You’ve seen those chunky, bell-shaped weights sitting on a rack at the gym. They sort of look like cannon balls with handles attached at the top and sometimes they’re colored differently based on how much they weigh.
They’re called kettlebells, and you’ve probably even see other gym members swinging them around and lifting them up as part of their workouts and wondered whether you should make them part of your routine too.
Kettlebell workouts can be beneficial for everyone from back pain sufferers to weight loss candidates and almost every type of exerciser in between. Plus, compared to traditional strength training tools like dumbbells or floor machines, many find they’re more fun to work with, which makes them the perfect option for anyone looking to add some excitement to their exercise routine.
Here are five reasons why you should consider working out with kettlebells next time you visit the gym.
1. Get Stronger
By now you probably know that lifting weights builds muscle and increases strength, and even if you already incorporate strength training into your regular exercise routine kettlebells can help you increase your strength even more. Because the weight of a kettlebell is off center, during specific exercises you’ll be required to recruit more stabilizer muscles and the targeted muscle will be forced to work through a greater range of motion, too.
“What makes kettlebells unique is the amount of muscle mass involved in the movements. Most movements involve the legs, the core and the upper body, so there is truly a 'total body workout,'" says John P. Porcari, Ph.D, a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and the Director of the Clinical Exercise Physiology Program in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
2. Treat Back Pain
It might be hard to understand how high-intensity exercises could heal such a fragile part of the body (many kettlebell exercises are forceful and explosive), but according to Dr. Patrick Roth, M.D., working with Kettlebells can be an effective method for treating back pain. “Almost always, patients who made the effort were rewarded with less pain. These patients learned how their posture and form could change with kettlebell training,” Roth wrote in a recent blog post. However, he also offers a few words of warning by highlighting the fact that proper form is absolutely necessary for success. Kettlebell exercises can be complicated and when performed improperly can do more harm than good, which is why it’s recommended that beginners work with an experienced trainer.
3. Improve Cardiovascular Fitness
Strength training isn’t often associated with the same elevated heart rates that are induced by aerobic exercises like running or cycling, but kettlebell workouts have the potential to offer exercisers the best of both worlds. One study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine found that kettlebell training produced heart rate and VO2 Max values equivalent to traditional aerobic exercises and that the number of calories burned was comparable to jogging at 6 miles per hour.
4. Train Functionally
Kettlebell exercises tend to mimic many of the natural movements we carry out on a day-to-day basis; think reaching into the cabinet for a plate, sitting down in your chair, or bending down to pick something up off the floor. When a workout offers the advantage of moving your body through a wide range of motion like this, it’s considered functional training. Incorporating these types of exercises into your workout routine regularly will help you move with ease when performing real-world, everyday activities.
5. Save Time
Kettlebells have the ability to improve your cardiovascular fitness (see number three) and increase strength (see number one) all in one workout, which means you can spend less time at the gym. We’re not saying it's a horrible place to be, but it’s no secret that fitting exercise into your schedule can be a struggle sometimes, so we think you’ll consider this a big bonus, too.