Kettlebell training has become increasingly popular in the past few years, with many athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike adding kettlebell exercises and kettlebell specific workouts in to their training regimes. In this post I will highlight why these iron orbs have become so popular and the fitness benefits they can provide.
Kettlebells originally came to life in rural Russia, way back in the 1700’s, when they were used by farmers as a measuring tool for weighing grain. Farmers started competing against each other with the kettlebells, and soon the sport of kettlebell lifting was born – the national sport of Russia.
There has been a recent shift in the fitness industry away from bodybuilding/isolation training to a greater focus on ‘functional training‘. No doubt this has been a contributing factor to the rise in popularity of kettlebell training. Kettlebell training can assist in developing functional strength – whether it is to help you out on the footy field or climbing the stairs at work.
Kettlebell converts will tell you that there are many benefits, namely:
- Fat loss
- Aerobic capacity
Kettlebells have a displaced centre of mass, which means when they are used, they typically recruit more muscles than other weight-based training. This happens automatically, without you even thinking about it. This displaced centre of mass, in turn, allows kettlebells to provide very productive workouts in a small amount of time.
Traditional kettlebell movements like the swing, snatch, and the clean, are examples of how kettlebells use muscles all over the body. These exercises, cause very little localised muscle fatigue, which means recovery from these exercises is fast (compared to other types of weight training), allowing people to workout more regularly, without impacting on performance.
Another benefit I see, is that kettlebell training can be for everyone – from the beginner to the advanced. And with the plethora of exercises you can do, kettlebell training can keep workouts varied, interesting, and motivating.
What does research tell us?
Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of scientific research available validating the claims of kettlebell enthusiasts, but as a kettlebell lover myself, I have seen the benefits personally – in myself, and in my clients, through improved strength, endurance, aerobic and anaerobic capacity, and fat loss.
There is a small amount of research though, which has some positive results.
The American Council on Exercise, the peak fitness organisation in the US, published an article in their January/February 2010 magazine on research they undertook to examine the relationship between kettlebell training and energy expenditure. The results indicated that a 20 minute kettlebell workout provided an average calorie burn of around 400 calories (this includes the additional calorie burn due to the substantial anaerobic effort). The researchers believed this to be equivalent to other high intensity modes of training such as running a 6-minute mile.
Strength and endurance
In a January 2010 “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” article, researchers investigated the effects of kettlebell training on muscular strength and endurance and the transference of this strength to traditional olympic weightlifting. The results of their study indicated that kettlebell training improved strength and endurance, and was also seen as an effective alternative to traditional weight training.
However, with only a recent resurgence in popularity, there is no long term studies on the effectiveness of kettlebell training in comparison to the use of other strength based equipment like dumbbells or barbells. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) in the US, wrote a paper in 2007 on this exact topic. Based on examining the bio-mechanics and physiology of exercises performed with kettlebells and dumbbells, the NSCA concluded that they are less effective when compared to strength training using a barbell, and that barbell exercises should form the foundation of strength performance programs.
There is some evidence to suggest that kettlebell training aids in increased cardio-respiratory fitness, calorie burn, strength, and strength endurance.
I am an avid supporter of kettlebells and use them in my own workouts, as well as the workouts I provide my clients. Kettlebells are fun to use and help to add variety to training programs.
In my next post I will outline my personal experience with kettlebells, and in the coming weeks I will provide you with some kettlebell workouts that you could incorporate in to your own training regime. Until then, happy training!