With kettlebell training, your muscle mass and especially explosive strength (‘power’) increase and you also give your metabolism a kick in the butt.
KETTLEBELL, A BRIEF HISTORY
If you think the kettlebell is something new, you are wrong. This cast iron training tool is at least 300 years old. The kettlebell, or ‘girya’ in Russian, originated in Russia. The first example was probably a cannonball with a forged handle, which served as a counterweight to something. But man is inventive and finds new uses for old things, and so the kettlebell became an important training material. Later versions were made by pouring liquid iron into a mold (cast iron), resulting in a one-piece kettlebell.
In the 1950s, the kettlebell played a major role in the mysterious, Western-protected training methods of the Soviet army and Soviet athletes. Although kettlebells were also trained at this time in countries such as Hungary, Poland and Germany, and later also in the US, it was not until the beginning of this century that kettlebells were popularized worldwide by the legendary Soviet coach Pavel Tsatsouline in strength sports circles.
A standard kettlebell weighs approximately 24 kg. Well, 24.57 kg actually, equal to one and a half poods, a historical Russian unit of weight. Other kettlebell designs are always a derivative of this: 16 kg is one pood, 32 kg is two pood et cetera. Although there are kettlebells up to 40 kg, Tsatsouline emphasizes that training with a heavy kettlebell is counterproductive, as a heavier weight comes at the expense of the number of repetitions and the speed of the execution. But more on this later.
Modern kettlebells are also available in a plastic version, but only the cast iron version deserves the designation ‘original (Russian) kettlebell’. The weights of modern kettlebells are often no longer derived from the pood, and weigh exactly 16 kg, 32 kg et cetera. As a result, an original kettlebell of 2 pounds (32.76 kg) weighs three quarters of a kilogram more than its modern counterpart of exactly 32 kg.
The essential difference between a kettlebell and a dumbbell is the location of the center of gravity. The center of gravity of a kettlebell is not constantly at the level of the hand, making the instrument ideal for ballistic training and the characteristic swing movements. Totally off-topic, but nice to know: a dumbbell used to be really a ‘dumb bell’, or ‘dumb (silent) bell’. The first dumbbells were church bells from which the clapper had been removed. So you see, both the kettlebell and the dumbbell originally had a different function.
KETTLEBELL TRAINING, THE PRINCIPLES
A kettlebell training is mainly aimed at increasing your dynamic strength (‘power’), speed and your endurance. Acceleration plays a greater role in dynamic force than in static force, which largely revolves around slowing a weight. Because a heavier weight accelerates more slowly and limits the number of repetitions, you use relatively low weights in kettlebell training to achieve optimal results in terms of strength, speed and endurance.
Kettlebell training also increases your functional muscle mass, i.e. the muscle mass needed to facilitate strength gains. And because you burn fat at the same time, you gain lean muscle mass, giving you the looks of “that” model on the cover of Men’s Health—the physique most men aspire to. Due to the nature of the exercises, your coordination, flexibility and stability will also improve. This makes kettlebell training a very all-round, functional training, from which you reap the benefits in your daily activities.
In the early 1980s, Aleksey Voropayev had one group of students train for a year in the 100 m sprint, 1,000 m cross-country, long jump (from a standing position) and pull-ups. Another group trained with only kettlebells for a year. Which group did you think ran the 100 m faster after one year, could do more pull-ups, et cetera? From the specialty principle you tend to say the first group. Wrong. The Voropayev study shows that the group that trained with kettlebells made more progress on all four parts. Striking, isn’t it?
You can compare the cardiovascular benefits of a 20-minute kettlebell workout with those of 20 minutes of running at a brisk pace (about 15 km/h). A nice side effect is that, because it is simply a resistance training, your strength and muscle mass also increase. A real 2-in-1 training, which does more for you than a separate cardiovascular training of half an hour plus strength training of half an hour. So you get twice the results in a third of the time.
By the way, don’t be fooled by the (short) duration of the training sessions. A kettlebell workout is killing and requires at least as much mental as physical dedication. The rest period between your sets is limited to 30 seconds and between exercises you rest no more than one minute. This keeps your heart rate high enough to burn fat and work on your endurance, while limiting your workout to a grueling 20 minutes.
THE MAIN EXERCISES
Enough background information. We estimate that you are pretty excited about kettlebell training by now. So it’s high time for practice: the exercises.
An official kettlebell competition follows the same pattern as Olympic weightlifting and consists of pulling, or Snatch (using one arm) and thrusting, or Clean and Jerk (using two kettlebells). The aim is to perform as many repetitions as possible with a 16, 24 or 32 kg kettlebell, which clearly distinguishes it from Olympic weightlifting, which focuses on one repetition with a maximum weight.
In addition to competitive pulling and thrusting, the kettlebell has a range of exercises. We limit ourselves to the six most important exercises in our view: the single-arm swing, windmill, clean and jerk, snatch, front squat and deadlift. It doesn’t take much imagination to think that with a kettlebell you can also mimic many dumbbell exercises, such as shoulder presses, one-arm rowing, et cetera.
The (single-arm) swing is the basic exercise and should not be missing in any kettlebell routine.
Hold the kettlebell between your legs with an extended arm and an overhand grip. Bend your knees slightly so that the kettlebell is about knee height and behind your hips. Keep your back straight. This is your starting position.
Now swing the kettlebell vigorously forward by extending your legs, moving hips forward vigorously and straightening torso. Do not swing further than slightly above your head. Catch the kettlebell in its downward motion by moving your torso forward, hips back and knees bent.
Continue to move the kettlebell up and down until the desired number of reps is reached (usually 15-20) or the time set for the exercise (usually 1 minute) has elapsed.
Place your feet wide* apart and point your toes out. With your right arm extended, hold a kettlebell over your shoulder (not your head) and extend your left arm out to the side, parallel to the floor. Look at the kettlebell. This is your starting position.
Now, by rotating your torso and bending forward, with straight legs, touch the toes of your right foot with your left hand, balancing the kettlebell over your shoulder. Continue to look at the kettlebell throughout the movement. Now come back up and take your starting position.
Repeat the Windmill until the desired number of reps is reached (usually 15-20) or the time set for the exercise (usually 1 minute) has elapsed. Now do the exercise with the kettlebell in your left arm.
* Hint: stretch your arms out to the side, parallel to the floor. Now place your feet at the height of your elbows. This is the correct width.
3. SINGLE-ARM CLEAN AND JERK
As the name implies, the single-arm clean and jerk is actually a two-pronged exercise that results from performing the clean and jerk sequentially, i.e. the strike and knock of the kettlebell.
Place the kettlebell on the floor between your feet. Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Slightly bend your knees, grip the kettlebell with an overhand grip, keeping your shoulder over the kettlebell. Keep your back straight. This is your starting position.
Controlled, pull the kettlebell off the floor and accelerate by quickly extending your legs, raising your shoulders and extending your body – as if you were about to jump while rooted to the ground. Once upright, pull the kettlebell further up with your arm, with your elbow pointing out. Hold the kettlebell as close to your body as possible. Now rotate your elbow under the kettlebell and catch the kettlebell slightly on the outside of your forearm with wrist extended, bending slightly at the hips and knees, as in a quarter quat.
Now explosively extend your knees and hips in one movement, and knock out the kettlebell by extending your arm straight up. This is your final position.
By bending your arm, return the kettlebell to where it was in the final phase of the clean. Catch the weight by bending your knees slightly. Now pull your elbow out from under the kettlebell and let it fall straight down in a controlled manner. When your arm is extended, return the kettlebell to the starting position.
Repeat the clean and jerk until the desired number of reps is reached (usually 15-20) or the time required for the exercise (usually 1 minute) has elapsed.
Like the clean and jerk, the snatch is an explosive move. With the snatch, however, the kettlebell is raised overhead in one smooth movement, rather than two consecutive movements.
Place the kettlebell on the floor between your feet, positioning them slightly wider than shoulder width. Slightly bend your knees, grip the kettlebell with an overhand grip, keeping your shoulder over the kettlebell. Keep your back straight. This is your starting position.
With control, pull the kettlebell off the floor and accelerate by quickly extending your legs, raising your shoulders and extending your body – as if you were about to jump while transfixed to the ground. Now raise your shoulder and pull the kettlebell up and forward, catching the kettlebell with an extended arm in a squat position. Stretch hips and knees. This is your final position.
Now by bending your arm sideways, bring the kettlebell down to the front of your shoulder. Then bend your forearm and let the kettlebell fall in a controlled manner while bending your knees slightly to the starting position.
Repeat the snatch until the desired number of reps is reached (usually 15-20) or the time set for the exercise (usually 1 minute) has elapsed.
5. FRONT SQUAT
The front squat is basically an auxiliary exercise, aimed at strengthening your legs, hips and lower back.
Place your feet about shoulder width apart and point your toes slightly out. Hold two kettlebells against your body in front of your shoulders, with the kettlebells resting on your forearms. This is your starting position.
Now bend your knees in the same direction your feet are pointing, bend your hips and push your butt back – as if you were sitting on a low stool. Lower until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your elbows are now almost touching your thighs. Now come up by extending your knees and hips.
Make sure your knees don’t move past your toes and maintain a slightly hollow lower back at all times.
Repeat the front squat until the desired number of reps is reached (usually 15-20) or the time required for the exercise (usually 1 minute) has elapsed.
The deadlift is a basic movement within kettlebell training.
Stand in the middle of two kettlebells with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly out. Now bend your hips and knees and grab the kettlebells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other). This is your starting position.
Now come up by extending your hips and knees and straightening your torso. Bring your hips forward slightly exaggerated, your shoulders back and chest forward. You are now standing with the kettlebells on either side of your body. Squat, returning the kettlebells to their starting position.
Repeat the deadlift until the desired number of reps is reached (usually 15-20) or the time set for the exercise (usually 1 minute) has elapsed.
WORKOUTS AND TRAINING SCHEDULES
‘How do I integrate the exercises discussed above into a training?’ you may wonder. Don’t worry, we’ve certainly done that for you. What follows are two ‘standard’ kettlebell workouts of 20 minutes: Workout A and B. The workout looks like this:
|Workout A||Workout B|
|1. Single-arm swing (l./r.)||1. Single-arm swing (l./r.)|
|2. Windmill (l./r.)||2. Windmill (l./r.)|
|3. Single-arm clean and jerk (l./r.)||3. Single-arm snatch (l./r.)|
|4. Front squat||4. Deadlift|
Perform each exercise on both the left and right for one minute – don’t pause between arm changes. Do each exercise two consecutive times with a 30 second break in between. Pause for a maximum of one minute between the different exercises.
Example Workout A:
- Single-arm swing left for 60 seconds, immediately followed by single-arm swing right for 60 seconds;
- 30 seconds rest;
- 60 seconds rest;
- Windmill left 60 for seconds, immediately followed by… et cetera.
Your training frequency depends on your age, training level, goals, other (sports) activities and a number of other factors. Below is a series of training programs, ranging from one to no fewer than six training sessions per week. Training days are marked as ‘O’, rest days as ‘X’; a week starts on Monday by default. See which training schedule suits you best.
Do workout A the first week and workout B the second week. (XXXOXXX). You train once a week and have two three-day recovery periods.
Do workout A on Monday and workout B on Friday (OXXXOXX). You train twice a week and have two recovery periods of three and two days respectively.
Do workout A on Monday and Friday, and workout B on Wednesday. (OXOXOXX) Start Workout B on Monday the following week. You train three times a week and have at least one day of rest between each workout.
Do workout A on Monday and Thursday, and workout B on Tuesday and Friday (OOXOOXX). You train four times a week in two blocks of two consecutive days with one rest day in between. Between two weeks you have two days of rest.
Do workout A on Monday and Friday, and workout B on Wednesday and Sunday (OXOXOXO(X)). You train four times a week and each time you have one day of rest, provided you change your training schedule by one day each week.
Do workout A on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and workout B on Tuesday and Thursday (OOOOOXX). Start workout B on Monday the following week. You train for five consecutive days and then have two full days of rest.
Do workout A on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and workout B on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (OOOOOOX). You train for six consecutive days and then have one day of rest. Take one week of absolute rest every 4-6 weeks or halve your training frequency/volume for two weeks.
Training frequency advice:
- Training 1-2x/week is ideal for untrained beginners and people who already do intensive sports and want to integrate the kettlebell into their training routine.
- Training 3-4x/week is ideal for those who, whether or not in combination with another sport, have been training 2x/week with kettlebells for at least six months and want to step up or shift the emphasis from another sport to kettlebell training.
- Training 5-6x/week is ideal for advanced athletes who want to make kettlebell their number one sporting priority. Advanced are people who train with kettlebells for at least two years, of which at least one year is 3-4x/week.
We wish you the best of luck with your first kettlebell workout!