Despite the controversy surrounding Russian athletes before and during the 2016 Rio Olympics, Russians have always had a reputation of being athletic and health enthusiasts. In fact, they have developed a lot of exercise techniques that are being used up to this day. One of them is kettlebell exercises. This may surprise many who may think that the kettlebell is a recent invention or a fad exercise routine. But the truth is, the kettlebell has been around for more than 3 centuries. Kettlebells were used by Russians to measure grains, but were eventually used to develop a specific set of exercises. For Russian men, kettlebells were a measure of strength. As a matter of fact, they were used in the Soviet Army to condition soldiers.
But what is a kettlebell to begin with? Depending on how one perceives it, a kettlebell looks like a kettle or a bell (thus, the name!) But kidding aside, it is a piece of cast iron, usually ranging from 9 to 105 pounds, with a handle on top of it.
Kettlebells may seem no different from dumbbells and barbells in the sense that they need to be lifted in progressive weights and sets to reap benefits. The main difference, however, is that the weight of the kettlebell is not evenly distributed as with dumbbells and barbells that are balanced on the left and right. Kettlebell exercises target the major muscle groups and therefore provide a full body workout. Kettlebell exercises are suitable for both men and women and those looking to gain weight or lose it.
The Fundamental 6
There are many ways to use the kettlebell, ranging from the original techniques that originated in Russia or ones that have been modified for incorporation to CrossFit-style workouts. There are, however, 6 popular or “fundamental” kettlebell exercises that fulfill any individual’s basic fitness goals or needs. These are:
- The Swing. This is done by lifting, projecting or swinging the kettlebell from below the waist to shoulder-level. From the usual squat positon, with the knees aligned but not going beyond the toes, the kettlebell is brought (or swung!) from behind the knees to the level of the shoulders.
- The Goblet Squat. While most squat exercises aim to strengthen the legs and glutes, the goblet squat provides a total body workout as well. With the kettlebell held against the chest, one does squats as one does with a bar or barbell.
- The Turkish Get-Up. Performed using slow and deliberate movements, it involves lying down on the floor, standing up, and lying back down again. It starts out by lying with the back flat against the floor but with the kettlebell raised high up, with the fully extended arm perpendicular to the floor. Next, one assumes a sitting position, with the upper body now perpendicular to the floor but with the kettlebell still held up high.
The Strict Press. This may look like the ordinary overhead press done using a dumbbell but it utilizes the entire body for maximum pushing power and strength. While standing, the kettlebell is held with the palms open (not grasped by the hand) and placed at shoulder-level. It is slowly brought overhead, with the arm fully outstretched and the hand now clasping the handle (fist closed), as if clenching one’s fists while shouting mightily during a concert or rally. Again, both arms can be alternated to perform this exercise.
- The Clean. This is similar to the swing but finishes off with a rack position instead of the arms being outstretched. It begins by assuming the squat position and with the kettlebell on the floor. One then picks up the kettlebell with one hand and swiftly brings it up to shoulder-level while straightening up the body. At shoulder-level, the palm of the hand should be facing away from the body and the handle of the kettlebell shouldn’t be grasped but simply held by the palm (i.e., fingers are extended.)
- The Snatch. Finally, the snatch, regarded as the “Tsar” of all kettlebell exercises, provides total body strength and conditioning benefits. It should not be attempted when just beginning the kettlebell routine. The technique is similar to the kettlebell swing and clean but instead, the arm are fully extended and the kettlebell brought above the head. To bring it to the head would require a strong push or exertion of power.
For the 6 exercises, notice that there is no specific mention of how many repetitions can be done. Some trainers will say three sets of 12 or 15 repetitions will do but others will tend to focus more on executing the techniques properly first before increasing the number of repetitions. While watching videos is a good way of perfecting these techniques, working with an instructor is the best way to ensure that one gets optimal results from the exercises and doesn’t get injured. Once one has learned to properly perform each exercise, there is no limit to the repetitions that can be done. Ultimately, the only limit will be one’s own strength.