Kettlebells Provide a Great Weight Lifting Workout

Kettlebell workouts are a great way to build strength

Kettlebell exercise
Kettlebell exercise. JoSon/Getty Images

What Are Kettlebells?

If you've never heard of using a kettlebell to get stronger, you probably aren't alone. Although this piece of cast-iron strength training equipment has been around for decades, only recently has it caught the attention of mainstream recreational athletes.

Kettlebells are bowling ball-sized cast iron weights with a single looped handle on top. You can find Kettlebells in a variety of weights, much like dumbbells, that range from two pounds to over one hundred pounds in total weight. These have been common strength training aids in Eastern Europe, kettlebells, and they are now being seen in more clubs, gyms and weight rooms around the world thanks to fitness programs like CrossFit, bootcamp and other group exercise classes. Kettlebells are a favorite item in most CrossFit gyms, along with some other basic training items like weighted medicine balls, pull up bars, jump ropes and lots of free weights.

What's So Great About Kettlebells?

The reason for the boost in kettlebell training it that it gets back to basic training that requires functional, whole body fitness. Kettlebells require an athlete to focus on whole-body conditioning because lifting and controlling a kettlebell forces the entire body, and specifically the core, to contract as a group, building both strength and stability at the same time. Kettlebell workouts engage multiple muscle groups at once. In this way, they are a great option for getting a whole body workout in a short time.

Kettlebell Training Tips

If you want to maximize a kettlebell workout, it's important to have personalized instruction from a personal trainer or coach who has experience teaching kettlebell exercises. The incorrect use of a kettlebell can cause injuries, particularly low back strains and sprains, so don't just pick one up and start swinging. To find a certified kettlebell trainer near you, check out the follwong websites:

Kettlebell Safety

It's important to start slowly and get some expert training when using kettlebells. When used incorrectly, kettlebells can cause some nasty injuries. Proper use of this cast iron weight requires strength, coordination and lots of practice with a light weight before increasing weight. Each kettlebell exercise involves multiple joints and many muscle groups working together. It takes most athletes time to adjust to these new movement patterns that are often different than traditional weight-lifting moves. To master these movement patterns requires guidance, instruction and patience. After the basics are mastered, increasing the weight provides a strength workout unmatched by machines or even dumbbells.

The biggest mistake beginners make is starting out with too heavy a kettlebell, and swinging using momentum, rather than control. When you swing a kettlebell you can't properly control, odds of an injury increase dramatically. This can result in serious injuries to the joints, and especially the neck, back and spine. The best advice is to start with a very light kettlebell, and perfect the basic swinging motion before increasing weight. Have an instructor check and correct your form. And have it checked each time you increase to a heavier kettlebell.

Kettlebells Exercises

The first kettlebell exercise most athletes learn is the kettlebell basic swing (pdf). After you have proper training and are confident in your form, most women will use a kettlebell that weighs around 12 to 25 pounds and most men will use a 25- to 35-pound kettlebell. For this exercise, the weight needs to be heavy enough to fully engage the hamstrings (back of the thigh) and gluteus muscles.

Buying a Kettlebell

There are a variety of kettlebell makers to choose from. So decide your budget, how much weight you may need and how you intend to use the kettlebells before you buy. Then, look for a kettlebell made of cast iron with a smooth, comfortable handle.

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