Kettlebells might look like just big hunks of metal, or cannonballs with a handle attached, but they could be your secret to getting strong, toned and lean. The trouble is, many women are often afraid to lift heavy enough to train intensely, leading to subpar results. Kettlebells also can be confusing, as can set and rep schemes and many myths still exist concerning how women should train when it comes to weights.
The High-Rep Myth
You've probably read that the best way to lose fat through weight training is to use lighter weights and perform higher reps, but this is completely false. Higher rep sets actually burn no more fat or calories than going heavy and may actually be slightly easier than a grueling heavy set. A high rep set of kettlebell swings or snatches performed with a light bell might raise your heart rate slightly, but it won't really provide a challenge.
Benefits of Lifting Heavier
Heavy lifting is definitely for girls, according to strength coach Nia Shanks. Lifting a weight that's challenging for five to 10 reps is a far more productive way to train than using a light weight and performing 20 or 30 reps. New York-based kettlebell instructor and three-time kettlebell world champion Lorna Kleidman agrees. You should be able to start with a 25- to 30-pound kettlebell for most moves, she writes in "Body Sculpting with Kettlebells for Women."
The number of sets and reps you do also depends on your exercises. Highly technical lifts, or those that take longer to perform such as Turkish get-ups, windmills and clean and presses definitely work better within the five- to 10-rep range. Your form is likely to break down if you perform a high number of reps. An easier move, however, such as the swing, works well with higher reps. For a real test, try the 10,000 swing challenge, recommends kettlebell trainer Lisa Shaffer on her website No Fear Fitness. This involves performing 10,000 swings during a one-month period. You'll need to start light with this and break your reps up into sets of sets of 20 to 30. This is an ambitious goal, Shaffer says, so only attempt it if you're already experienced with kettlebells.
The best set and rep scheme for kettlebells is the one that works best for you. The main consideration is how hard you're training, which will probably mean mixing up heavy low-rep sets of five to 10 and higher rep, more cardiovascular sets of 15 to 30 reps. Above all, your technique should be perfect. And remember, if you're not sweating, red-faced and out of breath, you're probably not training hard enough, so use a heavier bell or bump up those reps.
- ExRx: Fat Loss and Weight Training Myths
- Tribe Sports: Nia Shanks: Why Women Should Lift Heavy Weights
- Body Sculpting with Kettlebells for Women; Lorna Kleidman
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.