The Kettlebell – From Russia with Love

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

Introduction | The benefits of kettlebell training | Three functional kettlebell exercises

A man in a gym dusting his hands with chalk over a kettlebell. As part of dan john kettlebell 10,000 repetition challenge he is about to perform the kettlebell swing with a 16kg kettlebell.

Kettlebells are one of – if not the – most diverse, multi-functional training tool you can buy. With a single kettlebell you can perform a plethora of whole-body exercises. And using just one kettlebell you could put together a complete training session that will burn fat, build muscle and improve fitness.


If you include kettlebells into your training regime will begin to develop functional strength and muscular endurance while also improving cardiovascular performance. In addition, kettlebell training builds solid core stability courtesy of the unconventional way in which they force you to move.

Kettlebells build functional strength

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.


Kettlebell training develops mental toughness

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.


6 health and fitness benefits of kettlebell training

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


help you to develop technical competency
build confidence and begin the journey towards mastery
become adequately acquainted with the king of exercise equipment

 

Best competition kettlebell

After nearly 350 reviews Powrx’s ‘gym quality’ cast iron competition kettlebells are a favourite among fitness enthusiasts. As the company says, ‘the Powrx competition kettlebells have been developed for real professionals, studios and trainers with the highest standards.’


Follow the link for a review of the 4 best competition kettlebell sets.


 

Kettlebell Exercise #1: The Kettlebell Swing


Muscles worked: all of them!


man performing the kettlebell swing with a gorilla kettlebell as part of a full body kettlebell workout.

In his excellent book The Russian Kettlebell Challeng 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


For a more in-depth tutorial see our article: Kettlebell Swing | The Perfect Exercise

 

Kettlebell Exercise #2: Under the leg pass (ULP)

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

A man performing kettlebell exercise under the leg pass. with a 24kg kettlebell. This is part of pavel tsatsouline simple and sinister kettlebell training programme.

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

 

Kettlebell Exercise #3: The Goblet Squat

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


When performing the goblet squat 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

 

To Conclude

And there we have it, three terrific kettlebell exercises that will help you build functional strength and superior physical fitness. These exercises can be integrated into circuit routines, or HIIT, EMOM or AMRAP workouts.


Alternatively, after you have mastered the three exercises above, you could integrate them in the Hungry4Fitness 6-Week Kettlebell Programme. By doing so you'll quickly develop kettlebell-handling proficiency while also building strength and fitness.


For more kettlebell training ideas, including exercise tutorials, frequently asked questions, best competition kettlebells, see our dedicated kettlebell page.


 

(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!)

Blog Author

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

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