Presently, there is a lot of hype in the fitness media about training with kettlebells. There are countless claims about how effective they are for just about any fitness level or athletic goal. Kettlebell training is not a fad or the "the new thing" in the fitness industry. Kettlebells originated in the Highlands of Scotland centuries ago when wrestlers used them to train for the Highland Games. The word kettlebell first appeared in a Russian dictionary in 1704 (Cherlick, 1994).
Keep in mind, this odd form of training is not a short cut or a Holy Grail to get a fit and aesthetically pleasing body. A tool is only as good as its user. Relatively speaking, it is easier to learn how to work with dumbbells and barbells. Kettlebells can certainly send you to the emergency room if not used properly. You have to become one with the KB in order to understand not only the principles, but also the philosophy, theories, and practical application that go with the learning process. Not to mention the joint adaptation process that goes along with some gut-wrenching training.
Another point to drive home is that the kettlebell is not a panacea for strength and conditioning. There is no need to engage in senseless debates over what form of weight training is superior. Bodyweight drills, barbells, dumbbells, tubing bands, ropes, sandbags, rocks and kegs are also great tools to work with as well. It is all a matter of identifying your training goals, knowing what types of strength you need to work on, and developing them with the type of resistance available to you.
If all these tools are available to you, use them and benefit from each one. Keep in mind, though, that the sport or sports you participate in specifically command your primary choice of type of resistance. For instance, a powerlifter must lift
mainly barbells, and a martial artist must emphasize a mix of calisthenics and bodyweight exercises. However, the two-kettlebell swing is quite beneficial for the powerlifter or for anyone looking to increase their deadlift or squat. The kettlebell D.A.R.C. swing or Alternating Swing and other advanced H2H (hand-to-hand) drills are tailor-made for the martial artist who wants to hit harder and absorb hits better. Such drills increase hand-eye coordination, not to mention providing the grip challenge of grabbing onto the thick handle of the kettlebell on every rep.
There is no doubt that kettlebells are quite effective when used alone. Many hard men training to fight, in the ring or at war, stick to kettlebells and power cals. The kettlebell is a powerful tool because it replaces other equipment. Kettlebells can also be used in conjunction with other tools and methods of training. Moreover, incorporating kettlebells into your training regimen truly keeps training fun and interesting. Although kettlebells are not the ultimate tool to train with, they do have some distinct advantages among their counterparts in the fitness professional’s toolbox.
Here are some advantages of kettlebells among their counterparts:
- The weight of a kettlebell is much harder to handle than a dumbbell of the same weight. As a result, the kettlebell activates stabilizer muscles to a higher degree, which makes you stronger.
- Even though you can perform exercises that are specific to a kettlebell with a dumbbell, the moves cannot be duplicated as effectively. A classic example is the kettlebell Swing. During the Swing, the kettlebell moves over a greater vertical distance and because the bell rotates in your hands it teaches you tight/loose timing. A Swing with a dumbbell has a completely different feel and effect. The bell travels a shorter-range distance, decreasing the amount of work. Just try it, and see for yourself.
- In exercises like the Clean and the Snatch, the kettlebell comes down on the back of the arm. This provides an unparalleled loading opportunity to the shoulders, since, unlike a barbell or dumbbell, the kettlebell’s center of gravity isn't located within its handle. This makes it harder to control the weight and also presents an extra shock to the body.
- Because kettlebell exercises are usually performed one limb at the time, they reveal and correct your weaknesses and muscular imbalances.
- By making the joints strong yet flexible, the kettlebell enforces a greater demand of dynamic joint stabilization, which decreases the potential for injury and allows more effective force production.
- Just one kettlebell is endlessly versatile. The same weight kettlebell can be used to progress from easier drills to more challenging ones by changing the grip or repositioning the bell.
- Few sets of kettlebells can certainly get you in phenomenal shape at home, at the beach, or in your local park so there are not excuses to miss your workout.
For most bodybuilders and for many athletes, weakened rotator cuff (shoulder stabilizer) muscles and lack of shoulder flexibility result in rotator cuff tears. In exercises such as the Military Press, the Windmill, and the Turkish Get-up (TGU), the weight of the KB is off-center, which forces you to naturally work your shoulder stabilizers (rotator cuff) and to press in a vertical line, increasing your shoulder flexibility. The KB Military Press offers unsurpassed range of motion; it does not restrict the shoulder at the bottom and stretches it at the top.
If you are interested in functional strength that carries over to your daily activities, and if you want to get stronger without getting big muscles, then kettlebells (along with the appropriate training programs) are all you need. Keep in mind, though, that you may also use other tools for the purpose of functional strength. The point here is that a pair of Kettlebells is just enough to deliver the goal.
If your main goal is to build muscle size (hypertrophy), even though it can be done with kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, and cables are the tools of choice. On the other hand, if you have been working with dumbbells, barbells, and cables for some time then the kettlebell is effective as a new training stimulus for increasing the size of the shoulders, hamstrings, and arms. The kettlebell is not a great tool for quad development, though. Regardless, provided that you have proper nutrition, the knowledge and experience, the combination of kettlebells with tools like dumbbells, barbells, and cables can bring gratifying results for muscle size, strength endurance, maximum strength, and overall conditioning.
Personally, after weightlifting and bodybuilding for nearly twenty-one years, training with kettlebells amplified my strength and muscle density. I had never deadlifted heavier in my life. My wrist strength went through the roof. As a result of my kettlebell training, I no longer need to use my lifting straps during my weighted pull-ups and some other heavy lifts.
The proper question is not which training modalities and forms of weight tools are better, the proper question is which training modality is appropriate for a given goal or situation. All forms of weight tools hit the body differently and everything has a time and place in a training cycle. A clear understanding of program design and exercise science coupled with the knowledge of the individual's physiology, proper nutrition, abilities, limitations, and needs, will ensure the greatest results in working towards the goal at hand.