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For many, the sight of kettlebells evokes Rocky’s Siberian training montage. More tried-and-tested than chopping trees or moving large logs, kettlebells have a long and fascinating history. It’s believed the iron cannonball and handle-shaped weights originated in Russia in the 1700s, but kettlebells have become a popular training tool in the U.S. only in the last few years.
What differentiates a kettlebell from a standard dumbbell? Why would the shape of the weight matter? It turns out that the kettlebell's unique shape shifts the weight load away from the hand, which allows users to perform a variety of ballistic [or swinging] exercises that are difficult to execute with dumbbells.
According to Dr. John Porcari, fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, “Advocates of kettlebell training claim that using kettlebells can increase muscular strength and endurance, improve flexibility, promote core stability, improve balance and increase aerobic capacity, all at the same time.” It was obvious that lifting the weight results in strength gains, but he wondered how kettlebell training could provide such enormous benefits. Curious, he set out to study it.
After thorough testing, Dr. Pocari found that kettlebell training improves aerobic endurance by increasing heart rate and oxygen consumption more than other strength training methods. This is because most kettlebell exercises are total body exercises, engaging the legs, core and upper body. In fact, your body works as hard doing kettlebell exercises as it does jogging six mph or biking 15 mph, all while making strength gains.
The study warns against viewing kettlebell training as the ideal or only way to train. Yet Dr. Pocari's results are compelling enough to encourage any athlete looking to get better in the weight room to give kettlebells a try.
To make strength and endurance gains, incorporate kettlebells into your training routine. To get started, check out video of Steve Gregory’s Kettlebell Split-Squat to Single-Arm Press and Jimmy Rollins’s Kettlebell Swing.
Source: John P. Porcari, Ph.D., FACSM/ACSM