Maybe your gym has an entire rack of kettlebells just waiting for you to get swinging. Or you’re working out from home and you’ve got a trusty kettlebell by your side in your living room. Wherever you’re training with kettlebells, you’re bound to get stronger, become a better overall athlete, and fight off sticking points in your barbell lifts.
Despite there being no “right” way to hold a kettlebell, these implements offer unparalleled training advantages. Unlike a barbell, most kettlebell exercises will generally force you to contribute evenly with both sides of your body. And unlike a dumbbell, the nature of the load itself tends to recruit more of your stabilizer muscles.
From circuits to flows, you can work with kettlebells in more ways than you think to develop power or improve your cardiovascular endurance. In case you’re not convinced, here are seven big benefits of working with kettlebells, and how to add them properly to your program.
Benefits of Kettlebell Training
- Low-Impact Cardio
- Full-Body Strength
- Coordination and Mobility
- Training Versatility
- Fight Imbalances and Asymmetries
- Power Development
- Grip Strength
While traditional cardiovascular exercises like jogging can be a huge asset to strength athletes, they can put a lot of strain on the body. Adding hours on the treadmill to your training might not be the most effective cardio option if your recovery isn’t perfectly catered to that plan. Since your feet remain planted during even the most explosive kettlebell moves, you won’t be placing the same repetitive strain on your joints and connective tissue as running will.
Many kettlebell exercises are ballistic in nature, making them ideal for low-impact cardiovascular training. Kettlebell circuits and flows don’t take up a lot of time, are performed at submaximal loads, and will place a lot of positive demand on your cardio system. You can boost your endurance in a lot less time. The more efficient your engine, the more volume you’ll likely be able to handle in your other training.
Part of the magic of kettlebells is that they’re not just good for your heart and lungs. They can also help skyrocket your muscular strength — and even build mass — throughout your body. Since most kettlebell exercises recruit muscles from head to toe, everything from swings to Turkish get-ups will make you a much stronger lifter.
Kettlebell moves tend to be either extremely slow and deliberate — like kettlebell windmills — or fast and explosive, like the clean and press. Both types activate muscles all over your body, which necessitates that your core gets stronger and more stable. Your entire body will get a serious boost in strength from working with kettlebells, with a particular emphasis on your core.
To train effectively with kettlebells, you’ve got to be both coordinated and mobile. You can’t perform a proper kettlebell snatch without sufficient full-body coordination. There’s no way you’ll be able to nail such a complex move if you don’t have enough kinesthetic awareness to slip your hand into the right position above your head without slapping the bell on your forearm. You also need sufficient shoulder mobility and overhead stability to settle the weight in the top position.
The good news is that you don’t have to start kettlebell training with good coordination or mobility. You can start small. You can build overhead mobility, coordination, and stability with moves like Turkish get-ups and kettlebell windmills.
You’ll develop better hip mobility and coordination through training deep kettlebell goblet squats and proper kettlebell deadlifts and swings. By the time you build up to the more complex kettlebell moves, your coordination and mobility will have grown tremendously.
You don’t need to drag yourself to the gym at four in the morning to get a good workout. The versatility offered by kettlebell training is a key benefit of these implements. You can literally work out anywhere with kettlebells, all within the space taken up by a yoga mat.
There’s more to it than just the “train anywhere” advantage of kettlebells. The versatility offered by kettlebells means that you can train with completely different movement patterns than you might be used to. While you don’t necessarily want to program hop, injecting some new life into your program isn’t a bad thing. Kettlebells help you add challenges that are substantial, even at submaximal loads. This means less stress to your body overall while stimulating growth in new areas of your strength and athleticism.
Some kettlebell moves — like swings and dead bug pullovers — require both hands on the bell. But most kettlebell exercises are unilateral in nature. This means that you either perform reps with one side at a time or have one bell in each hand so your arms work independently.
This means that strength and muscle asymmetries don’t stand much of a chance in the face of kettlebell training. Is your right arm consistently out-muscling your left during barbell bench presses? Spending some time training the bench press with kettlebells and you’ll give your left arm the much-needed opportunity to catch up. Plus, if aesthetics are your goal, balancing your strength can help you equally stimulate each side of your body.
Grinding out a difficult lift takes a tremendous amount of mental discipline, but moving weights quickly takes a different kind of skill and mental toughness. Kettlebells can help you become a more powerful lifter.
From swings and cleans to snatches and high pulls, many staple kettlebell lifts require you to move a heavy weight quickly. You’ll find that the more you practice with kettlebells, the more efficient at force development you become.
If you’re a powerlifter, this can help your main lifts by making your body more comfortable under high stress — which ultimately means you can lift heavier regardless of speed. If you’re an Olympic lifter and power is the name of your game, kettlebells provide natural synergy. The submaximal, unilateral work will refine your skills and make you more adept at your barbell sport.
While your whole body will get stronger while working with kettlebells, your grip strength is worth mentioning in particular. Kettlebell training often involves timed circuits or flows, during which you don’t drop the bell for minutes at a time, a huge contrast to the bursts of barbell work.
Kettlebells are also phenomenal for building grip strength because you’re controlling the bell while it’s moving through different planes. During a snatch alone, your forearm will cycle through multiple angles throughout the move.
You’ll have to find that delicate balance of holding on tight enough to maintain control, but keeping it loose enough to move the bell how you need to. That balance will work wonders for your grip. And what happens when your grip strength skyrockets? bigger deadlift numbers, not to mention easier trips home from the grocery store.
Who Should Try Kettlebell Training
Pretty much any kind of athlete can benefit from kettlebell training. If you have roughly six feet of space and the physical ability to safely hoist a bell, kettlebells likely have a lot to offer you.
Olympic weightlifters train explosively by nature. Kettlebells are a great fit here because they can help increase power and technique under submaximal loads. If you need to get your body moving before a weightlifting session without over-taxing yourself, kettlebells offer a way to do so.
While powerlifters aren’t always necessarily powerful — slow grinds are more their speed — kettlebells can help provide diversity to training. Kettlebells can provide an extra dose of cardiovascular training that many powerlifting programs lack. They can also improve kinesthetic awareness and explosivity, both of which can make you more efficient and stronger when moving through your squats or deadlifts.
Bodybuilders may not want to log hours of traditional cardio to keep their endurance up. Instead, you need to prioritize modes of cardio and body recomposition that doesn’t tax your joints. Ideally, this form of cardio should also stimulate muscle growth.
Kettlebell training fits the bill here since it is low-impact and can be customized to target specific muscles or muscle groups. If you’re trying to crank up your calorie burn in the gym, a kettlebell session can get you where you need to be for your physique goals.
Functional Fitness Athletes
Whether you’re a dedicated CrossFitter or only hit up the gym every second Tuesday, kettlebells have something to offer you. There are few more functional forms of fitness than moving dynamically with an offset weight — you’ll build strength and improve your cardiovascular fitness all at once. Not to mention your grip strength gains — weekend yard work will be a breeze.
How to Warm Up for Kettlebell Training
Fortunately, kettlebells provide an all-encompassing training stimulus, and that extends to the warm-up too. If you’re training for a powerlifting meet or just enjoy working on your fitness in the gym, a few kettlebell moves make for a great dynamic warm-up.
However, if kettlebells are the centerpiece of your workout, you probably want to have a separate warm-up. Since kettlebell work isn’t as technically demanding as some barbell exercises, working through your target moves with a very light bell will get you acclimated to the technique while increasing blood flow.
If needed, a few minutes of light cardio prior to picking up your first bell can help prepare you for full-body movement on the day.
How To Program Kettlebell Training
If you already have a routine in place, it can be tricky to figure out how to integrate kettlebells into your program. You don’t want to just throw more training in without being strategic about how and why. Instead, think about where you want to sprinkle in kettlebell training based on your goals and proceed gradually.
As Accessory Lifts
Do you want to use kettlebells to help you improve a particular lift? Maybe you want to strengthen your squat, and want to supplement your lower body training with kettlebells. In that case, consider switching out some of your current leg accessory exercises with kettlebell variations. That way, you’ll be maintaining a similar training volume, but reaping the unique benefits of working with kettlebells.
For Active Recovery
No place for kettlebells during your actual lifting routine? That’s okay. You can still benefit from these implements during your active recovery days. Since they’re so low impact, encourage you to lift at submaximal loads, and focus on mobility, kettlebells are very effective at helping your body recover between intense lifting sessions. You’ll get your blood flowing, your heart pumping, and your muscles activated without adding a whole lot of strain or extra unwelcome fatigue.
In a Warm-Up
If you’re in the gym to deadlift, some light single-arm kettlebell swings can help fire up your core, lats, and lubricate your hip hinge all at the same time. Sinking into a deep kettlebell goblet squat can also help prep your body for the bottom range of motion if you’re prepping for a big leg day.
As a Finisher
If you want to finish off your workouts with flair, kettlebells have you covered. Whether you move through a few rounds of your favorite kettlebell flow or complete a grueling kettlebell circuit, there’s nothing quite like using kettlebells for a workout finisher.
You’ll leave your workout feeling well and truly satisfied without adding too much extra pressure to your body. Just don’t forget to cool down afterward.
More About Kettlebell Training
Convinced that kettlebell training is a hot ticket? Good. Check out these other articles on kettlebells for more on how to work with these incredible pieces of equipment.
- 10 Questions You’ve Always Had About Kettlebells, Answered
- The 10 Best Kettlebell Exercises For All Skill Levels
- Can You Train With Kettlebells Every Day?
Featured Image: Paul Biryukov / Shutterstock