Kettlebell: the gym in the palm of your hand

For the first time they appeared in Russia with the word Kettlebell (from the Persian “Gera”, “weight”) in 1704 but their origin is even more ancient and is lost in the Asia Minor markets where merchants used the “pood” as a universal unit of measure to weigh merchandise. The “pood” had a weight of 16 kg and after work the merchants would have competitions of lifting weight above their heads to challenge their strength.

History of Kettlebell

This equipment became popular in Russia at the end of 1800, the Czar Alessandro III really loved training with kettlebells and his strength became a legend when he was able to save an entire family from a derailment thanks to his strength acquired from working out with the rudimentary kettlebells. This episode made this equipment so famous that the same Czar made its use obligatory during gym class at school, introduced it in military preparation, and began to institute competitions of kettlebell lifting.

double kettlebell overhead walking lunges

In 1948, there was the first official kettlebell lifting competition, won by a sailor who lifted it 1.002 times! From this moment, the athletic use of the kettlebells became common.

But what is the “magic” of this simple “cannon ball” with a welded handle and a flat base?

The movements imposed by the use of the kettlebell are multiplanar. They involve entire kinematic chains, increasing mobility, flexibility, and joint health. They notably develop muscle mass, incredibly reinforcing the muscles of the core that are involved and are the protagonists of all of the movements that are done. They strengthen the shoulders and prevent injuries, as well as significantly improve the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Furthermore, they allow great results in a short amount of time, they increase lipolysis thanks to the increase in EPOC, which quickly leads to an oxygen debt and consequent every fatigue as well as fat consumption.

kettlebell goblet squat

Some exercises in particular are incredible for increasing strength, explosivity, reactivity and endurance of the lower limbs. The synergistic action of the gluteus maximus, hamstring and quads is the basis of the propulsive function of the hip extensor chain, where the greatest amount of STRENGTH comes from, learning how to perform perfectly exercises like SWINGS, SNATCH, CLEAN, LONG CYCLE.

A workout with a kettlebell is extremely efficient, but you need to pay a lot of attention to technique and the weight that is chosen especially at the beginning. Here’s a simple table summary of the minimum and maximum weights recommended for various fitness levels based on the types of exercises that will be performed.

Kettlebell training program


SWINGSNATCHPUSH PRESSSTACCOTGU
BEGINNERS12/168/128/128/168/12
INTERMEDIATE16/2012/1612/1616/3212/16
ADVANCED20/2416/2016/2424/2X24 kg20/24

Let’s take a look at some basic exercises and how to perform them correctly:

Swing with two hands

A high jump without the aerial phase: this is the swing (G. Bruscia)

Start:

  • Experts: half squat position, the kettlebell on the floor in front of you, back in neutral position, head aligned with the spine.
  • Beginners: standing, with arms relaxed, the kettlebell just below the pelvis.

Exercise: 

  • Flex the pelvis backwards and “load” the hips bringing the kettlebell backwards, under the pelvis.
  • Extend the hips explosively and taking advantage of the push, let the kettlebell move forward in front of you. At the same time, contract your ab muscles and exhale.

Push Press

Start:

  • Position yourself standing up with the right arm in “Rack Position” with the left arm relaxed.

Exercise:

  • Perform a rapid flexion-extension of the legs (imagine that you’re preparing yourself to jump)
  • Explosively extend the legs transmitting the propulsion to the right arm and lifting it high up in Lock Out Position. Return to the Rack position by slightly springing the legs to cushion the impact.

Snatch

Start:

  • Position yourself in a half squat (hinge) with the kettlebell on the floor in front of you.

Exercise:

  • Grip the kettlebell and flex the hips quickly behind you, take advantage of the weight of the equipment. Bring the arm with the kettlebell towards your heels; the other arm accompanies the movement of the weight load backwards, like what happens during a jump.
  • Extend the hips in acceleration, explosively contracting the glutes; the arm with the kettlebell is slightly bent. 
  • Taking advantage of the propulsion of the hips, “throw” the kettlebell towards the ceiling. In the final part of the movement, extend your arm, imagining that you’re throwing a fist towards the ceiling.

Return Phase:

  • Bring the shoulders slightly backwards, slightly bend the legs and let the kettlebell “fall” close to the body.
  • Let the upper limb fall with the forearm perpendicular to the floor. 
  • Follow the kettlebell with the entire body, reloading the movement.

The description of the exercises is from Guido Bruscia’s book titled “Kettlebell Training”, a technical manual that’s practical and exhaustive.

Every one of us should at least once a week insert some kettlebell workouts into our routine. It’s a well-rounded piece of equipment that’s easy to transport, budget-friendly, and has infinite possibilities. If you have the intention of purchasing one, make sure you consider your fitness level before doing so. An 8/12 kg kettlebell can be perfect for becoming familiar with this piece of equipment and the exercises. If instead you’re in shape, then you can even use a 16/20 kg kettlebell and work your way up to what experts use at 24/32 kg. Reference the table that was included in the article for the various exercises and make sure you’re guided by an expert trainer!

Happy Training,
Emanuele Gollinucci

References

“Kettlebell training”, Guido Bruscia. Elika 2015

“Il Kettlebell: La pesistica del popolo, la forza per tutti” di Emanuele Conti per Calzetti-Mariucci Editore 2014

“Kettlebell: l’attrezzo che ha cambiato l’allenamento”, Guido Bruscia. Elika 2010

“ La sfida del kettlebell russo”,Tsatsouline Pavel. Sandro Ciccarelli editor, 2014

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