Kettlebells Kick Butt (In More Ways Than One)
It’s tough to imagine a more archaic-looking piece of strength-training equipment (although the core hammer is a close second). Essentially a cannonball with a handle, iron kettlebells were first introduced in the 1700s by Russian strongmen who developed techniques of swinging and lifting the orbs as a way to build strength, balance, flexibility and endurance. As it turns out, the kettlebell was way ahead of its time. Today, kettlebells are a common fixture in health clubs, studios and even home gyms, as everyone from student athletes to octogenarians seek the benefits of this often-intense form of training, which, as it turns out, aren’t limited to stronger muscles.
As kettlebells were gaining in popularity at the start of the previous decade, ACE-supported research analyzed the benefits of kettlebell training by having participants complete an eight-week training program and comparing the outcomes to a control group. Twice each week, the training group performed a class that began with a five-minute active warm-up, followed by 30 to 45 minutes of kettlebell exercises and a 10-minute cool-down.
The kettlebell exercises performed included one- and two-handed swings, snatches, cleans, presses, lunges and Turkish get-ups. The participants began the program with a kettlebell weight that felt manageable and progressed to heavier weights as they felt more comfortable with the movements.
What the researchers found was that kettlebell training significantly boosts aerobic capacity, while also improving core strength and dynamic balance.
While increases in strength and even balance are to be expected with a resistance-training program, these results are particularly interesting. After all, when most people think of resistance training, they don’t typically think of being able to improve their aerobic capacity, which is a marker of cardiorespiratory fitness. The participants in the training group saw a 13.8% increase in their aerobic capacity, which is in line with what one might see with a regular cycling program, and more dramatic than what is typically seen with a walking program.
Even the improvement in core strength is a bit of a surprise—those in the training group saw a 70% increase in core strength—as these workouts did not include any exercises that directly targeted the muscles of the core. With kettlebells, you’re able to get a wide variety of benefits with one pretty intense workout.
If you haven’t incorporated kettlebells into your clients’ training programs, this research offers some pretty persuasive reasons why you should probably consider doing so. Of course, the dynamic nature of kettlebell training means that proper form is even more essential. Additionally, the researchers provided the following guidelines to help ensure your clients train both safely and effectively:
- Ensure that you have sufficient education and training in the proper use of kettlebells. You can find numerous kettlebell-related articles and videos on the ACE website, along with continuing education opportunities (see Expand Your Knowledge, below), on everything from proper technique to safety issues.
- Have your clients complete a minimum of two or three kettlebell training sessions with you before attempting to train on their own. Focus on proper form and technique.
- Remind clients to always lift with their legs, never with their back.
- Consider using a workout video that demonstrates proper form.
A Kettlebell Workout to Share With Clients
The following kettlebell workout features a variety of exercises targeting all major muscle groups and can be a great addition to your current exercise routine. If your client is new to working with kettlebells, consider having them practice the movements without weight initially and then gradually increase the load and intensity. Once they have mastered the movements, they can perform the workout on their own on days they aren’t training with you. (Note: ACE Certified Professionals have exclusive access to an interactive handout featuring this workout that can be shared with clients. Download it at the link at the top of this page.)
Instructions for your clients:
- Perform this routine on two nonconsecutive days per week.
- Perform each warm-up exercise for one set of eight to 15 repetitions on each side or moving in each direction. For the suitcase carry, walk for 30 seconds while holding the kettlebell in one hand and then for another 30 seconds while holding the kettlebell in the other hand.
- For the exercises in the conditioning segment, performing one set of each exercise listed equals one round. Perform one to four rounds, beginning with one round and gradually adding additional rounds as your fitness and experience levels progress. Perform eight to 15 repetitions of each exercise in the order presented with two to three minutes of rest between sets.
- For the cool-down, perform each movement for a total of 30 to 60 seconds at the point of feeling tightness or slight discomfort. You can hold each position for the total time or perform multiple repetitions that accumulate a total of 30 to 60 seconds.