Kettlebells originated in Russia in the 18th Century and were first used by Soviet special forces, writes kettlebell coach Pavel Tsatsouline in "Enter the Kettlebell." They only hit the mainstream in the early 2000s, but are now a staple tool in many weight loss, fitness and strength programs. Increasing tone requires an intensive, balanced training plan and a calorie controlled diet, and there is no single best kettlebell exercise for toning; however, one exercise that is extremely effective is the kettlebell swing.
To perform a swing, grab a kettlebell with both hands on the handle. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and push your hips forward slightly to get the bell moving, then swing it back between your legs by pushing your butt back as far as you can and bending your knees slightly. As soon as you feel your hamstrings tighten, snap your hips forward powerfully and straighten your knees to lift the bell up while keeping your arms straight. When the bell is just above shoulder-height, lower it down again. The key to performing swings correctly is to use your hips as much as possible and generate speed and power -- it isn't a slow movement and your arms shouldn't become fatigued from lifting the bell.
Muscles Worked and Calories Burned
The swing is very effective for weight loss and toning, as it works a lot of different muscles. The metabolic cost of a set of heavy swings is huge, writes strength coach Dan John in his book "Never Let Go." This means that a tough set of swings will burn a lot of calories and boost your metabolism. While the number of calories burned will vary depending on the individual, according to Harvard Medical School, 30 minutes of vigorous weight training burns between 180 and 266 calories. Swings hit your glutes, hamstrings, lower-back and core muscles, which not only burns calories but increases muscular strength and tone.
To get the most out of swings and avoid injury, technique is vital. Some of the most common mistakes include a lack of speed and power in the hip snap, not keeping your head up and your back flat, and losing tension in the bottom position, according to Mike Robertson, owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training. Before you attempt to perform whole swing-based workouts, take a few sessions to really master your technique. If you're a beginner to weight training, start with an 18-pound kettlebell, or a 26-pound bell if you're more experienced.
Perform swings three times per week. In your first workout, do three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. In session two, set a timer for 10 minutes and perform as many perfect swings as you can, and in session three try a pyramid workout -- do five swings, rest for 30 seconds, then 10 swings, take another 30 seconds of rest, do 15 swings, and so on until you reach 25 swings, then work your way back down in the same manner. Once you can do these three workouts fairly easily, use a heavier bell. While the kettlebell swing is a fantastic exercise for toning, strengthening and increasing fitness and weight loss, it shouldn't be the only exercise you do. Include other strength training exercises for your lower body, upper body and core muscles, as well as cardiovascular training.
- Enter the Kettlebell: Strength Secret of the Soviet Supermen; Pavel Tsatsouline
- ExRx: Kettlebell Two Arm Swing
- Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning; Dan John
- Harvard Medical School: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- Robertson Training Systems: Mastering the Kettlebell Swing
- Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images