I wrote a few posts about kettlebells and how to get started, but I guess I skipped over this fundamental question: Why Kettlebell?
So this should have been posted first but instead, it’s post number #5 in this series. Here we go!
The research shows that even basic kettlebell training has the benefits of high-intensity interval training, cardiovascular conditioning integrated into strength training, increased metabolic potential, increased muscular endurance, increased functional strength, improved coordination, increased flexibility and mobility, improved core stability, enhanced sports performance, and improved body composition (increased lean muscle, decreased fat). In case you lost count, that’s a 10-in-1 power combo!
Any number of different training modalities can accomplish the above, but none of which I am aware can do so with such a minimalist approach in terms of simple equipment for just one or two maneuvers, as well as being cost and time effective, and highly portable. Further, it can be done safely by anyone, whether a junior or elite athlete or elderly grandmother. Quick review on safety: if you get hurt it’s because you did too much, too soon, or too sloppy. Don’t blame the kettlebell (or me) because you decided to go crazy with a weight you had no business picking up.
Because of the force multiplication caused by the swing, weights are comparatively light (vs CrossFit, Olympic, or Body Building lifts), yet bring about impressive improvements in strength. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find any two exercises that together can deliver the benefits inherent to the combo of the swing and the get-up.
The moves can also typically be done despite a history of injury or surgery and can assist in rehabilitating low back, hip, knee, and shoulders.
Need more variety to stay motivated? You can change things up, there are any number of kettlebell variations available, but I would suggest that in this case lack of variety is a benefit. Often, training will focus on preventing boredom, which can be important, but at some point, you need to consider; am I training to have fun or am I trying to get stronger (fitter, leaner, healthier, etc)?
Some things are a lot more fun than others. I sometimes enjoy my training and sometimes I don’t feel like it, but my priority has always been what’s going to get the job done. Sometimes variety means sacrificing results just to do something different, which should only be done if absolutely necessary to keep the fitness lifestyle going. Too many training protocols are so focused on variety that they forget to consider if all those exercises are actually beneficial (ie: moving the client towards their goals).
But since I have a fairly well-developed training discipline, keeping interested is a low priority. The best results from the minimum effective dose is what’s interesting to me. So adjusting my training to only 3 serious training days (and 2 optional light and easy days) was quite the change from my typical 5-7 sessions per week.
When I first read the claims about the benefits of kettlebells, I was not without skepticism. I decided to give it a shot in my off season since you don’t want to mess with your training too much when you’re in the middle of giving it your all. I was researching kettlebells leading up to the 2017 Obstacle Course Racing World Championships (OCRWC) and then personally put the claims to the test starting in November 2017.
I did the plan as outlined in my last few posts and progressed from a 20kg kettlebell to a 28kg kettlebell. I took a week off from kettlebell in December to do a week utilizing strong lifts that I had done previously. Without having done these lifts for months, I saw significant 5 sets of 5 reps improvement in the Bench Press, Bent-over Row, and Deadlift; seeing nearly as much improvement in those 2 months as I had seen all year. So, improvement in strength? Check.
My resting heart rate came down a few more beats in those months. Cardiovascular health? Check.
I tested my run in late December with a 5k on the ice and ran easy and my time was similar to previous times, even though I had done zero running. My next run wouldn’t be until May, running Green’s Creek Tobogganing Hill for about an hour. With only one run since World’s, I was in better running shape for the start of the season compared to the previous year. Improved running without running (ie: improved athletic performance)? Check.
A random moment occurred when I accidentally knocked my protein tub, which was above the kitchen cabinets, further back. In order to reach it, I would have to climb onto the kitchen counter. Normally this would have meant placing a knee and a hand on the counter and reaching. Without thinking about it or intending to try something new, I planted my foot on the counter and stepped up (with a hand placed for balance). I didn’t think about it until I was climbing down and noted my foot on the counter. Increased hamstring flexibility and improved mobility in hip flexion (without stretching)? Check.
Some may recall I have sustained previous knee injuries (with two surgeries) and shoulder injuries (5 AC separations, 1 badly torn supraspinatus, and 1 slightly torn infraspinatus). My knees have been a weak point in ease of movement and flexibility, as well as the first point of pain in running longer distances, and my shoulders would get tired at work, ache when trying to sleep, and sometimes severely limit my performance at races as I would lose my ability to produce upper body power over time. In June of this year, I ran 24 km during an overnight obstacle race, Toughest Mudder, without training running. Eventually, things start to hurt, but it wasn’t my knee that went first, it was due to some repeated foot trauma that then made the ankle and hip and eventually knees hurt. My shoulders have been the best they’ve been since injury, and have greater strength than pre-injury. Safe training despite history of injury? Check. Rehabilitative power? Check.
End Results? I’m still going and still seeing results. I’m not saying it’s the best tool for every person. Obviously, the very best plan is one you will stick with. Likewise, most activity-based exercises (like cycling or going rock climbing or to the yoga studio) can bring benefits but will also leave significant gaps in your development. But, possibly the very best all-around tool? I’m truly starting to think it might in fact be the single best methodology for the majority.
If you would like help evaluating your current fitness status and goals and learn how kettlebelling and online coaching could help you get where you want to go, be sure to check to explore my website here at www.naythun.com to learn about packages, fees, and read testimonials. Have questions? Contact me and I’ll be happy to talk further.