Weighing up the benefits of kettlebell training


woman working out with kettlebell

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We all want to get the most out of every workout, so a piece of equipment that helps to tone and burn fat seems like a dream come true. It’s no surprise, then, that kettlebells have become a staple in many gyms. We've already filled you in on some of the benefits of kettlebells, including improved bone density and aiding in maintaining a healthy weight — but there is even more incentive to become acquainted with kettlebells. According to certified trainer Paige Waehner, fitness expert at About.com, training with kettlebells has a plethora of benefits beyond building muscle, including increased agility and better posture. She suggests that beginners consult a kettlebell instructor for guidance and take classes if possible. About.com states in its beginner kettlebell workout to see a doctor before beginning your training if you have any concerns and that kettlebell training is not for true exercise novices but for those who are “adept at traditional exercise with a basic level of cardio endurance and muscular strength.”

Kettlebells can be tricky to use, but if you learn how to use them correctly, training with them can actually make it safer to participate in athletic activity. Waehner reveals that kettlebell training can be instrumental in helping athletes stave off injuries by conditioning the body to tolerate “eccentric deceleration,” or the act of fast motion coming to a stop, a common occurrence in sports that Waehner says is a prime cause of injuries in athletes. A 2010 report from the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy (NAJSPT) confirms this and also discusses using kettlebells as a part of sports injury rehabilitation: “Including kettlebell … specific exercises during later stages of rehabilitation may provide an appropriate training stimulus that would help prepare the athlete for the physiological requirements of sport.”

Kettlebell training is also an effective form of cardio. The Journal of Strength Conditioning Research has reported in 2010 and again in 2014 that kettlebell training can provide a cardio workout similar to that of a treadmill, based on a comparison of metabolic responses in participants during the two workouts. The journal’s 2014 research shows that a 30-minute kettlebell routine actually produced a higher heart rate than a 30-minute treadmill workout that was specifically designed to produce the same oxygen output as the kettlebell routine. Meanwhile, in 2010, the American Council on Exercise found that study participants who performed a 20 minute interval training routine of rhythmic kettlebell snatches tailored to their individual fitness baselines burned an average of 20 calories a minute, thanks to a continued post-workout calorie burn. John Porcari, PhD, one of the study leaders, equates this rate of calorie burn to that of running at a pace of six minutes per mile.

Proper form and training are essential to safely performing kettlebell exercises. Certified personal trainer Mike Stehle highlights ten common mistakes made while kettlebell training in Men’s Fitness and cautions exercise enthusiasts to move at a pace suitable to their fitness level in order to avoid injury. “Be patient with your training and progress slowly,” says Stehle in the article. “Take up sessions with a coach or trainer to develop a solid, progressive plan.” Stehle also discusses some errors in form that can lead to injury, such as a too-wide stance and improper grip. Cody Storey, kettlebell trainer at Daily Burn, suggests that beginners practice the motions of kettlebell exercises without weight, using a light object such as a small towel to get a feel for proper movement. When you’re ready for weights, be sure to choose a light weight suitable for beginners. The American Council on Exercise’s recommendations for beginners are 8 to 15 pound weights for women and 15 to 25 pound weights for men.

Another issue Stehle and Storey tackle in their respective articles is proper shoe choice. Those running shoes you love so much for their cushioning can actually mess with your alignment and stability by raising your heels. Both trainers recommend minimalist shoes to keep you grounded, with Daily Burn suggesting that you choose your shoe based on your experience with the minimalist design as well as how strong your feet and ankles are. Bodybuilding.com has the rundown on the latest options, including which ones work well for minimalist shoe newbies, and reminds readers that proper fit is of the utmost importance. You can also consult your kettlebell trainer for recommendations. Support and proper gear is important, so research and be safe!

Talk to your doctor to see if kettlebell training is the right workout for you. Want to know more about kettlebell training? Head to Jennifer Mosscrop’s kettlebell report and my toning report for additional kettlebell resources.