Kettlebell workouts keep gaining in popularity. There are a number of rival kettlebell "schools" out there, and they all try to outdo each other. Similar to the world of martial arts, everyone wants to believe his or her kettlebell method is the first and best, overshadowing all others with its greatness.
With all the hype, it's important not to lose sight of the benefits. To further the martial arts analogy—the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Though their origin may date back farther—similar tools were used in ancient Greece—kettlebells have been used in Russia since the 18th Century. Back then, they were generally used by vendors to measure weight. While selling their wares, vendors developed swinging and pressing techniques with the kettlebells, which formed the basis for many current training methods.
Because of their unique shape and load distribution, kettlebells can be used in every facet of training, from rehabilitation to performance enhancement. Holding a kettlebell in the "bottom up" position elicits a "reflexive" firing of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers. For someone coming back from a shoulder injury, performing static holds of a kettlebell in this position may be a great first step.
The Kettlebell Swing is a non-impact, explosive method that develops a powerful hip-extension pattern. When you perform it single-handedly, you add core and unilateral shoulder stability, because your body has to resist rotational forces as well as scapular distraction.
Turkish Get Up
The Turkish Get Up is one of the most functional training movements you can insert into a program. Its rolling movement is one of our most basic developmental patterns—one that we lose in a lifetime of sitting—in cars, at desks, in boardrooms and in front of the TV. Simply by setting up in the starting position of the Get Up, you reset and practice this rolling pattern. You train your body to stabilize a shifting and somewhat unpredictable load overhead as you progress from your back to a fully standing position. In its entirety, the Turkish Get Up allows you to learn, in a single tightly choreographed pattern, not only how to roll up, but how to sit up, hinge at the hips and lunge.
As functional as kettlebells are, they are not without their limitations. For starters, because kettlebells are poured from casts, they can have weight discrepancies—although high quality kettlebells should be relatively consistent. Also, kettlebells are not as common as dumbbells and are not easily transportable—something to keep in mind if you travel a lot or train in multiple locations. Kettlebells don't work well for certain movements that require an absolute load. For example, two 48kg kettlebells do not offer much of a load for a Deadlift. And when you squat with two 48 kg kettlebells in a racked or suitcase position, your upper body or grip will likely give way before your legs. Unless you focus specifically on advancing within the style or sport of kettlebells, they are best used as an secondary rather than a primary tool. Finally, although many coaches, athletes and personal trainers claim to be able to teach kettlebells, relatively few have committed themselves to learning even the basics correctly. Like everything else in fitness, sports and life, kettlebell skills should be learned from an experienced teacher and require consistent practice for improvement. Find a qualified teacher in the style you find most appealing, and dedicate some time to learning the kettlebells properly. RELATED: The Best Kettlebell Arm Exercises Reference: McGill et al. "Kettlebell Swing, Snatch, and Bottoms-Up Carry: Back and Hip Muscle Activation, Motion, and Low Back Loads." Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. January 2012 – Volume 26 – Issue 1 – pp 16-27 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823a4063
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