My first post is about my favorite overall exercise device: the kettlebell. If I could only have one exercise device, I would choose the kettlebell. Yes, it’s just a weight with a handle, but its unique shape allows me to increase resistance with all major exercises. The kettlebell also makes it easy to perform my favorite exercise – the hip hinge swing, or commonly known as the kettlebell swing. The kettlebell swing can help build leg and core strength and is a great form of aerobic conditioning.
The anecdotal evidence supports its use as well, and you’ll see every major gym, cross fit box, and even at physical therapy clinics. While kettlebells are used by primarily professional and amateur athletes, it’s use in basic rehab has been increasing as therapists are learning how to use the unique attributes of kettlebells.
So what does research say about kettlebells and their effectiveness with building strength compared to conventional lifting? Unfortunately, most studies demonstrate a lack of true effectiveness from being poorly constructed. In particular, Otto et al. (2012) compared a group of men using 16kg kettlebells and women using 12kg kettlebell doing swings and goblet squats to another group who did Olympic-style weightlifting (back squats and pull variations). The study found that both groups improved their vertical jump similarly, but the weightlifting group improved the back squat and power clean by a greater amount. While this may suggest that weightlifting leads to superior improvements, the weightlifting group performed a greater volume of work. If the goal is to improve power, you must provide the proper amount of resistance. Just as you can’t improve your sprinting speed by jogging a mile, you can’t expect to have massive improvements in a heavy squat by swinging a weight that may be less than 1/10th of your expected max.
So what should you do? If you’ve never used kettle bells before, first thing is to make sure you do it right! The more complicated and ballistic the exercise, the greater the potential for injury. By ensuring that you do the exercise right, you’ll reap the greatest rewards.
Next post: How and Why to perform the Hip Hinge
Otto WH III, Coburn JW, Brown LE, and Spiering BA. “Effects of weightlifting vs. kettlebell training on vertical jump, strength, and body composition.” J Strength Cond Res. 26: 1199-1202, 2012.