Kettlebells are cast iron weights with a handle attached. Resembling a cannonball with a handle, kettlebells were first used by elite Russian athletes in the 17th century and became popular in much of the rest of the world in the late 20th century. Kettlebell training uses swinging motions, as well as traditional weight-lifting moves, such as presses and pulls, to obtain fitness benefits.
Exercising with kettlebells works multiple groups of muscles simultaneously. Many kettlebell movements require balance and engage stabilizer muscles in addition to larger muscle groups. Although the kettlebell is held in the hand, much of the movement is controlled by the legs, hips, and core. This results in a more complete workout than weight lifting alone. Whole body movements in kettlebell training can increase strength, endurance, balance, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness.
In Russia, the standard kettlebell weight is one pood, around 35 pounds (16 kg), but may vary in weight from about five to 100 pounds or more. Training concentrates on repetitions instead of total weight. Beginners can learn some of the more basic moves, such as swings, snatches, cleans, and presses, in a beginner’s class or from videos. Once the basics are mastered, exercises can be combined into a workout program that delivers specific desired results.
Athletes in a variety of sports use kettlebells as part of their training programs. Kettlebell exercises that build core strength can be used to help with stability and athletic agility. Since kettlebells have a handle, the weight moves during exercises, thereby making it difficult to control. Ballistic movements strengthen the joints, tendons, and ligaments, translating into better shock absorption on the field.
Martial artists benefit from the emphasis kettlebell training puts on building strength over bulk. High repetition workouts build endurance, as well as strength. Some of the quick, explosive moves required in martial arts cannot be duplicated using strength training or cardiovascular conditioning. Many kettlebell moves combine several basic exercises in an explosive action that mimics quick martial arts movements.
Military and law enforcement officers have adopted kettlebell training because it increases stamina and overall fitness and conditioning that is necessary for their physical fitness tests. A 1983 study pitted college students training with kettlebells against a control group and tested each on standard exercises used in the United States’ armed forces physical training (PT) tests. The students who trained using only kettlebells scored higher in every area than the control group that trained using the actual PT exercises used in the tests.
Kettlebell training can also help with weight loss. Workouts are time effective since they combine strength training with aerobic exercise — the two traditional components of a weight loss exercise program. Although an intense workout uses many muscles at once, kettlebell training can burn more calories than either strength training or cardiovascular training alone.