It is possible to trim the fat with kettlebells. However, by way of caveat, the weight-loss effectiveness of kettlebell training hinges on how they are applied. I only mention this because a study cited by Danial Liberman in his book Exercised, convincingly demonstrated that conventional resistance training, when pitted against cardio, was woeful at facilitating weight loss. Liberman describes the intervention thus:
‘One randomised control study that compared the effects of cardio and weights on overweight and obese adults found that individuals prescribed just weights barely lost any body fat but those prescribed twelve miles a week of running lost substantial amounts of fat, especially harmful organ fat,’ (Exercised: The Science of Physical Activity, Rest & Health).
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Can kettlebells help lose weight?
Instructive though the study is, the intervention applied is rife with limitations and ambiguities. Consequently, we should be careful concerning the conclusions we draw from it.
For example, precisely no information is provided on the type of weight training program those overweight adults were prescribed. If it consisted of biceps curls, cable crossovers, and reverse wrist rolls, then it’s no wonder those poor guinea pigs didn’t lose any pork.
Furthermore, the study as described by Liberman does not outline fundamental training principles such as volume, overload, and intensity. It would be helpful to know the sets, reps, rest times and weight as a percentage of maximal lifts the subjects were prescribed.
How to lose weight with kettlebells
Adjusting those training principles – cranking up the volume, say, or ramping up the intensity – can exert a dramatic effect on how the body responds to exercise. Three light sets of eight reps of cable crossovers obviously won’t sufficiently stimulate the physiological systems needed to elicit the sort of metabolic response that results in the utilisation of fat for energy.
However, contrast the previous protocol – sets, reps, rest – with a five-minute kettlebell snatch AMRAP (as many reps as possible). Though comparatively short as kettlebell AMRAPs go, even five minutes of successive snatching will cause your heart rate to spike through the roof.
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HIIT kettlebell training can help lose weight
As well as activating your aerobic energy system, snatches stimulate a score of muscles including all of those of the posterior chain. What do you get from doing biceps curls, besides an ego-boosting pump and a bump in vasodilation?
The above study is botched because it fails to evaluate the effects of more involved resistance training methods. It assumes, but worse, leads the reader to assume, that all resistance training was created equal.
However, as the following discussion and the workouts below aim to show, some forms of resistance training are far superior to others.
Can kettlebells help lose weight?
So, can kettlebell training facilitate weight loss? The short answer is yes, you can burn fat and lose unwanted weight with kettlebell training. But if kettlebells are a form of resistance training, how can they help you lose weight? Didn’t the above study denounce weightlifting as a suboptimal method of ameliorating unhealthy body composition?
The study outcomes are consistent with a conventional weight training program, one characterised by an overabundance of inferior isolation exercises and the gross misuse of time. (Is it necessary to rest for two minutes after a set of ten crunches?)
Kettlebell training, in contrast, involves highly functional ‘maximal stimulation’ movements that engage a broad range of muscle groups. In addition, kettlebell workouts are typically conducted at intensities that far exceed that of an ‘average’ gym workout.
Related: Try this Skipping & Kettlebell Workout
How kettlebells can help burn fat
These factors converge to force the cardiovascular system to function at an elevated capacity to keep the working muscles fuelled throughout the duration of the session. When the cardiovascular system is ‘switched on’ this in turn encourages the body to metabolise latent fat stores for energy. It is this characteristic that makes kettlebells the preferred weapon of choice for those fighting fat.
In fact, studies have shown that for 30 minutes after an intense kettlebell session, the body continues to consume calories above your normal basal metabolic rate (recall the aftermath of Prof. Arkady Vorobyev’s experiment). And kettlebells are not only great at burning the blob, but they are also brilliant at building and sculpting muscle.
Start kettlebell training if you want to lose weight
If you decide to incorporate kettlebells into your regular training routine, ensuring to mix high-intense workouts with technical sessions (more on this below), it is likely that you will experience a noticeable increase in lean muscle mass and a decrease in both subcutaneous and visceral non-force producing tissue – aka fat.
Tsatsouline, with the help of a world renowned performance coach, walks us through how kettlebells achieve this coveted body compositional outcome.
The fat loss power of kettlebells
‘The fat loss power of kettlebells,’ Tsatsouline tells us, ‘is explained by the extremely high metabolic cost of throwing a weight around.’ In addition to being metabolically costly, the price of which is paid for in fat, kettlebells stimulate hypertrophic gains.
A leading strength and conditioning coach explains the process as follows.
‘Here’s the idea: If you generate a lot of lactic acid during your weightlifting sets, your body will then produce more growth hormone. Growth hormone helps your body release fatty acids from your fat cells, which you can use for energy. Result: you get muscle from lifting weight, and you lose fat,’ (quote attributed to Charles Poliquin – The Russian Kettlebell Challenge).
Start losing weight with these kettlebell workouts
The aim of this article was to answer the question can kettlebells help lose weight? To do so we considered some inconsistencies concerning the weight-loss effectiveness of resistance training.
In reviewing the study outlined in the book Exercised, we saw that conventional, low-intensity weightlifting programs don’t burn fat.
However, with the support of kettlebell training expert Pavel Tsatsouline, we discovered that not all resistance training is equal. It transpired that high-intensity kettlebell workouts can facilitate weight loss.
In addition, kettlebell training can help promote muscle growth while enhancing functional fitness. If you’d like to get your hands on these health and fitness benefits, start your kettlebell training journey with the workouts below. Alternatively, start the Hungry4Fitness 6-Week Kettlebell Training Programme - it's completely free!
Full Body Kettlebell Workout
20 Minutes of High-Intensity KB Training
Need more workout ideas?
Get you hands on the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits & Workouts Volume 3!