The benefits | Best starting weight | Training duration | Training frequency | Best kettlebells
If you’re toying with the idea of buying a kettlebell, but are not sure if they’re worth it, you’ve come to the right place. This article covers:
5 frequently asked questions about kettlebells
The benefits of training with a kettlebell
An outline of kettlebell training frequency and suggested session durations
A review of the three best competition kettlebells
Exercise tutorial of two of the best kettlebell movements
FAQ #1: Can you lose weight with kettlebells?
The short answer: Yes, you can burn fat and thus lose weight with kettlebell training.
Unlike conventional weight training, which is comparatively static and tends to focus on isolation movements (bicep curls, bench press, etc., etc.), kettlebell exercises are highly functional and engage a broad range of muscle groups.
As a consequence the cardiovascular system is forced to ‘feed’ these muscles throughout the duration of the session – in fact, studies have shown that after a high-intense kettlebell session the body continues to burn fat for up to 30-minutes.
When the cardiovascular system is ‘switched on’, so to speak, this in turn encourages the body to utilise latent fat stores for energy.
It is this characteristic that makes kettlebells the preferred weapon of choice for those fighting fat. And the kettlebell is not only great at burning the blob, it’s also brilliant at building and sculpting muscle.
If you decide to introduce kettlebells into you training regime, and use them regularly ensuing to mix high-intense with technical sessions (more on this below), it likely that you will see a noticeable spike in lean muscle mass and a decrease in subcutaneous fat.
FAQ #2: Is 30-minutes of kettlebell training enough?
That answer depends on the frequency of those 30-minute kettlebell sessions. For example, if you perform one 30-minute kettlebell session a week or month or year! then the answer is no, that’s not enough.
However, if you are incorporating kettlebell sessions into your weekly training routine, perhaps completing two 30-minute workouts a week, then this is certainly an excellent start.
But as far as a single session duration goes, yes 30-minutes of kettlebell training will be more than enough to work the whole body, burn fat and build functional strength.
For the beginner, though, 30-minutes might be a bit ambitious in one go. It’s been convincingly argued that 15- or even 10-minutes of kettlebell training is highly beneficial and can still confer a number of coveted health benefits.
And, if those shorter sessions involve HIIT or an AMRAP, you’ll find that you can get as much done in 10-minutes as you could in 30 (assuming a conventional rep/set/rest session).
FAQ #3: How many times a week should I train with a kettlebell?
Following on from above, at a minimum it is perhaps best to aim for two weekly sessions. However, they don’t necessarily have to be 30-minutes in duration.
For example, after, say, a run or row, you could work through a 10-minute kettlebell clean to press AMRAP. By doing so you would engage pretty much every muscle in your body while also tapping into those stubborn fat reserves.
If you followed this method, bolting a 10-minute kettlebell AMRAP onto the end of all your weekly training sessions, you would soon be enjoying some serious fitness rewards. In addition, you’d probably see a body compositional shift in favour of more defined muscles and reduced subcutaneous fat.
In saying that, though, good training practice would necessitate a balance between high-intensity and more controlled technical sessions. By adhering to correct training principals you could reduce your chances of sustaining an injury while improving your lifting technique – which in turn can also reduce injury susceptibility.
So, in a nutshell, mix high-intensity and controlled kettlebell sessions – perhaps 2 X 15-minute high-intensity and 1 X 30-minute technical skill development.
FAQ #4: What is the best kettlebell workout?
In truth there’s no single best kettlebell workout. You’ve got to find what best works for you and that can take months, even years, of practice. One thing’s for sure though, the best kettlebell workout doesn’t involve hours of gruelling training.
This is evidenced in the training regime of arguably the greatest kettlebell lifter of all time, Ivan Denisov, who, in the world of Girevoy sports, is MMA’s equivalent of Fedor Emelianenko or boxing’s Mike Tyson. Basically, Denisov is the undisputed king of kettlebell lifting and he has amassed an unparalleled list of achievements.
Yet his weekly training regime is strikingly simple.
During physiological testing at a sports science laboratory in Australia, where a team of researchers were trying to learn more about the physiology of top-level athletes, Denisov disclosed a rudimentary outline of his weekly training strategy. In preparation for the biathlon competition, which requires the athlete to jerk and snatch for 10-minutes each, he follows a tried and tested regime which includes:
1. Jerk and jerk assistance work
2. Snatch and snatch assistance work
4. Jerk and jerk assistance work
5. Snatch and snatch assistance work
Assuming a logical weekly format, 1 corresponds to Monday, 2 to Tuesday and so on through to Saturday – presumably resting on Sundays. As for training times and session durations no such information was divulged.
But by all accounts, a top-level kettlebell athlete will usually participate in two sessions per day each lasting for between 30-minutes to 1-hour. The sessions consist of high intensity training – maximal lifts and 10-minute AMRAPs – and lots of technique work.
Denisov places huge emphasis on the importance of striving always for perfect technique. Flawless form, he maintains, can be the difference between winning and losing. In fact, Denisov, after failing to ‘get the jerk numbers’ he believed he should have during a competition, identified a minor flaw in his technique when reviewing the event video. He noticed that his second dip on the jerk wasn’t quite low enough. He has since polished out this blemish.
The long and short of it is you’ve got to experiment with different session and see what works best for you. Also, you must first make clear what your fitness and training goals are. The brief sketch of the workout above is that of an elite level athlete preparing for a competition.
If your goals are a bit more modest then you would probably more than benefit from the rough plan outlined in FAQ #3.
FAQ #5: What are the best kettlebells for the home gym?
Before we proceed any further it is important that we make a distinction between a mass-market kettlebell and a competition kettlebell.
The former is typically inferior both in build-quality and shape and they tend to represent a kettlebell version of Quasimodo: that is, irregular in shape and sporting lumps and bumps where none should exist.
A competition kettlebell (or CKB for brevity), by contrast, is one that meets the size specifications used in traditional Girevoy Sports events. Irrespective of the weight of a CKB the dimensions do not differ; a 16kg is exactly the same size of a 32kg. In Russia, where kettlebells were first conceived, the weights are divided into ‘poods’ and 1 pood constitutes as 16kg.
Because the size of CKBs is the same this can make it difficult to differentiate between weights. It is for this reason why each weight is assigned a unique colour (although some manufacturers of kettlebells have failed to observe this simple colour coding system which can sometimes make selecting kettlebells over the internet confusing). The colours are as follows:
Pink = 8kg
Blue = 12kg
Yellow = 16kg (or 1 pood)
Purple = 20kg
Green = 24kg (or 1.5 poods)
Orange = 28kg
Red = 32kg (or 2 poods)
Grey = 36kg
White = 40kg
Silver = 44kg
Gold = 48kg
Though perhaps size uniformity may seem confusing it has its benefits. Anyone who’s ever trained with an inferior quality kettlebell, ones the size of a shotput or worse shaped like an egg, will readily attest to the discomfort they cause in the wrist and shoulder after prolonged use. Also, a uniform size ensures a consistent training experience when progressing up the poods.
Another characteristic difference to take note of is the shape and design of the handles of CKBs. As opposed to cheaper imitation products, the handles of CKBs are substantial enough to accommodate one sizeable hand and are flat from corner to corner. Also, the handle is polished smooth to reduce skin abrasions and they are never coated in paint or other treatments.
And finally, CKB are constructed from primum grade steel cast from a single mould – never buy a kettlebell with welded handles.
3 Quality Competition Kettlebells
1: ATREQ Competition Pro Grade Kettlebells
Product Overview (click image for availability)
ATREQ competition kettlebells are manufactured from cast steel and available in sizes ranging from 8kg through to 36kg at 4kg increments.
The kettlebells are all the same size and shape of across each size.
Each kettlebell is colour-coordinated to the relevant weight to ensure ease of identification.
All kettlebells are also engraved with the respective weight numbers.
A very well rated competition kettlebell that ticks all the Girevoy Sport requirements. ATREQ Competition Kettlebells are manufactured from cast steel and available in sizes ranging from 8kg through to 36kg at 4kg increments. The kettlebells are all the same size and shape of across each size. Each kettlebell comes colour coordinated and engraved with weight number for ease of identification. The handles have been highly polished and particular care and attention has been taken in removing abrasion-causing indents.
2: Jordan Fitness Competition Kettlebells
Product Overview (click image for availability)
Steel Competition Kettlebells with smooth finish and a hollow core
Uniform size and shape of kettlebell across the range
Super smooth handle for comfort when in use
Colour coded for ease of identification
Available in sizes 8kg to 40kg - in 4kg increments
Jordan Fitness kettlebells are designed to the exacting specifications set by Girevoy Sport’s competition standards. The size of each bell is the same regardless of which weight you select; and, unlike a lot of kettlebell manufacturers, Jordan offers a wide range starting at 8 and, in 4kg increments, progressing up to 40kg. As we would expect from a competition kettlebell the handles are flat from corner to corner and have been polished smooth.
3: Powrx Competition Kettlebells
Product Overview (click image for availability)
Each kettlebell comes with a digital exercise chart.
Professional steel kettlebell weights range from: 4kg, 6kg, 8kg, 12kg, 16kg, 20kg, 24kg, 28kg
The competition kettlebell is made of 100% steel making them durable.
The flat base improves stability for when performing floor exercises.
POWRX’s kettlebells are created in the image of the Girevoy competition standard design – as mentioned ad nauseum: this is an absolute must. And though the Powrx kettlebell handles do not appear as smooth as some of their competitors, they are substantially cheaper. This makes them the perfect beginner’s kettlebell. But don’t let their reasonable price tag put you off. POWRX competition kettlebells are designed for professionals, gyms and those with the high training goals.
Two Kettlebell Exercises
Okay, so now you’ve got your kettlebell, you’re going to want to use it. Am I right? Of course I am.
Below you’ll find tutorials of two brilliant kettlebell exercises. The two selected exercises are perfect for beginners for the technical applications are relatively easy to acquire respectable competency and the movements are highly functional – meaning from these two exercises alone you’ll work most every muscle in your body.
Exercise #1: The Kettlebell Swing
Muscles worked: all of them! Honestly, the kettlebell swing is such an effective whole-body exercise that no muscles escapes unscathed from this wrecking ball of a movement. But from the ashes superior physicality will emerge like a fiery phoenix!
If you decide to become a regular swinger you’ll develop superior grip, core and pelvic thrusting strength whilst enhancing your physical functionality – for few exercises force you to fight to maintain correct posture and foot positioning.
Amazing really how such a simple exercise can bring about so many benefits.
As exercise names go the kettlebell swing couldn’t be less ambiguous if it tried. After taking the kettlebell from the floor with both hands we initiate the movement with a short backwards pull then thrust forwards through the hips propelling that gravity-loving lump of pig iron level with our shoulders.
Congrats! You are now a certified swinger!
But wait, don’t rush off and grab you bell yet. If you’ve never swung before ensure to familiarise yourself with the detailed list of teaching points below. Though an indubitably simple exercise there’s a number of technical considerations that you ought to consider.
Centre your mass over a kettlebell the weight of which is commensurate with your current strength and ability. In short, don’t go heavy – keep it light to begin with!
Bending at the knee whilst ensuring to keep the back ironing-board straight grasp the bell with both hands.
Firing through the quads squat into the standing position.
Before initiating the movement organise your feet – they should be just over shoulder width apart – fix your eyes on an indefinite point in the distance and prepare your mind for the exercise. I call this bit the calm before the storm!
With knees still slightly bent rotate slightly at the hips so as to create space to pull the bell back between your pins.
On receiving the kettlebell in your groin fire through with the gluteal muscles and, with arms straight, propel the KB forward. Instead of trying to get the KB all the way up in the first swing I find it best to elevate it in stages. Usually after the third swing I’m in full flight – so to speak.
Once the kettlebell has reached the desired height – roughly level with your chin – arrest the movement and allow gravity to do its thing. Ensure to control the kettlebell during its descent.
Again receive the KB in the groin harnessing the kinetic energy generated.
Use that energy (and a bit of your own) to complete the next repetition.
Now you are swinging!
Methods of Modification
Modifications abound! But I’ll be quick – promise. Once you mastered the standard swing – described above and displayed in the video tutorial below – try single arm swings. Also, you can swing the bell all the way up so that it is directly above your head, pausing for a mo before allowing it to drop (I call this the big dipper). And then there’s the option of fastening a resistance band to the kettlebell for added resistance. By tethering the KB to an RB resistance increases throughout the range of movement eventually peaking at maximal contraction – where it’s most effective. I’ll sum by saying: when you get your confidence with this exercise just play about with it – though best to do this outside.
Keep control throughout the exercise
Relax during the movement – you shouldn’t strike the appearance of a soldier on parade
Make sure that your feet are evenly spaced and planted firmly before attempting the swing
Fix your eyes on a point roughly head height
Ensure the arms are slightly bent throughout
Keep your core tight whilst swinging
Squeeze your bum cheeks together at precisely the moment when the KB reaches the top position
Do not bend or round your back – keep it straight or slightly concaved
Do not at any point lock the legs out
Do not over-rotate or ‘collapse’ at the hips during the downward phase. The kettlebell should not pull you down so that your torso becomes parallel with the floor. This is a common mistake which places a lot of stress on the lumbar region of the spine.
Exercise #2: Squat Press (aka quasi thruster)
Muscles worked: primarily the quadriceps, glutes, transverse abdominus and deltoids. The scope of myofascial stimulation doesn’t stop there though. If you possess the physicality to squat press for 60 continuous seconds (or more!) your cardiovascular system will fire up like a well stoked furnace and your ticker will outpace that of a rampant rabbit’s.
Ok, to cut down on the verbiage, refer to the teaching points for the Goblet Squat. Transition through teaching points 1 to 9.
On completion of the 9th teaching point proceed to press or ‘thrust’ the bell up high above your head.
As soon as the arms are at full extension – of course there should still be a slight kink at the elbow: never lock a weight bearing joint – lower the bell under control ensuring to arrest it the moment it comes level with your solar plexus.
Use the downward momentum generated by Gravity’s amorous attraction to all things steel and spherical (especially) and sink smoothly into the next squat.
Methods of Modification
There aren’t any!
Keep breathing throughout the exercise. A bit of an obvious Do I know but for some strange reason the squat press, of all KB exercises, is the biggest bugger for inducing asphyxiation. I’m terrible for this: whenever I perform this exercise I hold my breath and consequently blow up like a puffer fish – whilst turning as red as a tomato. Not a pretty sight.
Apply even force through both legs and arms when executing the movement. Be mindful not to rely on your dominant side. Focus on achieving perfect symmetry. It helps to use a mirror.
Do not allow you back to bend and bow.
Do not lock out at the knee or elbow.
Do not bounce out of the squat – not unless, that is, you value the structural integrity of your knee joint.
Do not eat a vindaloo within 24 hours of performing this exercise. Failure to heed this advice will likely result in involuntary defecation. You’ve been warned!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if it’s superior fitness you’re after then you need to start training with kettlebells. For the price they are unrivalled in functionality, diversity and durability.
It wouldn’t be an over exaggerating to say that kettlebells are the king of training equipment.
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.