From a circus tool to an advanced fitness phenomenon – the Kettlebell

It's time to bust the myths, uncover the truth and discover the pros and cons of the Kettlebell.

With the up and coming UFIT Education Kettlebell Instructor course this month on July 23rd and 24th in Singapore, Frazer McArdell, head of UFIT Education, interviews Owen Satterly, a professional sports strength and conditioning coach and Anetta Josefowiz, a UFIT client, on the ins and outs of kettlebell training. Read on for some great facts, training advice and opinions on this important piece of equipment!

 

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History of the Kettlebell

Welcome to the world the Kettlebell! Pavel Tsatsouline, the guru of Kettlebell, describes them as ‘the Russian army knife of exercises’. 

Kettlebells have been around for centuries. The word Girya (kettlebell) was first published in the Russian dictionary in 1704. Kettlebells would be used at markets to weigh goods. However, the odd farmer would show off by swinging and pressing the bells to demonstrate their strength. 

Originally featuring in circuses and show acts, the rest is history. The fitness industry adopted the kettlebell and now every gym, sports hub and fitness establishment has one, being swung in a variety of ways, although not always safely or effectively! 

But why use the Kettlebell? Let’s hear from our panel…

Q. In your personal opinion what are the main reasons for Kettlebell training? 

Owen:
1. Training your posterior chain. A recent study showed that chronic back pain was reduced through strengthening the glutes and spinal erectors.

2. It’s a different implement. The shape of the bell shifts the centre of gravity, making it more unstable. This increases the demand on grip strength and rotator cuff muscles, especially when the bell is ‘bottom up’.

Anetta: Kettlebells build stronger shoulders and the whole back (including lower back that is very weak in my case), better grip (stronger forearm) and overall strength. Plus, much needed coordination and balance. 

Q. How long have you been using a Kettlebell for training and how did you get into Kettlebell training?

Anetta: About 4 years ago I began strength training with a Personal Trainer (to make sure my technique was absolutely correct) using TRX and Kettlebells following the advice of the osteopath to get my muscles stronger without necessarily growing them great deal. It is muscles rather than spine that keep us vertical therefore strong muscles help put less pressure on our spine which is so crucial in our bodies.

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What benefits can the Kettlebell bring for us and can it help fulfil all goals in the gym? 

Q. What components of fitness is Kettlebell training most suitable for? 

Owen: Based on the “10 components of fitness,” and in no particular order, the kettlebell can be used to develop:

  • Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
  • Flexibility – The ability to maximise range of motion at a given joint.
  • Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  • Speed – The ability to minimise the time cycle of a repeated movement.
  • Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
  • Balance – The ability to control the placement of the body’s centre of gravity in relation to its’ support base. 
  • Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.

Q. What fitness goals do you work towards using the Kettlebell?

Anetta: Achieving healthy, lean and strong body, slim is just not enough! It gives me a good training regime. I combine this with good diet. It means tighter skin, less cellulite and less visible stretch marks. And last but not the least clear mind and fantastic quality of sleep.

So the Kettlebell is clearly a crowd winner! But are there any downsides to the Kettlebell?

Please list the limitations

Owen:
1. Developing maximal strength – sorry, but the barbell is king! The load you can lift and, therefore, force production will always be greater under a bar. However, if you are a female or male not lifting to that of maximal strength then Kettlebells could also have the desired effect if the loads you are lifting are near your 100%, this could be 32kg Kettlebell front squats for example, or a 10kg shoulder press. 

2. Developing hypertrophy – yes, you will see gains in muscle mass using Kettlebells but if you are chasing large increases in lean mass you will need to train more like a bodybuilder.

Q. The Kettlebell is used a lot in CrossFit. Owen, as an extremely talented CrossFit athlete yourself, what are your views on using it under high intensity and high fatigue?

Owen: Kettlebell swings in Metcons were always a good movement for me. High intensity and fatigue should only come once the movement pattern is dialled in. The key with the swing, as with most movements, is to stay relaxed, set a good pace and break big sets where you need to… make a plan and stick to it! Swings can seriously rinse your grip and once you’ve smoked your forearms it makes for a long workout!

The age old argument, East Vs West, Russian or American!

Q. Do you favour the Russian or American swing? If you do, any reasons?

Owen: We use both but American swings see the Kettlebell travel through a greater range of motion (ROM). If your athlete has mobility issues when going overhead this can lead to shoulder and lower back problems. Russian swings eliminate the overhead demand and therefore reduce those injury risks. Also, due to a reduced ROM, Russian swings can utilise higher loads, requiring higher force production. For our field and court based athletes we utilise the Russian swing to compliment the hip thrust in speed development.

Can the Kettlebell be used by young athletes or is it just for adults? 

Q.  Owen, as head of Athlete Development at Hartpury College, how would you programme Kettlebell training into your athletes’ sessions?

Owen: As I stated earlier, we use them to load sumo and goblet squats and the hip hinge patterns. We also like to use them for unilateral carries and bottom’s up pressing as part of our injury prevention program. I think my absolute favourite is a double front squat or carry. It needs to be done with a proper front rack, not supported on your shoulder. 

Q. Anetta, would you suggest Kettlebell training to other females with similar goals?

Anetta: Absolutely! But only to those that strive to have that strong lean physique, be fit, healthy and very mobile! 

How do beginners start using Kettlebells? 

Q.  Can you give your top tips for people new to Kettlebell training? 

Owen:
1. Get a coach – you need someone with a trained eye to teach you how to perform the swing, clean and front rack properly

2. Start small – low load, low volume! The swing has a high eccentric element, going too hard and too heavy too early will give you tasty hamstring, glute and lower back DOMS!

3. Practice, practice, practice – given the nature of the movements and the shape of the Kettlebell, it can take a while to feel ‘at one’ with it. To increase efficiency and therefore increase work output you can the Kettlebell should be one seamless unit. The Kettlebell shouldn’t be dragging you around the gym floor like you’ve got a bullmastiff on a lead!

Anetta: Instead of trying to choose the heaviest Kettlebell possible with no technical background and struggle, start with lower weight and before moving to heavier one. Make sure your technique is correct! Get a personal trainer to instruct you or teach you correctly! Doing the exercise wrong with too much weight will do more harm than good. When it comes to training sometimes less is more and the Kettlebell is a perfect example - we're working with the whole body without sophisticated expensive machines. 

 

So what is the final word on Kettlebell training?

The Kettlebell is a fantastic fitness tool and one that can really spice up your training and get huge results! Both a professional sports strength and conditioning coach and an advanced client are big advocates of the Kettlebell. They use them for similar goals, muscle groups and training methods.

The Kettlebell is a simple piece of equipment that can work the body in many ways, using various energy systems, hitting all of the “components of fitness.” 

So why are we not all using Kettlebells at every given opportunity? It is very simple; the Kettlebell must be used correctly. It has to be taught from the basics to the advanced by a Personal Trainer qualified to do so. Self teaching can lead to a huge array of fundamental mistakes that can result in injury or a very inefficient swing! 

To learn more about the Kettlebell, why not attend the UFIT Kettlebell Instructor course on July 23rd and 24th. Whatever level of expertise, whether you're a Personal Trainer or fitness enthusiast in Singapore you will leave as an expert in Kettlebell training and be able to use it to improve your training! To sign up or get more information please contact Frazer McArdell, head of UFIT Education, at frazer@ufit.com.sg.

‘Get comfortable being uncomfortable’ U.S Navy Seals 

 

About the authors

Frazer McArdell - Head of UFIT Education

Head of UFIT Education, Frazer is a qualified teacher, Master of Coaching Science and a BSc of Strength and Conditioning and Coaching. Having developed and run a successful fitness course in the UK's most successful sporting college, Frazer has brought these skills to UFIT as a Personal Trainer and is now delivering and educating fitness professionals, teachers, coaches and fanatics in Singapore & South East Asia.

Owen Satterly - Head of S&C at Hartpury 

Owen is a UKSCA and NSCA accredited S&C coach. In his current role as Head of Strength and Conditioning (S&C) at Hartpury College, he oversees the S&C programs across the various Sports Academies - including Men’s (Senior and U18s) and Women’s rugby (U18s), football (Senior and U18s), golf, netball, modern pentathlon and rowing. He also works within the TASS network delivering S&C to young elite athletes across several sports.

Previously Owen has worked with Gloucester Rugby and prior to that he spent his time working in London, Australia and New Zealand as a S&C/fitness consultant working across various sports; including rugby (union and league), golf, swimming and surfing.

Anetta Jozefowicz - UFIT Client and Business Owner

Anetta aka Polish Power as she is known in UFIT is one of the finest athletes we have training! Ask Anetta what she trains for and she will be very straight and honest, ‘to look good and feel good!’ Something that many of us can relate to!

Anetta has the added bonus that she is a talented athlete with a good genetic pool making her one of our strongest female clients. She is featuring in this article because she can swing a 40kg KB like a beast! With perfect form, we asked her to give a lay person’s opinion and advice on kettlebell training.