by Taylor Geiger
Kettlebell training promotes fat loss, toning of major muscle groups and greater functional strength, while requiring less time than its dumbbell counterpart.
“Kettlebells can replace almost all other exercise equipment in providing an all-in-one workout, combining strength and cardio benefits,” says Shelly Bumpus, an Athletics and Fitness Association of America-certified personal trainer and owner of the Studio Women’s Fitness Center, in Scott, Louisiana.
Bumpus often uses kettlebells in strength and conditioning exercise classes to afford a balanced full-body workout that’s fun and engaging. “Consistent kettlebell training imitates and strengthens movements we use to function in daily life,” explains Athena Concannon, an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and healthy lifestyle blogger at AchieveWithAthena.com, in Boston. For example, actions like lifting grocery bags and standing up from a sitting position become easier. She notes that the growing popularity of different kinds of functional training in the past decade has bolstered recognition of kettlebell benefits as people seek ways to move away from assisted weight machines toward natural body movements.
Kettlebells now show up in circuit training, CrossFit and both functional fitness and step classes. People see results because, “It takes multiple small and large muscle groups to redirect movement while maintaining control with a kettlebell, requiring more muscle recruitment than with a traditional dumbbell; it’s because its shape provides unbalanced weight resistance that strengthens a multitude of different muscles,” says Julie Joffrion, owner of All-Inclusive Health, in New Orleans.
A kettlebell’s configuration requires exercisers to pay close attention to maintaining a neutral spinal posture and avoid locking knees and wrists to avoid pain or injury. By starting with a smaller weight and focusing on form first, exercisers build a foundation that allows them to more fully enjoy the benefits.
Momentum training with kettlebells also compares favorably to traditional dumbbells or weighted bars. “The distinctive shape and weight distribution allows for a variety of exercises and grip positions that are not as comfortable and effective or even possible with a dumbbell,” says Joffrion.
Although kettlebells have been popular with Russian athletes since the 1700s, they are a relatively new addition to U.S. fitness clubs. “I first learned about kettlebell fitness in 2005 when some gyms were purchasing them. However, because trainers didn’yet know how to use or instruct on proper movement of the bells, they sat dormant for a while. I started using them and fell in love. After a few months, I knew this would be something I’d stick with for a long time,” says Lorna Kleidman, an accomplished kettlebell champion who has earned gold awards in 17 national and international competitions.
Now the founder of KettleX, a business focused on making kettlebell fitness available to everyone through DVDs, private sessions, online coaching and seminars, Kleidman says, “The beauty is that the bells keep you strong and looking great, no matter what your age or fitness experience. I’ve rarely met a person who didn’t get hooked after working out with the appropriate bells, be it a child or an 80-year-young client.
“They are excellent for power, cardiovascular enhancement, endurance and physical symmetry, which is important for the health of the tissues and joints. At the same time, they create a healthfullooking physique, including toned arms, flat abs and a round, lifted butt.” she says.
Participants completing 20 minutes of a high-intensity kettlebell workout burned an average of 20 calories per minute in a study sponsored by the American Council of Exercise. The researchers compared this level to running a six-minute mile and credited the more intensive calorie burn as a result of challenging the total body, which quickly raises the heart rate when performed with speed. The study concluded that kettlebell training is especially beneficial for those who want to fit in a time-efficient, total body workout.
Proponents go a step further, claiming that kettlebells can deliver increased benefits in half the time of traditional workouts. Bumpus says, “If you’re solely interested in building strength and muscle power, stick with free weights, but if you’re looking for a way to burn fat while increasing muscular and cardiovascular endurance, kettlebells are a valuable option to incorporate into your training.”
Taylor Geiger is a freelance writer in Phoenix, Arizona. Connect at TaylorGeiger.wordpress.com.