12 Reasons to Start Training with Kettlebells

 by Pete Williams

Trainer Chip Smith remembers the first time he saw people using kettlebells. It was 1987 and he was studying at the Soviet Sports Institute.


Trainer Chip Smith remembers the first time he saw people using kettlebells. It was 1987 and he was studying at the Soviet Sports Institute. Smith thought kettlebells were poor man's dumbbells until the Russians, who used kettlebells weighing 16, 24 and 32 kilograms (35, 53 and 71 pounds, respectively), showed him otherwise. "Unlike dumbbells, the weight of the kettlebell is centered in the middle of the ball, giving you a completely different feel from a dumbbell," says Smith, who has trained hundreds of athletes for the NFL. "Any movement that can be done with an Olympic bar or dumbbell can be done with kettlebells." Here are 12 reasons to get training with kettlebells.

1. Kettlebells Make You Work Efficiently in Limited Space

"As adults, we rarely move fast," says Lou Schuler, co-author of "The New Rules of Lifting" series of books. There's rarely a reason to jump or sprint in everyday life, and most gyms aren't set up for such movements anyway. But with kettlebells, you can work hard and move quickly in a relatively tight space. For example, the kettlebell swing requires only as much space as the length of your arms plus the kettlebell. To perform the move, start with a standard squat as you lower the kettlebell along an arc under and between your legs. Drive your hips up and forward and swing the kettlebell until your arms are parallel to the floor.

Related: 3 Kettlebell Complexes for Faster Fat Loss

2. Kettlebells Help You Develop Proper Squatting Form

Many people have a tendency to squat improperly when they place a traditional barbell across their backs. By holding a kettlebell in a goblet squat, the weight acts as a natural counterbalance as the athlete sits back, says Ken Croner, a sports trainer at Munster Sports Performance who has worked with many NFL players. "I see athletes who have a tough time squatting pick up a kettlebell and squat so much better," he says. "The weight is distributed better and you're getting a lot more core work." To perform a goblet squat, hold the kettlebell with two hands against your chest as if preparing to drink from it -- like a goblet. Squat by sitting your hips back and down, keeping your weight in the heels of your feet without lifting your toes. Maintain contact between the kettlebell and your chest. Your elbows should touch your knees. Rise and extend powerfully through your hips.

Related: How to Do Proper Full Range-of-Motion Squats

3. Kettlebell Training Produces Greater Power

Kettlebells are especially effective for compound movements such as Olympic lifts, snatches, cleans and presses. "While doing different compound movements, your hips are in a position to increase explosive power and can translate to improving performance on the field, court and diamond," says trainer Chip Smith. "The ballistic movements of many kettlebell drills can be extremely effective at developing muscle force."

Related: Must-Try Moves for More Muscle

4. Kettlebells Mimic and Strengthen Daily Movement Patterns

The key to a successful training program, says sports trainer Ken Croner, is to work movement patterns rather than muscle groups. "As we go through our day, we're constantly carrying and reaching for bulky, unbalanced stuff in different planes of motion," he says. "Kettlebells mimic those movements." A good example is the overhead rotational squat. To do this exercise, start by holding a kettlebell in your right hand with your right arm straight so that the kettlebell is directly over your right shoulder. Squat as you rotate your shoulders to the right and reach down to touch your right foot with your left hand. Reverse the movement pattern to return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Related: The Ultimate Back-Strength Workout

5. Kettlebells Improve Rotational Strength

Sports trainer Chip Smith regards kettlebells as a valuable tool for developing strength in the shoulders and hips while stabilizing the core. "Being able to do rotational exercises with kettlebells helps improve sports that depend on hip explosion like swinging a bat, racquet, golf club and any throwing motion," he says. Shoulder presses with lateral flexion are a good exercise for this. Hold the kettlebell in your right hand at the shoulder. Bend your torso to the right and extend the left arm straight up. Then bend your torso to the left and press the kettlebell up above your shoulder.

Related: 10 Core-Strengthening Kettlebell Moves

6. Kettlebells Engage More Muscles.

A big difference between a kettlebell and a dumbbell is that the center of mass of the kettlebell extends beyond the hand, says sports trainer Ken Croner. "With the kettlebell, the load of the ball is in the front of the handle," he says. "It allows you to work through a greater range of motion, increasing the demands of mobility and flexibility compared to the dumbbell."

Related: 9 Fat-Torching Kettlebell Moves

7. Kettlebell Training Improves Your Posture

The farmer's carry is a popular kettlebell exercise since it mimics how a farmer might carry two buckets of milk or water. "You have to have proper posture to carry the kettlebells," says Ken Croner of Munster (Ind.) Sports Performance, who has worked with numerous NFL players. "In fact, it's almost impossible to get into position to do the farmer's carry with bad posture." Kettlebells have handles more similar to a bucket than a dumbbell or weight plate, so they're perhaps closest to a true farmer's carry. Start by standing between a pair of kettlebells as if they were suitcases. Squat at the hips – no bending at the back – and lift the kettlebells. Start with an easy distance – 20 yards – gradually working your way to longer distances.

Related: Moves for a Stronger Core and Better Posture

8. Kettlebells Help You Get a Better Grip

You may never have to hold onto something for dear life, but training with kettlebells will prepare you for such a situation. In addition to the farmer's carry, Lou Schuler, co-author of "The New Rules of Lifting" series of books, recommends using kettlebells for heavy-carry exercises like the waiter's walk and suitcase carry. Not only will you build your strength and endurance, you'll also improve your grip. Unlike a farmer's carry, in which you tote a kettlebell in each hand, the suitcase carry involves just one kettlebell. That doesn't mean it's half the work, though. Start by standing alongside a kettlebell as if it were a suitcase. Squat at the hips, lift the kettlebell and walk. Start with an easy distance — about 20 yards — and gradually progress to longer distances. Improve your core and strengthen your grip by actively resisting bending toward the kettlebell side.

Related: The 41 Hardest Core Exercises

9. Kettlebell Training Can Prepare You for an Obstacle Race

Training with kettlebells can be great preparation for an obstacle race, in which you're often challenged to haul buckets of gravel, logs or sandbags, says Clint Lowery, co-owner of Sweat Factory CrossFit in Clermont, Florida. That's because kettlebell exercises often challenge you from both a strength and cardio standpoint. Try doing a kettlebell "man maker." Start in a push-up position with hands grasping the handles of kettlebells. Perform a push-up followed by a one-armed row with each hand. Do another push-up, then bring the legs forward into a squatting position. Swing both kettlebells up to the rack position before finishing the squat and cleaning the kettlebells overhead. Man makers are essentially a more difficult version of burpees. By mastering the man maker, you'll be better prepared to attack the Spartan Race's 30-burpee penalty for failing to complete an obstacle. But you won't be failing any obstacles, now will you?

Related: The 10 Toughest Endurance Challenges (You Can Actually Do)

10. Kettlebell Training Stabilizes Your Shoulders

Your shoulders play a key role in everyday movement and tasks (there's a reason it's called "shouldering" a burden). To improve shoulder strength, sports trainer Ken Croner has his athletes perform one-arm bottoms-up kettlebell presses. "You're challenging all of the small stabilizer muscles around the labrum and rotator cuff to hold the weight in position," he says. To perform them, hold a kettlebell by the handle with the bottom facing up and your arm out at a 90-degree angle. Your fist of your lifting hand should be even with your eyebrow. Press the kettlebell overhead until your arm is fully extended.

Related: 16 Exercises From the World's Best Trainers

11. Kettlebells Are a Versatile and Portable Workout

Sport trainer Chip Smith points out to clients that kettlebells can be used like suspension-training devices to work on various muscle groups and movement patterns. And they can be used indoors or outdoors. As with suspension trainers, "you have to maintain balance and control with kettlebells." With just one piece of equipment, you can have a total-body workout that you can bring with you anywhere.

Related: The "Burn Fat Faster" Workout

12. Kettlebells Target Every Major Muscle Group

With kettlebells, it's possible to hit every part of the body. In his book "Every Day Is Game Day," EXOS founder and performance coach Mark Verstegen recommends a Turkish get-up. Start by lying on the floor and holding the kettlebell in your right hand straight above your shoulder. Your left leg should be straight and your right leg should be bent. Keep the kettlebell lifted to the ceiling and your left arm by your side as you drive yourself up to your left forearm. Next, push off your forearm so that you are kneeling on your left knee before standing up.

Related: 16 TRX Moves for a Full-Body Workout

What Do YOU Think?

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