I love my kettlebell.
I still remember how we first met. We were cleaning out the old STACK office when a co-worker announced a kettlebell was up for grabs.
I pounced on the offer, and we’ve been friends ever since.
Years later, I still pick up that same 16-kilogram Skogg kettlebell almost every single day.
In our time together, I’ve become convinced that one of the best investments for anyone who wants to look, move and feel better is simply a medium-weight kettlebell.
Let’s start with the convenience factor.
Legit home gyms are crazy expensive, and most people don’t have enough space for a dedicated gym area. But just about everyone has the room and the budget for one kettlebell.
That one kettlebell grants you access to a massive number of exercises—far more than you’d get from something like a Bowflex. Some of my favorites include:
My kettlebell exercise library is ever-expanding, as great fitness experts are constantly finding or sharing unique kettlebell-based exercises.
But the weight is really important. If my kettlebell was 2 or 60 kilos instead of 16, I don’t think I’d use it nearly as often. It’d either be too light for me to feel like I was getting any real benefit, or too heavy to use it for anything aside from squats and swings.
16 kilograms, which is about 36 pounds, is right in my training sweet spot. It’s heavy enough that I don’t have to do a million reps to feel a training effect, but light enough that I can still be creative in how I use it.
While I’ll occasionally perform 20-minute kettlebell workouts at home if I find myself unable to get to the gym or go for a run, I more often use my kettlebell to dose movement throughout the day.
I’ll do some swings before my morning cup of coffee. I’ll use a few Turkish Get-Ups to take a break from writing. I’ll get a nice curl-to-press pump while I watch a Cavs game.
I’m constantly mixing up exercises based on what I feel my body needs most, and the versatility of the kettlebell allows me to do that. And I believe those extra reps do make a difference.
I probably average around 30-40 reps a day with my kettlebell, and that’s outside of any dedicated workouts I might perform.
Let’s say I’m home roughly 350 days a year (though if I’m traveling by car, there’s a decent chance the kettlebell is coming with me—but we’ll ignore that for now).
An extra 35 reps a day might not sound like much at first, but over the course of a year, that works out to an extra 12,250 reps.
In my mind, those reps are micro-doses of exercise throughout my day. More and more research is showing that even very quick doses of activity can have a significant and immediate impact on our wellbeing.
For example, a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity compared how 30 sedentary adults fared in the three following conditions:
- Sitting for 6 straight hours (SIT trial)
- Taking a 30-minute walk before sitting for 6 straight hours (ONE trial)
- Sitting for 6 hours but taking a 5-minute walk every hour (MICRO trial)
Participants were allowed to read, use a computer, or watch TV while they sat, and they ate a standardized breakfast and lunch during each trial.
At the end of the study, researchers found that both the ONE and MICRO trials resulted in increased self-perceived energy and vigor throughout the day compared to the SIT trial. However, only the MICRO trial improved mood, decreased levels of fatigue and reduced food cravings at the end of the day.
Is it wild to think mixing in a little resistance training during the day could have similar benefit? I certainly don’t think so. And since these bursts of exercise usually take no more than a couple minutes, they leave me feeling energized rather than exhausted.
And micro-dosing exercise can have long-term benefits, too.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that “sporadic and bouted” moderate-to-vigorous physical activity are “similiarly associated with substantially reduced mortality” (in this case, any single session of exercise lasting longer than five minutes was considered a “bout,” while anything shorter was considered “sporadic). Ultimately, it was the total amount of time spent exercising that mattered most, even if that time was largely accumulated in very short chunks.
I tend to save my more vigorous exercise for when I’m actually at the gym—mostly because I seem to sweat buckets as soon as my heart rate ticks over 170 beats per minute—so the kettlebell work I sprinkle throughout my day is generally more moderate, at least to by my definition. However, if you really want to go the route of minimal effective dose, the more vigorous your micro-doses of exercise, the greater the impact will likely be on your health hand wellness, provided you’re not veering into overtraining.
This is all to say that every rep counts. You don’t have to change into your gym clothes, drive to the gym, and go through a full warm-up every time you want to exercise.
As someone who largely works remotely and spends more time sitting than I’d like, being able to dose some kettlebell work throughout my day helps me in countless ways. Odds are, whether you’re an office worker or a competitive athlete, it could help you, too. Kettlebells are also pretty intuitive, so you shouldn’t feel like you need to be a kettlebell master before you’re allowed to pick one up.
I’ve been able to make this habit part of my daily life is because I keep my kettlebell in the middle of my living room. I can usually see it from both my couch and my desk, and I walk by it no less than 20 times a day.
There are no weights to change or things to move around—the kettlebell weighs what it weighs, and I need only a small area of open space to perform most kettlebell exercises. Other than deciding what movement makes sense for my body at that specific moment (Kettlebell Swings are always a solid default), it’s a method of exercise that requires virtually zero thinking.
In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear discusses how making an activity as frictionless as possible makes it more likely to stick as part of our routine. He recommends to “create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.” Unbeknownst to me, I did this the day I decided to stick my kettlebell in my living room, and I haven’t changed it since. If I kept my kettlebell in the laundry room, odds are it’d see a lot less action.
To recap my “life hack”:
- Buy a medium-weight kettlebell. What qualifies as “medium-weight” will depend on your own strength level. If you’re struggling to find a weight that feels just right, I’d err on the side of slightly heavier.
- Keep your medium-weight kettlebell in an area of your house where you spend a lot of time or frequently walk through.
- Enjoy the benefit of thousands of extra reps per year you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Sure, it’s simple. But the secret to getting and staying in shape for a lifetime is making fitness a part of your lifestyle—not just something you do at the gym for a couple hours each week.
Photo Credit: Melpomenem/iStock