy to see that in just a 20-25 minute workout you could burn hundreds of calories.

Training compound movements like squats and deadlifts can trigger the release of growth hormone that helps build more muscle mass.  This is a good thing when it comes to fat loss as that extra muscle can boost your resting metabolic rate and lead to more of a calorie burn throughout the day. Don’t be alarmed though, the metabolic cost of the workouts won’t bulk you up like a bodybuilder unless you train to. Instead the training typically builds functional muscle and an athletic physique that looks like it belongs on the set of a superhero movie.

5. Train movements, not muscles

There are no isolation exercises when training with kettlebells. Due to the offset nature of the weight your stabilizers are constantly working and getting stronger. You are not stuck in a machine, boringly working a single body part or muscle. You’re involving your whole body and getting much more out of the workout because of it. Your tendons, ligaments and joints will get stronger too through the dynamic acceleration and deceleration of the lifts, and that strengthening of the entire body will lend itself to easier everyday movement. The whole body is connected so it makes no sense to train each muscle as an individual part. Instead we focus on the different movement patterns, and in the process hit all of the muscle groups and unify the body.

6. Build explosive power and athleticism

The hips are the main driver in moving the kettlebell during the ballistic lifts and this has a major crossover to sports, where power and drive from the hips is commonplace. It’s no wonder many athletic programs are beginning to use kettlebells.  Unlike several traditional lifts, the ballistic skills cannot be performed slowly, which means that force needs to be generated each and every time. High rep ballistic skills thus improve power-endurance, and aspect of athletic performance that isn’t necessarily as easy to train as straight up strength or conditioning.

7. Efficiency

A tool as versatile as the kettlebell lends itself to efficient workouts.  The multitude of training effects it bestows, means you can accomplish multiple goals in a short amount of time. Train for strength, power, endurance, fat loss, and mobility all in one short session. This has huge implications in the time crunched society we live in today. The days of one hour workouts (minimum) in the gym are long gone.

Instead you can wake up and crush a ten minute workout in your bedroom in your underwear. Or take a kettlebell to the office and do a little something over your lunch break. On a long road trip? Once you hit up that rest stop knock out a quick session to wake yourself up. Short, intense workouts are the norm, leaving you more time to focus on other areas of your life. Time is no longer an excuse.

8. Build mental and physical toughness

You can make kettlebell workouts as hard as you wish. Once you’ve built up sufficient skills there’s no reason not to push the envelope and test yourself. Timed, high rep sets of ballistic movements or complexes (multiple skills performed one after the other) will challenge your strength, endurance, grip, and more importantly, your mind. Anyone can get strong, but not everyone can get tough. Kettlebell training will do both.

From just this short list, which by all means is not all inclusive, it’s easy to see why kettlebell training is so effective. It’s doing wonderful things for your body by strengthening the posterior chain (hips, glutes, back, and shoulders). These muscles unfortunately are underused these days due to our sedentary nature, and are often looked over by traditional weightlifting programs. By building them up you’ll see everyday activities get easier. Things like taking the stairs, getting down and up from the floor to play with kids, hauling groceries across the parking lot, or slinging that super heavy snowfall off your driveway are suddenly much easier than they were before. This is all due to the nature of the kettlebell movements.

There’s just something special about a tool that, frankly, gets you better at life. Why would you not train with one?

Submax Superset "Fun"isher #4
Submax Superset "Fun"isher #3

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