A kettlebell resembles a cannonball with a handle. In the 1700s, Russian muscle-men used kettlebell drills as a quick way to build endurance, strength, flexibility and balance, according to the American Council on Exercise. If the Russian Army, Special Forces and U.S. Marines all use the kettlebell for training, there must be something to this medieval-looking chunk of metal. If you’re pressed for time and can’t squeeze in a session at the gym, you can do a 20-minute kettlebell workout that combines strength and cardiovascular training.
A rigorous kettlebell workout is a total-body regimen performed over a period of several weeks. For example, the American Council on Exercise had one of its resident exercise physiologists, Fabio Comona, design a six-week total-body training program. Women should begin such a regimen with kettlebells that weigh between 8 to 15 pounds. As you grow in strength, first increase the number of reps and shrink your recovery time, and then use more weight. Aim to perform a kettlebell workout two to three times per week. Take 48 hours of rest between workouts to allow your body to recover.
Beginners need to learn the basics, such as the swing, press, clean, squat and deadlift. Lauren Brooks’ “Kettlebells for Women: Workouts for Your Strong, Sculpted and Sexy Body,” outlines an effective starter workout of: 10 reps of a deadlift, five one-arm swings, five reps of a chest press, five reps per arm of a suitcase deadlift and 10 reps of a two-arm swing. In the deadlift, bend at the hips and knees and grab the kettlebell with a two-handed grip. Straighten your back, lifting the kettlebell. Reverse the motion and return the kettlebell to the ground. A variation is the suitcase deadlift in which the kettlebell is set by your side as if it were a briefcase. For the one- and two-arm swing, squat and lift the kettlebell from between your feet. Gripping the ball with either one or two hands, snap your hips and straighten your legs to swing the ball directly in front of you. Take a 30-second rest between drills in the sequence, and repeat the sequence two to three times. As you grow stronger, you can structure more complex sequences with advanced exercises.
Once you gain mastery over the kettlebell’s motion, you can perform kettlebell lifts and swings with a continual flow of movement and achieve a cardiovascular workout. The momentum of a kettlebell will also encourage you to use a full range of movement and improve your flexibility. In all of the kettlebell exercises, you’ll tap muscles buried deep within your body. These muscles function to stabilize your body as you overcome the forces caused by kettlebell’s swing. In a study by the American Council of Exercise, a 20-minute kettlebell workout burned an average of 272 calories. If you add another 6.6 calories burned per minute from anaerobic exercise, study participants burned about 20 calories per minute, which equals that of running a six-minute mile.
If you have back or shoulder problems or a weak trunk, kettlebell exercises can be dangerous. To protect yourself injury, pay close attention to correct form and use a weight that you can handle. Maintain a neutral spine position, or the natural curve of your spine, for all kettlebell drills. Grip the handle firmly and avoid flexing or extending your wrist. When doing lifting exercises, keep your center of gravity at your abdominals to ensure balance. Also, drive your hips and legs to produce momentum for exercises involving swings or lifts.
- Kettlebells for Women: Workouts for Your Strong, Sculpted and Sexy Body; Lauren Brooks
- Kettlebells: Strength Training For Power & Grace; Smith Vatel, et al.
- From Russia With Tough Love: Pavel's Kettlebell Workout for a Femme Fatale; Pavel Tsatsouline
- The Complete Guide to Core Stability; Matt Lawrence
- Kettlebell Circuit Training: Hardcore Kettlebell Workouts; James McHale
- The Ultimate Kettlebell Workbook; Dave Randolph
- Agatsu Kettlebell Workbook; Shawn Mozen
- American Council on Exercise: Exclusive ACE Research Examines the Fitness Benefits of Kettlebells
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.