Perhaps The Simplest, Most Effective Tool in your Toolbox
Kettlebells were originally used in the 1700’s in Europe as a weighted device to measure products such as grain and flour for trade. During festivals and fairs, farmers and vendors would lift and swing kettlebells as feats of strength and would have their village strongman challenge other village strongmen to see who was the strongest for bragging rights. Soon it was recognized the benefits of building strength through these types of movements. The Soviet Union utilized kettlebell training as their main strength and conditioning component for their Spetsnaz Special Forces soldiers.
There is no better tool to utilize for improving work capacity, endurance, and conditioning than kettlebells. Some physiotherapists are now implementing light kettlebell work as part of their rehab programs to improve strength for patients suffering from numerous injuries or surgeries. The ballistic movements of working with kettlebells utilize a dynamic movement that improves synovial fluid distribution in joints, and strengthens both ligaments and tendons. My old coach, Valery Federenko, used to tell me in his deep Russian accent, “Kettlebells make your ligaments and tendons like iron cable.”
There are many different ways to utilize kettlebell training into your program. Some people prefer a few simple supplemental movements to add to a Met-con style program for fitness where technique isn’t much of a priority. Other programs described as “hard style” prioritize compound strength movements in short heavier sets to promote more strength gain. This style would incorporate lots of presses, cleans, rows, swings and heavy snatches in sets usually in the heavy five rep range.
The “Girevoy” or Kettlebell Sport is a style that emphasizes more Olympic style movements such as the Jerk, Long Cycle (Clean & Jerk) and the snatch. The big difference with Girevoy sport is that the athlete trains to compete in a ten minute set where men utilize two kettlebells (usually two 24kg or two 32kg bells) and women use a single kettlebell (usually 16kg to 24kg). You can’t drop or put the kettlebells down or your set is terminated. If you’re snatching you only have one hand change during your ten-minute set and it is a grueling test of strength, conditioning and mental toughness. To excel in Girevoy Sport you must fine-tune your technique to utilize the most effectiveness and explosiveness with controlled effort and eliminate any energy leaks during your set or you will fatigue and fail. A noticeable difference with Girevoy Sport training is that your training doesn’t revolve around sets and reps, it revolves around time and RPM’s (Reps Per Minute). Training is always progressive, as you would always add more time to your sets or more reps per minute to your program. Similar to powerlifting, you have your working sets and additional supplemental work to train your weaknesses. Girevoy Sport training is the ultimate template for improving posterior and shoulder strength, conditioning, explosiveness, work capacity and mental toughness.
Regardless which style of kettlebell training you utilize, all you require to train are one or two kettlebells and about a four foot square piece of real estate to stand on.
If you travel or go away for a weekend, it’s easy and compact to take one or two kettlebells with you and you could easily complete a full body workout that will completely exhaust you in about twenty minutes. If you live in an environment where you enjoy a warm climate, I recommend training outside in a park or backyard. Enjoy the benefits of being outside while you get a great workout.
I’ll be following up this article with subsequent articles outlining kettlebell programming for Girevoy Sport training, Hard Style strength training, GPP and some supplemental movements that will strengthen your back and add explosiveness to your deadlift. I’m also hoping to include a few instructional videos to help you improve your technique on various kettlebells.