The International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation (IKFF) describes a kettlebell as "a traditional Russian training tool that has been used since the turn of the century to develop full body conditioning and fitness."
What's special about kettlebells?
Due to its "weird" shape a kettlebell challenges your body in different, unbalanced ways compared to traditional dumbbells or barbells. The center of gravity is simply different, which means you need to constantly counterbalance the weight while exercising. Hence, kettlebell based training can be an excellent addition to your exercise routine to improve strength, power, balance, coordination and mobility. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Fitness Research showed that the experimental group (strength training experienced athletes) had significant improvements in aerobic capacity (13.8%), leg press strength (14.8%) grip strength (9%), and core strength (70%) as result of kettlebell based training.
How can kettlebells be used in training?
Depending on your goals, you have a very broad spectrum to shape a kettlebell based training according to your needs. I am a certified kettlebell instructor and train with kettlebells about two times per week. For my current goals and related training routines, kettlebells are complementary and supplementary to specific sports like climbing, Thai boxing and obstacle races. Some of the top kettlebell exercises and also my favorites, include:
- Clean (& jerk)
- Overhead press
- Turkish get-up
- Goblet squat
A useful description of these exercises can be found on bodybuilding.com.
Kettlebells can be a very effective training tool to continuously challenge your body in different ways. We also need to be a bit careful though. Too often kettlebells are promoted as the magic tool that covers everything. They are not. You need the right tool for the right job. Kettlebells are one of many tools. Always put it into perspective to your goals and what you want to achieve. In most cases, kettlebells and the related kettlebell based exercises can be a great complement to your main exercise routine or your specific type of sport. In line with this and for some further reading, Nate Green shared his excellent report "Kettlebells Put to the Test" on t-nation.com.
For more details about our broader and more holistic concept of the 4 Legs of Fitness including resistance training, cardio, nutrition and recovery, check out our book From Healthy to Athletic: How to Master the 4 Ingredients to Superior Fitness.