Over the past three years, there has been one word that has taken the health and fitness industry by storm, ‘kettlebells’. The kettlebell looks like a cannon ball with a handle and has its origins in Russia where it has been used for decades as a tool for training athletes. The history of the kettlebell dates as far back as the 1700’s where they were originally used as counter-weights in Russian markets. Evidence suggests that the ‘market folk’ began throwing the weights, which led to them becoming popular training tools for strongmen.
Kettlebell training has an integrated rather than isolated approach to resistance training, which is what makes most kettlebell exercises considerably more functional than typical resistance equipment. The old adage of “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” is perhaps a great metaphor to describe the superior benefits of kettlebell training; rather than trying to develop the strength of each link in isolation, kettlebell training focuses on training all the links at the same time and is consistent with the demands of many sporting and occupational activities. With most kettlebell exercises there is also a large emphasis on core and spinal stability; whilst kettlebell training can help to improve the strength of the lower back and core region, care should be taken with such conditions as they can just as easily be exacerbated when progression is rushed.
Unlike dumbbells and other more mainstream forms of resistance equipment, the kettlebell’s centre of gravity is located approximately 6- 8 inches outside the grip, which results in varying levels of resistance throughout the exercise. This design feature replicates the grip demands of most household and sporting objects including bags, work tools, tennis racquets and golf clubs. Kettlebells also have a much thicker handle than their dumbbell and barbell counterparts which significantly increases their grip demands. In a world where labour saving devices are resulting in a rapid decline in the average person’s grip strength, and because kettlebell exercises necessitate a tight and relaxed grip at various stages of each exercise, kettlebell training will help to reverse this trend and enhance the exerciser’s isometric (static) and isotonic (dynamic) strength of the forearm musculature.
Some authorities proclaim kettlebell training to be a superior form of exercise for calorie burning because it has greater metabolic demands than other exercise modalities. To date, no credible research has been able to support this claim, however, some researchers have been able to demonstrate the energy demands of kettlebell training to be equal to incline walking on a treadmill, cycling and stepping. Undoubtedly the metabolic demands of kettlebell training will be greater than machine and isolated resistance exercises because of the greater mass of muscle recruited; what however is unclear is whether kettlebell training invokes significant cardiovascular benefits, and if it is superior to conventional forms of aerobic training for weight management.