What is a kettlebell? It’s used for weight lifting, and it comes in the shape of a big iron ball the shape of a bell, with a handle on the top. They come in varying weights, but because of their historical russian origin, the most common size is 16 kg, a unit of weight they call a “pood”. In certain russian cultures, it’s a sign of passage from boyhood to man, when a male can press a 32 kg bell over his head with one arm.
Why lift the kettlebells? Why not just weights? Kettlebells have several advantages over barbells and dumbells. Kettlebell lifts are fluid, dynamic movements and demand that your body maintain a technical form throughtout the movement. Rather than workout a single muscle group in isolation, kettlebells train you to mobilize whole sets of muscles in rapidly changing succession. This builds a very functional fitness, and develops the central nervous system much more than weight training.
The functional aspect of kettlebell training can dramatically improve your posture. By training your hip muscles to be flexible and powerful, it will give your spine a solid foundation to rest on, which has done wonders for my lower back. The dynamic movements done with kettlebells are a full body workout, every muscle in the body can be used in many moves. This is physically very demanding and kettlebell workouts have a higher caloric burn than almost any other form of exercise. This rewards you with excellent metabolic conditioning and does wonders for leaning out your physique.
Kettlebell lifting requires proper training. When moving heavy weights through dynamic movements, you can seriously injure yourself. Unlike a typical weight training injury where you might just have an arm or leg injury and be out for a few weeks, a kettlebell injury can be a spine injury which could result in permanent effects. While this sounds quite scary, correctly done kettlebell workouts will train the muscles and movements to improve your posture, improve how you lift anything, and give you long lasting back and spine health. Many people with back injuries take up kettlebell lifting and have great success at overcoming stubborn back problems. In training you will work with lighter weights usually for a few weeks until you can do every repitition as a perfect repitition, then gradually start incorporating heavier weights into your routine.
Kettlebells aren’t only unparalled in their capabilities as a fitness tool, they are really fun to workout with! The dynamic movements of a kettlebell will have you in complete focus of the individual repitition. Your mind won’t have any spare cycles to become bored when you’re swinging fifty pounds around. I’ve always found doing sit-ups and crunches a pretty boring part of a workout, and tend to skip those exercises. With the kettlebell swings, it’s such a joy to heft the bell to chest height, then hike-pass it between the legs, that you don’t even notice at the time that you’re also getting one hell of an ab-workout, all the while also getting a great leg and butt workout.
I’ve been taking kettlebell lessons three days a week for the last ten weeks (monday/wednesday/friday at 6:15 am). These classes are taught by Russian Kettlebell Certified (RKC) trainer Steve McMinn. Steve is an awesome trainer. He ensures our saftey by keeping a vigilant eye on the class to ensure to catch and correct our form as soon as we stray to poor form for even one repitition. For me, when I started out, never having ever done any kind of weight training before, I had terrible form (really terrible actually, most other people brand new to the sport seem to learn a bit quicker). It tooks weeks of corrections for me to learn to keep a straight back and keep the shoulders securely in the shoulder sockets. But every time I did a wrong repitition, the mistake was caught by Steve. We are always encouraged to slow-down and re-do the movement with good form. We were drilled in the mantra of “Reps mean nothing, only perfect form counts.”, and my technique was transformed so that today my muscle memory is becoming honed so that it feels unnatural to use bad form. On top of Steve’s great attention to detail in mastering the techniques, he’s also a really easy going guy, so the classes are fun and relaxed. Pretty much the perfect environment for learning kettlebells … except the 6:15 a.m. start.
Yesterday I purchased my own set of kettlebells, from local distributor Canadian Kettlebells. I now own one 12 kg bell, two 16 kg bells, and two 24 kg bells. Ten weeks ago, when I started with the bells, I was lifting only the 8 kg and the 12 kg bells, and was feeling brutalized by those lighter bells. When I started moving up to the 16 kg bell, I felt quite a bit of muscle soreness in my low back. I took it slowly though, and adjusted to the weight over time. A month later I went through the same process with the 24 kg bell. Today I can heft the 16 kg bell around with ease, and my back responds to this once daughnting weight with joy – no pain or soreness, just solid muscle and tendon satisfaction in hips and back. I’ve also packed on a lot of muscle, I barely recognize my arms or shoulder from just a couple months ago. I haven’t lost any weight, but I haven’t gained any either, and I’m certainly packing around a lot more muscle than I used to have. I do wear my belt one notch shorter than I used to and even that is starting to feel loose around the waist!
I took some photos of me and my new kettlebell set, which I’ve posted in a set on Flikcr. For some more inspirational watching on the wonders of kettlebells, check out these ones on YouTube: Kettlebell basics with Steve Cotter (the first kettlebell video I ever watched), Amber Dornfeld: Queen of Kettlebells, or just about any of the videos posted on the Dragon Door channel. Now get out there and lift, and feel good!