Although kettlebell workouts may seem relatively new to the average fitness enthusiast, the truth is that they have been around for over 100 years. It seems that only now kettlebells are getting the recognition they deserve because of how space and time efficient and functional kettlebell workouts really are.
But this is a secret that Eastern Bloc nations have known for years!
Russian strongmen of the early 19th century used to rely on kettlebell workouts to maintain their incredible size, strength, low levels of body fat, gymnast-like flexibility and inspiring levels of endurance. In fact, it wouldn’t be uncommon for the average strongman to workout with kettlebells everyday. Lift a 500lb log here, squat an 800lb baby bull there, press my 96lb kettlebell 58 times over my head with each arm. That, I imagine would be an old school kettlebell workout!
Today, kettlebell workouts are a hot item and aren’t so much a trend as they are something that I think will revolutionize the fitness industry.
These days people are looking for no-nonsense and time-efficient solutions to their fitness that they can include in the daily lives. Kettlebell workouts are the answer! There is no longer any room for driving to the gym, finding a parking spot, hopping on a cardio machine, doing weights, stretching and driving back home.
With kettlebell workouts, you can train in the comfort of your own home – heck, you can even do it in an 8’ x 8’ closet – in less time than it takes you to drive to the gym and find a parking spot! Not to mention the money that you’ll save on gas, gym membership and all the other little things that they try to sell you when you’re there (have a protein bar lately?).
The average entry level kettlebell costs anywhere between $25 to $50. If you do the math, that is half the monthly price of a membership to any decent fitness facility!
So why should you be doing kettlebell workouts?
Well, the best way for me to sum it up would be to tell you about my experience with kettlebell workouts and why I started using them.
I have been a personal trainer since 1998. I had heard about kettlebell workouts back then after reading an ad in a magazine, but didn’t pay it much attention. I was too worried about my bench press numbers and making sure that I was the first one using the Smith Machine to do squats.
Years went by and I went through different phases in my training career – bodybuilder, cardio machine guy (what a disaster that was), “functional” training guy, athletic & plyometric specialist. It wasn’t until 2005 that I focused on what my clients really wanted, fat loss, that I started to discover the magic of kettlebell workouts.
In the summer of 2005 my 3rd daughter was born and the time I devoted to training myself was severely limited due to my family obligations. I no longer found it convenient or very efficient to start my workout at 1pm and finish at 3pm taking 2 hours everyday to try to stay in shape. Enter kettlebell workouts!
As I said before, I had read about kettlebell workouts, but had never tried them until that summer afternoon when I picked up my first 16kg kettlebell. This was my first attempt at any kettlebell workout and boy was it a humbling experience.
I chose 2 exercises that I thought would be easy to do for the first time trying the kettlebell – the military press and the 2-arm swing.
Two simple (or so I thought) exercises that seemed easy enough to do based on what I had read and watched on video when I went on the internet and looked up “kettlebell workouts”.
I mean, how hard could a kettlebell military press really be? Afterall, I can press 60lb dumbbells over my head in the gym, trying to handle a 16kg (35lb) kettlebell should be a piece of cake for a 2 exercise kettlebell workout.
I picked the kettlebell up to try to familiarize myself with it and it felt different.
First, my grip and forearm strength was challenged as I tried to keep the bell aligned properly by keeping my wrist straight. Because of the way the weight is distributed on the bell, I found this uncomfortable at first, but eventually got used to it.
But, the biggest challenge on the military press was getting the bell overhead. Being a kettlebell workout “virgin”, I had no idea how the different weight distribution would affect my strength. A 60lb dumbbell I could get up over my head without much difficulty, but why was it that a 16kg kettlebell caused so much of a challenge?
I knew the answer to that question was because I had been a victim of too many bodybuilding workouts that created muscles that looked nice but didn’t seem very useful. Pressing that 16kg kettlebell over my head felt like every muscle – my shoulder, my abs, my arms, my butt, my back – was all being worked. I knew this was a different kind of workout!
Next up in my first kettlebell workout was the swing.
I thought this exercise was going to be an easy form of a squat/deadlift/front shoulder raise hybrid exercise. Little did I know that, much like the press, this exercise taxed my entire body.
I had seen the swing performed in a video of a kettlebell workout that I saw on the internet. It looked simple enough: take the bell, swing it through your legs, lift the bell to chest height and repeat.
Even though I wasn’t doing the swing with proper form (you are not supposed to use your arms in this exercise), I could feel my entire body, again, being used in a different way.
The momentum generated by the bell challenged my balance as any loss of abdominal tightness made me almost fall either on my rear end or flat on my face. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
I tried again but this time really focused on keeping my core tight (a foundational principle in any kettlebell workout) and my feet firmly planted on the ground. I performed 20 swings and felt my heart rate skyrocket.
The only experience that I can liken to my first kettlebell workout is running up a steep, steep hill holding something very heavy over my head.
Although my kettlebell workout consisted of only 2 exercises, the following day when I woke up I felt like I had worked every single muscle of my body. And in that instant, I was hooked.
Fast forward 6+ years and now I’m an RKC certified instructor practicing Hardstyle kettlebell workouts that combines Eastern Philosophy of balance with solid Russian scientific research in exercise.
Kettlebell workouts and practices have changed my life allowing me to train and practice in less time, but getting better results than when I used to do those 2 hour marathon gym workouts.
These days, I workout with kettlebells in my back yard and the average workout takes me less than 30 minutes! Kettlebell workouts have been such an important part of my life that I have introduced them to my wife – who lost 40lbs of “baby weight” after having our 5 children – and my 13 year old daughter who is a Provincial Level volleyball player and attributes much of her athleticism to her early introduction of physical culture and basic kettlebell workouts.
It’s true that fitness these days is evolving and everyone and their brother seems to be joining a gym or fitness facility looking for that magic workout that will get them the physique of their dreams. What most people don’t know and what you’ll soon find out is that the reward of your best physique won’t be found in a dumbbell or on an elliptical trainer, but with a small iron cannonball with a handle on it that you can store in your closet.
Chris Lopez, CSCS, RKC
Certified Turbulence Trainer