The kettlebell was first developed in Russia in the 1700s, and was used by the Soviet army in the 20th century as part of physical training and conditioning programs, but it is only relatively recently that it has gained the attention it deserves in the wider world of fitness and strength training as a perfect tool for total body workouts.
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With its uneven weight distribution, using a kettlebell puts greater strain on your stabiliser muscles than other weights do. In addition to improving core stabilisation, the American Council on Exercise has found that the average kettlebell workout results in significant calorie burn – 300 calories in 15 minutes.
Geoff Neupert, StrongFirst’s master Kettlebell Instructor, is a firm advocate of using kettlebells. “They’re incredibly time-efficient,” says Neupert. “They help strip off unwanted body fat, put on muscle in all the right places, and help stave off heart disease by improving heart and lung function. Kettlebell workouts, when done correctly, are ‘joint-friendly’. There’s no longer a need to suffer through joint-pounding aerobics workouts or machine circuits, further damaging your knees, lower back or shoulders.”
Ashton Turner, co-founder of London’s Evolve 353 gym says the beauty of kettlebell training – done properly – is its versatility. “With just one item of kit there are so many things you can do, including high-rep fat loss workouts and lower-rep strength sessions. They’re good for developing hip hinge power, which is useful for athletic power creation without the injury risk associated with the deadlift.”
Read on for Turner’s five-move kettlebell workout that can be modified to build muscle and burn fat. On the next page, there’s a 12-week kettlebell training plan for the committed, but first, which kettlebell should you use?
How to select a good-quality kettlebell
1 Comp standard: “I like competition kettlebells [see picture above] because every weight is the same size,” says Turner. “That’s useful for getting a consistent feel, particularly when you’re doing complex moves like cleans and snatches.”
2 Cast iron: “I prefer cast-iron kettlebells over rubber-based ones because they tend to have a more stable base. That’s useful when you’re doing exercises like the renegade row, where you have to put all of your bodyweight on the kettlebell.”
3 Perfect weight: “For men, I’d suggest using a 16kg and a 20kg kettlebell. That’s heavy enough to provide a challenge but light enough to do high-rep sets and will allow you to do all of the key exercises, including the ones in this guide.”
This five-move workout will help you reach your goal, whether you want to torch fat or build muscle. Use a weight of kettlebell that allows you to only just complete the final rep of the final exercise. Select your workout according to your goal:
If shrinking your waistline is your goal, do ten reps of each exercise in order, without stopping, to complete one round. Rest for 60 seconds then complete another round. Do five rounds in total.
Progression: Add a rep each round until you are doing 15 reps for each move. Once you complete that, use a heavier kettlebell and go back to doing ten reps of each exercise.
If you’d like to add lean muscle, do 12 reps of each move to complete one set then rest for 45-60 seconds. Do four sets of each exercise in total, resting for 60-90 seconds between exercises.
Progression: Add a rep each round until you are doing 15 reps for each move. Once you complete that, use a heavier kettlebell and go back to doing 12 reps of each exercise.
Swing the kettlebell between your legs and drive the hips forwards. Once the bell passes stomach height, draw your elbow back and slide your hand under and around the bell to catch it in the “rack” position, then lower the bell in an arc to repeat the move.
Expert tip: “Make sure the kettlebell doesn’t travel too far away from your body,” says Turner. “It’s a great exercise for power development as well as being a good way of moving into the start position of an overhead press, so it’s a good linking move.”
2 Overhead press
Start in the rack position with the kettlebell at shoulder height and your elbow tucked in to your side for support. Press the weight directly overhead, using the most efficient path possible to reduce stress on your shoulder joint.
Expert tip: “Start with your elbow under the kettlebell and push up in a straight line while rotating your arm to finish with your palm facing forwards,” says Turner. “You can also ‘pop’ the bell off your ribcage to initiate the movement if you’re lifting a heavy weight.”
Swing the bell between your legs, then drive forwards with your hips to swing it up in an arc. When the bell gets to just below chest height, being your elbow back and slide your hand under and around the kettlebell while using its momentum to end with it overhead.
Expert tip: “Try to avoid moving your hand under the bell and then pressing up in a separate movement,” says Turner. “The move should be one movement and as smooth as possible, using the momentum of the kettlebell.”
Start with the weight above your head and your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Your weight distribution should be biased towards the side that’s holding the bell. Keeping your eyes on the bell, lower your torso until your hand touches the floor.
Expert tip: “Windmills look intimidating but they are an excellent move for building core stability and shoulder stability because they require a lot of control,” says Turner. “They also give you a good hamstring stretch.”
5 Plank drag
Get into a straight-arm plank position with your body in a straight line from head to heels and position a kettlebell to one side of your body. Reach through with the opposite hand to drag the bell across to the other side. Switch sides and repeat the move.
Expert tip: “This is great way of making the plank more interesting,” says Turner. “The wider you take the kettlebell, the harder it is to do. You can also try to raise the kettlebell off the floor slightly to turn it into a modified reverse flye.”
NEXT: 12-Week Kettlebell Training Plan