Why Trainers are Going Ballistic for Kettlebells & You Should, Too
Updated: Jul 31
If you’re like most Americans, you probably only recently became aware of what they are, but kettlebells have been with us for a long time. It’s believed that kettlebells were used as scale weights in Russia even as early as the 17th century, when people began to marvel at the incredible strength and agility of the farmers who used them.
Fast forward to the Cold War, when there was fierce competition between the East and the West to become the dominant superpower. Huge amounts of resources went into creating a stronger nation. Many resources went to infrastructure and weapons and other resources went into creating stronger, smarter and more resilient people. Out of this arms race, the Soviet Union took kettlebell lifting (a favorite pastime of peasants) and turned it into a competitive sport, with the first documented competition being held in 1948. Rules and regulations formed over the subsequent decades, culminating with membership in their National Sports Federation.
The creation of kettlebell sport turned ordinary weightlifting into a very scientific, traceable and effective way of training the muscular, cardiovascular and nervous system. The competitive nature of the sport rid it of the inefficiencies and inadequacies of basic kettlebell lifting and adopted the best practices of the top lifters. The basic lifts - the swing, the clean and the press - remain the same in name, but it is the efficiency in which they are done that separate kettlebell sport from other types of kettlebell workouts. Kettlebell Sport events include the jerk, snatch and long-cycle. Whether you are competing against yourself or others, your ranking is determined by your weight class, the weight of the kettlebells you use to compete, and the amount of reps you complete in a 5 or 10-minute time limit. Kettlebell sport has been referred to as fluid style kettlebell lifting because of the smoothness of the movements and the relative ease at which the athletes seem to make the weight levitate. It is this smoothness that allows you to perform the higher repetitions which benefit the cardiovascular system while being easy on the joints and gaining superhuman strength at the same time.
Lifters compete in Snatch at the 2015 OKC Cali Open. Photo courtesy Nazofoto
It takes true mastery of the techniques in order to make it look effortless, which is why it appeals to intellectuals as well as gifted athletes. It is fantastic strength and endurance training, and a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found a 20 minute workout consisting of kettlebell swing and snatch intervals burned 20.2 calories per minute, equating to 404 calories in those 20 minutes, or 1212 calories per hour!
Professional lifter Denis Vasilev. Photo courtesy Nazofoto When I first picked up a kettlebell it was not with the intention of becoming a kettlebell instructor. I had heard stories that kettlebells could improve your core and grip strength and improve stability around your shoulders, knees, ankles, etc. I was curious and thought the kettlebell might improve my deadlift, squat and bench press, so I started some very simple exercises with a very light kettlebell to see if I could get a bit of a boost. Immediately I was humbled by the amount of work that I could get in with such a small, compact weight. With kettlebells, I was building more strength than ever - and faster, I might add - and I was developing my cardiovascular capacity, which I had never been able to do with powerlifting. My joints were feeling better instead of worse after a long workout. The kettlebell challenged me in ways I'd never been challenged... it was living up to its reputation. Ultimately I transitioned from using kettlebells to assist my barbell work to using barbells to assist my kettlebell work.
Kettlebell training at Seattle Kettlebell Club As a personal trainer and the 2014 WA USAPL Coach of the Year, I love that while kettlebell sport can be very challenging, it is a sport that even if they never compete, people of all fitness levels and abilities can learn, practice, and achieve fantastic rewards from… making it a true sport for the everyman.