Kettlebells are an attractive addition to the home gym for several reasons. They don't take up much room, and the exercises they enable are dynamic enough to provide a cardiovascular workout as well as a strength training one.
Working out with kettlebells is nothing new; they have been part of gym culture since their use by strongmen in the 19th century. Recently, they have become popular in mainstream gym culture, and more and more people are adding them to their home fitness set-up, as well.
One of the benefits of kettlebell workouts is that you don't need a whole range of sizes to get a complete workout. Unlike dumbbells, where you need various sizes to work different body parts effectively, or barbells, which require a stack of weights and a significant workout space, you can achieve a complete workout with a single kettlebell.
Over time, you might want to pick up an additional size or two, but many trainers recommend beginning with a 15 to 20-pound kettlebell for most women, and up to 35 pounds for men. Exercises requiring anything less can likely be done with dumbbells.
Kettlebells are a great all-around tool for full-body exercise, strengthening the muscles and joints as well as the cardiovascular system. The dynamic motion of kettlebell swings improves balance and posture. However, it is always ideal to check with a physician before beginning any significantly different workout.
Starting with excessive weight, or using momentum rather than strength to move the kettlebell, can lead to muscle strains and other injuries. People with osteoporosis looking for weight-bearing exercises to increase bone density might want to opt for something else, at least to start — using too heavy of a kettlebell when your bones are already weakened increases the risk of fractures.
Using proper form is the key to getting the most out of kettlebell workouts. Because the weight of the kettlebell is out in front, your body will naturally want to counter the force pulling you forward. This is normally a benefit, as it improves posture. Too heavy of a kettlebell may cause overcompensation, however, leading to back and neck pain or injury to the rotator cuffs.
When performing any exercise that involves swinging the kettlebell, generate the motion from your legs and hips, not your lower back. Use muscle, not momentum, to perform the lifts.
While you should be cautious when beginning a kettlebell workout, don't be scared of this equipment. Kettlebell workouts allow you to work multiple muscle groups at one time, decreasing the amount of time needed to get a complete workout, and increasing the functionality; most day-to-day movements also use more than one muscle group.
Just the act of gripping the weight by its handle works the abdomen, legs, back, shoulders, and arms. Once you start moving, additional muscles engage.
The short answer is yes, you can get a full-body workout with kettlebells. Kettlebell lifts and swings both work the muscles and build cardio fitness. However, the CDC recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week.
Kettlebell workouts are considered vigorous, but to meet the minimum recommendation, you would need to complete a 20-minute kettlebell workout 4 days a week. This level of exercise may lead to fatigue, strains, or even burnout. The better option is usually a mix of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking several days a week, along with two or three more vigorous kettlebell sessions.
The Turkish get-up is a great kettlebell exercise that works the abs, shoulders, and hips. It also improves coordination and balance. The technique can be tricky, so you may want to run through it a few times without holding any weight.
Start by laying on your back, your left arm beside you, your right overhead, holding the kettlebell. Bend the right knee so the foot is flat on the floor. Roll onto your left forearm, raising your body so you are supported by your right hand and left foot.
Pull your right leg under your body, so the knee points to your supporting hand. Take your right hand off the floor as you move your right leg underneath you. The finish position of the Turkish get-up resembles that of a lunge.
Your gaze should be up and looking at the kettlebell throughout the exercise.
The farmer walk is an easy exercise to learn, and also looks deceptively simple. You need two kettlebells for this exercise and a little room to move around. Grab a kettlebell in each hand and start walking. Walk from one end of the room to the other, turn and repeat. Keep your form in check, with shoulders down and back, no tension in the neck. This exercise is just as effective with dumbbells or even a suitcase full of books.
Hold on to either side of the kettlebell handle with both hands. Bend your arms so the weight is in front of you, a few inches from your chest. Tuck your elbows against your body. Keep your shoulders down and back and your head high. Again, walk from one end of the room to the other, turn, and repeat. This can also be done holding one end of a dumbbell and letting the rest hang down between your forearms.
Like other squats, this one works all the muscles of the lower body as well as the back and core. Hold the kettlebell in front of you, arms bent, like the previous exercise. Feet shoulder-width apart, lower yourself into a squat. From the bottom of the squat, pause for a beat before pushing yourself back into a standing position.
The kettlebell swing is the king of kettlebell exercises. There are plenty of folks who consider kettlebell swings to be a complete workout. While they may not hit every muscle group, they come close. Because of the dynamic nature of the exercise, though, form is more important than ever.
The exercise requires swinging the kettlebell — held in both hands, with control — between the legs and then out to chest height with extended arms. Be sure to watch a video on how to perform this exercise properly or receive guidance from a trainer, as any weighted swinging motion can cause injury if done incorrectly.
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