A kettlebell workout can be a fantastic way to build strength, fitness and balance, and most gyms will have this type of weights available, but you need to be sensible and careful when using them.
If you haven’t seen a kettlebell before, it is a solid, rounded weight with a handle on the top. The handle means the centre of mass is beyond your hand, making it great for swinging but forcing your body to work harder to stabilise the weight.
1. Get familiar with the equipment
You should spend time getting used to a kettlebell before you start using it seriously for exercises.
Even if you are accustomed to free weights, kettlebells take a bit of getting used to because the weight is off centre. This is great for doing swinging exercises, but can be tricky to stabilise, which is one of the reasons it is so effective.
You may accidentally hit yourself with the kettlebell while working out initially, so practise good form and maintain control of the kettlebell when you swing.
Get hold of a light kettlebell to begin with, so you’re not worried about the weight, and develop a feel for how it moves as you swing or lift it. Once you have a good idea of how to handle it you can start planning a proper kettlebell workout.
2. Choose good equipment
If you are buying your own kettlebell then the main things to look for are the smoothness of the design and its material. A good kettlebell will not have any sharp corners, as this can cause injury while you’re exercising.
The gap between the handle and the ball, which is known as the window, should not be bigger than the distance from knuckles to wrist when you make a fist.
Avoid kettlebells made of vinyl, and instead look for a cast iron model. Initially you may want to avoid those labelled as “competition” kettlebells, because they are designed to be used with one hand. Most beginners will do two-handed exercises to start with.
3. Try different weights
You should be cautious about choosing a kettlebell which is too heavy to begin with, as this can be dangerous, but the exact weight you need depends on your own strength, fitness and experience.
Most instructors suggest a common starting weight is 8kg for women and 16kg for men, but this varies between individuals. Don’t feel pressured into lifting more or less than you actually need, as that will be counterproductive.
A good rule of thumb is to use a weight that you can press overhead eight to 10 times.
4. Start with simple movements
If you want to introduce a kettlebell workout to your fitness regime, then start with predominantly simple exercises, because tackling complex moves and swings too soon can lead to injury.
Talk to your personal trainer and put together a simple workout that includes swings, cleans, presses and squats to start with.
5. Focus on stability before you move up in weight
The most important skill you need to develop while doing your kettlebell workout is stability. If you are not stable as you lift or swing the bell, you can suffer injuries to your core, including you back, hamstrings and pelvis, as your muscles try to stabilise you as you swing the weight.
You also run the risk of hurting your shoulders, arms or wrists, which will also try to compensate if you lose control of the weight.
Your kettlebell workout should incorporate at least one exercise specifically aimed at stability, such as the Turkish Get Up, which really develops the muscles to keep you stable. It requires several simple movements in a sequence, and is designed to give you a platform for other exercises.
6. Pay careful attention to your form
Form matters with kettlebells even more than with free weights, because the weights are off-centre and can cause you to lose your balance and injure yourself if you don’t have good technique.
Even with strong muscles you need to focus on good form as you lift or swing, just as the best golfers try to maintain a consistent form regardless of how hard they are trying to hit the ball.
The Single Leg Deadlift is a great exercise for teaching the importance of form, as you have to hinge at the hips while keeping a straight back and controlling the movement of your knee and shoulder.
7. Get advice or join a kettlebell workout class
Kettlebells can be an incredibly effective training tool, but trying to use them without advice and instruction is difficult.
Your personal trainer will know how and why you should or should not use a kettlebell, and can walk you through the basics as you develop the necessary stability and technique.
Many gyms offer kettlebell classes, in which an instructor will be available to help and guide you through the different movements. Classes will vary in their style and focus, as kettlebells are not just a tool for building strength; they can be used to improve your cardiovascular fitness as well.
8. Keep your goals in mind
You must always remember to use kettlebells to achieve your goals, rather than use them just because they’re the most popular gear at the gym. Everybody has slightly different goals and capabilities, and you should assess whether to use kettlebells based on what you are trying to achieve.
You can use them to build pure strength, rehab from an injury, improve balance or even to work on your cardiovascular fitness. Each application requires different exercises and weights, so approach them sensibly and you will really feel the benefit.
Overall, a kettlebell workout can be one of the most rewarding ways of exercising, as long as you use good equipment, and learn and maintain good form. Ask your personal trainer for advice on how to get started, and open whole new horizons for your fitness and health.
|Majed Alhamad is an accomplished personal trainer who inspires his clients to pursue their fitness and health goals. Read more at his blog http://www.majedalhamad.com/.|