In the setting where I train, I work with a variety of people. I’ve worked with kids as young as 8 years old to an 89 year old man. I work with people who are injured to athletes competing in sports. Moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas have all trained with me. As I continue to evolve my programming and as a trainer, I have found somethings work better for me than others. In 2012, I was introduced to kettlebells by Joe Sansalone. Needless to say, in addition to the Functional Movement Screen, the kettlebell has made the biggest impact for me and others. After 4 years and a level two certification in the Strong First system, my only regret is that I did not start using kettlebells earlier in my career. Kettlebells are a great training tool and you can find hundreds of articles that support their use from fat loss, to performance enhancement, to physical therapy. Below are the reasons that I use kettlebells for myself and others.
#1. It’s Time Efficient: If you’re like me, you’re pressed for time. I don’t have 60 minutes to waste on the elliptical, treadmill, or spin class. One of the common excuses I hear from people is not having enough time to train. In 20-30 minutes, you could get a great workout in with a few moves like the Turkish Get Up (TGU), swings, squats, cleans, presses, snatches, etc. Here’s an example of a complex you do for 3-5 sets with minimal break in between:
#2. When Done Correctly, It’s Easier on Your Joints: You may not know this, but the vertical force of 2.5 times your body weight is being transmitted through your body when jogging with every foot strike. Imagine your weight and multiplying that by 2.5, and now multiply that by the number of foot strikes during your training. No thanks. When you add the possibility of asymmetries in movement patterns and/or restrictions in the ankle (very common in the runners I see), you have a recipe for disaster. With kettlebells, there’s not the wear and tear on your joints like running. You can still get your “cardio” in while strengthening your posterior chain (glutes, lats, hamstrings, etc).
#3. Kettlebells are Great for Developing Power in Older Populations: Whether you’re an athlete or a 55 year old grandmother, you need to train power. No, kettlebells are not the only tool to develop power. I love Olympic lifting, medicine ball throws, and plyometrics just as much, and I program them accordingly with athletes. Kettlebells are my choice with the older population though. It’s a shorter learning curve and like I said earlier, it’s easier on the joints.
#4. You Can Transport Them Pretty Much Anywhere: Whether you’re going on vacation, business trip, or leaving for the holidays, you can still get your training in. The kettlebell can easily be transported in your vehicle.
#5. It’s a Killer Conditioning Tool: I thought I was in pretty good shape before I trained with kettlebells. I scored 300 in PFTs in the Marine Corps, competed in BJJ for a few years with conditioning being my stronger point. With that said, my conditioning went to new heights when I started training with kettlebells. There are many training protocols that can be used to improve your conditioning with kettlebells based on your particular goal. Below is an example of one of the methods that I have been using for the upcoming Tactical Strength Challenge. In this example, I would perform 90-120 seconds of work and rest for 1-3 minutes.
#6. You Don’t Need a Home Gym to Train: I occasionally write programs for people who prefer to train at home. To save some money and space, I recommend buying a few kettlebells. A few kettlebells, a small training space, and 20-30 minutes, you could have a pretty effective training program. Also, when it snows, kids get sick, or other problems arise, you don’t have to worry about not making it to the gym.
#7. Kettlebells are Easy to Teach: In the 4 years that I have used kettlebells, I have never had somebody that could not learn the TGU, swing, clean, press, and squat in a short time frame. With the prerequisite movement patterns and a good coach, there should be no problem learning kettlebells.
#8. Kettlebells are Not as Intimidating: I love squats, deadlifts, bench pressing, and trying to move heavy weight. These are not intimidating to me but for the 55 year old woman who needs to get strong and knows nothing about strength training except for the trash she reads on the internet, it could be. From a psychological standpoint for her, deadlifting a 24 kg kettlebell on a 2 inch step may be less intimidating than deadlifting 55 pounds on a bar from a rack position. She deadlifts the 24kg, builds confidence which then leads to bigger and better things.
#9. You Can Get Strong Using Less Weight: I heard Charlie Weingroff once say he likes kettlebells because he can get someone strong using lower system load (less weight). This is critical for me because I want to get people stronger and powerful with minimal risk of injury and stress to the body. I know many people that can squat 225 pounds. I don’t know many people who can squat with 2 beasts (48kg bells x 2) in the rack position. With just squatting, I have found most women are good with 2 8-20kg bells and men at 2 24-32 kg bells. In this example, I can get somebody stronger with less weight and not as much stress on the spine using the back squat.
#10. Kettlebells Can Easily Be Progressed: This is important when writing training programs because you want to make sure the person is progressing. When I program, I start with simple and move to more complexed movements. I will also manipulate not only the weight but also the speed amongst other things. Here’s an example:
Hip Hinge on Wall>>Deadlift>>Swing>>Single Arm Swing>>Single Arm Snatch
As you can see, there are many reasons why I use kettlebells in my training. I can’t find a tool that is more versatile and gives me the most bang for my buck. Kettlebells have been an instrumental part of mine and my clients’ success over the recent years.
Ryan Zuver is the head trainer for Method Strength & Performance. He has twelve years of experience training athletes of all ages as well as fat loss clients. He holds certifications as Performance Enhancement Specialist and Corrective Exercise Specialist under the National Academy of Sports Medicine and a Level 2 Kettlebell Instructor under Strong First. He is also certified in the Functional Movement Screen. You can contact him with any questions.