You may have only recently heard about kettlebells, but the handle-topped weights have been popular among Eastern European athletes for decades. Here in Washington, the trend has been gaining a steady following in the past few years, particularly as CrossFit gyms have started cropping up. Now there’s a gym in Fairfax dedicated solely to kettlebell training, and most DC training studios have incorporated kettlebell classes into their schedules.
Mint’s head trainer, Lance Breger, admits he was skeptical when he first picked up “the little piece of equipment,” but says it became a favorite among trainers and gym-goers alike. “A kettlebell workout can challenge everyone from a beginner to the most advanced exerciser,” he says.
Unlike dumbbells, the center of mass in a kettlebell is farther away from the hand (thanks to the handle), which allows users to do more dynamic exercises such as arm swings and explosive movements. But that also means there’s a higher risk for injury. Consult with a professional before doing a kettlebell workout on your own.
Kettlebells range in weight from a few pounds to 175. As with normal weight training, beginners should start out with a low weight, such as 12 pounds, and work their way up.
Warm up: Before taking on this beginner’s kettlebell workout, Breger says you should warm up three main areas: 1) For your glutes, try the floor-bridge exercise. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Lift your hips. Repeat 12 to 15 times.; 2) For your core, try a plank or side plank and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat three times.; and 3) To warm up your upper back, try the cobra exercise.
Hold the kettlebell by the handle with both hands. Stand with feet a little more than hip-width apart. Point your toes slightly out. Squat, putting your weight on your heels. Explode to standing position, using the force of your legs. As you familiarize yourself with the exercise, Breger says, add more speed. All kettlebell exercises should be explosive and fast.
In the same starting position, squat while swinging the kettlebell through your legs. As you stand, swing the kettlebell forward, until your arms are straight in front of you and shoulder height. Breger says to use the momentum from your lower body and transfer it to your upper body. Although you’re swinging your arms, the power should come from your legs. It helps to inhale as you squat and exhale as you stand.
Exercise 3: One-Arm Swing Muscle area: Shoulders, quads, glutes Reps: 12 to 15 each arm
This is the same positioning and motion as Exercise 2, using only one arm. Exercise 4: Snatches Muscle area: Shoulders, quads, glutes, triceps Reps: 12 to 15 each arm
Hold the kettlebell in one hand. Begin with a couple of squats, using the power of your legs to gain momentum as you swing your arm through your legs. Swing the kettlebell higher and higher. Once you’ve gained enough momentum, swing the weight over your head, and keep your arm completely locked and vertical. The kettle should rotate from the front to the back of your hand. Swing your arm back down and repeat.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent and heels on the floor in front of you, toes pointed up at a 45-degree angle. Lean your upper body back and hold the kettlebell with two hands at chest height. Rotate your shoulders and core to each side, using the weight to challenge your core. You’ll also feel a burn in your biceps. To increase difficulty, lift one or both heels off the floor.
Though most kettlebell exercises are fast, the Russian twist should be performed slowly. The slower the exercise, the more time your muscles will stay under tension, allowing more changes to occur, Breger says.