100 Days of Fitness: Week 9 – Meet the Kettlebell

How long does it take to change your life? Follow author Robert Fure as he begins a 100 day trek to a fitter, healthier life by following this simple program. Today, we talk about using a kettlebell on the 100 Days of Fitness program.

Rumor has it the kettlebell was first created by a Confederate soldier in 1863 when he attached a handle to a canon ball to make it easier to carry.  Okay, that’s entirely fabricated, but the kettlebell is often described as looking like a canon ball with a handle – which is a pretty apt description.

In reality the kettlebell is most often associated with Russia, where it’s called a girya, as an old fashioned training tool that whipped strongmen and Spetsnaz soldiers into shape.  This antiquated training tool has seen a recent come back in gyms across the country as a way to train the whole body and blast fat away.  Though, calling any heavy chunk of metal antiquated is strange, considering a rock will give you a pretty bad-ass workout.

In all seriousness, the kettlebell is an excellent fitness and fat loss tool.  They’re available in a variety of weights, though the most common for men is the 24kg model (52.8lb) and a lighter version (to start with) for women.  If you have a set of them, ranging in weights, it opens up a whole new variety of exercises you can do, but if you’re just going with one, it’s best to go medium to high weight so that as you grow stronger in technique, you don’t have to spend the cash to buy a new bell.

My personal KB is the 24kg model as I’ve been working out several years and have built up a decent level of strength.  I learned some of the basic moves on a kettlebell at my local gym, as its safer to start light, get the motions down, and then advance in weight later.  I’ll just put this out there – the kettlebell can be dangerous when you first start.  It’s best to start light and watch a few videos or see a trainer to get a real feel for the moves.  I’ll go over the basics here, but this will by no mean make you an expert.  What I’ll be discussing below are some of the simplest, most effective kettlebell exercises and a few of my favorites.

Before we do that though, you may be asking – why a kettlebell?  Why not a dumbbell?  The special thing about the bells is their weight distribution.  The center of gravity is well below your grip, making them feel entirely different.  Because of their shape, they also open up a new variety of exercises that you can’t really do with a dumbbell.  Almost any exercise you can do with a dumbbell you can do with a kettlebell, though the reverse isn’t true.  It’s not all that comforting to swing a wide dumbbell between your legs, though the kettlebell is smaller and less threatening to your manbits.

If you’re ready to check out this old school training method and really whip up an intense, full body workout, go for it.  I was skeptical at first, but once I had my hands on one I fell in love.  I work out with it almost every day.  Anyway, here are the basic exercises we do with the bell.

Kettlebell Swing

This is the exercise the kettlbell is famous for.  For the standard two arm version, stand with your legs about shoulder width apart.  Keeping a natural arc to your back, build up momentum by swinging the bell back between your legs.  Drive forward with your hips and let your body swing the kettlebell up to chest height (or higher when you’re more advanced).  You don’t want to be jerky or to power the bell up with your arms or shoulders, rather you must master the momentum of the kettlebell.

One Arm Swing

Obviously very similar to the two armed swing, this is done with one arm, sometimes alternating on each swing – that’s a pretty advanced technique and best suited to lighter weight bells.  The motion for this is the same – a good squatting stance, driving through the hips and keeping the back from rounding out.

Snatch

Just like snatching a dumbbell, the goal of this is to take the kettlebell from around floor height straight up to the overhead position in one fluid movement.  This is definitely one you want to master on a lighter weight bell and work up.  The main motion here is exploding up with the legs from a squat, pulling the kettlebell up the front of your body and “punching through” at the top.  To prevent the KB from flipping over your hand and smashing your forearm, as the bell is rising around head height there is a punching motion that allows the bell to land lightly on the forearm without slapping.  It’s somewhat hard to explain, but once you get your hands on a bell, you get a feel for it.

Squat to High Pull

This is a great high intensity work out.  You can obviously just use the KB as a heavy weight to squat with, but in this move, we add a high pull for total body work and to hit the shoulders.  To begin, squat with the bell and explode upwards out of your squat. Maximizing your momentum, pull your arm up and your elbow out so it’s like a chicken wing up at head height, pulling the bell up.  Let the bell come back down as you go back into your squat.

One Legged Dead Lift

For building leg strength, endurance, and improving balance, the one legged deadlift is deceptively intense.  While balancing on your left leg, keep a natural arc in your back and bend down, moving the bell almost to the floor.  Maintaining a straight back, rise back into a standing position.  It will take some time to be able to balance for all ten or twelve reps, but hang in there and soon you’ll have ninja like balance.

Shoulder Press / Clean & Jerk

The shoulder press is pretty self explanatory – you can move the kettlebell into position at your shoulder and press up.  This is usually tied together into a clean and jerk type exercise.  With the bell between your legs and the handle perpendicular to your body, grip the bell with your thumb facing back.  Keeping the natural arc in your back, extend up out of your squat and pull the bell up the front of your body.  As it comes to chest height, bring the bell into the rack position – your hand tight to your chest and the bell resting on your arm.  You should be able to hold the bell here pretty naturally for awhile.  From here, you move into a shoulder press and push the bell upwards.  Bring it back down towards the rack position, then “drop” it back down towards the ground before repeating for reps.

There are many more exercises we can do with the kettlebell – stuff we’ll go over in the next few weeks.  But for now, read up on the kettlebell and take a look at these pictures.  Working out with the KB is pretty dynamic and “ballistic” (as many describe it) and it really gets the heart rate up and adds tons of strength to your shoulders and core.  If this looks like something you’re interested in, definitely find a place to try it out.  If you’re on the edge, search it out.  This isn’t a passing fade – this is an intense workout.  Thirty minutes with a kettlebell is an entire workout – in half the time most people spend in the gym.  These exercises combine strength training and endurance for a complete ass kicking.

So comrade, what are you waiting for?  Find a kettlebell and get swinging!

My Results

I had a pretty full Memorial Day weekend – full of beer, hot dogs, and burgers.  Also didn’t have that great of a week otherwise so between that and an early Memorial celebration to excess, I’m showing 237lbs on the scale, no change from last week. I’m down a total of 14.5 pounds, which is right on track. At this point in the program, this is where things can get a little rough – slower results, harder to stick to.  Now is the time to tough it out though and make sure, even if you show no results one week, not to fall off the wagon.  Next week I’m sure I’ll lose some fat – and that’s the goal. Keep going!

Robert Fure is a fitness, lifestyle, and entertainment writer living in Los Angeles. He is also a certified Personal Trainer and the Creator/Editor of Fit and Furious, an online outlet dedicated to the pursuit of a fit lifestyle. His entertainment work can be viewed at Film School Rejects.