2020 was filled with unprecedented challenges, and with 2021 now kicking into high gear, it's time to take what we learned and optimize our bodies. You probably altered your fitness approach in 2020, adapting to at-home or outside workouts. Change is inevitable, and we will continue to have to respond to new variables in our lives.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the practicality of the kettlebell. And the persistent kettlebell shortage is one of the many signs pointing to why the kettlebell is such a powerful tool.
Curious about this piece of equipment shaped like a flat-bottomed cannonball, I picked up my first kettlebell eight years ago. I was in my mid-30s, had just joined a CrossFit gym, and had never used a kettlebell to work out.
Almost a decade later, I was helping my clients master hardstyle kettlebell training, which focuses on explosive quick lifts (like the swing) and slow, total-body tension in grind lifts (like the squat).
While kettlebells have been a staple strength-training tool in Russia for hundreds of years, they have only recently gained popularity in the United States. Over 20 years have passed since Russian fitness trainer and writer Pavel Tsatsouline penned the historic article Vodka, Pickle Juice, Kettlebell Lifting, and Other Russian Pastimes. In the ensuing years, the use of kettlebells has far surpassed fad status.
Why Is the Kettlebell the Best Tool in Your Equipment Toolbox?
1. Size Matters
The kettlebell’s simplicity, with its compact design, makes it the ultimate “gym in your hand." Not only can the kettlebell be used aerobically, for cardio, but it can also be used anaerobically for strength training. Both endurance and strength athletes can benefit greatly from integrating it into their programming.
In simple terms, the thick handle and offset center of mass enables you to exercise in functional movement patterns. The kettlebell's design allows each movement to be executed through an increased range of motion, with unique resistance.
Unlike other free weights or stationary machines, you can swing the kettlebell back through your legs, leveraging the power of the largest muscles of the body to propel the kettlebell forward in a natural movement pattern. The hips are a critical component of all of the ballistic lifts (the swing, the clean, and the snatch). Through the force generated by the hips, you are able to build lower-body strength and mobility. You are also able to build upper-body strength through the increased shoulder stabilization and mobility required.
There are six hardstyle kettlebell movements, including all of the ballistic lifts, the Turkish get-up, the goblet squat, and the press.
2. Kettlebells Blast Fat, Build Cardiovascular Health, and Increase Strength, Mobility, and Flexibility
There are few singular movement systems that allow individuals to quickly increase strength, build lean muscle, burn fat, and improve endurance, mobility, and flexibility with consistent training. My background in bikini bodybuilding, dance, Ashtanga Yoga, and Pilates opened my eyes to just how effective regular kettlebell training could be. I still mix other modalities into my weekly training, but kettlebell training comprises the core of my training regimen.
From young athletes to seniors and everyone in between, frequent kettlebell training provides a clear path to total-body conditioning with the use of relatively light loads.
In training for a Spartan race, we focus on these 7 principles: Stamina, Power, Athleticism, Recovery, Tenacity, Attitude, and Nutrition. The strength, endurance, and mobility benefits of kettlebell training hone the stamina, power, and tenacity required for a Spartan race of any distance.
3. Kettlebell Training Optimizes Overall Athleticism
Athleticism represents the first “A” of the seven Spartan principles. From scaling over walls to crawling under barbed wire to flipping heavy tractor tires, you need the following: strength; speed; power; agility; anaerobic capacity; aerobic capacity; mobility; balance and coordination; mental resilience, and stability.
By enhancing your physical qualities with kettlebell training, you can develop and maintain all aspects of the athleticism necessary for successful Spartan racing. Many of us, unfortunately, have sedentary lifestyles. We spend a lot of time sitting in chairs or on couches, in a hip-flexed and glute-relaxed position for hours at a time, leading to glute amnesia. Glute amnesia — yes, it's actually called that — leads to postural movement dysfunctions and can affect anyone, even if you work out regularly.
Hardstyle kettlebell techniques encourage flexible and strong hip flexor muscles, a strong core, and spinal stability. Of course, it will always be important to hone the specific skills needed for each obstacle, but having the strong athletic foundation to improve those obstacle-specific skills is invaluable.
4. Less Is More
The fourth reason — and perhaps most important one — is that kettlebells are a huge time saver. One of the most common objections to working out is TIME. Kettlebell exercises are significantly more efficient than others because you are able to combine resistance training and cardiovascular exercise in one session. This enables you to get a great strength and endurance workout in a shorter period of time. Some of the best workouts that I program for clients are one or two 15-20 minute blocks of work where we focus on different movements.
Speaking of saving time, try this 20-minute AMRAP workout, which incorporates the following five movements:
- 5 Goblet Cleans
- 5 Goblet Squats
- 5 Push Presses
- 5 Two-Hand Swings (performed in the video above)
- ¼-Mile Run/Jog
Over the course of 20 minutes, try to finish as many rounds of these exercises as possible. Rest and hydrate as needed, but try to keep tension on the tempo so you get maximum benefit out of the workout.