Kettlebells: Old concept gains new fitness following

Paula Reece

Kettlebells might seem like a new fitness trend, but the concept is actually centuries old.

This funny shaped weight resembles a cannonball with a handle.  Often made of cast iron or steel, this weight originated in Russia in the 18th century. It wasn’t originally used for exercise, but rather for weighing crops.

A century later, it became part of physical training and conditioning programs and competitions. Today, gyms across the country offer kettlebell training.

What is kettlebell training and what are the benefits? The simple answer is kettlebell exercises build strength and endurance. This training focuses primarily on the lower back, legs and shoulders. It also builds strength in the hands, known as grip strength. Kettlebell exercises work many muscles at the same time, including the core of the body for stability. Because of the repetitive nature of kettlebell workouts, they build endurance over time.

Key benefits of kettlebell training include improved strength, cardiovascular endurance, range of motion and agility. It’s a form of functional fitness training in which the movements are similar to such daily tasks as bending and reaching.

A kettlebell weight is different from such other strength training tools as a dumbbell. A dumbbell consists of a straight handle with equally sized weights on each end.
A kettlebell, on the other hand, has a bell-like shape. The ball is flat on one end and has a curved handle on the other end, which positions the weight directly under the handle. This facilitates the swinging movements of kettlebell exercises.

To better understand the different kettlebell exercises, it’s important to break down the parts of the kettlebell.  The bottom of the kettlebell that’s flat is called the base.  Next is the bell — the rounded body. The beginning of the handle that’s attached to the bell on each side is called the horns. Above the horns are the corners that bend into the handle. The open section below the handle is the window.

Before beginning any kettlebell workout, it’s important to understand many of the movements can be dangerous to those who have shoulder problems, back issues or weak core muscles. Using this tool requires proper form at all times. Like many other fitness programs, it takes time and consistency to build up muscles and cardiovascular endurance. Some of the basic kettlebell exercises include the swing, snatch and clean and jerk. Since proper form and execution is essential, it’s best to have a trainer show you how to perform these exercises.

Kettlebells also can be incorporated into strength training routines that aren’t a specific kettlebell workout. They can be used as a weight.

“I use kettlebells throughout training sessions with my clients,” said Tina Nelson, a personal trainer at Crossroads Fitness. “I may have them hold a kettlebell while doing sumo squats or a standing side crunch. They have unique properties that many other traditional weights do not have.  They increase core strength when used properly.”

Kettlebells offer another tool for fitness training.  There are many benefits to this type of training, including improved strength and cardiovascular endurance. Try one of these funny-shaped weights next time you’re at the gym.