Last week, I had the memorable experience of attending the Midwest Mania Fitness Conference out in Rosemont, IL. I had two full days of intense training and lecture. One of those workshops that I had enrolled in was specifically geared toward kettle bell/ kettle weight training. This was a workshop that I had wanted to take for a while and I was very happy that I did. There is a reason why this mode of training has become so popular in recent years- it works! Throughout this article I will discussing the history of kettle bell training, some of the many benefits it has to offer, how they are used, as well as some specific exercises.

Originally used as counter- weights in Russian markets, a kettle bell is an ancient training tool which some have said resembles a cannonball with a handle. Being that Russian people valued physical strength, they eventually began using them for strength training. They also became popular among circus strongmen, fishermen, hunters, and soldiers. In recent years, kettle bell training has been introduced in the US as Russian coaches and athletes immigrated to this country. Since then, kettle bell training has seen a significant rise in popularity, and for good reason. There many benefits that can be derived from it.

Activation of stabilizing muscles: Research has shown that kettle bell training is far more effective at training stabilizing muscles than dumbbells. By “stabilizing” I mean the surrounding musculature of the targeted muscle group that is to be worked. This is largely due to the displacement force of the kettle bell from the hand as well as the use of multi- joint movements that are often used with kettle bells. Exercises that have a strong impact on stabilizing muscles are considered to be the most effective because they have a positive training effect on the entire body.

Improves functional movement patterns: By “functional”, I mean that there is a strong carry- over into the activities of daily living. Because multi-joint movements are easily performed using kettle bells, we can then specifically train those movements that we perform in everyday life, thereby enhancing our well- being.

Improved muscular strength and endurance: Regardless of what the goal is, muscular strength and endurance is significantly increased by kettle bell training, and the core is specifically challenged. With increased muscle mass also comes fat loss. All of this leads to the inevitable aesthetic benefits of muscular hypertrophy and definition. I’ve never heard any complaints about that.

Creates variety in a workout program: Kettle bell training provides a different type of workout. This can lead to increased motivation and decreased burnout. Most of my clients really seem to enjoy kettle bells and even report that they are fun. In the end, variety in training is what really leads to results.

Two types of lifts that are emphasized in kettle weight training are tension lifts and ballistic lifts. Examples of ballistic lifts would include the snatch, the jerk, and the clean and jerk. This type of lift requires an explosive multi- joint effort in order to propel the weight into position. Since multiple joints are utilized in these types of movements, more muscle groups are thereby activated. These exercises also tend to place a greater emphasis on the core as well as increase caloric expenditure.

During a tension lift, an isometric (no movement) contraction is required throughout the body, as the upper body explodes into a multi- joint effort. The over- head press would be a good example of this. The lower body contracts in an isometric fashion while the shoulder and elbow joint propel the weight of the kettle bell into the overhead position. Both types of lifts are good and can derive benefits.

Kettle bells are different from dumbbells and barbells because they have less stability. Because of the structure of a kettle bell, the body is constantly reacting to inertia and the changing center of gravity in relation to the base of support. This structure makes way for ballistic type movements such as the swing which can have a tremendous strengthening effect on the muscles of the posterior chain (low back, legs, and shoulders). It is also very easy to train the body in multiple planes using kettle bells (sagittal, frontal, & transverse). This multi- joint/ multi- plane approach to training can greatly enhance movements and activities of daily life and can also be used as a way to train athletes with sport specific exercises. This goes to show that kettle bells can be an invaluable tool for people of all different fitness levels.

One of the most popular kettle bell exercises is the two handed swing, which can be highly effective at training that posterior chain. This is especially important for people who sit a lot for work because the shoulders can become rounded and the hip musculature can become chronically tight and weak. The two handed swing can be a great corrective exercise for this because of the forward driving motion of the hips. The core and shoulders are also strongly activated making this a very dynamic and functional exercise. However, as with all other exercises, care must be taken to learn proper form and technique. Please don’t just take my word for it; go buy a training session and ask for an introduction to kettle bell exercises. You’ll thank me.

Other highly effective kettle bell exercises (as I mentioned before) include: the overhead press, the clean, the snatch, the jerk, and the clean and jerk. Many gyms and health clubs are now offering small group classes that incorporate these exercises as well as many others. Many people enjoy this group setting because of the reduced cost of a training session, the fun of being involved in a group class, as well as having the guidance of a certified instructor. Many people also report that it adds a nice zest of variety to their workout programs. What’s not to like?

Kettle bell training is a highly effective mode of training that offers many benefits. From the highly functional carry- over to our activities of daily living, to increased strength and endurance, to fat loss, to the fun factor, there is something for everyone when training with kettle bells. If you are interested in learning more, I am now a Certified Instructor. Feel free to reach out to me or to any other trainer who has experience with kettle bells. Please be sure to learn proper form and technique for all of these exercises before attempting to try any of them. Form always comes first!

Thanks for reading. Be healthy!