Become a Swinger–of Kettlebells

When it comes to working out, there’s nothing quite like the kettlebell to get the job done.  In fact, when most people ask me what they can do to get in shape, I say “buy a kettlebell.” A kettlebell is a big, round, cast-iron looking ball with a handle.  They are extremely versatile and you can find them as light as five pounds and as heavy as one hundred.  The great thing about a kettlebell is that you can do practically anything with it: cardio, strength-training, flexibility, core training, balance and stabilization—the possibilities are endless.  You can push it, press it, pull it; squat it, lunge it, clean it; snatch it, crunch it row it; and you can thrust it, jerk it, and swing it. There are high pulls, low pulls, farmer carries and windmills.  And who can forget the “love it but hate it” Turkish Getup? You can clearly entertain—or torture—yourself for a while.  You can work out with one for an hour or for ten minutes, and no matter what you do, you’re going to feel it when you’re done.

 What’s the difference between kettlebells and dumbbells?

The difference between a kettlebell and a dumbbell is the way the kettlebell carries its weight.  A dumbbell has an equal amount of weight on each side of the handle. The kettlebell? Well, it’s just a round ball of iron.  You end up using twice as many stabilizing muscles (think wrists, forearms, shoulders) just holding onto the handle than you’d ever use with a dumbbell.  Also, because of its shape, you can actually “swing” the bell—getting your cardio workout in for the day.  The swing is the most popular kettlebell exercise and I know some people who won’t go one workout without performing one hundred or more swings!

 So how do you start?

First—if you’re new to working out, just like any new fitness program, you need to consult with a doctor to make sure you’re in good physical form.  Then you need to get a bell.  If you belong to a gym, there’s a possibility your gym may have a few.  If not, or if you don’t belong to a gym, kettlebells are really easy to find. Most sporting goods stores sell them and I’ve seen many at Target and Walmart.  Expect to pay about $2 per pound.  And I’d suggest starting with a 20-25 pound bell.  If you have zero previous strength training, start with a 15 pounder. You are your best judge.

 What’s next?
Once you’ve got a bell, where should you start? I asked some of my closest kettlebell-loving friends what they thought were some of the basic “can’t live without” exercises.  They replied with the same moves: the squat, swing, lunge, and the ¼ turk.  So that’s exactly where we’ll start.

  1. The SQUAT: The squat can be one of the most beneficial of all exercises.  The squat forces every single major muscle group to come together and push a heavy load.  Your core stabilizes the entire body, the legs bear the workload, and the upper body holds the weight in place.  Done right, the squat can re-shape your whole body.  Simply hold the bell at chest height and bend from the waist so that the butt pushes back (like you’re sitting in an invisible chair) and bring your elbows to your bent knees.  Keep your belly braced to support your low back and to work your core.  Keep your chest lifted and keep your weight in your heels.  Push though your heels back to standing and repeat.  Point to remember: keep your knees in line with your ankles.  If your knees come out over your toes (you can’t look down and see your toes), chances are you’re putting the weight in your knees and not your major muscle groups.  You will likely set yourself up for major injury this way!

 

Notice Cammy’s knees are not out past her toes and she sits her butt back just like there’s a chair behind her. You can’t see it but her core is stabilizing her whole body!

  1. The SWING: Stand with your feet outside of your hips and your toes slightly turned out.  Hold the bell (with relaxed arms) in front of you. Bend your knees and pretend like you’re sitting back in that same invisible chair (as if you are getting ready to squat), and then swing the bell through your legs, using your hips to transfer the weight from your legs all the way up and out through the bell. You should swing the bell to shoulder height (see picture below) and never actually use your arms to lift the bell.  Keep your back flat, chest lifted, and core tight to avoid lower back pain.  Once you’ve got the motion down, aim for 2-3 sets of 20-30 swings.  You can perform these whenever you want to add a little bit of cardio AND strength training to your routine.  Point to remember: the motion of the swing always starts with the HIPS.  As Shakira says, “hips don’t lie,” and they’ll move that bell for you too. 

 

To start the swing, Terri swings the bell back through her legs, her legs performing the same motion of a squat. Cammy finishes the swing by using her hips to propel the motion of the bell forward and momentum carries the bell to shoulder height. 

  1. The LUNGE: A kettlebell lunge is very similar to any other lunge, but the instability of the bell makes the move more challenging.  There are a few ways to lunge.  Hold the bell in rack position (at your chest, elbows in, see picture below) and step forward.  Drop the back knee towards the floor, stopping a few inches before your knee hits. Press back up and bring your leg back to starting position.  You can also perform a backwards stepping lunge—just step back instead of forward.  Get bored easily? Try walking lunges and walk around the house, the neighborhood, the track, whatever passes the time. Want to add an abdominal/core element to your lunge? Hold the bell overhead while you lunge.  Not only will you get shoulder stability work, but your obliques will get a killer workout too! Point to remember: You MUST take a long lunge step (forward or back.) Too often, I see people lunging with baby steps and all the weight is being forced onto the knee. OUCH! To find your perfect lunge stance, get down on one knee (the proposal position), then without moving your feet from where they are on the floor, stand up.  The position you are in is now YOUR lunge position.

 

Steph shows the proper lunge stance from front stance and back stance. The front knee never goes past the toes, the back knee drops towards the floor, and the posture stays nice and upright.  Make sure your stance is long to prevent knee injury.

  1.  The ¼ Turk: The Turkish Getup is about as popular for kettlebellers as a marathon is to a runner.  It’s that one element, that staple of the workout, the hard work and effort, all displayed right there in one exercise.  But it’s also complicated and very challenging so we’re starting with the first quarter of the move.  The ¼ Turk—as I love to call it—is an amazing oblique core trainer.  You start in a lying down position with the bell in one hand—arm locked out and eyes on the bell.  Bring up the same knee as the side holding the bell.  Breathe in, and as you breathe out push through the opposite elbow to punch the bell up and over until you’re resting on the elbow of the opposite arm. The arm with the bell is still locked out, eyes still watching. (That part helps with balance and ensures you don’t drop it on your head.) It’s a quick, swift movement controlled by the core.  Return to start and performanywhere from 10-20 repetitions per side.

Terri finishes by pushing on her left elbow and using her core to power the bell up towards the ceiling.Terri starts the ¼ Turk with her right arm locked out above her and right knee bent.

Where do you go from here?

Once you think you have the basics, set up a routine. Try to use the kettlebell an average of three times per week.  It’s up to you on sets and repetitions.  You may want to try 3 sets of each exercise and 15-20 repetitions.  If you want more of a cardio feel, do 20 reps of each exercise and then repeat for up to 45 minutes.  Keep your technique solid and the moves quick.  You can challenge yourself by seeing how many times you can get through the workout in 45 minutes or you can even try to advance in weight!

Good luck!

Stephanie is a Certified Level I Kettlebell Instructor and has been teaching Kettlebells since 2009.

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  One thought on “Become a Swinger–of Kettlebells

  1. March 31, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Kettlebells allow you to work many different muscle groups, improve aerobic fitness, and burn fat in one workout.

    Like

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