21 Reasons I Train With Kettlebells
This will continue our series on why we train with the particular tools we train with and what they work best for. The kettlebell is an old weight that’s had most of its life in the Baltic States. It’s split off from the dumbbell at the beginnings of manufactured steel weights. The dumbbell went west and the kettlebell went east. Regardless of where you think it might have come from (some people say Russia, some say Mongolia, some the Celtic countries), it’s been reintroduced to America and the rest of the world by extraordinary trainer Pavel Tsatsouline.
Here’s a look at some of the reasons I use it and the benefits to be had by this training.
1. It works. It’s the real deal. When they were first being re-introduced many people scoffed at them, because they didn’t understand the methodology behind them and just blatantly said they weren’t anything special. They were wrong. After personally testing it I can tell you this. It is definitely one of the top 10, all-time tools for physical strength endurance and incredible workouts.
2. The kettlebell allows you to get both muscle stimulating strength work, explosive speed building work and unbelievable endurance work all at the same time. That means it fits perfectly within our alternative conditioning style. Stimulate the muscles, and blow the cardio out of the water without taking away from strength.
3. The kettlebell stimulates tremendous abdominal contraction because of the mostly explosive conditioning movements that you use it with. That means you’re working your abs even when you’re not working your abs. Because of this tremendous abdominal contraction and coordinated breathing it provides a very high level of conditioning especially for the fighter types.
4. The kettlebell balances the need for extreme contraction that you would have with high-level strength work and relaxation that you have with high-level endurance work. i.e., You’re super tight when you lift a heavy weight, but loose when you do conditioning. The kettlebell alternates periods of intense contraction and controlled relaxation to give you a superior workout that melds into both the strength world as well as the endurance world.
5. The shape of the kettlebell lends itself to unique exercises and its odd center of gravity forces you to do more work, stabilizing and creating explosive movement with the bell. The shape also allows you to use it comfortably in exercises that are almost impossible with other implements and to do. Olympic lifts safely with a very small learning curve. It’s much easier on the wrists and shoulders to rack kettlebell cleans and to hold for front squats than it is to use a barbell. It’s much faster to learn one-arm kettlebell snatches than barbell snatches and just as potent an exercise.
6. Many of the exercises including the main learning exercise of the kettlebell, “The Swing,” are very general in nature. What that means is that when you do them your whole body works together spreading the fatigue out over many muscle groups so that you can drive your conditioning to the absolute highest level. You’re not all that likely to stop from burn in a particular muscle group, but you are likely to beg for mercy, because every muscle in your body is screaming as well as your heart and lungs.
7. Ballistic movements or explosive movements that are applied to many kettlebell exercises will take your conditioning to a very high level and are very real-world in their application. Almost all sport is based on fast movement and fast movement recruits more muscle fibers and heart and lung involvement for a tougher workout.
8. The methodology behind kettlebells is unique and therefore lends itself to many physical attributes. Normal western progression is to progress to a limited number of reps and continually add weight to an exercise. Kettlebell progression can include weight progression, but is often based on progression of repetitions or to a harder exercise. Which means you can get killer strength and endurance work without necessarily having to use the heaviest weight you can find. You just tweak the exercise for the result that you want.
9. Many of the exercises used in kettlebell training are powerful grip builders. This is something that carries over to both the strength and endurance world and is lacked in many endurance exercises. SO you can be working on your cardio and building some muscle and at the same time getting great grip work.
10. Kettlebells allow you to work the back hard without necessarily having to train it heavy. This is hugely useful for high level lifters as well as the average guy. If you spend a ton of time doing ridiculously heavy squats, sometimes its not the smartest thing in the world do to heavy load-based exercises that also work the back. So you can get plenty of back strength work without heavily loading your spine by using the kettlebell. For the average guy that’s going to mean a stronger and more injury resistant back, just like it does for the heavy lifter. Also many conditioning exercises don’t really hit the back muscles all that well, but the kettlebell does.
11. The kettlebell mixes well with other implements and can be a tremendous assistance exercise for barbell or strongman lifting as well as adding conditioning in to any workout that you do. Lots of high level strongmen and powerlifters are now using them in conjunction with their other training for increased strength and stamina. Including and not limited to the West Side crew, Donny Thompson, Jesse Marunde, and the Diesel Crew.
12. Kettlebells allow you to do some unique exercises, many of which at the same time allow you to build joint strength and flexibility along with strength and conditioning. Even the basic swing has a great hamstring stretch and other exercises such as the windmill, and single leg deadlift also build massive flexible strength.
13. There is an implement similar to the kettlebell in almost all the real, hard core training cultures of ancient times. In the first paragraph of this article I said that certain people think the kettlebell came from different areas of the world. That’s partially because there’s a kettlebell type implement in Russia, Mongolia, Scotland, used also in the Shaolin Chinese Kung Fu training, Japanese Martial Arts, etc.
14. Many of the people we would consider legends of the old time strongmen trained with barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells using them all to great advantage. If people like Arthur Saxon; Herman Goerner and many of those other strength giants thought they were great to use, then why shouldn’t we be using them?
15. Some very hardcore people in America and all around the world have used and are using these kettlebells. Not mentioning the powerlifters and strongmen that I listed above, but I’ve seen pictures of improvised kettlebells in the training of none other than Bob Peoples (a lifter from the 40’s and 50’s who dead lifted 7251bs at a bodyweight of 181), and was a mentor to Paul Anderson. There are also pictures of Vasily Alexiev, the great Russian super-heavy, training with kettlebells. My friend Dennis Rogers told me he used to do part of his arm wrestling strength training with an improvised kettlebell. John Brookfield also uses them all of the time. You can’t get much higher recommendation than these guys.
16. Some of the most brilliant training minds and incredible athletes in the US today are using them. Including, but not limited to Steve Cotter, Mike Mahler, Jeff Martone, Brett Jones, Dave Whitley and Steve Maxwell.
17. They are a fun, addictive little toy that’s also good for you. They have been some very enjoyable workouts for me and once you start swinging that little thing around sometimes its hard to stop.
18. They’re simple. Like anything else, the deep nuances of kettlebell training are just like the rest of athletic training. Even the pros work on constantly keeping their technique tight, but you can be using them safely and effectively in five minutes. I taught my eight-year old son and my completely un-athletic sisters how to do some basic exercises in five minutes.
19. Within our style of training the use of the kettlebell makes for some of the most powerful strength and conditioning combos as well as some pre-exhaustion style workouts for better strength, endurance or more powerful striking and grappling.
20. For people who don’t have space or time or want a real fitness based workout without going sort of “to the Dark Side,” of really heavy lifting, kettlebells might be the ultimate workout. Even for the more hardcore guys but especially for the beginners they help to distill high level concepts into simple terms and exercises. This is one of the most brilliant things about Pavel Tsatsouline’s work.
21. Even though they’re safe and simple to use, they’re just scary enough to the average gym mullet to keep them at a safe distance away from the real training.
There you have it! If you haven’t given kettlebells a try you might be missing one of the key ingredients to taking yourself to the next level. Look for a kettlebell instructional DVD from us in the near future. If you haven’t gotten Pavel, Jeff, Mike, Steve or … uh … Steve’s materials yet, well it’s all bad to the bone stuff.