Wtf is a Kettlebell?!

By: David Wu


This is an updated repost of an old article from the UWS&C forums. I’ve been getting quite a bit of inquires on kettlebell training and was too lazy to re-write something again. Enjoy -Wu
A kettlebell is a cannonball with a handle. What differentiates it from a dumbbell or a barbell is the off-set center of gravity. Not only does this make the weight “feel” heavier on certain moves, but it also provides us with a unique exercises and interesting proprioceptive situations (google that one ) like the armbar. The Russian Kettlebell is a portable tool that’s a fun way to meet any of your fitness goals.

Provided by the special geometry and the handle, the kettlebell allows performance of ballistic moves like the kettlebell swing, clean, and snatch (Mike Mahler in the above picture performing it). These are similar to their Olympic weightlifting counterparts, yet they’re easier to learn and incorporate into “complexes” (see below). The reduced learning curve allows more repetitions to be performed with less risk of injury from failure or fatigue. This allows unstoppable conditioning for a superior calorie burn.

kbflipDon’t forget putting the unique kettlebell geometry to use! Holding the kettlebell in the inverted (“bottoms-up”) position challenges the grip and core stability when in moves like presses, turkish-get ups, and rack walks. The cannonball part of the kettlebell itself can be used in palm presses, and ‘catch’ cleans.

So I’m an athlete. What can this ‘cannonball’ do for me?

The ketllebell craze is picking up fire and many athletes are swearing by it. Tactical athletes like Force Recon Marines and Secret Service Counter Assault teams are part of the crew that uses kettlebells.

Moves such as the kettlebell swing are an simple way to generate power in activities such as sprinting, jumping or striking. The nature of ballistic moves also teach the body to undergo timed and controlled cycles of tension and relaxation – what sports are all about at the elite level.

cotter rack

Steve cotter in the double rack position

MMA fighters and martial artists like the kettlebells in the rack position, such as after a kettlebell clean. Not only does this reinforces the “hands up” protection in striking, but reinforces keeping the upper-arms glued against the torso to protect the ribs and prevent underhooks in grappling.

Fighting can be unpredictable in terms of the capacity demands. For endurance,  kettlebell complexes are king. More ballistic moves teach the kinetic linking and force transfer from head-to-toe. In English, the standard kettlebell moves use the whole body in the appropriate way within sport.

Complexes: simple solution to conditioning

Above is Pat Flynn, RKC, doing his “high voltage” complex

A complex is simply a circuit (a bunch of moves placed in a specific order) with one tool. Many times this means using a variety of different movements (and thus, muscle groups) to let the previous one(s) recover. Using complexes, we can get MUCH more work done than a typical circuit workout and keep our heart rate high. Burn, baby, burn!

babykettlebellComplexes are my #1 reason for using kettlebells in conditioning work. Because of the portability and reduced learning over an Olympic Bar (try fitting one in your car), they can be done anywhere, like on the rooftop of your favourite restaurant.

The kettlebells versatility has been compared to that of an AK47. They make a great compliment to any current barbell program or can be used by themselves to add strength, power, endurance and some flare to your workout.

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warriors strengthDavid Wu is the Student of Movement. He runs a blog with the same name. Add him on facebook or email him if you’ve got any questions, or would just like to say hi.

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