If you want to become one powerful Nestie, head to the kettlebell rack at the gym or work with them at home. You’ll be swiping one of the secrets of success for athletes including NFL players and mixed martial artists, a secret that works just as well for women who like to work out as for quarterbacks. The same exercises that lead to Super Bowl success can help you sculpt and strengthen your back, glutes and hamstrings, an area called the posterior chain.
Kettlebell exercises such as the swing encourage strength, particularly in the posterior chain -- the muscles on the back of the body not visible in the mirror that help so much with daily functional tasks. The asymmetric shape of the kettlebell recruits your stabilizer muscles to bring the weight’s shifting center of gravity through the motion of exercises such as the swing. Similar exercises with throwing, pushing or swinging movements that work multiple muscles include presses, snatches, cleans, jerks and the Turkish get-up. If you perform high repetitions of these exercises, you can build endurance as well as strength, notes Mike Mahler, a certified kettlebell instructor in Santa Monica, California.
If you are looking for exceptional muscle development, Mahler notes that barbells are tough to beat, although kettlebells do offer variety for developing the arms, shoulders and hamstrings. Soccer star Abby Wambach, for example, follows a strength-training regimen heavy on the barbells to maintain her prolific scoring in international matches. You can blend a program involving kettlebells and barbells, though, to be the strongest girl on the team. Mix in three sets of 10 repetitions of what personal trainers call “KB swings” -- KB is kettlebell, DB is dumbbell and BB stands for barbell -- along with your squats, bench presses and barbell lunges.
Mark your calendar for four 25-minute sessions a week if you want to seriously pursue greater strength and increased muscle, recommends Lorna Kleidman, a three-time world kettlebell champion based in New York City. You can work with a 15- or 20-pound kettlebell to perform swings, squat flips, lateral lunges, plank rows and the kneeling hinge. Perform eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise, with 30 seconds of rest between each, and three to four sets to create your circuit.
You’ll not only achieve greater strength with kettlebells -- you’re likely to improve your cardiovascular endurance and burn fat as well. The American Council on Exercise published findings in 2010 that looked at the growing trend toward kettlebells and found that claims that they provide a beneficial blend of cardio and resistance were more than just hype. Researchers measured exercisers performing the kettlebell snatch and found brisk energy burns of 20 calories a minute, attributed to the demands for total-body movements in an interval-training format. And even if it isn’t your main focus, your balance and flexibility improve as well.
An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.