Kettlebells give off a slightly medieval vibe and for good reason – they’ve been around forever! Well, not quite forever, but for a pretty long time. About 350 years ago, kettlebells popped up in Russia and were used as counterweights in market scales – a far cry from what we use them for today. The fitness industry is witnessing a rebirth of this compact chunk of iron with a convenient little handle; kettlebells can be found in Globo Gyms, CrossFit boxes, home gyms and everywhere in between. Why? Because they’re awesome and every girl should not only have one, but know how to use one too.
The Benefits of Kettlebell Workouts and Fitness
Kettlebell workouts are useful for those just beginning their fitness journey as well as those who have been sweating it out for years. The size of the kettlebells that are available are anything but limited, ranging from 5 pounds all the way up to over 100 pounds! So, basically, you’ll never run out of overload capabilities to smoke your body and it’s easy to gradually progress upward with resistance.
One of my favorite benefits of kettlebell workouts is the fact that they target the posterior chain, which consists of the muscles on the back of your body. Despite the fact that these muscles should be the most powerful in your body, in many cases, they’re not only weak but have completely forgotten how to fire. All the time we spend sitting still has created muscles that no longer know how to function. The kettlebell is a great tool to wake these muscles up, particularly the glutes and hamstrings, and get them, not only working, but working well. Targeting the posterior chain will also improve the alignment in your back and shoulders as well as in your hips and pelvis, resulting in a more efficient and injury-resistant body.
A workout consisting solely of kettlebell exercises can be performed virtually anywhere with no need for additional equipment. In just one 20-minutish (the minimum time needed to complete a workout is a huge perk) workout, you will improve cardiovascular and muscular endurance, improve muscular strength, power and flexibility, and torch a butt load of calories – seriously, you could literally work your butt fat off with kettlebells (while also sculpting a nice tight tush). In addition to your butt, you can also target your hamstrings, quads, core, back, chest, arms and shoulders with one of these bad boys – I told you they were awesome. Remember how, like, 10 seconds ago I told you kettlebells could help you burn fat and build muscle? Well, let’s explore that a little more.
Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
When it comes to weight loss and fat burning, kettlebells possess a little something special. You see, when you perform kettlebell exercises, like swings and snatches, you’re not only working your muscles, you’re also taxing your cardiovascular system.
In a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, researchers had subjects perform a 20-minute kettlebell workout in which they performed snatches set at a specific cadence (designed to be intense). During the workout, the average calorie burn was 272 calories but once the anaerobic caloric expenditure was factored in the result was about 20 calories per minute!
Bottom line, if you’re ambitious and dedicated enough to train at a high intensity with kettlebells on a regular basis you will most definitely experience some fat loss and probably some weight loss. Keep in mind, that while you’re burning fat, you’ll also be building lean muscle, which may keep the scale from moving in a negative direction but that won’t stop your body from looking and feeling exceptional.
Toning and Muscle Building Potential
Because kettlebells offer resistance above your normal everyday load, they absolutely have the potential to build muscle and tone up those parts that tend to jiggle when you move too fast.
To be successful in building muscle, it’s crucial to work with a kettlebell that is challenging for you. The muscle fibers have to be overloaded in order to get bigger and stronger so if you opt for the smallest kettlebell on the rack that’s probably not going to happen.
Unlike traditional free weights where isolation exercises are common, kettlebell training uses multiple muscle groups for every exercise, meaning you’ll be able to use a heavier weight than you think. On the flip side, don’t get carried away either – choosing a weight way over your abilities will undoubtedly end in an injury of some sort.
As a general guideline, most women can start out with an 18-pound kettlebell; if physical activity hasn’t been on your radar in, well, forever, you may want to go lighter and if you’re one of those #girlswholift, you can probably go a bit heavier. Do a little experimenting to determine your Goldie Locks weight and get busy. As your strength, coordination and technique improve, feel free to progress to a heavier bell.
If you consider the fact that you will build muscle and you will burn fat with regular kettlebell training, than you can very likely expect that you will tone up. As the fat recedes and your muscles emerge from the depths, your body will take on a lean, athletic appearance you can’t help but be proud of.
Classes: What to Expect; Should I Take Them?
Kettlebell exercises are pretty technical movements, which makes learning them on your own challenging – but not impossible. I recommend seeking out some sort of instruction if you want to get serious with your kettlebell training. Every day, there are more and more kettlebell-specific instructors getting certified to teach others. Some personal trainers or strength and conditioning specialists may be versed enough in kettlebell training to instruct you on form and technique; however, don’t just assume that because someone is a trainer he or she is familiar with kettlebells.
Ask around at your gym, if you have one, and see if any of the trainers offer kettlebell classes. If not, your local CrossFit box should be able to give you a crash course in kettlebells. There are several certifying agencies with available databases for all of their certified instructors – hopefully, you’ll be able to find one near you.
Once you find an instructor, you can expect to learn the basics of using a kettlebell; specifically, proper stance, alignment and execution of the exercises. The goal with kettlebell workouts is to get a stronger more resilient body, not wind up with an injury – a good instructor will deliver.
Instructional Kettlebell Videos and Training Tips
If a search for kettlebell classes yields absolutely nothing and your local fitness clubs are also lacking, go ahead and do some looking online. There are quite a few useful resources available to teach you basic movements and fill your head with all that good stuff you should know to implement a successful kettlebell program. Below are a few resources I’ve found to be on point.
Basic Training Tips
- To get results you need to stick with a plan – bonding with your kettlebell once a week just won’t cut it. Aim for at least three sessions a week to get your metabolism cooking and muscles growing.
- I mentioned this before but I’m saying it again, don’t grab the biggest bell on the rack. Get your technique down first (to the point you don’t really have to think about it) then start increasing your weight.
- It’s all in the hips, seriously. All of the power needed to complete a kettlebell exercise should come from your hips, not your upper body – that’s why KB’s are so great at sculpting and lifting that derrière.
- Start with lower reps to give your body time to adapt to these new movements. And (spoiler alert!) the skin on your hands will likely be sore for the first few weeks while calluses form, especially if you haven’t previously performed any type of weight lifting or gripping activity.
- Always stay in control of your kettlebell. This can be done by avoiding frantic swings and poor form – slow and steady wins the race.
- Maintain a strong back during your movements; your spine should never round.
Clothes and Proper Attire
Kettlebell training requires no special attire. In fact, the less the better – you want to be able to move without restraint from your clothes. A simple t-shirt/tank top and athletic shorts would suffice perfectly.
When working with kettlebells, it all starts from the ground up. Ditch the bulky running shoes and go barefoot or, at least, opt for minimalist shoes to allow for natural movement of your feet, ankles, knees and hips and all of the muscles that support them. Keep it simple, just like your training.
Resources to Find a Kettlebell Instructor
- Russian Kettlebell Certified Instructors
- Hardstyle Kettlebell Certified Instructors
- Certified Kettlebell Functional Movement Specialist Instructors
- Strong First Certified Instructors
- Register of Kettlebell Professionals
- International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation
6-Week Kettlebell Workout
Results and Success Stories
Go ahead and see for yourself the kind of results you can get with kettlebells.
“My love for kettles bells started way back in 2009 when my then gym offered a free intro class. “Sure, why not…it’s free” and from then on, I was hooked. You see, I had always been a cardio junkie; running, Zumba class, Step class, hip hop classes, etc. Sure cardio gets the heart pumping and your endorphins going, but I never noticed a change in my body until I started lifting. For the five months that my gym offered Kettlebells, I attended every class…twice a week. I noticed that my arms were toned, that I could see an actual waist and that overall I just felt stronger.
After those five months, my gym closed down and I was back to just doing cardio; picking up classes here and there. Fast forward to June of 2013 when I gave birth to twin girls. I was 70 pounds heavier and out of shape. I jumped right back into cardio at 6 weeks postpartum…Zumba was my go to. I felt better because I started to feel like myself again, but didn’t see my body changing at all.
“Maybe I’m just destined to be this size,” I told my husband. Going shopping was a nightmare! I would stare at my body in disgust and try on clothes that I thought would fit…that fit my body before having children. I would cry and run out of the store buying nothing and feeling worse about myself.
I’m not sure how I stumbled upon Aquia Kettlebell Training, but I’m sure glad I did. I was terrified to say the least. I hadn’t picked up a kettlebell in four years. Would it be like riding a bike; would my body just know how to swing a 20-lb kettlebell? I took a deep breath, walked in and met coach Ryan Leaman. Coach Ryan walked me through the swing and then modeled it for me. For 15 minutes it was just him and I swinging kettlebells. My body began to recognize the motion and before I knew it our 15 minutes were up and our training session was about to begin.
The training session began with some simple stretches to warm up our joints. After the stretches came the warm up. I’m going to be real honest here…the warm up was a workout because I seriously wanted to vomit after three rounds of it. After the warm up came more intense stretches; focusing more on the hip flexors and getting our body ready for what is was about to be put through. The workout itself was broken up into two parts; strength and cardio. I don’t exactly remember what that first workout was, but it must have been a great one because I’ve been a member of Aquia Kettlebell Training ever since that chilly morning in February 2014. I’ve gone from swinging 20lbs to swinging 65lbs, floor pressing 74lbs and double clean and jerking 66lbs. It’s really amazing what the body can do!
My body is still the same weight, but I have lost inches, body fat and gained muscle mass since starting my kettlebell training. I eat a ketogenic diet to fuel my muscles now because I always want to lift heavier and become stronger. I take a picture every year on my birthday to see if there’s been a change in a year. I think as women, we’re always very critical of our bodies. I didn’t really notice a change from my 2014 to 2015 picture until my coaches pointed out my arms and midsection. I can see now that there IS a difference in my body and how I carry myself. Even at the same weight, I am more confident now walking into a room than I was three years ago. I hope that I can set an example for my daughter’s and show them what positive body image looks like.”
“After losing a substantial amount of weight (around 6 stone) over a couple of years and trying just about every fitness DVD that came onto the market I decided in June, after putting on a few lbs again and feeling very wobbly, I had to try something completely different so I purchased a 5kg kettlebell and got myself on YouTube for some videos and it’s honestly the best thing I’ve done since losing weight.
I’ve dropped a full dress size and a fair amount of inches too. I’ve since purchased an 8kg and 10kg kettlebell too and I intend to keep this up as I’ve never felt so good.
I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to tone up as it works pretty quickly.”