The Kettlebell – From Russia with Love

Updated: Sep 29

In this tutorial you will discover three excellent kettlebell techniques


In this exercise tutorial you will receive


  • An insight into the fitness benefits of kettlebell training

  • A tutorial of three kettlebell exercises

In a previous blog I called the kettlebell the king of exercise equipment. My feelings remain unchanged. For I am of the conviction that there is no single piece of training equipment that offers anywhere near the range of versatility than does a kettlebell.


With that old Russian toy, or, as Tsatsouline affectionately describes it, ‘a cast iron weight which looks like a basketball with a suitcase handle’, you can develop functional strength and muscular endurance whilst giving your heart a damn good workout. In addition, kettlebell training builds solid core stability courtesy of the unconventional way in which they force the trainer to move.


Not convinced? Come back to me after performing five continuous minutes of Turkish Get-ups. Then I think you’ll have parted company with your incredulity and be singing a favourable tune – that’s if the DOMS in your transverse abdominis and intercostal muscles haven’t rendered you incommunicado.


That reminds me of an apropos anecdote. Years back I emotionally blackmailed a mate to participate in a kettlebell session. For an hour I had him performing snatches, swings, jerks, presses, get-ups and the dreaded long-cycle (follow the link and watch the great Ivan Denisov perform the long cycle).



After the session I didn’t see my friend for a few days.



When our paths eventually crossed I asked him what he thought of the kettlebell. ‘Horrible!’ was his immediate reaction. He then told me that the following day his core muscles ached so bad that ‘taking a s#!t brought tears to my eyes.’ I told him that he ought to get more insoluble fibre in his diet – you know, to speed up the oral/anal transit. He maintained that insoluble fibre had nothing to do with it and that it was a consequence of that ‘brutish cannonball that you had me ceaselessly swinging for an hour.’


He never again trained with me. His loss . . .


Another physical performance promoting attribute associated with regular kettlebell training is the development of ‘in-between’ strength. Conventional resistance methods – such as static lifting, aesthetic training, barbells, dumbbells, cables, machines – though they can develop strength and help sculpt that coveted physique, neglect the dynamic strength that enables us to administer force from odd-angles or a destabilised position. This accounts for why kettlebell training is becoming ever increasingly popular amongst boxers and MMA fighters.


The final benefit of kettlebell training that I’ve got for you is not physical but psychological. Hard though it is to believe but that old Russian toy can even toughen up that 2.2lbs gelatinous blob between your ears! Much of what goes on in gyms and ‘fitness suites’ could constitute as little more than an ego stroking exercise. Consequently the majority of people who attend a gym barely boast above-average fitness and have been physically enfeebled by their hedonistic training methods.


The kettlebell, by contrast, is one sadomasochistic training tool. After a mere twenty minutes of snatching, pressing and get-upping you’ll feel like you’ve crawled out the cage after a fight with Connor McGregor (ok, slight exaggeration).



So in conjunction with enhancing all aspects of your physicality the kettlebell will also temper the mettle of your psychological strength. Yes you will be left battered and bruised, and muscles you didn’t know existed will ache for days afterwards, but – as the old saying goes – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.


Let’s pause for a moment and take stock of what we’ve covered so far. By adopting the kettlebell into your training regime you can expect to enjoy the following benefits:


1) Enhanced functional strength that is evenly distributed across the body


2) Muscular endurance that would be the envy of most all trainers


3) Improved core stability


4) Physical functionality that enables us to apply force against a resistance from odd angles


5) Crushing, vice-like grip strength


6) Psychological toughness from the regular beating we’ll receive when participating in kettlebell training


Enough gab! Let’s get involved

Assuming that a) you currently own a kettlebell, albeit one covered in a thick layer of dust, and you’ve had a go but couldn’t seem to get on; or b) you’re looking to diversify your exercise regime with that shiny new cannonball the Yodel delivery driver’s just begrudgingly dumped on your doorstep – for you I have three exercises that will


a) help you to develop technical competency


b) build confidence and begin the journey towards mastery


c) become adequately acquainted with the king of exercise equipment



(If you don't have a kettlebell and are interested in purchasing one see my other blog: The kettlebell - King of Exercise Equipment - A Buyer's Guide)


Exercise 1: The Kettlebell Swing


Muscles worked: all of them!


In his excellent book The Russian Kettlebell Challenge (see our Hungry4Knowledge page) Pavel Tsatsouline cites a 1920s weightlifting champion as having said that the swing: ‘brings into action and develops practically every group of muscles on the back of your body and legs, and a good many others besides . . . If you have time on your schedule for only one back exercise, make it this one . . .’ Tsatsouline himself likens the swing to a physical altercation with a Russian bear. Amazing really that such a simple exercise can bring about so many benefits. As exercise names go the kettlebell swing couldn’t be less ambiguous. 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 it level with our shoulders. You are now swinging!


Dos

  • Keep control throughout the exercise

  • Relax during the movement

  • Make sure that your feet are evenly spaced and planted firmly before attempting the swing

  • Fix your eyes on a head-height point in the distance

  • Ensure the arms are slightly bent throughout


Don’ts

  • Do not bend or round your back

  • Do not at any point lock the legs out


Click on the video tutorial



Exercise 2: Under the leg pass (ULP)


Muscles worked: mainly lower back (erector spinae) quadriceps and core stabilisers


The ULP is a bit more technical than the swing. With this exercise we pass the kettlebell through and around the legs tracing out as we do so a figure of eight pattern. Prior to performing this exercise there are a couple of technical points that we ought to consider. Firstly, it’s imperative that we keep the back straight during every phase of the movement. Secondly, to facilitate the movement and make the passage of the kettlebell around the legs smoother, we must adopt one and half shoulder-width stance. Also, the legs must remain bent throughout. And finally, it is best to grasp the handle at the kink as this makes it easier to transfer from one hand to the other – on account of creating more handle space.


Dos

  • Keep control throughout the exercise

  • Engage the core muscles

  • Relax during the movement

  • Make sure that your feet are evenly spaced and planted firmly before attempting the movement

  • Ensure the arms are slightly bent throughout


Don’ts

  • Do not bend or round your back

  • Do not lock the legs out


Click on the video tutorial



Exercise 3: The Goblet Squat


Muscles worked: quadriceps, core stabilisers, biceps, anterior deltoids


When performing this exercise there’s a couple of ways to hold the kettlebell. 1) The thumbs are threaded through the handle and the hands positioned such that it appears as though you are praying. Personally I believe this to be the inferior position as it engages fewer muscles. The following position is best: 2) Grasping the handle we hoist the kettlebell in one smooth movement from the floor upending it. At the initiation position there should be a 90° angle at the elbow joint and the bottom of the bell should be pointing skywards. From here we perform a squat ensuring to observe correct training principals.


Dos

  • Centre your mass over the kettlebell

  • Organise your body into a comfortable and stable position before initiating the squat

  • Feet over shoulder-width apart

  • Back straight

  • Look forward whilst you squat

  • Keep the core muscles engaged throughout


Don’ts

  • Round the back

  • Lock the legs at the top position

  • Hold your breath – breath smooth and under control

Click on the video tutorial




And there we have it, three terrific kettlebell exercises to get you going. I hope this blog and the videos have been of use to you. Before we depart I would love to hear how you got on with the above exercise and what you thought of this instructional blog. So if you could take a couple of minutes to drop me a few thoughts I would be very grateful (info@hungry4fitness.co.uk). Thanks in advance!


Blog Author

Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, professional personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast