Old-Fashioned Kettlebell Workouts for Modern Fitness
© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.
These metal spheres with handles may have popped up at your local gym only recently. They’re typically black but may be covered in flashy colors. Though they seem like a new substitute for barbells, they do require some training to use properly. And their origins are older than the U.S.A.
First appearing in Russia about 350 years ago, kettlebells were called girya, which means weight, because they contained the Imperial Seal and were used as counterweights for market scales. They were originally measured in pood, which equals about 16 kilograms or 35 pounds. Because they had handles, people would often throw them around for fun. This play eventually turned into exercises that combined endurance, strength and flexibility. The equipment became a popular part of strongman acts throughout Europe and the U.S.
In 1948, the Soviet Union turned kettlebell lifting into a national sport, and in 1985, the practice gained official rules and weight categories. The first National Championship took place in 1985 and today, the Russian Military, the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI train with kettlebells.
Depending on the exercise, you can hold the kettlebell in several different ways. The regular grip puts the handle inside the palm with the bell outside the arm and the reverse grip is similar but with the bell inside the arm. A two-handed hold puts both palms over the handle with the first four fingers of each hand gripping away from your body and the thumb gripping toward your body. The waiter places any part of the ball on your open palm.
A modern kettlebell is a sphere made out of cast iron or steel. They come in several sizes starting at 5 pounds and going to about 130 pounds, with the weight typically stamped on the body. The integrated handle is wide enough to be held by both hands, though many exercises require only one grip. They are typically black though may be colored by weight especially for competitions. The American Kettlebell Club, for example, uses pink for 8 kilograms, yellow for 16 kg. and red for 32 kg.
The kettlebell swing is the most basic of the ballistic exercises and develops explosive power and endurance. It involves lifting the kettlebell with both hands on the handle and then moving it between your legs. Keep your eyes forward and bend over slightly. Then use the hips to propel the kettlebell forward to the height of your chest, head or above the head. All the power comes from the hips with the arms acting as the lever. The kettlebell then drops down between your legs so you can repeat the movement. Inhale at the beginning of the movement and exhale at the top.
You can also perform this movement with one hand either alternating hands at the top of the movement or completing several reps with one hand before switching.
The one-handed snatch is just one of several lifts you can perform with a kettlebell. Start with a light kettlebell and push the hand and wrist under the bell at the top of the movement. If you simply allow the kettlebell to move around your hand through inertia, it will come crashing on your forearm and cause injury. Check out the video on the right for an example of proper form.
One of the most complex of exercises, the Turkish getup emphasizes strength, flexibility and control. While laying on your back you hold a kettlebell in one hand and straighten it above your chest. Then by moving your free hand, legs and hips you reach a standing potion while keeping the kettlebell extended above you throughout the movement. You then reverse the process to return to the laying position.