Kettlebells have been around for a really, really, long time. They have been used in rehab, to improve athletic performance, and to help lots of people with their fitness.
How does using them differ from strength training with dumbbells, barbells, or a circuit of machines? Should you consider using them to kick your workouts up a notch?
I would put it to you that just knowing a bit about what’s going on with kettlebell training can give you a different perspective on your current workouts. Then, you can decide for yourself whether to change things up, with or without using kettlebells.
Benefits of Kettlebells
Let me point out a few of the ways using Kettlebells (responsibly) can be good for you.
- Because you have to hang on to the handle as the kettlebell moves around, it is good for your grip and forearm muscles in ways that aren’t duplicated when you use a dumbbell.
- Several of the classic kettlebell exercises involve swinging it to the front, or side-to-side. This means you have to cope with a constantly changing center of gravity in your body, which challenges your core, balance, and many of your stabilizing muscles (including some really deep ones which may not get worked otherwise).
- Being able to swing a kettlebell also helps to improve your flexibility and range of motion, particularly in your shoulders. Here is where they can be used in rehabilitation or injury prevention.
- The biggie for athletes of all sorts is that kettlebells can be used to great effect to increase your POWER ENDURANCE. Power endurance is the ability to produce movements over an extended period of time. (FYI, STRENGTH ENDURANCE is the ability to produce FORCE over an extended period of time.) Think about it…if you can sustain fast muscle contractions over a period of time, it can help you end up a winner in your sport. AND this sort of endurance can really improve what you can do in your regular life as well.
- Finally, kettlebells can make for a really efficient, total body workout. In a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, after 8 weeks of following a comprehensive set of moves using kettlebells, participants showed improvements in strength, aerobic capacity, balance, and a dramatic increase (70%) in core strength.
Just so you know, kettlebells do have their limitations.
For one thing, if you want to bulk up by increasing your strength a lot, dumbbells and barbells are still the way to go. After all, you can hoist 100+ pounds using barbells, but kettlebells don’t come that heavy!
For another, you need to use some caution when starting to use kettlebells. Here’s where I can get on my soap box (oh boy…can’t wait!). In order to swing kettlebells, you need to have a good solid hip hinge in your arsenal in order to protect your low back. (see my blog, A Little Move That Means a Lot). You also need to be able to use your core, butt, and legs, and not your low back as you do several of the moves. Swinging and lifting kettlebells often involves dynamic, fast movements. Good form is critical. (By the way, good form is ALWAYS critical AND having a great hip hinge is fundamental!)
What Have We Learned?
So there you have it.
- Kettlebells can be really useful for building strength, power, balance, and can give you some cardiovascular benefits as well (if you do a whole, guided, workout with them).
- Kettlebells can add a dynamic aspect to your training that is hard to get with dumbbells or barbells. Dynamic, meaning that using kettlebells correctly can help you move better, react faster, and even get more flexible.
- You MUST have a great hip hinge! For just about everything! (sorry…can’t help it)
You can decide if you want to use kettlebells. But, meanwhile, you can use this information to help you think about your own workouts and what you are getting (or not) from them.
Cheers, and keep moving!
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