Thanks for all your post requests. I love hearing what you guys want to read about, because that’s the main reason I write this blog – to help you! So let’s get the ball rolling with the first reader request.
Letizia asked: I was wondering if you could write something about kettlebells? My gym is offering a 4-week kettlebell training class starting in a couple weeks, and I was thinking about trying it out. However, I don’t know anything about kettlebells. Do you think it’s a good kind of training for someone trying to build muscle?
Great question! In the almost two years I have been blogging, I can’t believe I’ve never devoted an entire post to kettlebell training!
For those of you who are unfamiliar, kettlebells look like cannonballs with a single handle on top. They range in weight from 4lbs to 105lbs. Kettlebells have been around since the 1700s, but have increased in popularity in recent times.
Kettlebells are different to regular weights in that their weight is distributed off-centre, which requires constant activation of your core muscles (abs, back, glutes) to control as well as providing a longer range of motion for the weight to move through. As they have a thicker handle than dumbbells, kettlebells will also improve your grip strength. You can work your entire body using kettlebells with very minimal space or other equipment.
I use kettlebells in my own training once or twice a week. My favourite kettlebell exercises are swings, goblet squats, single leg deadlifts, walking lunges, one arm snatches, cleans, and farmers walks. I typically do higher rep kettlebell circuits (workout below!) as a more exciting form of cardio. In fact, the first weighted exercise I ask almost all of my clients to do is a goblet squat with a kettlebell.
The only problem I have with kettlebells is when certain trainers go completely ga-ga over them, and think every single exercise has to be done with a kettlebell. Kettlebells are just one tool in the toolbox, and should therefore not be used in isolation.
At the end of the day, kettlebells are a weight just like a dumbbell or barbell, meaning that they will challenge your body by forcing it to become stronger. Many of the benefits kettlebells provide can also be obtained through regular weight training; for example, increased muscle mass, improved strength, stronger bones, better posture, and fat loss.
While I would prefer that a beginner start out by performing a mix of bodyweight, dumbbell, barbell AND kettlebell exercises, an intensive kettlebell class can serve as a great introduction to weight training. All kettlebell exercises have transferability to dumbbell training.
Kettlebell workouts are traditionally more cardio- and endurance-based, as they usually involve higher repetitions. If you haven’t already done so, I would suggest mastering the basic barbell exercises – the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press. They are the exercises key to building muscle, while higher rep kettlebell exercises serve as accessory movements.
I would recommend anyone that trains with kettlebells to first learn proper form by either taking a class or booking a session with a trainer who has been specifically certified with kettlebell training. There are subtle differences between handling a kettlebell versus a dumbbell, and it is easy to fall into habits of bad form. The kettlebell swing, for example, is one of the most butchered strength exercises in existence – so it’s great to have someone to teach you proper form right from the get go.
One of my favourite things to do is pick a time (usually 5 minutes or 10 minutes) and see how many swings I can perform in that period. Here is a workout you could use as an intense HIIT-based finisher (use the same weight for all exercises, except farmers walks where you should carry the heaviest weight you can):
Do you train with kettlebells? What is your favourite kettlebell exercise?