I’ve talked a little about the benefits of a basic, simple movements to stay fit, and the kettlebell is a tool that should be on the front lines of any home gym. My workouts these days go back to the roots of how I started – basic bodyweight movements (walking, pushups, squats, pullups), basic barbell movements (squat, deadlift, bench), and kettlebell strength and conditioning.
I have continued my love affair with the kettlebell and use it frequently. A week and a half ago I did a one-mile farmer carry walk with 55 and 72lb (two different weights, swapping hands occasionally) kettlebells. Was feeling that in the traps, shoulders, back and triceps for a few days after that one.
There are a number of sites that specialize in kettlebell training (for men or women), and some that show a few basic movements. I find it really easy to throw into the car, and take with me to various kids practices (piano, swiming) to get a quick workout in. They roll around a little in the trunk, but are way easier and portable compared to barbells or dumbells for those looking for some strength training above just bodyweight stuff.
The following are basic exercises that are fairly easy to do and take but one kettlebell.
The Kettlebell Swing
This is my favorite, and I use these frequently in my conditioning pieces. Stuff like one minute on/one minute off, or 100 kettlebell swings (or 150) with 3 burpees on the minute have been staples. Keeping a tight core and back, you essentially two-hand swing the bell between your legs, using some hip pop use that momentum to propel it up. There are two styles – American and Russian. American goes above your head (to vertical, bell is upside down), Russion goes just to eye level. These days, I do only Russian style – I think it’s safer, you get more reps in and work the same muscles (or nearly the same) as American style. I’ve seen some gnarly fails from people at the top of the American swing. It works the posterior chain (from calves to hamstrings to lower back), core, leg and hip drive (used in a lot of sports), shoulders, traps. Arms aren’t used that much except as the lever tool and are mostly relaxed through the body of the swing.
Overhead Kettlebell Walking Lunge
The walking lunge, especially weighted, is an excellent strength builder. Adding a single bell in one hand adds a whole new dimension, as you’re now unbalanced and have to accommodate by core strength to keep things aligned. You now add the dimension of shoulder strength and stability to keep things locked tight overhead as you’re doing your walking lunges. I like these better than holding a plate or barbell too, since you have more shoulder rotation in a single-armed movement so aren’t so restricted (which always feels uncomfortable to me) than when doing a two-handed overhead carry. Great exercise.
These take full body strength to accomplish, including good shoulder stability and core strength to balance everything as you go from a lying down position (kettlebell locked over your face) to a standing position, then back down again. It’s some people’s favorite kettlebell exercise, in that it works hip stability, shoulder mobility and strength, lunge and squat movements, and some really interesting linkage from upper extremities to core to legs. You don’t do these fast or against the clock (unlike swings or maybe the lunges where you can make them a conditioning piece), take your time and do them safely.
Those three make up a majority of my kettlebell workouts, and hit the entire body. I’ll occasionally throw in one-armed rows, goblet squats (holding the kettlebell with both hands in the center of your chest and squatting) or one-armed kettlebell clean and press, or snatches.
Consider this versatile tool as an essential front-line piece of equipment. Easily transportable to work or play to get in an invisible workout on lunch break or while waiting, it has the ability to crush you as a moderate weight strength training tool or as a conditioning tool. Get two, and your world opens up even further. You can do things like renegade rows (essentially pushups with hands on the bells, with an alternating rowing movement), or two bell swings or dual presses. The best part about two bells, in my opinion, is you now do maybe my favorite exercise of all – the two-armed farmer carry, or farmer walk. My neighbors must laugh as they see me walking around with them.
One thing to consider if you go looking to buy them, is that they aren’t all created equal. I purchased my first one based on price, and while it works fine, it was basic iron that was painted. This meant that after being used and abused the paint chips and the bell can rust. I really think it is worth it to spend a little more and get a powder coated (or similar) unit. Rogue, Again Faster and Muscle Driver (currently on sale – appears they have discontinued them) make nice bells. Expect to pay around $1.50/lb delivered (or $3/lb delivered for the one below).
Real functional strength. Kettlebells.