Kettlebells and Me
When I first heard about Kettlebells I wanted to know more so I attended a workshop and I got hooked on them. I bought one; then another; and they just seemed to multiply. The next step was to become a Kettlebell Instructor so I could start using Kettlebells with my clients. I qualified as an Extreme Kettlebell Instructor in November 2008.
After training with Kettlebells for over 18 months I’m happy to promote the Kettlebell as one of the most effective training systems I’ve experienced. For every person I meet who has heard of the Kettlebell there are several who haven’t. Kettlebells are starting to pop up in gyms and retail outlets around the country. Potentially you could be shown a few of the key lifts by a gym instructor or a friend but as you’ll begin to appreciate Kettlebells are heavy and good technique is required to lift them effectively and safely.
The term “Russian Kettlebell” is more commonly used and that is because the Kettlebell is said to originate from Russia. The Russian word for Kettlebell is Girya and appears in the Russian dictionary in 1704. Until recently they were used primarily in Russia and Eastern Europe. They have also been spotted in some of our earliest gymnasiums, the ‘Physical Culture Centres’ of the 1900’s where the early strongmen did their training. Fitness magazines as early as 1906 describe some of the feats being performed with Kettlebells. So as you can see this is not a fad. The Kettlebell is tried and tested and has earned its place as a very effective, functional training tool, capable of providing you with an extreme workout by integrating movement.
It is essentially a cannon ball with a handle and typically comes in weights from 8kg in 4kg steps up to 40kg but you can get them much heavier and lighter too. Although it is made from a single cast the Kettlebell has three distinct parts:
- The Handle
- The Horns
- The Bell
Kettlebells present a whole new set of challenges to the body. They are more cumbersome and harder to control than well balanced dumbbells. The effect is like having a second pivot point or elbow at the end of your arm. At the top of lifts like the ‘clean’ or ‘snatch’ the Kettlebell rotates around your hand. This makes it harder to control the weight. Not only the muscles in your arm but the muscles in your whole body must contract to stabilize and counteract the movement. At the bottom of the ‘swing’ the muscles extend, storing energy like a coiled spring.
I put an emphasis on exercises that are typically performed with a Kettlebell and that use its unique shape and weight distribution. The Kettlebell can be used to perform a number of exercises that can also be performed with a dumbbell.
The Benefits of Kettlebell Exercise
Because so many muscles are recruited when doing these exercises, especially the large muscle groups of the lower body, the demand on the cardiovascular system is immense, simultaneously the Kettlebell provides resistance so training effects similar to using traditional weights can be achieved during the same workout.
Most Kettlebell movements are whole body movements involving more than one joint. They require triple extension; this is extending the hip, knees and ankle simultaneously. Hip extension recruits the muscles of the posterior chain. The posterior chain is made up of, but not limited to, the Erector Spinae, Glutes and Hamstrings. These muscles are typically weak on many people as we spend so much time seated. This can lead to Lower Back Pain (LBP) and can limit sports performance. Take the example of a typical office worker: The muscles of the posterior chain are rarely required to contract forcefully and become weak, elongated and lacking in tone.
Kettlebell training addresses these issues because hip flexion and extension is integral to Kettlebell training. The Glutes & Hamstrings are responsible for hip extension. One also maintains a neutral spine throughout each movement by keeping some tension in the muscles of the lower back, and a high, open chest and the erector spinae is responsible for that. Flexion and extension also happen at the knees, facilitated by the quadriceps, and at the ankles using the calf muscles. Even the isolated exercises involving one joint require the body to provide a stable base which is done through muscular tension. So we end up working all the muscles of the core to some extent and many of the smaller muscles in our arms, legs, shoulders and feet as they act as stabilizers.
Kettlebell training addresses strength, endurance, posture and flexibility through full range of motion. We also increase our power too as some of these exercises are very similar to those performed by Olympic weight lifters training to increase their power.
My goal is to introduce you to the world of Kettlebell training and its many benefits so you can apply it to your own training and experience improvements in your endurance, your strength, your power, your posture, and your flexibility, not to mention all the self confidence that comes from being in shape.
Need more ideas? Here are some successful Body Building Techniques
The most successful body building techniques incorporate proven weight routines. A weight routine is a set of exercises, done in repetition, that develops specific parts of the body. For example, to build chest muscles, a body builder may use a weight routine that incorporates flat bench press (3 repetitions), bench dumbbell (2 repetitions) and inclined bench press (3 repetitions). The other important function a weight routine serves is to split a training program so different muscle groups are used.
Dumbbells are a common piece of equipment used to build bigger biceps. The most popular technique to get the desired result is to hold the dumbbell closer to the inside of the plates. Routines for building biceps include dumbbell curls either inclined or standing, or both.
Building Chest Muscle
Good chest muscle building exercises are routines that incorporate bench presses and flyes. An even more effective way to build chest muscle is to split the chest into 3 zones – upper, middle and lower. By working each separately, using exercises that specifically target that area, you can build up some impressive chest muscle fairly quickly.
For instance, do your upper chest exercises on a 30-45% incline bench. Incline barbell and incline dumbbell flyes are excellent for working upper chest muscles. On the other hand, the lower chest muscles are best exercised using a 30-45% decline bench. You would use decline barbell and decline dumbbell flyes to build these muscles. A flat bench works best for the middle chest muscles. So you’d do flat barbell and flat dumbbell flyes on a flat bench.
Moving Onto Shoulder Training
The shoulders are made up of 3 main muscles – the lateral, anterior and posterior deltoids. Effective shoulder training to get big shoulders requires working all 3. The anterior deltoid usually gets some work in chest workouts. To build up the lateral and posterior deltoids requires additional exercises targeting these two muscles. Generally the best way to do this is with heavy barbell and dumbbell pressing in short reps as opposed to a lot of rep work with lighter weights. You should also focus on shoulder exercises that work effectively with progressive overload, a technique used to progressively add more weight to what is being lifted.
Matching Up The Back With Back Exercises
The back is one area many body builders overlook. But if you want your back to match up with those impressive chest, shoulder and bicep muscles, you will need to include back exercises in your bodybuilding routine.
Good workouts for the Lower Trapezius or lower back muscles include stiff-legged good mornings and hyper-extensions. For the middle back muscles or Rhomboids, you can do a seated cable row and bent-over barbell rows. Your Latissimus Dorsi will benefit from wide-grip lat pull-downs and pull-ups. And last but not least, try upright rows and barbell shrugs for your Trapezius.
But before starting any body-building workout, be sure to warm up properly. This will reduce the risk of damaging muscles and tendons. Stretch the muscles you’re going to be working. Also avoid lifting more weight than your body can capably handle to avoid serious injury.