Five Reasons Why You Should Swing a Kettlebell

For Five Reason Friday, I asked Patrick – TAO’s resident kettlebell master – to shed some light on this elusive piece of equipment and tell us how and why we should incorporate it into our fitness routines. Enjoy!

By Patrick Cohen

The Kettlebell. Chances are, you’re reading this and have no clue what I’m talking about. But I bet you’ve seen it. If you’ve spent any time in a gym in the last year or two, if you’ve perused the sporting goods section of your nearest Target, or if you’ve just driven by a park and seen people working with their trainers, chances are you’ve seen someone somewhere holding a kettlebell. It looks like a cannonball with a handle. You swing it around in strange and primitive movements. It looks weird. Probably just another fitness gimmick right?

Although they predate virtually every piece of exercise equipment in the gym (the kettlebell first appeared in a Russian dictionary in 1704), kettlebells are a “new” trend in today’s fitness environment. With American attention spans being what they are, it’s no wonder that every few months there seems to be a new “it” way to get in shape. So what sets the kettlebell apart? Why is it any different than the ab swing, the thigh master, or (groan) the gazelle? Well stop asking so many questions and I’ll tell you.

The kettlebell is simple. Brutal. And remarkably effective at creating dramatic increases in strength, power, conditioning, and flexibility. Don’t believe me? Well you should. I’m incredibly smart. But if for some crazy reason my snappy prose isn’t enough,here are 5 reasons you need to get out there and try those kettlebells.

1.) What you’re doing isn’t working

I know, I know. Harsh right? But let’s face facts. Most people I know who are as completely flexible, strong, and as ripped as they want to be are too busy staring at themselves in the mirror to read fitness blogs online. If for some reason you are a fitness model reading this on a lark, I apologize for insulting you sir, please feel free to jump to the next item on this list.

For everyone else, isn’t it time you tried something new? Chances are you’ve been trying some version of the same workout on and off again for years now. Trust me, I’ve fallen into the same trap. Our body will adapt to even the best workouts, and at best we’re going to plateau, while at worst we lose focus and give up for a couple of months, or get injured. Then we’ll wait a while and start the cycle over again.

The best thing about kettlebells is that you haven’t tried them before! Shocking the body with a completely different approach to your training is a smart way to attack your goals, regardless of whether you’re trying to gain muscle, lose fat, improve performance, or some combination of all three.

2.) Kettlebells Are Unique

A kettlebell just looks weird, doesn’t it? The shape and relatively compact size of the bell allows you to safely accelerate it on the way down in movements like swings, cleans,and snatches. Easier and more forgiving on the joints than comparable barbell or dumbbell movements, the offset center of gravity of the kettlebell allows you to generate tremendous force without impact. As a result, a kettlebell user (or girevick in Russian) is able to replace an entire gym with this simple, compact piece of iron.

I promise you, whether you have a background in sports, dance, martial arts, traditional fitness and bodybuilding, or plain old couch-potatoness, you’ve never done anything quite like a kettlebell workout. Doesn’t that sound like something fun to try?

3.) Kettlebells Will Fix Your Posture And Eliminate Your Pain

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re sitting in front of a computer with slouched, forward facing shoulders. You are probably craning your head forward (even more so if you’re reading this on your phone!), and you’re sitting in a position that doesn’t necessarily make your hip flexors happy and ready to work.

In today’s computer culture, where we spend all day everyday sitting at a desk, sitting in the car, sitting on the couch, and often even sitting on a machine at the gym, is it any wonder that 80% of Americans will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their life? Or that roughly 200,000 Americans suffer ACL tears every year (70% of which come from non-contact injuries)?

The movements you will learn and strengthen in proper kettlebell training will work EXACTLY the opposite movement patterns that the rest of your life is developing. The kettlebell swing dynamically opens the hips and trains the glutes (you know, that cushion you’ve been sitting on for the last 20 years?). The most common cause of lower back strain is improper hip mechanics, so fix it. Get off your butt and swing a kettlebell!

In addition, when loaded properly all overhead lifts with a kettlebell promote mobility and stability in the shoulder girdle. Because of the offset center of gravity (the bell is hanging back and down on you forearm when held overhead), the weight will actually force the head of the humerus down into the socket, protecting and strengthening the rotator cuff and promoting much healthier shoulder mechanics. A great idea for people who slouch all day long.

4.) Kettlebell Workouts Are Short

I know, I know, I’m starting to sound like Tony Little again. But this isn’t another ad for the gazelle. I’m serious. When you work as hard as kettlebells make you work, your session is shorter. Those endless rounds of cardio and the set after set of strength training can be combined into one amazingly intense and brief single session (usually a hardcore kettlebell workout lasts between 15 and 35 minutes). Because of the versatility offered (once you’ve learned enough of the skills required), you can stack exercise after exercise together into one long set without ever setting the bell down. I’ve been a fitness professional for almost 10 years, and I’ve played sports all my life and I can tell you: nothing has ever gotten me into shape in less time than kettlebell training. Simple. Brutal. And you won’t believe how effective.

5.) Kettlebells Make You Strong At Everything Else

I once trained a former powerlifter who’d squatted almost 1000 pounds in competition. By all accounts one of the strongest men I’ll ever meet. And clearly no stranger to fitness. He came to me after he tried to hail a cab in NYC and blew out his ACL stepping down off the curb. Clearly his training had prepared him very well for squatting with a barbell on his back, but apparently not so well for the simple needs of his daily life.
In training there’s something called the S.A.I.D. principle. It stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. Basically just a fancy way of saying if you want to be good at something you have to work on it. Playing football won’t get you in shape to play basketball. Running cross country doesn’t mean you’ll have the conditioning needed to get through a boxing match. For every activity there is a different skill set and strength/conditioning component. And the more specific the movement patterns, the less the training will carry over to other activities.

So what does this have to do with kettlebells? Well let’s take a look. Hip extension is the basis of all locomotion. It’s how and why we’re able to move. So whatever your activity, improved hip extension and glute strength (which automatically yields an increase in core strength by the way), will improve whatever movement or activity you can ever take part in. Also, remember that the kettlebell will improve and strengthen the movement of your shoulders. If your shoulders are stronger and in less pain that will carry over to every activity, whether you’re playing a game of flag football or helping your friend move.

As I like to tell my clients, the Pec Deck is a very specific machine. It will make you great at the Pec Deck. If your goal is to be the best at the the Pec Deck you should hit that machine on a regular basis. If however you want to be strong and fit all around, you’d be hard pressed to find a better tool than the kettlebell. It delivers a very serious, functionally sound, basic movement pattern that will make you stronger, faster, and leaner. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to go for that run, or make that buzzer-beating layup. And the power generated from those hips is the same pattern needed to throw a punch or change direction (which is why both UFC fighters and NFL players are using kettlebells more and more).
So there you have it. 5 reasons you should stop what you’re doing right now and start swinging a kettlebell. They’ve been around for hundreds of years for a reason. Want to get started? Train with me or another certified kettlebell instructor. But I warn you, once you start training with kettlebells you may find yourself addicted. Both to the fun, dynamic workouts, and to the incredible results you’re going to be seeing.

Enjoy the pain!

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