When Should You Use Kettlebell Training
Kettlebell training is all the rage – it’s hipper than Friends was in its heyday and even more popular than Game of Thrones. Okay – maybe that second one was a bit of stretch, but anyone familiar with fitness knows what a kettlebell is. A week doesn’t go by without someone asking me what kind of kettlebell they should buy. In fact, the only thing I talk about more than kettlebells is the awesomeness of Jon Snow.
So when should you knock out a kettlebell workout? Well, here’s the thing – people tend to only think in absolutes about getting in shape. You’ve heard the shtick before: you should only eat “X,” everyone should run “Y” amount of miles per week. Kettlebells are tools that we can use to get in shape. Like any other tool, you have to make sure you use it for the right use. You wouldn’t use a hammer when you should use a screwdriver and the same rule applies to what training tool you use.
However, we should talk about some of the benefits of kettlebell training before anything else. In an interesting study done with middle aged office workers, kettlebell training was shown to reduce symptoms of pain. After 8 weeks of using different forms of swings along with a kettlebell deadlift, subjects reported 57% less symptoms in back pain (1). They also noted a 46% reduction in neck pain.
Where kettlebells make their biggest impact is in the form of conditioning. Yes, you can get strong with them, but nothing will ever beat the barbell in terms of real strength. For those who despise sprinting, kettlbells offer a great form of conditioning that also carries over to real life. Very few modes of training can utilize the hips, pulling, and pushing motions in repetitive nature like the kettlebell. When using swings, researchers found that subjects who simply did kettlebell swings trained at 70% of their conditioning level (we refer to this as VO2 Max) as well as 86% of their max heart rate without stepping foot on a treadmill (2).
So this is where you want to focus most of your kettlebell training. What I prefer to do with clients is to focus the first half of their session on building strength and the last half of the session of doing swings, presses, and cleans with kettlebells. 20 minutes of non-stop training with a kettlebell is plenty to rev up that metabolism and drop some pounds. If your goal is to build muscle or increase power, there are better tools though for the job.
1. Jay, K. Frisch, D., et al. “Kettlebell Training for Musculoskeletal and Cardiovascular Health: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” (2011) Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health 37;3, 196-203
2. Farrah, R.F., Mayhew, J.L. Koch, A.J. “Oxygen Cost of Kettlebell Swings” (2010) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24;4, 1034- 1036