What is a kettlebell?
A cannonball with a handle!
The unconventional shape of the kettlebell allows for unique positioning of the weight to create an extension away from your center of mass. The U-shaped handle causes a greater force of movement. This makes it more effective in core stabilization, producing greater endurance and longevity and increased conditioning and fitness.
It is literally a handheld gym and delivers extreme all around fitness. Training with kettlebells results in exceptional power, functional strength, flexibility, and incredible stamina. It is excellent training for any athlete, fighter, or fitness enthusiast because of the three dimensional and rotational explosive movements with control. Kettlebell training excels fat loss as it provides high intensity cardio and weight training all in one.
History of Kettlebells
Kettlebells are not new to the world of fitness. Anyone who has been involved in the "iron game" for a long time has always known that Kettlebells exist. There might even be one or two lying around somewhere in a corner of the gym. The origin of the kettlebell starts in Eastern Europe. Kettlebells were originally only measured in poods. One pood is equal to 16 kg or about 35 lbs. Only three sizes existed - 1 pood, 1-1/2 poods and 2 poods.
The history is unclear as to exactly when kettlebells originated, but folklore has it that originated in the early 19th century. Kettlebells were used as counterweights at Russian farmers markets. After a long day at the farmers market, fathers and sons would play with the weights by tossing them to each other and juggling them. It soon became a way for these men to get their daily exercise. Parents taught this to their children and so it continued from generation to generation. Kettlebells became a part of their culture as "the people's" method for physical fitness and vitality.
This method of staying fit was soon adopted by the Russian military to keep their soldiers in top condition. The general population of Russia has always been encouraged to pursue physical fitness through kettlebell fitness groups and kettlebell triathlon competitions. In Russia, kettlebells are a matter of national pride and a symbol of strength. The Red Army and the kettlebell are inseparable. Every Russian military unit has a gym called "the courage corner" and every "courage corner" is equipped with kettlebells.
In 1981, USSR Weightlifting Federation established their first official Kettlebell Commission in order to keep the masses fit, decrease healthcare costs, and increase labor productivity. Together with Olympic weightlifting, Kettlebell training is recognized by most of the Eastern Bloc countries as an integral method for athletic development. Russian immigrants brought kettlebells to America and now they are available to us as a great addition to any fitness routine or as a whole fitness regime.
Why are Kettlebells Different from Traditional Weight Training?
The questions are often asked such as “Why can’t I just use a dumbbell to do the kettlebell exercises such as swings, cleans and snatches?” or “What is the difference between working with a kettlebell and a dumbbell?” As a trainer, you will often hear these questions. We have found that specifically bodybuilders and athletes are very skeptical about the advantages of kettlebell training.
Of course, every training tool has its advantages and its shortcomings and so does the kettlebell. But there is a substantial difference between training with kettlebells and dumbbells. Kettlebell training has some very specific advantages especially when it comes to efficiency, functionality, and “defying gravity”.
In traditional weight lifting, such as a dumbbell or barbell, these balance and stabilizer muscles are not utilized as effectively as with a kettlebell. The majority of these exercises is executed in one plane of motion and relies heavily on leverage in static positions. In normal life our bodies move in three planes of motion: the saggital plane, the frontal plane, and the transverse plane. Even if you were to attempt a simple kettlebell move with a dumbbell, it still does not have the same effect because of the center of gravity and the shape of the dumbbell. In whichever way you hold the dumbbell by the handle, the dumbbell itself is still balanced in design. When you lift a dumbbell by the handle, it is directly in line with your wrist. This is the first point of axis with a small movement arm to the wrist joint. There is a direct line of “applied force” because the dumbbell is symmetrical as a result of its balanced grip. Consider how many everyday objects that you lift, push or pull around your house and work environment. Are they perfectly symmetrical with a direct line of “applied force”? The answer is typically “no”.
When used correctly, kettlebells also engage all four major body systems: cardiovascular, muscular, nervous and skeletal. This is called “metabolic conditioning.”
- Cardiovascular system: kettlebell training can accelerate the heart rate to the equivalent of a sprint.
- Muscular system: fast ballistic movement
- Nervous system: fast multi-tasking movement requiring coordination in all planes of motion
- Skeletal system: extreme acceleration and deceleration forces
Most of the confusion between kettlebells and dumbbells comes from a lack of correct instruction on how to utilize kettlebells properly. As a direct result, people make the mistake of thinking they can use dumbbells as if they were kettlebells.
During modern bodybuilding based weight lifting, the body is usually in a fixed position while moving weight in a linear manner through a direct line of applied force. The body attempts not to use any momentum and targets an isolated muscle or muscle group. That is why this type of weight lifting is called a “single-plane static” form of exercise.
Kettlebells are also different from traditional weight lifting in that you can use all three planes of motion simultaneously. The transverse plane is largely targeted and this is where 70 percent of all injuries happen. Kettlebell training is based upon generating momentum, perpetuating it, and then redirecting and decelerating that momentum. So moving in the transverse plane is less harmful and can actually prevent injuries.
Also, researchs have proven that a kettlebell lifter can do whatever a traditional weight lifter can do, but not very many traditional weight lifters can do what a kettlebell lifter can do. The kettlebell lifter has “real world strength” that applies to real world situations, everyday tasks and obstacles.
- Kettlebells and dumbbells are distinctively different in shape. Dumbbells have equally distributed weight in the center of mass and Kettlebells have a unique extension from the center of mass.
- The unique "U" shaped handle creates an additional lever arm that increases or decreases the weight and force depending on how it is held.
- The swinging action that is used in kettlebell technique in combination with the unique shape results in rotational inertia, which in turn requires greater core stability to control the movement - i.e. very functional and effective core strengthening power.
- Kettlebells require greater strength and demand a refined coordination of the muscular and nervous systems for control. Both acceleration and deceleration are important components that utilize these systems.
- Kettlebells translate much better into functional everyday activities. There are very few objects in the "real world" that are evenly shaped with a center of mass like a dumbbell. Kettlebells teach “real world strength”.