Kettlebells – A new-old piece of exercise equipment that delivers
fantastic body benefits!

You may have seen what appears to be a new type of weight in your gym – kettlebells. These round weights are shaped like cannon balls with handles on top and come in various weights and sizes ranging from 1 to over 100 pounds. They are made of cast iron and can be covered with a colorful plastic outer layer or just uncovered iron. They are fast becoming a popular choice for strength and toning in gyms and with personal trainers around the globe. 

Despite the assumption that they are new, kettlebells have been around for centuries. Many attribute their origin to the Russians, but it is believed that they actually originated in the Scottish Highlands for use in their sport of curling. (Curling was televised in our last winter Olympics and involves sliding a heavy puck-like object across ice to try to get it as close to a target as possible.) Centuries ago, in order to pick up heavy, cold and icy stones to use in the sport, they put iron handles on the stones for transfer on and off the fields of play. The handles made the stones easier to move, but they also allowed them to be pressed and swung and the players started using them for their strength preparation for the sport.

Kettlebells differ from traditional dumbbells in several ways. Because they are round, they are conducive to curvilinear movements. Curvilinear movement involves moving across the three planes involved in human movement patterns: the sagital plane, which involves moving forward and back; the frontal plane, which involves moving side to side; and the transverse plane, which involves twisting and turning. 

With kettlebells, you can do an exercise that involves two or more of these planes where traditional dumbbells typically involve just one. When working with traditional dumbbells a linear, militaristic movement pattern is involved. Kettlebells involve swinging motions, which creates momentum. When swinging, the body has to not only move the weight through a movement pattern, it also has to work to counter-balance the force of the swing and then pull it back to the body while controlling the movement in both the out and back arc. If you think about a spring that coils in order to release (spring load) and then uncoils and returns to its coiled position, you will get the idea of how the swing of the kettlebell loads the body differently than traditional weights. This spring-like-loading-effect means that each exercise engages the entire body. Some muscles have to stabilize while others are lengthening and others are contracting; they all have to work in harmony so that the kettlebell doesn’t go flying during the execution. This more closely mimics how the human body is loaded and moves in everyday life activities and sports, which is one of the reasons why kettlebells offer what some consider to be a superior training effect.

Because there is swinging motion, exercises with kettlebells place a demand on the cardiovascular system, in addition to the muscular system, and they also require stabilization and balance. This means that these exercises can offer a time-efficient workout program incorporating cardio, strength and flexibility all in one workout instead of having to do the treadmill, weight training and yoga!

What body benefits do they offer?
When working with swinging motions, the user can use heavier weights then with traditional dumbbells, resulting in superior strength enhancement and muscle development, which appeals to men. Women tend to be drawn towards the whole body effects and the cardiovascular benefits, which enhance calorie burning.

A recent study conducted at the University of Wisconsin showed that when participants performed a 20-minute, interval-formatted workout with kettlebells they burned up to 20 calories per minute. This is the equivalent to running a six-minute mile pace. Traditional dumbbell workouts, which involve performing a set of linear movements (non-swinging) with rest between sets generally burns significantly less. So the kettlebells do deliver the goods on not only a good cardiovascular workout combined with strength training, but an awesome fat burning workout as well!

Men and women both enjoy the novelty of mixing kettlebells into their workouts and find that they provide a fresh motivation and a renewed excitement to their already established workout routines.

A note on safety
Kettlebells involve swinging and momentum, making the potential for injury high. Proper execution and progression is demanded in order to avoid hurting yourself. There are books and videos available that illustrate proper form for kettlebell exercises, but because of the complexity of the movement patterns, much like yoga or pilates, it becomes important to have a trainer watch you. It is difficult to catch all the subtle misalignments that can occur in whole body type exercises, but having someone with a trained eye watch you can save you from unforeseen injury when first learning how to use the kettlebells.

Progression is also extremely important. It is generally recommended that you start with lighter kettlebells so that your body can get used to the combination of spring-loading and momentum and movement patterns. As you master the correct form you can increase the weight in order to enhance the strength and muscle development benefits.

Kettlebells are a new-old form of full body exercise that when performed correctly result in superior strength, body fat reduction, improved cardiovascular fitness, enhanced balance, developed core strength, and improved coordination and balance. No wonder they are fast becoming a popular addition to exercise equipment both in the gym and at home.

Judy Torel is a USAT coach, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and psychotherapist. Her office is located in Planet Fitness, Loudonville. She can be reached at 469.0815 or


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