I talk to a lot of people about kettlebells (I love to talk and I love kettlebells. This is a winning combo) and due to the fact that 99% of the population knows little or nothing about kettlebells, everyone always has questions. Some of the more common ones are:
“Will kettlebells make me bulky?“
“Is kettlebell lifting dangerous?“
“Are kettlebells only for young people/fit people/strong people?“
But by far, the one most frequently asked question is: Why kettlebells?
As in “Why structure a workout around kettlebells?”
The general notion among the average exerciser seems to be that kettlebells are only really good for ballistic movements: swings, snatches, etc. and that they’re only good for light, high-rep stuff.
The structure of the kettlebell definitely lends itself very well to ballistic movements (as well as overhead movements) but it doesn’t stop there. Far from it. Just off the top of my head I can think of dozens of kettlebell exercises and variations that would keep you busy for decades.
So why kettlebells?
If nothing else, then it’s gotta be because of their versatility. Plain and simple. Kettlebells allow you to do most anything you can do with a dumbbell or barbell (usually as well and often better) and to get boatloads of work done in record time. Plus, the thick handle and offset center of gravity makes them more challenging and awkward to lift – a very true-to-life skill (you will not likely have to lift anything as perfectly calibrated as a quality barbell or dumbbell in real life. Most things you lift will be awkward and heavy). Though I hate to use the hackneyed, impossible-to-define word “functional” regarding fitness…with that in mind, kettlebells are pretty damned functional.
Not only that, kettlebell workouts are incredibly time efficient and energy inefficient. This is important for your strength, health, fitness, and fat loss – not to mention your sanity.
So why are time efficiency and energy inefficiency important in strength, health, fitness, and fat-loss? Let’s go point by point.
Strength: If you are a professional, high-level weightlifter or powerlifter, you can afford to spend multiple hours in the gym training every day. It’s your job, and odds are you’re looking to break a national or world record. You’d be a fool not to! But is world-record smashing your goal with your kettlebell workouts? I’m guessing not. Your goal is probably to 1) look good naked, 2) feel better, and 3) have enough energy to keep up with your kids.
Pavel Tsatsouline, world renown kettlebell and strength expert, has stated (I paraphrase): “in training for absolute strength, the length of your sets should be between 10 and 20 seconds.” That sounds like a ridiculously short amount of time, and it is. Strength requires high muscle tension, and such tension starts to fade if held for too long. That’s not to say there’s no use for sets that last longer than 20 seconds – just that if absolutel strength (i.e. one-rep max strength) is what you’re after, this should be your bread and butter. Strength is a very important attribute in any other goal you have – be it general fitness, endurance, fat loss, etc. (more on why in an upcoming article – stay tuned). Beyond that, who doesn’t have 10-20 seconds throughout the day? If you seriously want to argue that you don’t have even that kind of time to spare, then stop reading this and get back to work.
Health: “Health” doesn’t just mean the quality of your internal organs or how NOT sick you are (I can’t really think of a better way to describe it). It also has very much to do with the integrity and quality of your soft tissues as well. Here are a few definitions of health:
· The overall condition of an organism at a given time.
· Soundness, especially of body or mind; freedom from disease or abnormality.
This means that eating healthy is huge, but it’s not the only thing – it’s a part of the overall condition of an organism (i.e. you). You’ll also have to include how well you sleep, stress levels, etc. in addition to the usual suspects of exercise and nutrition.
Keeping in mind how time efficient kettlebell workouts can be, skipping exercise as part of your health regimen – particularly brief and intense exercise a la kettlebell workouts and calisthenics training – due to “lack of time” is a poor excuse. Learn a few moves and strengthen your body inside and out.
Fitness: Even if brute strength isn’t one of your goals (shame on you!) kettlebells will get you undeniably fit (whatever that means to you). If you want to improve your cardio, build some muscle, and do a variety of other things without investing in hundreds or thousands of dollars’ worth of disparate equipment. Don’t believe me? Buy one kettlebell, go find a StrongFirst certified instructor and learn the Hardstyle Swing. You will be sweating bullets and sucking wind like it was your job – and that’ll only be the first thirty seconds. Did I mention kettlebell training is time efficient?
Fat-loss: This is a huge one. Everybody these days wants to lose fat. And who can blame them? It’s not attractive and too much of it around your frame is unhealthy. Earlier I mentioned the importance of time efficiency and energy inefficiency in achieving all the above goals. By now you can probably grasp how easy it is to be time efficient with a kettlebell – but how does being inefficient with your energy help you with anything? There are a variety of answers for all of the above categories, but I saved the best for last.
Let’s take marathon runners vs. sprinters for example. Both are doing the same activity (running), but one is being efficient and the other is being inefficient. Can you guess which one is being inefficient?
Answer: the sprinter. Why? Because walking 40 yards takes hardly anything out of you. Sprinting 40 yards, on the other hand, takes a lot of energy – which will leave you huffing and puffing by the time you reach the end.
And whose body would you rather have? The sprinter’s or the marathon runner’s?
Kettlebell workouts are ideal for getting fit and losing fat fast because you can easily move from one exercise to the next without changing weights, equipment, or setting the kettlebell down – all of which will reduce your rest time during your sets as you hang onto the kettlebell longer than you might care to. Here are a few free sample kettlebell workouts:
Equipment: 1 moderately heavy kettlebell
5 one-arm swings
Rack carry for distance
Rest and repeat on the opposite side
Here’s another good one
Equipment: 1 moderately heavy kettlebell
1 Turkish get up per side
Suitcase carry for distance
5 squats per side
10 swings per side
Rest and repeat.
Repeat one of these 3-5 times and call it a day.
If you REALLY want to ramp up your fat loss (or strength, health, and fitness, for that matter) you’ve GOT to add calisthenics exercises into the fold. Here’s an example of a brutishly simple workout combining some basic calisthenics and basic kettlebell moves.
10 kettlebell swings
10 squats (with or without kettlebell)
10 bodyweight rows
Suitcase carry for distance
Crawl for distance
Rest and repeat
You get the idea. Much more difficult than walking on a treadmill and watching TV or sitting on a recumbent bike reading Us Weekly.
So there you have it. The answers to the most asked question. To sum up the question “Why kettlebells?”
· Because they’re time efficient, energy inefficient, and almost anyone can use them
· They’re convenient and can be stored anywhere
· They can be mixed with calisthenics (bodyweight) exercises for maximum effect
· They can help you achieve a variety of goals with minimal equipment
· They’re just plain fun!
Well, what are you waiting for? Get swinging! Look up a StrongFirst instructor in your area and get started. You have nothing to lose but body fat and weakness.
Strong First, Strong Always!
Aleks Salkin, SFG II