The Kettlebell: Your New Best Friend

The kettlebell is one of EZIA’s favorite tools for a full body strength and conditioning workout. Although relatively new on the fitness scene in the US, kettlebells have long been a pillar in the fitness community in Russia. Their popularity is increasingly rising in gyms across America, as their efficacy has been made apparent.

kettlebell training

Kettlebell History

Kettlebells were developed by the Russians and have been used by them for centuries to build strong Soviets, becoming part of the Soviet Army’s conditioning program in early 21st century as well as the primary tool for athletic training for the Olympic team. It wasn’t until 1998 that Pavel Tsatouline made the kettlebell known to the American masses, and in 2001 the first US kettlebell was made. From there it exploded into a fitness craze within the year. Clearly the Russians were onto something.

The kettlebell is not just for building strength; it provides a full body conditioning exercise requiring all muscles to fire at once creating a strength endurance stimulus that mimics how our bodies work naturally. The more muscles used concurrently the more efficient and effective the exercise. This equates to less time spent working out with superior results, which is what makes the kettlebell so popular.

While there are a multitude of exercises you can do with a kettlebell, we’ll start off with the staple of the kettlebell world; the deadlift. Start with feet hip width apart and kettlebell on the floor between your feet, handle in line with your ankles. Pushing your hips back, maintain a neutral flat spine and grab the kettlebell with both hands. Drive your heels into the ground while simultaneously lengthening your spine and bracing your abdominals. Stand up in a controlled and braced fashion. Throughout the movement squeeze your glutes as you stand to an upright position to prevent over usage of spinal erectors and improper mechanics. Our resident Kettlebell expert Alan Ozdamar says to make sure the lift is initiated with the hips while the core and back move as a solid unit. This ensures you are performing the movement correctly and preventing injury such as excessive spinal flexion under duress.

Kettlebell Deadlift with Coach Michelle Uher

kettlebell deadlift

Two Handed Kettlebell Swing

The most well-known true kettlebell exercise is the Two Handed Kettlebell Swing. Tim Ferris of 4 Hour fame puts all of his faith in this one exercise for the maximum benefit with minimum work. It may seem basic, but it’s a powerful movement that hits all the major muscle groups while burning fat and building muscular endurance. To perform this exercise, you’ll need to select the correct weight. Since you’ll be using both hands you can err towards the heavier side. If it’s too light, you’ll be cheating yourself out of the benefits of the exercise. To figure out what kettle bell weight is appropriate swing a kettle bell 20 times on the top of every minute. If you can do this for 10 rounds with no fatigue then you should step it up. A good starting point is 16kg for women and 20kg for men. Next, get your posture down. Stand with your feet hip width apart and feet at about a 30 degree angle (think 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock) gripping the kettle bell in front of you. Keeping your shoulders back, knees slightly bent and your back flat, push your hips behind you allowing your torso to move forward while your hips reach back. Grasp the kettlebell and bring it back between your thighs (this is known at the hike, much like the football hike), almost as if you’re trying to hit your butt. Then, using your hips and NOT your arms, drive the kettle bell forward to shoulder height all the while squeezing your glutes and lats. From here guide the kettlebell back into the starting position. It’s key to maintain good posture and keep your back flat to avoid injury. Watch our own EZIA coach Michelle Uher describe and demonstrate a perfect kettlebell swing.

Kettlebell Clean

After you become comfortable with the kettlebell swing, you can move onto a more advanced exercise called the Clean. This movement starts with a solid grip. Grab the KB handle in the center with one hand, thumb pointing backwards. Your posture and first movement are going to mimick the kettlebell swing described above to drive the kettlebell up vertically. Your arm will naturally bend at the elbow with the momentum and bring the kettlebell to chest height, thumb pointing towards your chest and arm close to the body. This is known as the rack position and you will be standing upright. To release the kettlebell, use the same movement to ease the kettlebell down. Our good friend and fellow Strength Coach Jen Sinkler outlines some excellent tips to perfecting your Clean.

1) Pretend you’re holding a cute lil clutch purse under your arm during the movement. Or a newspaper, if you’re not the purse-clutching type. The idea is to keep your elbow close to your body. The tendency in a sloppy clean is to let the elbow chicken-wing out away from the torso.

2) Zip your coat. So now you’ve got to clamp your purse and zip your coat at the same time. An awkward visual, no doubt, but this takes care of another common tendency in a messy swing, and that’s to let the kettlebell stray too far out in front of you, causing crappy timing for moving the kettlebell into position against the back of your wrist.

3) Imagine a wall right in front of you. Or, actually go face a wall like a dunce. This drives home the same point as cue No. 2, but I can’t emphasize it enough: Keep that kettlebell close to you!

These are just a few examples of kettlebell exercises, but the list is truly endless. A kettlebell can be used in lieu of a dumbbell for many exercises you already perform, but using the kettlebell makes the movement more dynamic and functional, making you a better athlete.

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