Kettlebells have become very popular since the early 2000s. They’re versatile, offering hundreds of exercise variations, and they don’t require much storage space.
One thing that’s important for any prospective user is that they’re not a replacement for traditional free-weights or machines. Kettlebells won’t make you into the next Phil Heath.
Of course, kettlebells do offer you the ability to build lean, quality muscle. The main benefits are that they add tons of functional strength to your body, and burn off pounds of unwanted fat. But only if you use them properly!
There are some gym exercises where kettlebells can be used in place of dumbbells: bicep curls, lateral shoulder raises and overhead presses to name a few. They can also be used for multi-joint movements like deadlifts, squats and clean-and-jerks.
However, the load they offer will always be limited by the size of kettlebells you’re using. Most commercial and consumer retail sets rarely exceed 30 – 40 pounds. Larger kettlebells will usually cost at least $2 per pound, if not more.
Kettlebells aren’t about focusing on poundages and muscle growth
Traditional free-weight and machine exercises focus on lower rep compound movements that only work a few muscle groups. This is great for building large muscles, as those movements focus maximum stress on 1 – 3 muscle groups at a time.
However, they don’t build very much functional strength. Nor do they activate the number of muscle groups needed to accelerate the metabolism for maximum fat burning.
There are actually more than a few great benefits that kettlebell exercises offer which traditional weight exercises do not:
Building functional strength: Functional strength simply means building muscle groups that are used throughout daily life for survival purposes: i.e., pushing, pulling, gripping, lifting objects, sports of all kinds, along with walking, running and climbing stairs.
Increasing power endurance: More functional strength is great, but you need to have the endurance to do those tasks repeatedly – even more so if you’re a laborer, athlete or weekend warrior type.
Increasing aerobic capacity: This benefit goes hand-in-hand with an increase in power endurance. When you perform movements like Kettlebell Swings for 10 – 20 minutes at a time, it will increase your V02 max.
Accelerating metabolism: This is where the kettlebell shines as a workout tool. Popular kettlebell exercises focus on taxing several muscles in the upper and lower body simultaneously. Movements like the Russian Swing, Goblet Squat, Lunge Press, High Pull, Windmill, Slingshot and many others tax a minimum of 10 muscle groups at once.
ACE Studies Provide Proof of the Kettlebell’s Unique Benefits
Anyone can claim that one form of exercise is superior in various ways to others. Without scientific proof, it’s all just a bunch of talk. This ACE (American Council on Exercise) Study is one of many that have been performed over the last few years that showed marked improvements in a variety of strength and fitness markers in individuals who’d never performed a kettlebell workout before.
The study used 18 male and female participants 18 – 25 years of age to perform supervised kettlebell workouts over a period of 8 weeks. A control group of 12 fit people was also used and instructed to workout the same as they usually did.
While all in the kettlebell test group gained strength throughout their body, the most impressive results came in the form of aerobic capacity and core strength. Aerobic increases averaged a 13.8% improvement. Most impressive, core strength increased an average of 70%! A strong core equals a strong, balanced body.
The short study did not show increases in muscle mass, nor did it show increased fat loss in those performing the kettlebell exercises. However, dietary habits of the participants were not documented or monitored. There are several other ACE-sponsored studies to choose from that have shown dramatic results in these areas.
This article may come across as heavily biased toward the kettlebell. Giving you the impression that you need to abandon traditional free-weight and machine workouts in favor of the kettlebell. However, we’re just attempting to give you the best information possible. So that you can decide what’s best for your workout goals.
If building as much muscle as possible is your goal then using barbells, dumbbells and machines to perform squats, leg presses, deadlifts, bench and military presses and/or Olympic lifts is a great way to accomplish your goals.
If, on the other hand, you want to build raw strength, add quality sculpted muscle, improve cardiovascular fitness and slim your waistline – all at the same time – then kettlebells are where it’s at.
Even if you want to be a big, powerful weight lifter, consider the core strengthening and cardiovascular-boosting benefits of adding a kettlebell workout or two to your program every week. A stronger core and improving how your body absorbs and uses oxygen will undoubtedly help you be a stronger lifter.