Kettlebells have become widely used workout weapons over the past five years. The American Council on Exercise reported in a 2010 study that kettlebell workouts offer higher-intensity exercise than standard weight training and yield more rapid results. Performing kettlebell quick overhead lifts, or snatches, for 20 minutes torched as many calories as running a 6-minute mile or doing cross-country skiing uphill, the study found. But muscles put under such stress require repair.
Warm and Cool
To best promote muscle recovery, before beginning a kettlebell workout, warm up with light cardiovascular exercise. Then start moving your body in the pattern of the kettlebell swing without adding any weight, says Cindy Trowbridge, Ph.D., associate professor and clinical educational coordinator for the Athletic Training Education Program at The University of Texas at Arlington. After completing your kettlebell workout, cool down with static stretches to gradually slow the body. Static stretches are those where you stretch a muscle and hold it for 20 to 30 seconds, such as bending to touch your toes or stretching each arm diagonally across your body.
Work-to-rest ratios, which measure efficiency and compare time spent exercising to time spent resting during a workout, are essential to ensure that you are giving your body adequate time to recover energy after intense exercise. When you do a strength exercise at 60- to 75-percent intensity, take 45 seconds to complete the exercise and then rest for 90 to 225 seconds. That is a 1:2-to-1:5 work-to-rest ratio range. When you are ready to challenge yourself more, do a highly intense strength exercise at 90 percent intensity, taking 10 seconds to complete the exercise and then resting for between 120 and 200 seconds. That is a 1:12-to-1:20 work-to-rest ratio.
Strive to vary your fitness regimen and avoid stressing the same muscles in exactly the same way every day so that your muscles will have time to rebuild. When starting out, do kettlebell exercises every third day. Over time, work up to doing these workouts every other day, but don't exceed that. Skipping a day or two is especially important when your workout intensity is 75 percent or higher. You don't need to do these highly intense kettlebell exercises every day to see results.
Do not perform kettlebell workouts until you have a base of developed strength, such as getting through core exercises. As discussed previously, you can do this by practicing the moves but without the kettlebells. "While easy to do because the moves are functional, once we add weight, if we do not have the requisite core strength to stabilize and transfer the momentum, we may complete the exercise by negatively altering biomechanics," says Trowbridge. "Incorrect movement repeated over time could cause muscle damage including strains and tendinitis, and other injuries."
Julie D. Andrews is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in print or on the websites of "Prevention," "Glamour," "Fitness," "Shape," "Cosmopolitan Latina," "Elle" and "New York Magazine."