Kettlebell Swings, what are they good for?
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Kettlebell Swings, what are they good for?
By: Elemental Fitness Ltd personaltrainingleeds, cardio, strength, mobility
Getting started with Kettlebells
Kettlebells have been my training method of choice for a few years. I first purchased one and started swinging it around quite badly on reflection. Overtime my technique improved and I participated in additional training courses to improve my technical ability. And, throughout the pandemic in particularly I trained almost exclusively with kettlebells from home. Throughout this time I saw huge improvements in many areas including cardio, strength, co-ordination and mobility - all of which improved my martial arts training, one of my primary focuses. So, lets begin...
What is a kettlebell?
Ever seen those big lumps of iron with a handle sat in a gym corner and wondered what you’re supposed to do with them? Or maybe you’ve seen someone swinging them around and fancied having a go yourself? Read on for everything you need to get started….
Kettlebells have been my training method of choice since before COVID when I first purchased one and started swinging it around badly. During the pandemic lockdowns, I trained almost exclusively with kettlebells and saw huge improvements in many areas including cardio, strength, co-ordination and mobility, all of which improved my martial arts training.
Where did they come from?
Although their use can be traced back to Ancient Greece, Kettlebell popularity as a training tool originated in Russia. Originally used as counterweights by tradesmen selling crops in the 18th century, their use as an exercise tool was quickly realised. Early 19th century records show kettlebells being used by circus strongmen, and they began to be used recreationally, and for strength athletics in Russia and Europe in the late 19thcentury.
In the 1900s they were adopted as the tool of choice for training the Russian military, and in the early 2000s they were popularised in the west by Pavel Tsatsouline, a former Russian military trainer turned fitness guru. He has written several useful books on kettlebell training including ‘Enter the Kettlebell’. Highly recommended if you are looking to start training.
There are two main types of kettlebell you will see in the gym. Classic Russian style made of cast iron which increase in size with weight, and competition kettlebells, used as the name would suggest, in kettlebell competition, which remain the same size regardless of weight. Cast iron kettlebells are generally cheaper, the advantage of the competition kettlebells is that with the consistent size, lifters can keep focus on strength gains rather than having to adjust technique to accommodate differing kettlebell sizes.
What are the benefits?
Low impact cardio
If like myself, you’ve been on the planet for a few years, high impact cardio such as running can start to take its toll on the joints and connective tissues. Due to the feet being planted in most kettlebell exercises, and the ballistic nature of many of the techniques, kettlebells are fantastic for low impact cardio, meaning we are not placing the same repetitive strain and impact on the joints and connective tissues, as something like running might. It is possible to get a fantastic cardio workout in a short space of time through kettlebell circuits and complexes.
Full Body Strength
Kettlebells are great for building strength and mass due to the full body nature of many of the techniques. Moves such as the swing and Turkish getup recruit muscles from the whole body helping you become a stronger lifter.
Co-ordination & Mobility
Unlike a barbell, most kettlebell exercises will generally force you to contribute evenly with both sides of your body. And it’s unique shape and how it is handled means more recruitment of stabilizer muscles than dumbbell training making it a fantastic tool for improving co-ordination and mobility.
Fight Imbalances and Asymmetries
With the majority of kettlebell techniques being unilateral, both sides of the body are worked equally hard meaning muscle imbalances and asymmetries can be ironed out and the weaker side given the chance to catch up with the stronger side.
Kettlebells have a lot of benefits. They're suitable for all ages due to the low impact approach, however without the correct form, like many exercise programs, the risk of injury increases therefore its important you start at the correct level under a watchful eye, such as an experienced instructor. Alternatively you can observe yourself in a mirror or record yourself on your phone on a low weight, or without, to begin with.
Where do I start?
People often ask which weight they should start with. Recommended weights are 8-12kg for females and 12-16kg for males. However, you may find different weights work for different techniques. For example, most people can swing a heavier kettlebell than they can clean and press. Start light to avoid injury and increase the weight if it feels too easy.
It is good to start with movements that you may be used too in other forms of training to get used to the movement and shape of the kettlebell. Start with movements such as goblet squats, deadlifts and overhead presses before progressing to more technical moves such as the swing, clean, snatch and the Turkish get up.
Train with an instructor, join a class, check out YouTube channels such Mark Wildman and Strongfirst for some great advice on perfecting the techniques alongside out beginners online kettlebell programme here.
If you are looking to buy your own kettlebells check out brands such as Rogue Fitness, Onnit and Wolverson, all of whom supply high quality reputable Kettlebells.
So next time you’re in the gym, don’t need to be afraid of the Kettlebell. Pick one up, give it a go!
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