So, what’s the deal with kettlebells you’re asking? One expert describes them as ‘cannonballs with handles’ which is fairly apt. More specifically, they are a strength & conditioning tool. They have been used in Russia going back to the beginning of the 18th century; and if there’s one thing the Russians know about – it’s getting strong. Kettlebells come in a variety of different weights, originally measured in poods, with one pood equaling approximately 36 pounds. Today they are usually marked in both Kgs and Lbs.
Under communism, the Soviet methodology for strength training in Olympic lifting using plyometrics, polymetrics and other dynamic techniques were secrets long kept behind the Iron Curtain. Later, here in the U.S. elite level strength athletes, like the guys at the Westside Barbell Club, studied and applied these training “secrets” to great success. Some of these same methodologies are now being used in training routines at Crossfit. Kettlebells are one of these gems that Russia gave to the world of S & C.
The man widely credited with bringing kettlebell training to the rest of the world is Pavel Tsatsouline whose writings could be found at hypocenters of strength training such as IronMind and Dragon Door, and whose books like The Russian Kettlebell Challenge (2001) became training bibles to strength athletes here in the west.
The benefit of a kettlebell, or Girya in Russian, is that it can work both the body’s core and extremities at the same time, providing a near total body workout. It allows the body to be trained both bilaterally (think barbell) and unilaterally (think dumbbell) as most athletics are actually performed. A basic swing (see Annie below) is a near perfect exercise for generating power in the hips, and these attributes make the KB ideal as a fitness tool for most sports. That is why kettlebell training was a staple of the Spetsnaz’s, Russian Special Forces, conditioning routine, and today they are used in strongman training, MMA training, by olympic lifters and wrestlers, and anywhere explosive strength and tremendous endurance are sought. There are even kettlebell competitions in the U.S. and internationally that use officially certified ‘bells for Girevoy Sport.
MMA Champion Fedor Emilianenko
Kettlebells are compact and take up little space in the gym. They require no maintenance, and have no moving parts to break. Combine that with the fact there are countless varieties of movements to target many different parts of the body, and you have an awesome S & C apparatus. Old school style, yo.
Fans of Crossfit will recognize their top “Nasty Girl” and all around BAMF Annie Sakamoto swinging up to about 60% of her body weight I’d say.
KB’s can be found in a lot of places these days. Even some of your big box sporting goods stores are stocking them, although the quality and price will vary by quite a bit depending on the manufacturer. Here are some great articles and videos to get you started in the right direction.