Russia gave us innovations that change the world. Things like the helicopter; Tetris; the AK-47. We like to add another Russian invention to the list: the kettlebell. They were originally pyramid-shaped weights called 'giri' and they were used on huge scales for measurement. Then, it became a tool specifically for strength training. Called, 'girya', these were used by circus strongmen before it became popular for a recreational and competitive workout.
The kettlebell that we're familiar with today is different from your traditional dumbbell. The biggest difference is the kettlebell's off-centre balance, which causes your body to compensate for the constant shifting weight.
Steve Cotter is the King of Kettlebell Swing (this title is coined by us and we will not apologise for it). As the leading authority on kettlebell training, Cotter was in town to conduct masterclasses for TFX trainers and the public; attendees got to learn about the best kettlebell workouts and kettlebell safety tips.
We fielded more kettlebell-related questions to Cotter.
ESQUIRE: Why should one incorporate kettlebell training into his or her workout?
STEVE COTTER: Because [one would not] want to waste time on inefficiency [and] there is no more efficient full-body workout then kettlebell training.
You’re going to get more bang for your buck with the kettlebell workout. A busy professional does not have time to live in a gym. He [or she] wants to get in and out and get the job done and that’s where kettlebell training reigns supreme.
ESQ: Why is kettlebell training better than dumbbell training? What's the science behind the kettlebell?
COTTER: Each tool has its benefits. Where the kettlebell excels beyond the dumbbell is in the area of power-endurance development.
The design of the kettlebell allows the lifter to keep his or her hand and wrist in a neutral position during high repetition exercises such as clean and press or snatch. This neutral wrist position allows the lifter to do many more reps then the equivalent load with a dumbbell because the lifter can keep his forearm from pumping so quickly and therefore can fully exercise the cardiovascular system rather than having to put the dumbbell down because of forearm pump.
The other advantage of the kettlebell is that the design allows much more versatility of exercises because you can manipulate the leverage to make any exercise more difficult. For example, the kettlebell can be held upside down with the ball high and the handle low during a press. This involves much more grip and forearm strength. The dumbbell doesn’t allow for such versatility.
In all, what makes the kettlebell a good functional training tool is its versatility and how adaptable it is to persons of all fitness levels (from beginners to athletes) and goals (including strength training and weight loss). If used correctly, kettlebell exercises use almost every muscle group in most movements.
ESQ: What are some of the easy mistakes that people can still make and how can it be corrected?
COTTER: The first and foremost mistake is not coordinating the breath with the movement. Oftentimes, people will hold their breath during exercises, which is not ideal. Learning how to continuously breathe and coordinate the breath with the movements allows for greater work capacity.
Other mistakes have to do with programming such as going too fast or too heavy or doing too much volume too quickly. Instead, the user needs to build their fitness more gradually and consistently over time.
ESQ: How does one decide on a kettlebell weight?
COTTER: There is no absolute guide as there will be differences in athletic ability, size, strength and endurance, depending on the history of the athlete.
But as a general guideline, most women will want to start with 8kg and most men will want to start with 16kg.
A very small woman may even start with a 4kg and a smaller man may start with a 12kg kettlebell. Even for very strong athletes, it’s better to start with a light weight and focus on mastery of the body mechanics before rushing into heavier loads.
In Singapore, people can experience the high-quality ZIVA brand, which has my signature line of specially designed kettlebells, as well as to learn from IKFF trained trainers at TRUE Fitness and TFX centres.
ESQ: How does holding the different parts of the kettlebell affect different parts of the body?
COTTER: The design of the kettlebell gives the lifter various options and ways to hold the kettlebell. The standard way is to insert the hand into the handle. However, if the lifter wants to train the grip more he can hold the kettlebell upside down in the “bottoms up“ position. Yet another way is to hold the kettlebell in the palm of the hand by the ball which challenges much more balance in the associated stabilising muscles.
ESQ: What are some things people need to look out for when performing the snatch, swing and deadlifts?
COTTER: For the swing, the lifter should make sure not to squeeze the handle too hard because this will prematurely fatigue the grip.
In the snatch, it’s important that the athlete does not flip the kettlebell forward when lowering it. Rather he should turn the palm up and let the kettlebell fall from a lower position to be able to absorb the shock of the downward drop more effectively.
During the deadlift, it’s important to load the hips rather than the knees and to keep the shoulder blades retracted and the chest lifted rather than allowing the mid-back to round.
If you are looking for a suitable place to learn more about kettlebell workouts here in Singapore, TFX is a good place to start. TFX values quality and have invested in both high-quality equipment and education. Their trainers receive the best education and this includes kettlebell training.