Kettlebell Training – Swinging Your Way to Fitness

Learn how to use kettlebells properly for a terrific full-body workout

Credit: Flickr/Andrew Malone

Kettlebells are an excellent tool to build strength, core stability and mobility

Kettlebells, and, more importantly, the kettlebell style of lifting, is one of the most effective overall training styles you’ll find

What makes the kettlebell such an effective tool is its versatility for improving strength, power, cardiovascular fitness and joint stability/mobility. Expensive multi-station machines cannot even begin to compete with this space-saving training tool.  

The kettlebell may appear to be a bit scary at first with its shiny black coat or steel shell. It looks like something from the stone ages and it kind of is, but trust me it’s the biggest bang for your buck.

Hip Hinging and Activation for Strength and Power

The first time I was trained with kettlebells my hamstrings and glutes felt a whole new world of work. It was truly one of the most well-rounded workouts I had ever been through. 

At the forefront of kettlebell lifting is the skill of hip hinging. This skill, used in the kettlebell swing, teaches you to use your glutes and trunk muscles to preserve and protect your spine. In other words, you can achieve rock-hard glutes and a solid core without the shame of doing those silly Jane Fonda leg lifts and crunches that don’t burn near the number of calories (and don’t work).

I know, I know, the last thing a woman wants to be called is solid but trust me ladies, without stability you cannot put on muscle effectively and without some added muscle you cannot change your metabolism. We all want to be toned don’t we? (Whatever that means….it isn’t in any of my textbooks).

Cardiovascular Benefits of Kettlebell Training

During that first kettlebell lesson, I quickly realized how physically taxing this style of lifting is. For those of you who are looking to lose weight, I assure you that you very few modes of exercise will keep a sustained elevated heart rate the way kettlebell training does. 

And, the more muscles used during an exercise, the more calories will ultimately be burned. Kettlebell training uses all major muscle groups. 

Furthermore, interval training (alternating running hard and easy as an example) has proved more effective in improving VO2max, anaerobic threshold, and prolonging excess post-oxidative consumption (EPOC) than slow, steady, long runs. 

Kettlebell lifting, done for a specified time, will lead to the same cardiovascular adaptations. EPOC means that you will burn more calories after you finish your workout. It’s not important to know what you expended during a training session, but rather how long you burned extra calories afterward. This is the key to fat loss! 

You will be challenged through intervals using full-body movements, while encouraging joint-sparing techniques. No more sore knees from pounding the pavement, I promise!

Developing Stability and Mobility

Another aspect of kettlebell training that’s hard to beat with other training modes is core stability. 

During the kettlebell swing for example, the muscles surrounding your spine need to act as a brake by bracing at the apex of the lift so that you do not create a huge arch in your lower back. The stability doesn’t stop at the core, however. 

Because of the offset centre of gravity of the weight, the bell allows the shoulder to find its own path for optimal force – or joint – closure. When performing an overhead push-press, the shoulder doesn’t have to grind through the movement; thus a safer alternative to barbells or dumbbells especially for those with shoulder problems.

Kettlebells in a Nutshell

Kettlebells require technical coaching and come with a learning curve, so they are not for the impatient, outcome-minded folk. Seek advice from a qualified coach. Kettlebells are more dynamic than dumbells and require a keen eye and a progressive load. Seek out an RKC-certified coach in your area.

Once you have mastered the basics, the variety of drills and protocols are endless, and the best part is you don’t have to go to the gym if you buy your own kettlebell. All you need is about 2 feet of space around you and 20 minutes of time! 

Correct Hip Hinge Technique

  • Keep your chest open
  • Weight on your heels
  • Push tailbone away from your chin
  • Shins near vertical
Hip hinge technique

One Arm Kettlebell Swing (start position)

  • Swing bell straight back
  • Keep wrist close to inseam
  • Weight on your heels
  • Long, flat spine (no rounding of the back)
Kettlebell One Arm Swing start position

One Arm Kettlebell Swing (top position)

  • Drive floor away with feet
  • Stand tall
  • Point bell at horizon
  • Contract glutes and abs at apex of swing
Kettlebell One Arm Swing top position

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Carmen Bott MSC, CSCS is president of Human Motion Strength & Conditioning and mom of a very busy one-year-old.