By Nicole Radziszewski |
When Jenn D’Ambrosio showed up for her first kettlebell class last March, she was already pretty fit from lifting weights and playing sports. But D’Ambrosio (who is a physical-education teacher and basketball coach) was shocked at how much swinging a kettlebell elevated her heart rate. “The first session was really intense,” says the Chicago resident. “I didn’t realize how much of a cardio workout I’d get out of it.”
What surprised D’Ambrosio even more were the results. After three months of kettlebell training, she noticed major improvements not just in her physique, but also in her basketball game. “I can play a lot longer than I could before, my jumping has improved, and I’m more powerful on the court,” says D’Ambrosio. “Using kettlebells has really helped with explosive movement.”
To understand the benefits of a kettlebell workout, it’s handy to know something about the weight’s history. These uniquely shaped weights date back to ancient Greece and then to 18th-century Russia, where they were used as counterweights to measure grains and other goods. At Russian market fairs, vendors started swinging and lifting these kettlebells to show off their strength in movements mimicking farm work — from pitching hay to shoveling manure. These displays of power developed into a sport in the 1940s and were popularized by the Soviet military for training in the 1960s.
Today’s established kettlebell movements, like their agrarian predecessors, engage the entire body for a holistic, functional workout.
Shaped like a cannonball with a handle, a kettlebell is weighted off-center compared with a dumbbell and extends beyond your hand, increasing the lever effect of the weight. Moving it requires both speed and strength — a combination that builds power, or the ability to contract one’s muscles rapidly. This makes many kettlebell exercises suitable for high-intensity interval training or other formats of cardiovascular exercise.
In recent years, kettlebells have become as common as free weights in most American gyms. And they are among the simplest training tools to use, says Fawn Friday, a Russian Kettlebell Certified instructor and personal trainer in St. Paul, Minn.
“What I like about kettlebells is that while there is skill involved, the skill required to use them is pretty low,” says Friday, who has worked with people of all fitness backgrounds, from athletic teens to sedentary older adults. “Most people catch on and can move safely the first time they use kettlebells.”
Ready to start swinging? Try this workout designed by Friday — a simple, effective routine that works your entire body with just one kettlebell.
This workout, designed by kettlebell coach Fawn Friday, uses one kettlebell for all exercises. Friday suggests starting with a weight that you can comfortably push-press above your head for 10 repetitions. (This ensures that you will be able to perform the kettlebell clean and press.) If you find that this weight is too easy for the other exercises in the circuit, feel free to use two different-size kettlebells. You can perform this workout up to three times a week.
Perform two sets of each exercise, alternating between exercises.
- Reps: 10 to 15
- To switch sides, use your lats to “pull” the kettlebell back to the rack position. Then use both hands to switch the weight to the rack position on the right side.
Perform each exercise in this circuit for 30 seconds, followed by 20 seconds of rest. Perform the one-handed exercises on the left or right side until you complete the circuit. Then, repeat the circuit using the other hand for those exercises. Do the three-exercise circuit six times (three times using each hand), resting for one minute between each round.
1. Two-Hand Swing
- Keep swinging in this manner until you have finished your set. Allow the kettlebell to slow to a stop and return it to the starting position.
2. Clean and Press
- Reverse the direction of the kettlebell by extending your hips, straightening your legs, and strongly contracting your glutes. Instead of swinging the kettlebell out in front of you, pull the kettlebell up the front of your body into the rack position. This is called “cleaning” the kettlebell. Keep your right elbow close to your rib cage as you do this move. At the top of the clean, your right palm should face inward, and the kettlebell should rest on the V-shape formed by your upper and lower arm.
- Use your lats to pull the kettlebell back to the rack position in a controlled manner.
Hike and Re-Clean
- Catch the kettlebell with your hips, then reverse the motion and perform another clean followed by another press.
3. Reverse Lunge
- Push off with your right heel and straighten your right leg as you bring your left leg forward and return to standing.
Hold the kettlebell overhead, as in the Waiter’s Walk.
This article originally appeared as “Get a Handle On It” in the December 2013 issue of Experience Life.
Kettlebell swings can seem intimidating, especially if you have a history of lower-back issues. According to kettlebell coach Fawn Friday, the key is mastering the hip hinge.”Whenever you swing a kettlebell, you hinge at your hips while your spine stays netural. The hinge movement of the swing encourages the lifter to keep his or her core tight, almost intuitively,” says Friday.