Kettlebells are relatively new to the United States. Pavel Tsatsouline, once a physical training instructor in the former Soviet Union, is widely recognized as the Modern King of Kettlebells. His 1998 article in the journal Milo, titled “Vodka, Pickle Juice, Kettlebell Lifting, and other Russian Pastimes,” served as the launching pad for kettlebells in America.
However, those weights that resemble cannonballs with handles have been used in Russia since the 1700s. Archaeologists have even found evidence that kettlebells existed in ancient Greece. Originally used to weigh crops and show feats of strength, kettlebells were eventually used as exercise tools as they are today.
Kettlebell training involves basic, fundamental movements that mimic many of the movements you make in everyday life, such as carrying uneven loads, bending over, squatting and getting up off the ground. Some kettlebell exercises are explosive movements (ballistic), while others are slow and deliberate (grinds).
The beauty of kettlebells is that they support all fitness goals or activities and conflict with none. They make your body stronger and more resilient while reducing the risk of injury.
The shape of a kettlebell provides an unstable force or load that extends beyond the hand, enabling you to build stability in the core and strength at the extremities. With repetition, kettlebell movements become natural patterns so you don’t have to think about the proper and safe way to pick up the groceries, lift a weight, or brace for a fall.
Instead of thinking about setting your hips back, balancing your weight over your ankles, keeping your back flat, or rotating your body a certain way, your body just does it automatically. This is called motor learning. Each movement and repetition enables you to repeat the pattern at a deeper level until your brain realizes, “that’s how I do it.”
Here are a few real-world examples of the benefits of kettlebell training.
You are a star linebacker who can bench press 400 pounds. But, when you reach out to grab that speedy running back with your arm outstretched, you can’t make the tackle. Maybe you even tear your rotator cuff? This is the result of having little strength and muscle stability away from the body. All of your strength is right in front of you when you’re in a static position.
Because kettlebells stress mobility, use an unstable load, and (unlike dumbbells) serve as an extension of your reach, you can add strength to movements that are far away from the body. Your body becomes conditioned to use the correct form with greater muscle control for better performance.
Many yogis have the mobility that is stressed during yoga movements. However, they often don’t know the limits of their mobility, or they lack strength and muscle control to be safe.
Kettlebell training helps to control this mobility. It supports the necessary joint range of motion while adding strength to those movements. In a nutshell, kettlebell training helps you get more out of every yoga class. This applies to any kind of group fitness, from Zumba to Pilates to kickboxing.
The Active Senior
My back hurts. I can’t get down on my knee because my knee hurts. These are two of the most common complaints we hear from seniors. Simple, low-intensity movements with kettlebells, such as the deadlift, can strengthen the back, hips and knees.
The biggest muscle in your body (the gluteus maximus) is between the back and the knees and so much of kettlebell training is about mobility and hip function. When we make the hips stronger and more mobile, the joints on either side are much happier because they have less to do. Kettlebells create more mobility, give strength to that mobility, and use that mobility to pattern proper movement. This allows seniors to be more active, independent and self-reliant with a reduced risk of injury.
In the next post, we’ll discuss some of the basic kettlebell movements and explain why they’re beneficial. To learn how to safely and properly add kettlebells to your daily workout routine, click here to find an Activcore location near you.