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A Beginner’s Guide To Toning Up With Kettlebells

by Sportitude
15 Feb 2019

Kettlebells have received well-earned hype for killer abs that won’t cost you a weekly gym membership. Compact and versatile, they make it easy to work up a sweat when you’re short on space and time.  

But like any serious weight training, it’s important to know how to use the tool correctly before integrating it into your workout.  

Kettlebell versus dumbbell

Dumbbells and kettlebells essentially serve the same function – providing a weight to act as resistance for strength training.

Although for some exercises they can be used interchangeably, typically dumbbells are used for basic, static exercises as they are evenly weighted for controlled movements, targeting specific muscles.

Unlike the dumbbell, the cannonball-shaped kettlebell is not equally balanced, lending it valuable for dynamic, explosive movements where momentum is key, activating more muscle groups within a given exercise and with aerobic benefits.

Choosing kettlebell weight

For beginners to weight training, usually 8kg is recommended for women and 12kg for men. Depending on the style of your training, you're likely to outgrow a lower weight quickly and it won’t be as effective for full-body exercises.

Kettlebell exercises activate multiple muscle groups simultaneously – meaning more of your muscles are in play to tolerate more weight  – but seek the instruction of a fitness professional for your specific needs. The aim is to challenge yourself, not cause injury!

Kettlebell exercises

Aim for 10 - 12 reps in 3 sets.

Goblet squat


Benefits:

Full-body workout that improves strength, stability and mobility.  Goblet squats engage your core, build gripping power and arm strength and target glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. In short, they tone your abs, shed fat and boost your booty.

How to:

A: Stand with feet just further apart than shoulder-width and slightly pointed outwards. Grasp the side of the kettlebell handles (the ‘horn') and hold at chest height with elbows facing down, close to your body.

B: Brace your core and lower your body to reach a squat stance by bending knees and hips, maintaining elbow alignment so they land between your knees and with the weight focused at your heels. Squat deeply with thighs at least parallel to ground to fully engage your glutes while maintaining proper form. Hold for 2-3 seconds, using heels for balance.

Straighten to standing A stance, rising up with heels, legs and butt in a smooth motion.

Watch out for:

Arching your spine, knees collapsing inwards, heels raising off the floor or elbows pointing to the sides. If you cannot maintain proper form, you may have squatted too deeply – stick to what is comfortable. Also keep eyes forward, not down.

A lighter kettlebell is preferable for this exercise – heavier kettlebells will wear you out prematurely.  

Deadlift


Benefits:

Hello calorie burn! Deadlifts activate multiple muscle groups, particularly hamstrings and glutes for a tush to die for, while tightening your core and strengthening arm and back muscles.

Correct form in the kettlebell deadlift provides the building blocks to perform the kettlebell swing and snatch safely and improves posture. Plus, deadlifts make you feel super-duper strong - like the Hulk, but hotter.

How to:

A: Stand with feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, toes just pointed outwards and kettlebell centred between them. Perform a hip-hinge, pushing your hips backwards to sit back into your glutes with back neutral (not arched!) and bending your knees slightly, inhaling as you lower your body down until both hands can comfortably grasp kettlebell handle with an overhead grip (palms inward).

B: With arms outstretched, core and glutes tightened and chin tucked in, exhale as you straighten your body into a standing position, driving upwards with your heels, with shoulders back and flexing your hips forward to align your body.

Watch out for:

This is not a squat! Don’t be tempted lower your body deeply with thighs parallel to floor like the goblet squat – hips should remain above your knees with arms extended. A slow, controlled motion is the target, not speed.

Don’t lift with your arms – this exercise relies on your lower body for lifting power. As your lower body rises to a standing position, your arms, hands and kettlebell will naturally follow suit.    

Russian kettlebell swing


Benefits: 

This one’s hella fun, but more advanced. It’s an awesome full-body exercise for athletes like runner’s that let’s face it, have killer legs but can lack hip strength. It activates quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes, tightens your abs for core strength and offers the best of both worlds with a blend of cardio and strength training for a healthy, happy heart.

How to:

A: Stand with feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, toes just pointed outwards and kettlebell centred between them. Perform a hip-hinge, pushing your hips backwards to sit back into your glutes with back neutral and bend your knees slightly, lowering your body down until both hands can comfortably grasp kettlebell handle with an overhead grip – yep, just like the setup for the deadlift. Your weight should be balanced equally between the forefoot and heels.

B: It’s all in the hips. Perform a sharp inhale simultaneously as you hike the kettlebell between your legs and powerfully thrust your hips forward to create momentum, driving the kettlebell. Exhale as the kettlebell rises forward in an arc.

C: Allow your arms to follow through, still extended as you reach a standing position with chest up and glutes tight. Aim for the kettlebell to reach no higher than chest height, but lower is okay. At its peak, the kettlebell will feel weightless, and its mass will dictate the motion back and forward.

Use your arms to guide the kettlebell’s path, pushing your bum out and bending knees slightly for the next rep.

Watch out for: 

Be careful to keep your back straight – don’t lean back as the kettlebell reaches its peak. Keep your toes flat and heels solid on the ground (image they’re rooted to the floor) to maintain stability throughout the motion.

A word of caution

As super hot as your running shoes are, put them on the sidelines when it comes to kettlebell training as their cushioning (designed to withstand repetitive impacts on the road), can also hinder your stability in your home gym.

For beginners, don’t skip practicing the correct motion of your exercises prior to introducing a weight into your workouts. Alongside warming up, getting this right is key to an injury-free workout and exercising in front of a mirror may help you identify problems in your technique.

We highly recommend seeking the aid of a personal trainer to guide your kettlebell exercises and train you in proper form for reduced injury risk.