By now many of you will be familiar with the sight of kettle bells in the gym, whether you have used them or not yet. While the Russian influenced fitness industry have been using them for over a hundred years it is only recently they have crossed over to the fitness scene in the West and even more recently been popularized by Cross Fit classes around the world, which is where many of you may have become familiar with them.
They are promoted as great for core strength and whole body “functional’’ training yet at the same time many gyms in the UK have banned them for unsupervised use by the general public. Surely this is a contradiction?
So who exactly should be including kettle bells into their exercise regime and how? What are the advantages and disadvantages of kettle bell training?
Kettle bells are great to use as you can perform an entire body workout within a limited space with limited equipment – making it ideal for those on a tight budget or who prefer to work out at home. You can probably get away with two or three different weights and then they last a lifetime so once you have invested in them there is zero maintenance.
You can use them for resistance and strength training just as you would dumb bells, such as squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, curls and rows. However they also they move around the body in a totally different way to dumb bells enabling those who are able, to fulfil the cardiovascular requirements of their exercise program when performing the ballistic exercises such as swings and snatches.
The versatility of being able to combine functional movements, strength and cardiovascular training in a total body routine means that kettle bell workouts are extremely efficient regarding total workout out time and rapid results. Being able to combine all the elements of a workout also leads to swift weight loss and is a great way to encourage fat burning.
This is also an excellent cardiovascular workout for those of you experiencing various knee issues and prefer to avoid high impact moves such as running or aerobics or have been advised not to include deep knee bends into your routine.
Kettlebells can used for an entire workout on their own or as part of a mixed general workout, depending on the fitness level, experience and requirements of each individual.
KETTLE BELLS DO NOT SUIT EVERYONE AND CARE IS ADVISED.
I have seen on repeated occasions the inclusion of kettle bells into a workout resulting in serious back injuries (usually disc problems). Another common injury I see is straining of the elbow joint. If someone has a pre-existing lower back or elbow injury I would advise against even practising many kettle bell moves.
Even those of you who consider yourself to have healthy muscular-skeletal physiques I would advise extreme caution. Poor technique can lead to potential injury. Working out with kettle bells produces a higher risk of injury that running or lifting weights incorrectly, therefore correct form is essential. For this reason alone, it is important for any kettle bell novice, no matter how skilled or fit you are in other sports fields, to find a qualified kettlebell instructor with specific kettlebell background and certification. This is not the same as trainer who teaches you basic resistance exercises.
Before using kettlebells, you should have some kinaesthetic (body) awareness — the ability to coordinate movement and feel where your body is in space. People who have never lifted weights or exercised before might be best off starting with more traditional strength training that involves lifting weights in a slow, controlled manner before moving onto kettle bells. Kettlebell swinga can carry an immense amount of momentum, so a repetition that starts with bad form cannot be saved. However, many people will try to correct form mid-rep, which can be very dangerous for the spine and musculature. Your form needs to be spot-on to protect you from injury and to help you get the real benefits of the exercises. This is why although your gym may have the bells lying out on the gym floor for anyone to use, seek guidance from a kettle bell certified trainer. It may take you several weeks or months to perfect your form. But it may save you months as a physiotherapist patient. Any trainer who quickly shows you what to do in a group exercise situation and doesn’t pay constant attention to your technique despite you being a novice is inviting injury.
Taking the above disadvantage into consideration, it should be obvious that learning from the internet is also a mistake. If you discover fun looking new exercises discuss them with your instructor (as anyone can post online and some are simply ‘’party tricks’’) to see if they are safe, suit your goals and learn how to perform them correctly.
Finally it is easy to become injured simply because you over use the kettlebells without sufficient recovery time between workouts. As I have said, take time to learn proper form. Usually, injury comes when proper form is disregarded or fatigue sets in – so avoid doing kettlebell exercises to absolute failure. When your focus isn’t 100 percent or the weights are too heavy you endanger your body.
To conclude, if you have a healthy back and are generally injury free, kettlebells provide a great efficient versatile workout providing you find a properly experienced qualified trainer.