Have you ever tried working out with kettlebell weights? They’re cute, brightly colored, oddly shaped hand weights that can give you a fun and effective workout—an easy way to get intense exercise in a brief amount of time. If these shorter days and colder temperatures are motivating you to take your workout indoors, kettlebells may turn out to be just your cup of tea!
Kettlebells are chunky round weights that look like cannonballs with handles attached. Trendy as they are today, they’re actually an import from 18th-century Russia, where the “girya” (as they were called) was used to build strength and endurance.
Kettlebells come in weights ranging from five to 106 pounds, and they’re sold in a rainbow of colors, but looks are beside the point. What’s great about kettlebells is that they build muscle, burn fat and boost endurance. Because the center of gravity is located six to eight inches from the handle, swinging kettlebells strengthens core muscles instead of muscles in your extremities. They are great at building you up for real-life physical challenges, such as carrying luggage or moving furniture.
Hollywood trainer and kettlebell instructor Gina Lombardi, NSCA-CPT, author of the book Deadline Fitness, gave us a sequence of exercises that delivers both cardiovascular and strength benefits. This workout is efficient and effective, provided you follow correct kettlebell form (as outlined below). Called Peripheral Heart Action (PHA), these moves (performed in this order) force blood to circulate from the small muscles around your heart to your extremities continuously throughout your routine.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Let’s start with a note about safety. Swinging a kettlebell generates significant momentum. You can do some serious damage to yourself, bystanders or walls, furniture or windows if you aren’t careful, so choose a spot where you won’t bump anything when your arms are fully extended.
The workout is more intense than you might guess, so start with a weight that you can comfortably swing long enough to complete the exercises—women should begin with five to 15 pounds…men, 15 to 30 pounds. You can add weight as your strength and endurance increases, but always use the same weight throughout each workout.
Kettlebell workouts are based on time, not repetitions, so you will need to have a timer on hand or do your routine where you can see a clock. Beginners should do each exercise for one minute, taking time to catch a breath before going on to the next one. At the intermediate level, you’ll be aiming for two minutes per exercise, while advanced kettlebellers clock three minutes with each move. You can add difficulty by abbreviating how long you rest in between moves as well.
Getting Into the Swing of It
Since it’s mostly the powerful thrust from your hips, butt and thighs that propels the swinging kettlebell, not the motion of your arms or shoulders, it’s important to stand or squat correctly. Keep your back straight and shoulders back as you balance your weight on your heels. For most exercises, toes should be pointed straight ahead. When you squat, your thighs should be parallel to the floor…your knees should never extend beyond your toes…and you should sit back into your hips to get the full effect.
Two-Arm Swing: Place a kettlebell on the floor in front of you, then stand up straight, setting your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and reach down with both hands to grab the sides of the handle (called the “horns”). Now stand, letting your arms hang down in front of the body, keeping your knees slightly bent. Slowly swing the bell back between your legs. Then thrust your hips forward, squeezing your glutes and straightening out your legs, using the momentum to swing your arms up until the bell is at chest level. Without breaking the rhythm, lower the bell smoothly back down between your legs, bending your knees slightly as before. Repeat the motion, again and again, without breaking the rhythm.
Upright Rows: Again, start with the kettlebell on the floor, feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. This time, however, grasp the top part of the handle with two hands, keeping your arms straight down in front. Lift the kettlebell, keeping it close to your body, straight up toward your chin by bending your elbows so that they wing out and upward—your elbows should be higher than your wrists. Lift the kettlebell nearly to your chest and then lower to starting position and repeat.
Single-Arm Deadlift: Stand in front of the bell with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Squat down, keeping your back straight, and grab the bell with one hand and stand back up, keeping your arm between your legs and slightly in front of you. Your arm should not bend during this exercise. Slowly squat to lower the kettlebell back down to the floor, leaving it there. Use your other hand to pick it back up and once again stand. Repeat, alternating arms.
Be sure to end your training session with five to 10 minutes of stretching to cool down and prevent muscle soreness. Lombardi predicts that you’ll find your first kettlebell workout to be tough—but exhilarating!
Most gyms have sets of kettlebells, and they’re also easy to find at Walmart, in sporting-goods stores and online. Prices range from $13 for a single starter kettlebell to several hundred dollars for a graduated set.