10 facts you need to know about Kettlebells
Kettlebells have long existed as a conditioning tool and it is only recently that their popularity has become more mainstream.
Nowadays it’s not uncommon to walk into any gym and see a rack of Kettlebells beside dumbbells and barbells. Newly qualified trainers should have some basic knowledge of Kettlebell training so below are 10 facts that trainers need to know about Kettlebells and training with them.
Kettlebells are believed to have originated in Russia around 1700 originally as a farming tool to weigh grain, although there is some evidence to suggest that they may have actually originated in ancient Greece. The first man credited with introducing Kettlebells to Russian strength and conditioning programmes was Vladislav Kraevsky around 1800. He is considered to be the father of weightlifting in Russia. For a great deal of time the Kettlebell was a Russian ‘secret’ until it was popularised in America around 2001. Today it is very much here to stay.
Physically, Kettlebells are a very different shape to dumbbells and barbells. With their round body and u-shaped handle it is important to understand the differences in terms of training with them. The main load of the Kettlebell is set outside the axis of rotation (the handle). This extends the lever arm of any given exercise and increases rotational inertia. Basically this means that the Kettlebell is harder to control for a lot of movements. It also requires the lifter to allow the Kettlebell to rotate around the forearm in some movements which requires both a greater level of both skill and neuromuscular control than using dumbbells and barbells.
There are different types of Kettlebells which vary according to the material they’re made from. On the cheaper end of the scale there are concrete Kettlebells these are vinyl coated and are less durable. The next ones are cast iron Kettlebells, sometimes also referred to as ‘professional bells’. These are the most common and range in quality, depending on the handle size and how smooth the finish is. The final type is the steel competition style. These offer the best quality and they have the advantage of being made to standard dimensions. They are also colour coded depending on weight.
The importance of safety with Kettlebell exercises cannot be highlighted enough and extends beyond the exercise techniques themselves. A trainer needs to be aware of other safety factors such as:
- The client’s medical history
- The client’s training history
- The training area and in particular the floor surface
- Appropriate footwear - large cushioned running trainers are a hindrance, minimal or specific weight lifting shoes are best
- Space awareness when training - nothing says ‘ouch’ more than being hit by a moving Kettlebell in the gym!
Technique is everything
Kettlebell-specific exercises are generally more complex than traditional weight training exercises. They require activation of a lot of different muscle groups in sequence to be safe and effective. It’s imperative that trainers fully understand the technique required for an exercise and how best to coach that technique before implementing Kettlebell exercises in a programme. For example, a poorly executed Kettlebell swing can potentially cause a back injury. Technique should be the initial focus with Kettlebell training. Once the correct technique has been mastered, intensity, load and volume can be increased.
As most people who train regularly already know, weight training can be hard on the hands. Callouses on the hands can develop due to the higher repetitions involved in Kettlebell exercise routines. Whilst the wearing of weight training gloves may help prevent callouses, they don’t offer the level of control that can be needed for advanced Kettlebell lifts. As such it is recommended to use chalk instead while doing higher repetition sets and to maintain the hands by using pumice stone to stop callouses over-developing and risking tears.
Velocity of movement
Many Kettlebell-specific exercises require fast, explosive execution to be really effective. Unlike traditional weight training which emphasises controlled movements with a slow eccentric and concentric phase, Kettlebell exercises often have a higher velocity concentric phase and gravity often aids the eccentric phase. You will no doubt hear the uneducated observer criticise Kettlebell lifters for this, arguing that momentum is doing the work for them. However, what they fail to realise is that the Kettlebell lifter has had to create the force to carry that momentum and in fact, with enough velocity, even a relatively light Kettlebell can be extremely challenging to lift.
Sets reps and work capacity
Most forms of resistance training focus on sets and reps and Kettlebells can also be used in this way. However, traditionally this is not their primary focus. Kettlebells are best used to develop work capacity. Siff (2003) defines this as “The general ability of the body as a machine to produce work of different intensity and duration using the appropriate energy systems of the body”. This is well demonstrated in Kettlebell sport where the goal is to complete as many repetitions with the largest weight over a 10-minute time period, hence requiring strength, endurance and efficiency.
Kettlebell lifts are not Olympic lifts
Although some of the traditional Kettlebell exercise share the same names as the Olympic lifts and to the untrained eye may look similar, there are fundamental differences. Olympics lifts are more linear. The closer the bar’s trajectory is to the line of gravity, the more efficient the lift. Kettlebell lifts such at the Snatch and the Clean move in an arc. This comes from the basic swing which also moves in an arc and forms the power base for the other lifts.
Kettlebell are not magic
When a piece of exercise equipment becomes popular, there is often a tendency to claim its superiority over other methods of exercise and conditioning. The Kettlebell has been a victim of this at times with over-zealous trainers marketing them as the pinnacle of all equipment. The Kettlebell is of course simply a tool. It has some unique characteristics when compared to barbells and dumbells but it is the exercises and implementation of specific training strategies which sets them apart. The magic therefore is the trainer who, with the right knowledge, makes clients’ goals a reality. The Future Fit Complete Kettlebell Instructor Course is a great place to gain this knowledge.