I have seen them sitting mildly in the corner of the gym: their odd protuberant shape with the hooky-handle top. I have noticed them for years. You might think they look like a door stop or something used in World War II, but don’t be misled by their humble presence. Their ability to transform arms into sinewy masses of muscle and drop grown men to their knees should not be understated. They are KETTLEBELLS and they are likely here to stay.

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What are Kettlebells? Kettlebells were developed in Russia and documentation of their use dates back as far as 1704. They are made of cast iron with a handle at the top and are used to perform ballistic exercises that combine cardiovascular, strength, flexibility  and endurance training.

Why the goofy handle? Having a handle creates an uneven weight distribution unlike traditional dumbbells. The force is also distributed further from your body when you are holding a weight with a handle, adding super-charged core strengthening and endurance to traditional workout movements. Also, swinging a Kettlebell more accurately imitates real life (i.e. swinging a suitcase into an overhead bin or schlepping groceries out of a car). In real life the weight is almost always a little away from your body so practicing exercises with Kettlebells is a more functional way of training to prepare you for normal activities of daily living.

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What are the benefits? Posture and alignment are definitely important during Kettlebell exercises. One of my patients said that his trainer broke the basic Kettlebell swing down into 12 parts and made him work on it for weeks before he would let him move onto anything else! Flexibility, coordination and agility are all scientifically documented as Kettlebell benefits over traditional weight lifting. Best of all, the workouts are super time efficient. Because you train multiple components (cardio, strength, balance, stability, power and endurance) in even just one Kettlebell exercise you do not need to work out as long. Because many sports involve acceleration and deceleration, Kettlebell exercises more closely mimic these movements. This leads to decreased frequency of injuries.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_XjJjLc7NE

What are the steps to a Kettlebell swing? The boys at the RKS (Reinhart Kettlebell System) will have my hide for oversimplifying the Kettlebell swing but I wanted to just give you the nuts and bolts. ANY beginner Kettlebell enthusiast should have a certified trainer oversee their form and posture initially. The basic swing is comprised of four movements: the squat, the deadlift, the power-swing and the continuous swing.

The squat: If you had to poop in the woods and there was nothing to hold onto, you would squat down, butt low, with legs equidistantly apart, feet firmly planted. Parallel butt and knees would be ideal. This is the squat portion of the swing. Most people fail to stick their butt out far enough. Remember this is where ALL the power comes from in this exercise.

The deadlift. Once you have the squat down you need to actually pick up the Kettlebell. Squat, do not bend, to pick up the handle with both hands. Stand holding the weight in close to your body. Your chest should never drop and eyes stay on the wall in front of you.

The swing. Start with individual swings to get the hang of it. Go slowly. Thrust your pelvis forward from the squat position to launch the weight up into the air. Your arms act as pulleys; you should not be using them to force the weight up. The Kettlebell should only come to eye level. Then squat again to bring the weight down. Decelerate the weight gently and stop.

 The continuous swing. This is the hard part because you are working with acceleration and deceleration and there are lots of things going on at one time. Focus on allowing the weight to softly go through your legs at the bottom of the swing and softly peak out at the top of the swing. If you cannot do this exercise slowly and in control, you cannot do it safely more quickly when you start to increase your speed.

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The Kettlebell concepts are strongly based on traditional fitness and conditioning concepts all fitness enthusiasts are returning to because they work. In the eighties and nineties we became distracted by shiny equipment and fancy classes, but we have come to our senses.  Kettlebell training is going to be an ongoing presence in the quest to make our workouts more efficient, effective and real-life related.

VIDEO demonstration of the Kettlebell swing.

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