As dumbbells and barbells flew off shopping pages quicker than Boris could say lockdown, more readily available TRX sets, sandbags and resistance bands became popular alternatives. But arguably the biggest rival to challenge the dumbbells’ long, hard-earned dominance was the modest kettlebell.
Versatile, relatively affordable (largely due to the fact you only need one as opposed to two), and easy to stow away, the kettlebell clambered right to the top of the home workout pile. And as we start to return to gyms it’s a piece of kit that looks set to stay at that apex.
So whether you’re a kettlebell intermediate looking to swot up or a complete newbie just wanting to get into the swing of things, here’s movement coach Rianna Kate on the mindful and physical benefits behind every Russian Swing and Turkish Get Up, along with some of her top kettlebell workout tips.
Kettlebells Vs Barbells
Kettlebells are incredibly versatile. The shape and handling of them mean they carry momentum through swings and can be manipulated in complex movement patterns in a way that dumbbells and barbells cannot, but they can also function as your classic weights if desired.
If your end goal is to improve your one rep max deadlift, then sticking with a barbell is going to be beneficial in terms of sheer weight. Supplementing your workouts with Russian Swings is only going to create faster movement though, and more power in your glutes and hamstrings as well as improved grip strength.
The Mindfulness Aspect
Kettlebells also lend themselves well to skill development and cognitive focus. Even the basic kettlebell movement patterns involve a multitude of muscles. As such, it’s genuinely hard to plateau using kettlebells, which means you don’t need to keep increasing your weights to reap the benefits.
Similarly, kettlebell flow complexes (two or more exercises strung together and performed one rep of each movement back to back in a fluid sequence) involve a lot of timely precision and there is little mental capacity left for anything else.
Getting The Right Weight
For women, a good starting weight is 8kg, while for men I would recommend 12kg. Do note these weight recommendations carry an assumption of previous weight training history.
One of the great things about a kettlebell is that because they’re so versatile when it comes to movement, often the goal is centred around skill rather than simply upping the weight. This means that you can spend a lot of time perfecting your technique with a light bell and avoid plateau, simply because the movements are so dynamic and challenging.
I would recommend spending a few months with your starting weight to hone technique and form, before progressing. As soon as you increase the weight without perfecting form, you’re wide open to injury.
The Two Exercises Every Kettlebell Workout Should Contain
In terms of bang for your buck, the best kettlebell workout exercises to build all round strength and good form are the Russian Swing and Turkish Get Up.
The Russian Swing
This is an excellent power drill and targets the hamstrings and glutes in a big way, requiring a focus on form that will hone your core strength and proprioception.
Technique: Hold the kettlebell with both hands just below the groin with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly, hinge upward, and push the kettlebell into a swing using the force of your hips and glutes.
Swing the kettlebell to chest height before letting it swing back to your starting position by hinging again at the hips, extending the kettlebell behind you.
Top Tip: Drive with your hips and do not lean back at the top of the swing, keeping your spine and neck straight and in line with each other.
Turkish Get Up
The Turkish Get Up is all about control; you are combining several exercises into a smooth movement whilst holding a heavy weight above your head at all times. Forget about crunches – this is the ultimate core exercise.
Technique: Lie face up with one arm to your side and kettlebell straight up with your other arm. Keep your same side leg bent and the other leg straight. Drive the foot of your bent leg into the ground to initiate a roll toward the down arm.
Drive your elbow into the ground and then straighten out your elbow coming up onto your hand. Take the straight leg, bring it through and hinge at the hip to come to a half-kneeling position. Stand up. Go back down the way you came up. Repeat for all reps on that side; then do it on the other side.
Top Tip: Without the kettlebell, make a fist shape with your hand and punch up to the sky: that is the position your hand should be in throughout the movement, wrapped around the handle of the kettlebell. Do not let your wrist bend backwards.