How Kettlebell Training Can Enhance Your Fitness at any Level

September 08, 2016

When it comes to working out, there’s nothing quite like the kettlebell to get the job done. In fact, when most people ask me what they can do to get in shape, I say “buy a kettlebell.” A kettlebell is extremely versatile and you can find them ranging in weight from five pounds to over 100. The great thing about a kettlebell is that you can do anything with it: endurance building, strength training, flexibility, core, and balance work, muscular stabilization, explosive power generating...the list is endless. You can work out with one for an hour or for five minutes, and no matter what you do, you’re going to feel it when you’re done.


Why Kettlebells?

Because you can do absolutely everything with just one weight. You can push it, press it, row it, and squat it. You can lunge it, clean it, snatch it, and crunch it. You can swing it, pull it, thrust it and jerk it. You can perform high pulls, low pulls, farmer carries and windmills; complete any lift you’d typically do in your current gym, and you can even use them when traveling, on vacation, or stuck in the house on a snow day. When it comes to kettlebell training--similar to CrossFit training--your workout options are endless and kettlebells make a great supplement tool to your fitness program.

 

How Can Kettlebells Help My Performance?

Anyone who uses kettlebells as part of his or her training program typically sports leaner muscle mass and an enhanced cardio conditioning. And since most kettlebell training revolves around the hip-hinging motion, the glutes, hips, and core all become stronger which translates not only to a more chiseled physique, but to gained explosive power that can be applied to any lift--especially lifts such as snatching, cleaning (better OLY lifts), kipping movements (think better pull-ups and handstand push-ups), and squatting and deadlifting (more PRs)!


So how do you start?

First—if you’re new to working out, just like any new physical program, you need to consult with a doctor to make sure you’re in good physical form. Then you need to get a bell. If you belong to a gym, there’s a good possibility your gym may have a few. If you don’t belong to a gym, kettlebells are really easy to find. Most sporting goods stores sell them, as do stores such as Target and Wal-Mart. You can also find them on Amazon.com, and of course, Rogue Fitness sells the kind that most CrossFit gyms use. Typically you can expect to pay about $2 per pound. Getting your own kettlebell (or two or three) is a fantastic idea. Since you can keep them at home or in your car, you’re never left with an excuse to miss a workout!


How do I pick the right weight?

If you’ve ever trained with weights before, you probably have an idea what you’re capable of lifting.

Females: For any female with already decent strength, I’d suggest starting with a 25-35 pound bell. If you have zero previous strength training, start with a 15 pounder. You don’t want to go too light or you won’t maximize your potential.

Males: Male athletes who are new to kettlebells should expect to start with a 25-35 pound kettlebell. Males who have strength trained in the past may want to go for a 45-53 pound kettlebell. Just remember, a kettlebell will feel much heavier than a dumbbell. You want something you can press overhead using one arm. Pick a weight that will challenge you and give you room to grow, yet won’t be impossible.

When purchasing/using a kettlebell, you’ll find that many times the weight is in kilograms. Note that 1kg = 2.2 lbs. Mike Stehle, ATC, CKT-2 and founder of Training Room Online of Avon and Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, suggests that adult females start with 8-12 kgs, adult males 14-16 kgs, teenage females 8-10 kgs, and teenage males 10-14 kgs.


Step 1: As with any lifting, focus on technique first!

Once you’ve got a bell, you need to learn the basic kettlebell moves and proper physical technique. Using a kettlebell is going to be brand new to many of you, and if you don’t know what the proper technique is, you could hurt yourself—especially in the low back or shoulder areas.


There are four important techniques in using a kettlebell correctly for almost every single move. You must use your hips to generate power for the exercises. The power on most moves when performing kettlebell exercises is going to come from your hips. Whether swinging, thrusting, pushing, or pulling, always remember to pop your hips forward to help transfer weight from the legs up your body and out of the kettlebell in your hands. And the more you squeeze your glutes when lifting/swinging, the more force you’ll generate in your lifts.


**Note: If you have or are prone to back issues/injury, make sure to take extra precaution and do not start any exercises until your form meets all the requirements for each lift. Be sure to use a mirror and/or a partner to help guide your form.


Step 2: Learn the basics.

Before you can dive into any of the following workouts, just like knowing proper technique, you must know the basic moves—you’ll perform the basics several times. Why? They’re the best. They work the entire body and they are great at building strength, improving endurance, and they aid as a point of reference to more complicated movements.

 

The GOBLET SQUAT:
The squat can be one of the most beneficial of all exercises. The squat forces every single major muscle group to come together and push a heavy load. Your core stabilizes the entire body, the legs bear the workload, and the upper body holds the weight in place. Hold the bell at chest height and bend from the waist so that the butt pushes back (like you’re sitting in a chair) and bring your elbows to your bent knees. Keep your belly braced to support your low back and to work your core. Keep your chest lifted and keep your weight in your feet. Push through your whole foot back to standing and repeat. Point to remember: keep your knees in line with your ankles. If your knees come out over your toes (you can’t look down and see your toes), chances are you’re putting the weight in your knees and not your major muscle groups. Push your knees out as you stand up—this will help build the proper squat form and it will help build stabilizing muscles in legs and hips. Remember: don’t let the knees bow in! You will likely set yourself for major injury this way!

 

The SWING:
Stand with your feet outside of your hips and your toes slightly turned out. Hold the bell (with relaxed arms) in front of you. Bend your knees and pretend like you’re sitting back in a chair (as if you are getting ready to squat), and then swing the bell through your legs, using your hips to transfer the weight from your legs all the way up and out through the bell. You should swing the bell to shoulder height (Russian Swing) or overhead when more advanced (American Swing) and never actually use your arms to lift the bell (the power should be generated from your lower posterior chain (hips/glutes/hamstrings). Keep your back flat, chest lifted, and core tight to avoid lower back injury. Once you’ve got the motion down, aim for 2-3 sets of 20-30 swings. You can perform these whenever you want to add a little bit of cardio and strength training to your routine. Point to remember: the motion of the swing always starts with the HIPS.

 

The LUNGE:
A kettlebell lunge is very similar to any other lunge, but the instability of the bell makes the move more challenging. There are a few ways to lunge. Hold the bell in rack position (at your chest) and step forward. Drop the back knee towards the floor. Press back up and bring your leg back to the starting position. You can also perform a backwards stepping lunge—just step back instead of forward. You can try walking lunges and walk around the house, the neighborhood, the track, whatever passes the time. Want to add an abdominal/core element to your lunge? Hold the bell overhead while you lunge. Not only will you get shoulder stability work, but your obliques will get a killer workout too! Point to remember: You MUST take a long lunge step (forward or back.) Too often, people tend to lunge with baby steps and all the weight is being forced onto the knee. OUCH! To find your perfect lunge stance, get down on one knee (the proposal position) then without moving your feet from where they are on the floor, stand up. The position you are in is now YOUR lunge position.

The OVERHEAD LUNGE:

 

The PUSH PRESS:
The push press is a great move that strengthens the muscles in the arms, generates power from the legs, provides greater shoulder stabilization, and emphasizes using the core for control. In other words, it’s a GREAT total body move. The push press can be done with one arm or two if you have two bells of the same weight. The start of the push press is rack position (when the bell rests comfortably on your chest against your forearm). To continue with the push press, simply press the bell straight up—just like a shoulder press. You can do this a couple different ways: you can strict press (without moving your legs) ensuring an incredible core workout in the process, or you can “push” press, meaning you use the legs, the hips, and the core to generate enough power to press the bell up into a locked out position. With a strict press you are isolating the work to the core, arm, and shoulder. The benefit of the push press is using heavier weight, building explosive power, and increasing strength and endurance. One is not necessarily better than the other, but try to start with strict presses and move to push presses as you need more assistance.

 

The TURKISH GET-UP:
The Turkish Get Up is a TOTAL body exercise and arguably one of the best exercises a person can do. It works small stability muscles, trains your entire core, and makes you get up off the floor (and back down again) with a heavy weight held overhead the entire time. You could make an entire workout out of alternating get-ups and hit every body part you have--including the heart. Try 20 get-ups “for time” and you’ll see what I mean. To understand how to do the full get-up properly, check out the following video:

Where do you go from here?

Once you think you have the basics, set up a routine. Try to use the kettlebell an average of three times per week or incorporate elements into your typical workout. Any time you can perform a set of swings, some presses, squats, lunges, or get-ups, you’ll enhance your workout, performance output, even muscle stability and coordination.

 

Ready to dive into kettlebell training? Check out these workouts for beginners, intermediate, and advanced athletes.

 

Beginners: 30 Day 1000 Swings and Ab Challenge

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

10 swings

:10 plank

15 swings

:15 plank

15 swings

:15 plank

15 swings

15 crunches

25 swings

:25 plank

25 swings

:25 plank

25 swings

:25  right side plank

25 swings

:25 left side plank

Rest day

25 swings

25 flutter kicks

25 swings

25 hollow rocks

15 swings

15 sit-ups

30 swings

:30 plank

Rest day

10 swings

:10 plank

15 swings

15 v-ups

10 swings

10 hollow rocks

15 swings

:15 plank

15 swings

15 supermans

15 swings

:15 plank

15 swings

15 supermans

20 swings

20 cherry pickers

20 swings

20 v-ups

20 swings

20 Russian twists

20 swings

:20 plank

Rest day

20 swings

:20 right side plank

20 swings

:20 left side plank

10 swings

10 sit-ups

20 swings

20 sit-ups

30 swings

30 sit-ups


Use kb for sit-ups if possible

Rest day

15 swings

15 v-ups

20 swings

20 Russian twists

15 swings

:15 plank

20 swings

:20 plank

25 swings

:25 plank

25 swings

25 shoulder taps

30 swings

30 shoulder taps

Rest day

20 swings

20 mountain climbers

15 swings

15 flutter kicks

10 swing

10 hollow rocks

5 Sets:

5 swings

5 burpees


(For a total of 25 swings and 25 burpees)

Rest day

15 swings

15 v-ups

15 swings

15 swings

15 shoulder taps

15 swings

15 supermans

15 swings

15 v-ups

20 swings

:20 plank

Rest day

25 swings

25 hollow rocks

Rest minimally

30 swings

:30 plank


Rest minimally

Rest day

15 swings

15 supermans

15 swings

15 v-ups

15 swings

15 Russian twists

20 swings

25 shoulder taps

20 swings

25 right side plank

20 swings

25 left side plank

DONE!


You can repeat the challenge or if ready, advance to intermediate workouts!

 

Intermediates: 10 Intermediate Kettlebell Workouts

3 Rounds:  

12 Goblet Squats  

12 Push Press (each arm)  

12 Russian Swings  

12 Single Leg Deadlifts (each leg)  

12 Snatch (each side)


Rest 5 Minutes


As many rounds as possible in 15 minutes:  

15 Russian Swings  

15 Clean and Press (each arm)  15 Squat Thrusters  

15 Alternating Single Arm Swings  

15 High Pulls (each arm)

Set whatever time limit you have and complete as many rounds possible during that time:


10 Burpees  

10 Goblet Squats  

10 Triceps Dips (or Overhead Triceps Extensions)  

10 Pushups  

10 Russian Swings  

10 Squat Thrusters  

10 American Swings  

10 Jumping Lunges  

10 Alternating Arm Swings

10 Half Getups (each side)

Use two kettlebells:

Complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes:  

5 Man-Makers  

10 Burpees


Man Maker:

Push-up, row kb with right arm

Push-up, row kb with left arm

Jump feet to bells, squat clean kbs, press

Complete as many rounds as possible--without compromising form--in 20 minutes:  


10 Kettlebell Swings

10 Goblet Squats  

10 Pushups

For time:

21 American Swings  

21 Burpees  

15 American Swings

15 Burpees

9 American Swings  

9 Burpees


Rest 3:00


21 Squat Thrusters  

15 Push-ups  

9 Burpees  

15 Push-ups  

21 Squat Thursters

For time:

21 High Pulls (each arm)  

21 Wall-Balls

15 High Pulls (each arm)  

15 Wall Balls

9 High Pulls (each arm)  

9 Wall Balls


Rest 3:00


9 Single Leg Deadlift (each leg)  

9 Clean and Press (each arm)

15 Single Leg Deadlift (each leg)  

15 Clean and Press (each arm)

21 Single Leg Deadlift (each leg)  

21 Clean and Press (each arm)  

Complete 1-5 Rounds of the following:  

10 Snatches each arm  

20 Squat Thrusters (use two bells if possible)

30 Clean and Press (15/arm)  

40 American Swings  

50 Overhead Alternating Lunges


Rest as needed between rounds.


BONUS: Complete the following for time when finished with above workout:

 

100 Russian Swings  

75 Goblet (or air) Squats  

50 Bridge Pulses  (KB in lap)

25 Burpees

Complete 1-3 rounds of the following:


10 Half Get Ups (each side)  

20 Tricep Push-ups on the KB

30 Goblet Squats  

40 Alternating Step-Back Lunges

50 Sumo Deadlift High Pulls  

60 American Swings  

Finish with five Turkish Get-ups on each side.


Rest 2:00 between sets

For Time:

100 Russian Swings  

90 Alternating Lunges  

80 Single Leg Deadlifts (40/side)  

70 Sumo-Deadlift High Pulls  

60 Windmills (30/side)

50 Shoulder Taps from the KB   

40 Push Presses (20/side)  

30 Half Get-ups  20 Alternating Snatches   10 Kettlebell Burpees

1 to 10 Ladder Work, for time:

1 Right side Clean, Squat, and Push Press  

2 Right side Cleans, Squats, and Push Presses (2 cleans, 2 squats in rack, 2 push press)  

3 … 10 (work all the way up to 10) Right side Cleans, Squats, and Push Presses.


Rest one minute and then repeat the whole ladder sequence on the left side.

 

Advanced Kettlebell Training:

One of the most challenging kettlebell workouts I’ve ever seen is Dan John’s 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge. The challenge is a stand-alone program designed to

  • Help athletes get leaner
  • Make visual muscular improvements in physiques, adding lean body mass
  • Increase grip strength, work capacity and athletic conditioning
  • Make improvement in all core lifts--PR's all day!
  • Abs and glutes learn to work more efficiently

When I attended CrossFit’s Stongman training course, the instructors from Hybrid Athletics had just completed the 10k challenge as part of their conditioning work to supplement their strongman training. Not only did they report their grip strength skyrocketed (making their training much more successful), but they also noticed their hip drive and explosive power translated over to better performance with their cleans, snatches, squats, and well, most everything!

The gist of the workout is that you take 4-5 weeks to complete 20 workouts. Each workout consists of 500 Russian swings broken into specific sets with auxiliary work and rests. The recommended weight for men is a 24kg kettlebell (53 lbs) and a 16kg kettlebell (35 lbs) for women.

A sample set looks like this:

  • 10 Swings, 1 Push Press (each arm)
  • 15 Swings, 2 Push Presses
  • 25 Swings, 3 Push Presses
  • 50 Swings, Rest.
  • Repeat 4 more times for a total of 500 swings and 30 presses each arm.

(You can sub out the presses for any auxiliary lifts--squats, muscle ups, pull-ups, etc.)

And there you have it

Kettlebell training can be as intense as you make it and works perfect as a way to burn fat, build explosive power, strengthen all your muscles--including grip, forearm, and other stabilizing muscles we tend to forget about--and even increase flexibility, speed, and stamina. You can do as little or as much of it as you want, use it to supplement your current program, begin a new fitness routine, or as a vacation/at-home workout tool. Whatever you choose, as long as your form is good, you can’t go wrong!

One last thing--don’t forget to warm up!

Before diving into the workouts, everyone needs a good warm-up routine. Try to spend 5-15 minutes (depending on your overall flexibility and mobility) warming up before starting ANY of the listed routines and spend more or less time with specific areas in which your body may need more attention. Just make sure your body is warm before you start!

 

This is a guest post from Stephanie Walker, a CrossFit and Health Coach who believes everyone deserves to be fitter, healthier, and happier. Stephanie is the author of The Total Health and Fitness Makeover, and is passionate about helping others transform their lives through fitness and good foods--just as she did her own! You can follow Steph on InstagramFacebook or Strongfigure.com.





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