Still relatively unknown in the mainstream fitness industry, the Kettlebell has been used for centuries to great effect for multiple physical benefits
The origin of the Kettlebell is not entirely certain. The term Kettlebell or ‘girya’ in Russian was first documented in the early 1700s however it is not likely they were used for fitness and conditioning until around 150 years ago. Speculation on the origin ranges from market measuring weights used in Russia which the stall owners began to show off with giving rise to some of the commonly known techniques; to the ancient Scottish game of curling, where the stones became used as a training tool in the off season and evolved into something resembling a Kettlebell. What is known is that the Russians were the first to popularise their use and to really take advantage of the extraordinary benefits of Kettlebell training
Although it is believed that Kettlebell training was first truly embraced for its weight loss and calorie burning potential back in the early 1900s their usage really emerged when Russia began to open up to the rest of the world in the 1980s and 1990s, and in particular when Russian athletes seemed to be showing superior strength and endurance compared with their US or Western European counterparts.
This increased strength and endurance exhibited by the Russian athletes was believed to be linked to their extensive use of Kettlebells in their training and the US became very interested in this fact. The US began to explore their use, witnessing the results for themselves. Amongst many others, the Key benefits noted were:
- Increased lean muscle mass and decreased fat.
- Enhanced flexibility, stability and core strength
- Explosive power and strength gains
- Improved Balance and Co-ordination
- Improved Cardiovascular function
- Fewer injuries
Upon these findings, Kettlebell training became widely utilised by US athletes, and the US Military!
The Russians were not content with only athletes and the Military using Kettlebells however, why deny the general populous these awesome benefits to strength, endurance, balance and general health?! The Russians came to see how widespread Kettlebell use could prove to be a real benefit to their economy and in 1981 the ‘Official Kettlebell Commission’ was formed and advocated mandatory Kettlebell training for all workers with the result being a fitter populous with increased productivity, and a reduced healthcare bill. Perhaps it could come in handy in reducing the deficit in the UK by cutting absenteeism from work due to illness or back pain and reducing the burden on the NHS for similar ailments! Ok, a slightly simplistic argument to say the least, but in short, if everyone worked out with Kettlebells there would be a positive effect on society.
A further incredible benefit which flies in the face of a lot of research was the fact that Kettlebells are a truly transferable training method. For example, in a US study in 1983, two groups of athletes were monitored over a set time before performing several standard military tests such as a 1k run, pull ups, or a 100m sprint. One group were trained according to traditional methods; exercises specific to the events to be tested along with other enhancing techniques tailored to the tests, the other group trained only with Kettlebells…. and yes, you guessed it the Kettlebell trained athletes were far more successful over all of the tests than the other group.
What is it about the Kettlebell that makes it so powerful as a training tool?
The key concept here is that of Functional Training. Kettlebell training movements are far more similar to natural everyday movements of the body than free weight techniques or resistance machines, both of which limit the full range of movement around the joints involved. Therefore Kettlebell training techniques give us real benefits which translate to everyday life. Can you remember the last time you needed to raise something off of your chest then lower it back down several times? Probably not, but we have all had to lift something heavy off of the floor, keep our balance when bumped into, get in and out of the car without groaning or reach for something on the a top shelf without toppling over. Kettlebell training makes each of these everyday tasks and hundreds more far easier.
The main reason for their advantage over mainstream free weights is the shifting of the centre of gravity away from the grip. This means the body has to work extremely hard to stabilize itself against the momentum of the Kettlebell once a movement such as a swing is started. For this reason, as well as the prime movers, hundreds of supporting muscles are activated in Kettlebell training and are therefore strengthened together with all of the connective tissue at insertion points and around the joints. A side effect of this is heightened proprioception, or put another way, balance and postural awareness. This is because Kettlebell training requires strong co-ordination and balance, so doing so regularly improves these things far more than conventional free weight training which requires far less motor skills.
As mentioned above both free weights and machines limit the body’s ability to work functionally as they limit the range of motion possible, hence their inferiority in achieving full body fitness. The fact that the Kettlebell uses so many of the body’s muscles from superficial ones to the deep stabilizers, means it boosts the metabolism enormously and makes the body function far more effectively.
Overall, the Kettlebell is a fascinating piece of equipment, so simple, yet so effective in strengthening, stabilizing, toning, improving the power output and function of the body. So...:
- If you are serious about getting fitter than you have ever been, you need to try it.
- If you want to maintain a level of fitness, prevent injuries and stay in shape, you need to try it.
- If you are overweight and are looking for fast and sustainable weight loss, you need to try it.
- Oh and one more, if you are looking for a fast, fun, space efficient workout for your home, yes, you need to try it.
My Kettlebell Classes are in Alderley Edge and in West Hampstead hope to see you there.