No well-rounded, killer training plan can be complete without kettlebells in my opinion.
However, is the kettlebell revolutions destined to crumble faster than Ricky Hatton’s unbeaten record when something new comes in to excite peoples’ training?
Personally I love the damn things. They’ve nearly killed me on a few occasions but still feel happy to have them around and have them in my life!
The question is are they just flavour of the month and only suited to certain people?
When are they really right for us?
I like beating myself up in training. It’s what I do. Yeah I want muscle and minimal body fat, but quite frankly I can’t be bothered to think and act like a bodybuilder.
Kettlebells are awesome for my goals. They can be moved in such a way that it almost becomes an art form capable of destroying every muscle in your body in a matter of minutes.
I regularly perform complexes or circuits which leave me feeling like I got hit by a ton of bricks.
Try 5 rounds of 8 reps with two bells of double swings, double snatches, double jerks and renegade push-rows with some burpee-pull ups thrown in for extra pain.
However, if your sole training goal at a particular point is to optimise growth, I don’t believe kettlebells are the way forward.
Sure you can alter tempo and work with escalating density parameters to ensure progressive overload for hypertrophy but I still believe the fastest and most effective way is to structure 90% of your training around the big lifts (squat, deadlifts, bench, rows).
Performing squats with bells heavy enough for significant hypertrophy is pretty much impossible.
For those more advanced, the chances are you don’t have access to heavy enough bells for deadlifts.
Let’s be honest, most people who promote ‘functional’ training don’t really know what they mean.
Bicep training through doing curls isn’t functional apparently as it’s not a compound movement or involve rotation.
But what about athletes who need a strong bear-hug style grip such as in the NFL or MMA?
However, I believe there are certain exercises and areas EVERYBODY should pay attention to regardless of goals. This includes shoulder mobility, stability and strength, glute strength and the posterior chain in general.
The nature of kettlebell training especially lifts such as the swing and snatch, windmill and get ups, force positive adaptations in these areas. Yes, these can be replicated with dumbbells and barbells but not with the same challenge to stabiliser muscles.
Even bodybuilders need to be doing this stuff unless they want shocking posture and bench press injuries.
What’s REALLY working?
A lot of people do like I just did and promote kettlebells because they’re great for the posterior chain.
This is true but only when the muscles involved are firing in the first place!
You may well want to kick butt in your training session and see if you can achieve 200 snatches in 10 minutes, but if your glutes aren’t firing, all you will do is end up with an overactive lower back and eventually, a sore one!
Most peoples’ glutes don’t work and should be doing a lot of work to release their lower back muscle and fire up the glutes using bridges and single leg hip lifts.
(This applies to luinges, squats and any other exercise which is supposedly good for your buttocks!)
I believe everybody of any age, fitness level and goal needs to be doing power training.
However if we just look at the top end of the spectrum at those who want athletic ability and to improve sports performance, we hit a bit of a stumbling block.
Unless you have grown up as a gymnast or spend hours each week on mobility, practicing olympic lifts can be just too time consuming to let you get any other training done.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think we SHOULD be doing a lot more mobility work than we do, but sometimes the time constraint of our goal just doesn’t allow lots of this work to be done. Much of it requires a skilled trainer to work with which many just can’t afford or access.
Whilst it still requires practice to master, kettlebell training enables power training to be done through single arm snatches and clean and jerks much more easily. I also think single arm power work is more applicable to many sports such as boxing, tennis and volleyball than barbell work anyway.
However, once you start getting to the heavy stuff, maneuvering kettlebells can become somewhat harder to move than a barbell, especially holding at the rack position.
For instance, cleaning an 80kg bar is easier for most than 2x40kg bells.
It’s also easier to progress by adding 2.5-5kg at a time to the bar than going from 2x40kg to 2x44kg bells.
Again, the training goal matters.
If you want more speed endurance than raw power, kettlebells are probably more appropriate!
This bits easy.
You can throw kettlebells around anywhere at anytime.
Kettlebells are just behind bodyweight training in the ‘Get out the commercial gym world’ stakes.
Kettlebell training wrapped up
The key to kettlebell training is understanding why you are using them. It sounds obvious but many use them just because they’ve heard a lot about them.
You also need to make sure you’re firing up the right muscles and usign them properly or shoulder and back injuries won’t be far behind – leave your fat ego at the door when learning kettlebells.
Get your glutes working first. Trust me on this!
They are like sharks – mess with them when you don’t understand them and they will eat you alive.
Master kettlebells as part of your arsenal and then we can talk about pulling it altogether for some of the World’s Toughest Workouts!