By Dr. Mercola
Kettlebells were the fitness training tool of choice for Russian strong-men, who began using the cast-iron balls with handles as early as the 1700s.
Unlike lifting a dumbbell, which keeps your center of gravity fixed, kettlebells incorporate movements that throw off your center of gravity and use your core muscles to keep you balanced.
The end result is a dynamic, whole-body exercise routine that incorporates cardiovascular, resistance and range-of-motion training into one workout.
While traditionally regarded predominantly as an exercise tool used by men, modern women are taking to kettlebell workouts in droves, drawn to their unique ability to tone and shape their body while also boosting strength, flexibility and endurance.
Interval Training With Kettlebells Burns Calories “Off the Charts”
In a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE),1 researchers wanted to determine how much of an aerobic workout you really get by using kettlebells. They used 10 volunteers, ranging in age from 29 to 46, who were experienced with kettlebells, and asked them to do a workout consisting of swinging a kettlebell one-handed between their legs and over their head in what’s known as a “snatch” motion.
The 20-minute interval workout entailed:2
“Following a basic warm-up, subjects did 15 seconds of one-armed snatches, first with their dominant hand, then after a 15-second rest period, they performed another 15 seconds of snatches with the other hand. The workout continued like that, with intervals of 15 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest, for 20 minutes, followed by a five-minute cool-down.”
During the workout, participants burned an average of 13.6 calories per minute aerobically, plus another 6.6 calories per minute anaerobically.
“So they were burning at least 20.2 calories per minute, which is off the charts. That’s equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace. The only other thing I could find that burns that many calories is cross-country skiing up hill at a fast pace,” said the study’s lead researcher, John Porcari, Ph.D.
The benefit came, researchers noted, not only because of the total-body movement that the kettlebell snatch routine requires, but also because it was done using the high-intensity interval training format, which allows you to get an intense workout in a short amount of time.
While I've often recommended high-intensity anaerobic training called Peak Fitness using an elliptical machine or a recumbent bike, it’s important to understand that you can also get many benefits by adapting your program to use weights or a kettlebell as part of your routine.
Using Kettlebells to Enhance Back Health, Strength, Weight Loss and More
Group fitness classes using kettlebells are the latest fitness fad … but it’s really not a “fad” at all. Rather, it’s a resurgence of a centuries-old fitness technique that touts an impressive variety of benefits. And while men are often seen using kettlebells in gyms, in some areas women constitute upwards of 70 percent of kettlebell clientele.3
If you’re just starting out, proper form and technique are essential to avoiding injury. It’s a good idea to spend an hour or so with a personal trainer to learn the correct movements, or do so by enrolling in a beginner group class. While you’re still learning the ropes, women will generally want to start with a kettlebell weighing no more than 8-15 pounds, while men can typically start with a 15- to 25-pound version.
You may also want to try Kathy Smith’s Kettlebell Solution, which includes four 20-minute workouts, including Upper Body, Core, Buns and Thighs, and Fat Burning, plus two kettlebells made from a soft, lightweight material as opposed to the typical heavier, rigid cast iron (a lighter, softer weight means less chance of an injury for you, so you can exercise without worry). This is a simple way to try out an effective kettlebell workout in the comfort of your own home. Among the benefits you can expect to experience after several weeks of regular workouts include:
- Enhanced back health and function4
- Improvements in muscle strength, including both maximum and explosive strength5
- Improvements to postural reactions to sudden movements, which might, for instance, help you avoid a low back injury if you fall or jerk suddenly
- Among those with musculoskeletal pain, reductions in pain in your neck, shoulders and low back6
An Aerobic and Anaerobic Workout
A kettlebell workout will not only help improve your aerobic capacity, it will also provide an anaerobic workout, which is important for your cardiovascular system as well as for building strength, speed and muscle mass.When doing high-intensity anaerobic exercises, you can literally be done in about 20 minutes, compared to spending an hour running on the treadmill during a typical aerobic workout. You might be surprised that a high-intensity workout using the kettlebell or even traditional weights provide aerobic benefits, but the two actually go hand-in-hand.
As Dr. Doug McGuff, M.D. explained:
"The first thing you have to realize is that to do cardiovascular exercise, the only way that you can access the cardiovascular system is by performing mechanical work with muscle.
Now, you can do that on an elliptical; you can do it on a recumbent bike, or you can do it on quality weight training equipment, or with a barbell. As long as you're doing mechanical work with muscle, you're accessing the cardiovascular system…
If you look at cellular metabolism, that sort of work, whether you're doing aerobic low-intensity work or high-intensity work, proceeds to a certain shuttle. You take glucose into the cell and you go through glycolysis… [which turns it] into pyruvate. That pyruvate is then moved into the mitochondria, where it goes through a cycle of chemical reactions in the presence of oxygen. What occurs from glucose to pyruvate is — in the absence of oxygen — the anaerobic metabolism … Then the pyruvate gets moved into the mitochondria, that becomes your aerobic metabolism.
But you cannot carry out any aerobic work without doing anaerobic work first. The aerobic cycle cannot even run unless it has the substrate delivered from the anaerobic cycle. The anaerobic cycle can deliver that substrate faster than the mitochondria can use it. So if you want an aerobic workout, the best way to do it is by delivering that substrate as fast as possible, and that requires high-intensity exercise."
Simple Kettlebell Workouts You Can Try Today
In the video above, Darin Steen demonstrates the squat-jump using kettlebells. This is just one of more than a dozen kettle bell exercise videos you can watch for free to give you some simple yet powerful techniques to add to your fitness regimen today.
As with most things in life, a balanced routine works best, so you'll want to avoid placing too much emphasis on cardio, strength training or any one type of activity. Many public health guidelines still focus primarily on the aerobic component of exercise, but this limited activity can lead to imbalances that may actually interfere with optimal health.
This is why it's so important to maintain a well-balanced fitness regimen that includes not just aerobics, but also strength training, stretching, and high-intensity interval training like Peak Fitness. The use of kettlebells fits in nicely to just about any comprehensive fitness routine.