Kettlebell training is an incredibly popular way to get fit. It can be incorporated into many workouts and adds a different dimension to your training. We look at kettlebells more closely and explain how they can help you achieve your goals.
What is a Kettlebell?
A traditional kettlebell is a cast iron weight, it’s spherical in shape with a flat base and handle at the top. Kettlebells come in different weight variations and are often used in pairs. Kettlebells are originally Russian and They can used as an alternative to dumbbells in movements like presses and step ups, and can also be used in their own right in exercises such as the kettlebell swing. They are the perfect addition to a circuit routine and due to their unique shape, they will work your muscles in a different way to dumbbells and a barbell, meaning you get more out of your workout.
Why are they named Kettlebells?
Kettlebells originated in Russia and were originally used to weigh crops in the 18th century. They were then used for more recreational use in the 19th century as circus strongmen became a popular attraction. Russian kettlebells are traditionally measured in 'poods', a term still used in CrossFit training, and translates to roughly 16kg. So 1 pood is 16kg, 2 poods is 32kg and so on. The English term 'kettle bell' dates to the 20th century as competitive strongman competitions began to gain popularity.
The history of Kettlebells
Kettlebells, or 'Girya' as the Russians refer to them, were originally used as measuring tools, most typically on marketplace scales as counter-weights.
In 1981, the first official Kettlebell Commission was formed in Russia with the sole mission of enforcing mandatory kettlebell exercise and conditioning for the population. They understood that this singular instrument could keep people fit, increase productivity, and decrease healthcare costs. Kettlebells became the conditioning tool of choice for the Russian Special Forces, the “Spetznaz”, creating soldiers who possessed incredible explosive power and endurance. Now many professional athletes and recreational gym-goers use the bells in their training programs for the same results.
By their nature, typical kettlebell exercises build strength and endurance, particularly in the lower back, legs, and shoulders, and increase grip strength. The basic movements, such as the swing, snatch, and the clean and jerk, engage the entire body at once, and in a way that mimics real world activities to develop functional strength.
Benefits of kettlebell training
- The American Council on Exercise has found that the average kettlebell workout results in significant calorie burn – 300 calories in 15 minutes.
- Serious cardio without the boredom of steady state cardio.
- Builds functional strength without the monotony of isolated reps.
- Improves flexibility.
- Workouts can be varied so they’re never boring.
- Kettlebells are an easily portable device.
- Safe for anyone to try, at all levels of fitness.
- Combines cardio and strength training, by keeping heart rate elevated.
- The workouts can be short and still very effective.
- Kettlebells can be the solution to trying to squeeze cardio, strength AND flexibility training in an already overbooked schedule.
- No need for gym memberships, use kettlebells at home, outside, wherever you can carry them.
- Very different from dumbbells and barbells. Anyone who has picked up a kettlebell has felt the difference. The off centered weight of a kettlebell requires stabiliser muscles and works the targeted muscles through a wider range of motion.a
- Kettlebell training consists of whole-body movement exercises. It’s well-known that compound, whole body movements are the best for burning calories and increasing muscle mass.
- Kettlebells focus on movement not muscles, combining strength, function, cardio and mobility.
- The moves are easy to learn. Movements are simple and you can start using them right away.
- Kettlebell training is great for raising your heart rate for HIIT.
- Kettlebells strengthen your joints with ballistic non impact movement.
- Develop functional strength. Kettlebell training uses fundamental movement patterns making everyday activities easier and injury less likely.
- Builds mobility
- Prevent injury by developing mobility, stability, and strength.
- Kettlebells require you to engage the core in almost every lift.
- More coordination. The brain knows movements and not “muscles” you become more coordinated with kettlebell use.
Read on to find out why you need to be adding this dynamic exercise into your fitness routine. How do you perform a kettlebell goblet squat? We explain with pictures.
Kettlebell Goblet Squat Benefits
By holding the weight of the kettlebell in front of you, it is easier to balance in a deeper squat. Performing squats with as much depth as possible is always preferable as it will work your muscles better and really target your glutes, a muscle group that can often go neglected.
It’s better for those with back injuries
Unlike the traditional back squat, the goblet squat is executed by keeping the body in an upright position, which results in less strain on the lower lumbar and spine.
It adds variety to your routine
Adding different squat variations challenges your body to stabilise during new movements to develop greater strength and function.
It mobilises the hips through a full range of motion
Goblet squats are great for developing better hip mobility, improving strength through the full range of motion.
Goblet squats are volume friendly
Goblet squats aren’t designed for your one rep max. Instead, they are volume friendly, meaning you can do several repetitions for hypertrophy or endurance training. Keep your heart rate up by working to time rather than a set number of repetitions.
Develop grip strength
Goblet squats require you to develop grip by holding the weight in front of your chest. This static position loads the forearms and increases grip strength.
Statically train the biceps
Holding the kettlebell in front of your chest to perform a goblet squat is technically isometric loading of the biceps. Whilst they won’t take the full brunt of the load as they are supported by other muscles, it all helps.
How do you hold a kettlebell goblet squat?
- Grab your kettlebell by the horns and hold it with your biceps flexed, in front of your chest.
- Take a wide stance. Your feet should be just outside shoulder width, with your toes pointed slightly out.
- Sink your weight back into your heels and drop into your squat. Focus on keeping your chest lifted, draw your shoulders back and don’t let your back arch.
- Go as low as you can in the squat without letting your heels come off of the floor and keeping the kettlebell in a static position. If your heels lift, try taking a slightly wider stance.
- As you reach the bottom of your squat, allow your knees to point out before driving up to return to the start position.
Kettlebell Goblet Squat to Press
For a more advanced version of the goblet squat, try the squat to press exercise. To perform this move, repeat the steps above but this time instead of holding the bell with both hands as you drive up, set the bell down on the floor at the bottom of the movement and grip it with only one hand.
Now, as you explode up, flip the bell to sit on the back of your wrist at your shoulder and drive it up above your head. The bell should be dragged halfway diagonally across your chest and then flip to the back of your wrist just before you reach your shoulder.
Flip the bell back down and grab with the other hand to goblet squat, before repeating the motion on the other side.
The better you get at this the less likely you’ll be to bruise your wrist, although it’s probably best to move your watch out of the way.
Kettlebell Training Progression
This is your one-stop guide to the infamous Russian kettlebell swing. A fantastic exercise to add to any workout routine, we're here with all the info you need on why you should be doing it, how to do it properly, and top tips for maximising results.
Visit our Kettlebell Training links for progression and other Kettlebell Training exercises
Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebell swings are initiated with a powerful hip thrust using your glutes and hamstring muscles. Each movement is short and powerful and therefore can increase your overall power in performance; great for triathletes and runners.
Strengthen your core without crunches
The abdominal muscles remain engaged throughout this movement to stabilise you, giving them a great workout in a functional way. Crunches are good at strengthening your abs in an isolated way, but kettlebell swings can strength the entire core as part of a full body movement.
Burn a lot of calories
Combining weight training with power training takes your heart rate through the roof and training at this kind of high intensity will have a massive calorie burning effect as well as creating EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption), meaning you continue to burn calories even after the activity has finished.
Develop hip flexibility
Our hips are fragile, so working on movements which develop hip hinge strength can help to prevent injuries and replacements in later life. The kettlebell swing will work your glutes and other muscles surrounding the hips as well as keeping them supple.
Condition your lower back
When performed correctly, the kettlebell swing helps develop strength in the back whilst carrying a load. If the lower back immediately aches when swinging, it’s usually the first signal of poor form, although it could be injury or many other issues. Increasing the strength in your lower back can reduce back ache in everyday life as well as improving your posture, especially if you sit at a desk all day.
Muscle pulls against the bone which not only builds muscle but also strengthens the bone, thereby increasing your bone density which is important for staying healthy as we age. As well as burning more calories than fat, the more muscle you have the better chance you have of having a high metabolism.
Build cardiovascular endurance without a treadmill
The high speed and duration of kettlebell swings elevates your heart rate continuously throughout the exercise like regular cardio, so you can skip the treadmill.
Improve coordination and focus
Swinging a heavy object in front of your face requires considerable coordination and concentration. Working on kettlebell swings will work your mind just as much as your body and will help to develop the areas of the brain that communicate between brain and body.
How to: Russian Kettlebell Swing
For the Russian kettlebell swing, we only swing the bell in line with our shoulders; other variations see the kettlebell swing all the way above the head and this is commonly seen in sports such as CrossFit. When the bell is taken above the head it becomes an American swing.
- Place the kettlebell about 30 cm in front of you on the ground and stand with a wide stance. Feet just outside your shoulders with your knees slightly bent.
- Bend at the hips to reach down for the kettlebell with bot hands, keeping your back straight.
- In one swift movement, lift the kettlebell as you thrust your hips forward, as your hips reach full extension the kettle bell should swing in line with your shoulders.
- As you allow the bell to swing back down return to your start position before firing up for the next swing.
Top Tips For The Kettlebell Swing:
- Keep the motion fluid so you don’t stop between reps.
- Thrust with the hips, do not arch with your back.
- Don’t drag the kettlebell up, it should be the force of your hips causing it to travel, not your arms dragging it upwards.
- Breathe out as you thrust the bell forward.
- Practice makes perfect!
What is the difference between a Russian Kettlebell Swing and an American Kettlebell Swing?
This one is a big debate in the world of Kettlebell training and there are arguments for why either exercise is better.
The Russian swing uses explosive power hinging at the hips to take the bell to shoulder height before swinging back to the start position. The American swing take this one step further, forcing the swing all the way up above your head.
“We don’t do half rep pull-ups, we don’t do half rep squats, and we don’t do half rep push-ups. If there is a natural range of motion to any movement we like to complete it. To do otherwise seems unnatural.” - Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit
They have gone so far as to call the original Russian Swing a “half rep”. This is a difficult argument to make, as taking the bell over the head can lead to arching the back and has the potential to impinge the shoulder joint as there is the potential for flexion beyond the natural range of movement, at the moment when the bell passes the ears you are at most risk as it would be easy for the bell to continue moving passed the desired angle.
The Kettlebell snatch is a full body power exercise, requiring advanced skill that looks cool as you do it, what more could you want from an exercise?
To master the kettlebell you need advanced coordination, strong hamstrings, hip flexors, shoulders, core strength and plenty of practice. Mastering this skillful move may seem tough, but it will be worth it.
Kettlebell Snatch Preparation
Before working on the snatch you should be confident performing:
- The Kettlebell Swing.
- A Deadlift of at least 3 times the amount you’re trying to snatch.
- The Turkish Get Up.
A strong swing is essential for every Kettlebell movement, you can see how to perform the exercise here. The swing develops a number of skills that are necessary for the snatch. The hip hinge is one of the most important moves and enables you to drive the kettlebell upwards and absorb its force as it comes down. The swing also helps develop good shoulder stability that will ensure you keep your shoulder in the socket as you go for the snatch.
Mastering the deadlift will help you build strength in you grip, the range of motion required to snatch and in the lower back which comes under particular strain.
The Turkish Get Up helps build practice of holding a Kettlebell directly over the shoulders. This will help you practice the good shoulder mobility and stability to help you confidently snatch above your head.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Snatch
The snatch is a compound move which builds strength and power simultaneously
Speed + strength = power. The basis of the snatch is the hip hinge which takes strong and powerful hip flexors to force the kettlebell up above the head. The speed and strength required of this power move makes it a game changer.
The snatch is a full body exercise
The snatch requires almost every muscle to work together to perform the lift, beginning with the posterior chain, then working through core strength, stability in the shoulders and using a strong grip throughout.
The snatch is great cardio conditioning
Performing constant reps of the kettlebell snatch raises your heart rate and can be used as a HIIT cardio move. Researchers at The University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, concluded that the kettlebell snatch workout easily meets industry standards for improving aerobic fitness. Participants maintained 86 to 99 percent of their maximum heart rate during the workout.
The snatch is a calorie torcher
The work load and intensity of the snatch mean that it requires a high heart rate throughout and a high heart rate means high calorie burning. This move is great for those trying to shred up or lose weight.
The snatch builds a sturdy shoulder girdle
The shoulder joint has a varied range of motion and therefore injury is common. Developing strength here both in motion and in the static part of the hold can help to prevent injury.
The snatch focuses on balance
Swinging the kettlebell and snatching it to one side of the body requires balance and core strength to remain sturdy throughout.
The snatch corrects imbalances
Most exercises tend to require both sides of the body working together at once and though most of the time this is fantastic, it can lead to imbalances. Why? Because your stronger side will almost always put in more work than your weaker side, without you even realising. Isolating each side of the body can help to create equal strength and balance any abnormalities.
How to Kettlebell Snatch
- Start in position as though you were about to perform a kettlebell swing. Knees bent, feet just outside shoulder width and with the kettlebell about 30cm in front of you.
- Grab the bell with one hand, thumb facing inwards and keeping a neutral spine.
- Swing the kettlebell between your legs, as it reaches chest height this is where the transition happens, which is the main part of the swing. Utilising the power from your hips punch through the arm and move the wrist around the bell so that it flips onto the back of your wrist. Ensure you bend slightly at the elbow as you maneuver the bell around your hand to protect the shoulder
- At the top of the exercise the bell should be resting against the back of your wrist. If the bell slams your wrist it usually means a lack of control. At this point you lock the bell directly above your shoulder, keeping a straight back and good control.
- Control the kettlebell as you let it fall back to that start position, flipping over your wrist.
- Make sure the power of the swing comes as a push from the hips rather than a pull from the upper body.
- Maintain a straight spine throughout without arching your back.
- The only time your arm is straight is at the top of the movement, you arm should have a slight bend to protect the shoulder throughout the rest of the movement.
- Avoid over-gripping the bell as this will make it hard to push through to the top of the movement.
Kettlebell Training Progression