How to Supersize Your Strength for the Next Race – Kettle Bells


If you can only have a single piece of gym equipment to get you into shape and keep you there, what would it be? 45 lb Olympic bar? Jump rope? A pullup / chin up bar?

In our opinion, you should consider a kettle bell.

Today, kettle bells are used by elite athletes for strength and endurance training. In fact, the Russian Military requires its’ recruits to train with kettle bells as does the United States Secret Service & the FBI Counter Assault Team because they have been credited with providing a full body workout that incorporates cardio, strength and endurance training along with the ability to burn hundreds of calories in just 20 minutes.

Sounds too good to be true? Read on.

Hype or Fact?

fitness2xtreme-images-kettle-bell-swingKettle bells, a cannonball shaped hunk of iron with a handle, originated in Russia about 350 years ago. At that time they were simply used as counterweights to weigh out dry goods.

After being cast aside for fancier selectable-weigh dumbbells for quite some time, Crossfit exercise paradigm has re-ignited the excitement over kettle bells. Kettle Bells are so popular that the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recently decided to find out by commissioning an exclusive study on the benefits of Kettle bell training.

The study was conducted with the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse which included included 100 volunteers (male and female) between the ages of 29 and 46 years old, all experienced in the use of kettle bells.

After establishing a baseline and a warm up, the volunteers swung a kettle bell one-handed between their legs and up over their head in a snatch motion, they continuously performed the snatches to a specific rhythm for 15 seconds for each arm with 15 seconds of rest in between for a total of 20 minutes with a 5 minute cool down.

The study result determined that on average, participants burned 272 calories which by the way, did not include the additional calories burned due to the muscle-building impact (the calories burned after you exercise as your body repairs its muscle fibers).

Researchers credit the brisk calorie burning to the fact that the kettle bell snatch workout is a total-body movement that is also done very quickly due to the interval-training format.

Overall, kettle bell use can produce remarkable results, which is what virtually all fitness enthusiasts look to get from their workouts. Kettle bells not only offer resistance training benefits, they also will ultimately help people burn calories, lose weight, and enhance their functional performance capabilities.” – Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D ACE

On the contrary, there have been numerous anti-kettlebell articles, calling the latest movement a fad when compared to barbells and dumbbells. One excellent write up is from a blog called where the author Thomas states that “Kettlebells are inferior to Dumbbells“.

fitness2xtreme-images-kettle-bell-core-strengtheningWhile I do agree with many points in the article, I do not believe that either kettlebells or dumbbells are inferior to another. Much like the debate between machine vs. free weight exercises, perceived superiority between different equipment and methodologies is unique to your current physical conditioning.

The bottom line is you need to do anything and everything that will allow you to strengthen your core, then work on increasing speed and power, and kettlebells certainly contributes to that bottom line by forcing unique biomechanics to users.

Core Strengthening

Weight loss is good but let’s stay focused and understand how kettle bells can and will supersize your strength to increase your performance on race day.

First, the super thick handles and the position of the weight in relation to the handle makes it more difficult to control thereby strengthening your forearms and challenging your grip. This will give you an advantage on rope and climbing related obstacles.

Second, Then there is the whole power endurance vs. strength endurance advantage. Since kettle bell lifts such as the snatch cannot be executed slowly, they enhance your ability to produce powerful movements over an extended period of time whereas strength endurance (often gained by using dumbbells) allows you to produce force over an extended period of time. While both are important qualities to have, most obstacle courses require that you to create explosive movements for the length of the race.

fitness2xtreme-images-kettle-bell-core-strengthening-2And last but definitely not least, most kettle bell exercises focus on muscle integration rather than isolation. The body is trained to work as a whole.

So if you want to compete in the next race and not just finish it (or you just don’t want to embarrass yourself) pick up that kettle bell and start training.

Basic Exercises

There are four basic kettle bell movements you will need to learn before moving to more advanced workouts. These movements — the squat, swing, clean, and snatch — require you to use many different muscle groups simultaneously. Even these basic moments will provide you with a complete workout in minutes. As you move on to the more advanced exercises you’ll realize why they have become the “go to” workout tool.

  • Squats – There are different types of squats but a basic one has you performing a typical squat where your back is straight, you bend your knees into a sitting position, and your kettle bell weight hangs from your arms between your legs, dipping down toward the floor.
  • Swing- In a swing you bend over and put the kettle bell between your feet and you start the movement by pushing the bell behind you as if you’re spiking a football. Then you pull the bell forward back through your legs and out in front of you as you rise into a standing position.
  • Snatch – A snatch is similar to a swing in that you are doing the same movement as a swing, only the final position will be where the kettle bell is raised completely overhead. Because the bell has a tendency to flip over and hit your wrist, you need to learn how to control the handle so that you can maneuver it to a better position.
  • Clean – For this one, you’ll again start out with the bell between your feet. You’ll bend down to take a hold of it and like the swing and snatch, push the bell behind you, through your legs. Instead of pushing it out and forward or straight up, you’ll ring the kettle bell close to your body as if you’re doing a curl, but you won’t actually be curling it.

A Word of Caution

Kettle bell training is not without its issues. If done incorrectly or with improper form serious injury can result. It is important to learn and use the proper technique at all times when using kettle bells. That means using lighter weight if it allows you to maintain proper form.

CrossFit Journal has an excellent PDF article about it (read here; if the link is broken, send me an email)

If you injure yourself, stop immediately and seek medical advice. It is wise to get professional guidance from a certified kettle bell trainer when first starting to use kettle bells.


The Kettlebell Swing –

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