It’s no secret that training with kettlebells is a functional and fundamental approach to improving cardiorespiratory fitness and strength. But so are dumbbells, medicine balls, barbells, pulleys, and other weighted devices. So what’s the advantage to these cast-iron cowbell-looking tools, anyway?
You probably know the deal: first off, the rise of the kettlebell movement has come a long way since its Russian inception. Its unique shape allows ballistic and swinging movements for speed, power coordination, and stability. And it’s an excellent tool for training both strength and stability because of the awkward and unstable load that the body has to learn to adapt to.
Depending on your personal fitness and athletic goals, there are many different ways you can train with kettlebells. Whichever program you follow, personal trainer and owner of Mississauga, Ontario’s Velocity Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, Jeff Ransome, BScKin, CSCS, stresses the importance of learning the basics and performing the exercises with good form. “The possibility of injury is high if you don’t have the proper technique. Learn [the movements] first so you can focus on pushing as much weight as possible later.” Take-home point: if you can master even just a few fundamental moves now, then you’ll be better prepared for more challenging combinations with heavier loads and higher intensities.
Try Jeff’s “Endurance Builder” routine, which is intended to overload your muscle tissue with higher reps and sufficient rest periods. The exercises combine the strength of your prime movers and the support of your stabilizer muscles necessary to maintain balance while conditioning muscular endurance. And since many ladies are quad-dominant, “these exercises are a great tool for training the posterior chain and correcting muscle imbalances responsible for injuries and instabilities,” he adds.
This series is meant to help build your cardiovascular and muscular endurance by moving quickly from one exercise to the next. But don’t worry: adequate rest is prescribed so you can make it right to the end.
Once you have mastered the movement mechanics and built up your endurance, it’s time to push your anaerobic threshold. If you’re up to the challenge, test your work capacity with Jeff’s “Threshold Builder” routine and watch the huge carry-over effect in your fitness and athletic performance.
Do 45 seconds of each exercise, resting 15 seconds in between. Complete up to four rounds. Rest one minute between rounds, and up to five between circuits.
Kettlebell Lunge Pass
Targets: Glutes, quads, calves, deltoids
Stand, holding a kettlebell in one hand. Step forward and lunge so that your back knee hovers a few inches off the floor. Pass the kettlebell from one hand to the next under your forward leg, keeping your knee in line with your toes. That’s one rep. Step back and repeat on the opposite side.
Tip: Intensify the exercise by dropping even lower and passing the kettlebell under your legs twice before stepping back.
Targets: Glutes, back, hamstrings, deltoids
Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell hanging directly below your hips. Push your hips back, bending your knees, then aggressively squeeze your glutes to drive the kettlebell overhead. Don’t lean back into hyperextension at the top of the swing — let your glutes and hamstrings do the work!
Tip: This is a swing, not a squat, so focus on loading your hips and keeping your shins vertical. This will help guide the kettlebell down and back.
Single-Legged Kettlebell Deadlift-to-Row
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, back, biceps
Stand tall and grasp the kettlebell in your right hand, shoulders squeezed back and down. Keeping your weight on your right leg, slowly hinge forward at the hips and simultaneously raise your left leg behind you until your torso is parallel to the ground (or as close as you can get). Complete the movement by pulling the kettlebell up to the side of your ribcage. Finish your set, then switch sides.
Tip: If you’re shrugging, you’re performing the exercise incorrectly. Pull your elbow back so that you are contracting the muscles of your mid-back.
Kettlebell Sumo Squat on Steps
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quads
Position the risers wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold the kettlebell by its handle and stand on top with one foot on each step, toes pointing out slightly. Keeping your chest tall and vertical and your knees driving out, lower your hips back and down to squat. Press through your heels to stand.
Tip: If you’re shifting forward and your knees are caving in, remove the risers and regress the movement to the floor.
Double Kettlebell Squat Press
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, deltoids, triceps
Stand upright with your shoulder blades pulled down and back. Grasp a light- to medium-weight kettlebell in each hand and hold one directly in front of each shoulder. Position your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your legs and kick your hips behind you to come into a low squat. Explosively straighten your legs to stand; as you come up, fluidly press the weights above your head until your arms are straight. Actively pull the weights back down to their starting position before launching into your next rep. Keep your pace fast to maintain an elevated heart rate.
Tip: Keep the kettlebells close to your body to absorb the weight — the faster you can tuck your elbows in to lift the kettlebells to shoulder height, the more proficient you’ll be.