History and background of kettlebells
Kettlebells were first used for physical conditioning in 18th century Russia, where they are called ги́ря (girya), and were employed by the Soviet Red Army in the 20th century as part of strength and conditioning programs. Kettlebell programs were popularised in the USA around the beginning of the C21st by Pavel Tsatsouline, who also developed the first certification program for kettlebells.
Benefits of kettlebells
Kettlebells differ from conventional dumbbells by virtue of the fact that their weight is located some distance underneath the handle, which is also thicker than that of most dumbbells. As a result, kettlebells are more difficult to move around and grip. This increased difficulty stimulates more muscle activity contributing to increased burning of calories during resistance exercise. Kettlebells lend themselves more readily than dumbbells or barbells to exercises involving swinging and ballistic movements, and therefore a greater number of muscle areas can be worked within the one exercise (compound exercise as opposed to isolation).
There are many exercises using kettlebells which are suitable for people with varying levels of experience and skill. This catalogue of kettlebell exercises provides a range of exercises for beginners, intermediate and advanced students.
Because kettlebell exercises differ considerably from other resistance and weight-bearing exercises for reasons outlined above, care should be taken by those beginning a program involving them.
A qualified personal trainer or fitness class instructor who has experience with (and, ideally, certification with) kettlebells should select, demonstrate and monitor appropriate exercises for the beginner.
Those who are accustomed to training with heavier weights, such as used in hypertrophy programs, should bear in mind that the vast majority of kettlebell exercises are compound rather than isolating in nature, and often involve explosive movement. Therefore a lighter weight of kettlebell should be selected to begin with, and heavier kettlebells should not be used until perfect form is achieved with the lighter ones.
Anyone with back and shoulder problems, or a weak core, should consult a physician or appropriately qualified medical practitioner before commencing an exercise program involving kettlebells.
When exercising with kettlebells, a clear working space of around 3m or 9 ft is ideal.
Suggested Kettlebell Weights
Current Strength Starting Weight Suggested Set of Kettlebells
Average Female 18lb / 8kg 12lb, 26lb, 35lb / 8kg, 12kg, 16kg
Strong Female 26lb / 12kg 26lb, 35lb, 44lb / 12kg, 16kg, 20kg
Average Male 35lb / 16kg 35lb, 44lb, 53lb / 16kg, 20kg, 24kg
Strong Male 44lb / 20kg 44lb, 53lb, 70lb / 20kg, 24kg, 32kg
Very Strong Male 53lb / 24kg 53lb, 70lb, 88lb / 24kg, 32kg, 40kg
Stretching and warm-up
Kettlebell exercises place great demands on joint flexibility and strength as well as coordination. Therefore warm-ups for kettlebell routines should include specific stretches and engagement of all joints: wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. These stretches should be made up of a combination of static stretches (up to 2 minute holds), “ballistic” stretches (a number of repetitions moving in and out of end ranges, e,g. lateral straight punches) and coordination exercises which integrate lower and upper body movements (e.g. jumping jacks)