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Kettlebell training for beginners

Kettlebells, those evil shaped cannon balls attached to a handle have surely caught the fancy of most serious trainees around the world. More and more people are now using this superb piece of exercise equipment to get great results. However a some people have a misconception that Kettlebells or KB's as they are popularly called is a recently developed exercise equipment.

You see kb's were developed by Russians in the 17th century, and for centuries they used it to get wonderful results in developing strength, power, and endurance. During this time the Russians even developed a kettlebell sport called Girevoy Sport. For the rest of the world,  it is now in the last decade or so that we been exposed to this useful piece of equipment.  In this article I will not discuss about Girevoy sport which might not really be of interest to a regular fitness trainee but rather talk about how the regular fitness enthusiast can benefit from kb training, and how to set up a beginners training program.

The first thing that you must know is that training with a kb, in terms of technique and what you can do with it is not exactly the same as a dumbbell. If you look at the design of a kettlebell you will notice that the weight of a kettlebell is off centre, and unlike a dumbbell a kb is not stable when you move it. The major benefits that you will receive when training with a kettlebell are:

  1. It will work your abs and core harder since the weight is off center
  2. It can offer better results in less time, as they work many muscle groups with each exercise and reduce the need of isolation exercises which saves a lot of time
  3. They are a great alternative to boring cardio workouts. A high repetition kb swings workout will give a great cardiovascular effect without having to go through 45-60 minutes of a boring cycling workout
  4. They also work great for home gyms. Often space becomes a factor when using barbells at home. Kb's on the other hand require very little space to store or to move during an exercise. You can simply store them in a corner and use them when you need to
  5. They help develop the posterior chain muscles. Often muscles like the hamstrings, lower back are ignored with conventional training and thus causes a muscle imbalance. This is greatly reduced with classic kb exercises like swings, snatches, etc
  6. It can offer a fun recovery workout if the trainee is not in the mood for regular training. For eg some juggling, and hand to hand drills can be done with a kb to recover between regular workouts without burning out before the next intense session

The basic exercises that are done with a kettlebell include: 

  • Swings 
  • Cleans
  • Overhead press/ jerks 
  • Snatch 
  • Rows
  • Renegade rows 
  • Windmills
  • Turkish get ups 

Some people mistakenly believe that kettlebells are only good for power and endurance, but not ideal for hypertrophy (muscular growth), which is not true. There are many people around like Ken Blackburn, Steve Cotter who have impressive size and also train with kettlebells. You see, to develop size you need to lift heavier bells and lower the bell slowly during the negative phase of an exercise and you will put your muscle under enough tension to produce growth. Of course having said that it must also be kept in mind that one cannot lower the bell slowly for dynamic exercises like swings, and snatches. You can successfully use a slower negative phase in exercises like floor press, rows, overhead presses, squats, etc. That being said, if gaining size is your primary objective and you happen to be a real skinny guy, then you should also include heavy barbell training in your routine for best results.

And for those wishing to lose fat, and improve their conditioning, kettlbell can actually be a one stop solution, especially if they dont have a lot of time to train. And what about athletes? Yes, athletes too can benefit from using kb's in their training program. For eg exercises like the Turkish get up, windmill, will help develop great core strength, whereas heavy lower rep snatches will help develop explosive speed. 

So if you are ready to try kettlebells you may be wondering where do you start and and what exercise do you begin with? Well, if you are looking to add just one kb move to your current routine or if you are trying to lose fat and are short of time and can do only one move then try this workout that I learned from kettlebell guru Tom Furman. Do 1 minute of kettlebell swings followed by 1 minute rest. Repeat for a total of 10 rounds. Believe me it is a lot tougher than it sounds, especially when you are beginner. And if you are struggling with 1 minute rounds then you can do 30 seconds of swings with 30 seconds of rest for 10 rounds. Just remember to start with a light bell so that you can work on your technique and also avoid hurting yourself. Over a period of time your goal should be to do full 10 round without any breaks (at this point you may want to change hands every minute).

On the other hand if you want to try a kettlbell only program then this is an ideal workout if you have only one kettlebell at home:

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
1 arm swings- 2 sets of 10-15 reps
1 arm clean and press- 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps
1 arm bentover row- 2 sets of 6-8 reps
1 arm front squats- 2 sets of 8-10 reps

Take one to two minute breaks in between each set. At this stage focusing on technique is more important than trying to get your best numbers.

What weight you should begin with would depend on your strength levels. Generally men will do well to start with a 12 or16 kg bell and women will do well to start with a 4 or 8 kilo bell. Of course if you are very strong and have been training with barbells and dumbbells for a long time, then you can start with a 20 or 24 kg bell. Ideally if possible, then you should try lifting a kb at the shop before buying to gauge if it is ideal weight for you or not.

So I hope that through this article I have been able to inform you about how kettlebells can benefit you and why you should use them. My suggestion is to try it to believe it, and see for yourself how adding some kb training into your program benefits you.

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