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Exercising With Kettlebells

Have you heard about kettlebells? Fitness enthusiasts, ranging from young to not so young, nonathletes to superstars, are starting to find use for this cast-iron tool that has its roots in Russia. A kettlebell is a weight shaped like a giant cannonball with a single U-shaped handle. The kettlebell’s unique spherical shape provides the ability to work with curvilinear movements, centrifugal force and momentum. Often referred to as the “original Russian hand weights,” kettlebells are typically made of pure cast iron and come in a wide variety of sizes and weights, from just a few pounds to over 100 pounds. Many kettlebells can now be found in a variety of sizes, weights and colors.

Curious about this useful strength-building device? Get the scoop below from Shannon Fable, 2006 ACE Group Fitness Instructor of the Year, a 2009 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year finalist and founder and CEO of Sunshine Fitness Resources LLC, a fitness consulting firm in Boulder, Colorado.

Why Kettlebells?

While traditional strength training tools and techniques favor isolated, single-joint movements, there has been a trend toward more multijoint, multiplanar movements to create well-rounded, functional training programs. Kettlebell training takes functional training one step further by introducing momentum. Working out with a kettlebell can be a time-efficient way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, plus muscular strength and endurance, while simultaneously enhancing balance, core strength, coordination and posture. Also, the movements performed with kettlebells typically recruit the entire body, which can shorten the time needed for a well-rounded workout.

Momentum training is one of the most unusual aspects of kettlebell training. Swinging the kettlebell increases rotation inertia, and the body recruits muscles to direct and control that momentum, thus mimicking real-life movements.

Who Benefits?

With the wide array of choices and the variety of exercises that can be executed, almost anyone can use a kettlebell. Men appreciate the heavier weight and the training specificity, while women enjoy the full-body movements, along with the heart-pumping nature of a continuous workout. Veteran exercisers find that the training regimen provides a new stimulus that jumpstarts their routines. And everyone appreciates the straightforward, functional exercises that transfer easily to daily living.

Kettlebell Safety

Like any strength equipment, kettlebells can cause serious injury when used inappropriately. Proper use requires strength, coordination and practice. Because most swing exercises require a higher amount of weight than most people can typically press or pull, technique is extremely important. Each kettlebell exercise involves multiple joints and muscle groups plus momentum. It takes time to adjust to these new demands. Mastering the movement patterns requires guidance, instruction and patience. The biggest mistake you can make is lifting a kettlebell that is too heavy to control.

If you are concerned about using a traditional kettlebell, try a rubberized one. For guidance in working with kettlebells, seek the help of a certified personal trainer.

Sample Kettlebell Exercises

The most common kettlebell exercise is the swing. The swing should be viewed as the foundation exercise and needs to be mastered before you do other momentum exercises. For help in putting together a complete kettlebell exercise program, see a certified personal trainer experienced in this type of fitness tool.

One-Arm Swing. Grasp handle with one hand in overhand grip with slight elbow bend. Position feet slightly wider than hip width, and assume athletic stance. Upper body should be upright, with chest lifted and shoulder blades retracted. Free arm should be out to side of body. Rotate body slightly, allowing kettlebell to hang between legs. Initiate swing by rocking hips (versus using shoulders to lift bell). Raise bell upward with momentum, and give forceful hip thrust at top of movement. Bell should go no higher than eye level, with bell pointed away from body at end of arm. Allow gravity to bring bell downward in controlled manner. Keep spine at neutral, rather than rounded, at bottom of movement. Perform desired number of repetitions.

One-Arm Alternating Swing. Repeat steps above (one-arm swing), but switch to other hand at top of movement.

Two-Arm Swing. Perform in same manner as one-arm swing, but with two-hand grip on handle.

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