Ten Reasons to Train with Kettlebells

by Mike Krivka on March 27, 2013

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RKC Team Leader Mike Krivka lifts one of his favorite weights – his son Jak!

I’m well into my second decade of training with Kettlebells and I can honestly say that I learn something new every single time I pick one (or two) up – and that’s usually several times a day! I’ve had the great honor to train with a wide variety of people and introduce them to what I consider to be the best strength and conditioning tool around. In each and every instance people are fascinated and appalled at how this seemingly simple tool can be so hard to use well and so amazingly effective at the same time. It doesn’t matter if I’m training with a “Soccer Mom”, a Marine Corps officer, or an aspiring athlete – they all learn very quickly that the lessons that the Kettlebell can teach them will serve them well.

Following are a quick list of ten reasons why I think you should be training with kettlebells. There are many more, but I’m hoping this list will help you come to be a better understanding on how to approach utilizing this amazing tool.

1. Efficiency – Kettlebells (in conjunction with a handful of high-tension body weight skills) can provide an intense full-body workout in an incredibly short period of time. With a workout of less than 30 minutes in length you drenched with sweat and gasping for air. Think about the last time you did the RKC Snatch Test (five minutes) or the USSS Snatch Test (ten minutes) – both are great mono-structured workouts that do the job without wasting time. Most “trainers” recommend that you perform lengthy cardio and resistance sessions for up to 6 to 8 hours a week. A week’s worth of kettlebell workouts equal only a fraction of that and you will get much better results.

2. Tension Management – Kettlebells require that you develop a high level of sensitivity in regards to grip strength and tension distribution and redistribution that readily carries over into all forms of athletics. The kettlebell’s displaced center of gravity create grip and forearm strength requirements that cannot be matched by regular free weights or machines. The ability to create and distribute tension is of paramount importance to any athlete. Not only is it a factor in strength, but also in speed, flexibility, and endurance as well. Muscles become stronger by learning how to contract them more effectively, explosively, and efficiently. The body as a unit becomes stronger by learning how to instigate a coordinated firing of muscles in a more effective, explosive, and efficient manner.

3. Mindfulness – Kettlebell training requires you to “be in the moment,” allowing you to develop a high-level of concentration, focus, intensity and body awareness. Lapses in concentration or body awareness are swiftly punished. A lack of intensity will not allow you to build the requisite strength and mental toughness needed to distinguish yourself in action. How many people have you seen staring off into space while they were working out? Don’t even think about doing that with kettlebells unless of course you enjoy sitting in the Emergency Room!

4. Sensitivity – Kettlebells require you to constantly challenge your spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, tension, balance and timing. Once again, these are all very martial skills that will cross over into your training and especially into combat athletics. Doing a 7.5 foot ROM snatch requires a much higher degree of skill and muscle mastery than a 1.5 foot ROM biceps curl does. Think about it.

5. Raw Strength – Kettlebells develop thick, dense muscles that deliver when you need them – as opposed to the puffy, tribal-tattooed ‘look good in a Speedo’ muscles. By forcing the muscle to support the KB you end up activating the deeper, harder-to-work, stabilizing and supporting muscles. Most people who start using kettlebells see a rapid loss of excess body fat and weight loss. Once the ‘honeymoon’ is over there oftentimes occurs an increase in weight that accompanies a rapid rise in strength. This is when the muscles start becoming denser and the deficient areas of the musculature start suddenly filling in.

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Mike lifting the ‘Beast’ Kettlebell

6. Unilateral Strength – Kettlebells require that you develop unilateral skills, coordination and strength. There is no hiding behind your “strong-hand” in kettlebell training. Weak links in power development are filled in as you get stronger and become accustomed to the bracing requirements of kettlebell training. Being able to move a load on a bar doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to move the same load using one or two kettlebells. I’ve embarrassed way too many “gym rats” by matching their bar loads and then leaving them in the dust with a pair of kettlebells. Try getting the meathead at the gym with the 350 pound bench press to military press your two 53 lbs kettlebells – try not to laugh when he can’t get them off of his shoulders.

7. Holistic – Kettlebells combine strength, flexibility, mobility and anaerobic training into one workout. No other tool will challenge you when it comes to developing attributes that you will be able to apply on the hardwood, the court or the battlefield. Kettlebell training specifically trains all of the physical traits required by the elite athlete and succeeds where other methods fail. In particular, KB training addresses all of the elements that are going to be required of an athlete in competition or in a life-or-death struggle.

8. Mental Hardening – Kettlebell training develops a high level of mental toughness and an understanding of controlled aggression. You can’t approach a kettlebell workout without either – the kettlebell is the enemy and it has to be submitted, controlled or destroyed; or the kettlebell will destroy you. Someone who is looking for a “light” or “toning” workout can find just that by using kettlebell techniques that will enhance their overall mobility and awareness, but for someone who is looking to get an edge on their opponents, the kettlebell is the key that opens the lock. If you have ever done any high-repetition kettlebell training you know exactly what I’m talking about. That little voice in your head that tells you it’s time to quit has to be wrestled to the ground and choked out so that you can build the strength that you want.

9. Movement – Kettlebells require you to learn how to move your body efficiently, strongly and with grace and power. Sitting in a machine or lying on a bench is not going to give you the athletic ability to do a single leg takedown or knock-out an opponent. Learning how to transition for movement to movement without external stabilization, (i.e., a bench or machine) will require you to develop a higher level of strength and mobility that no machine can ever provide. Developing the ability to internally stabilize an external load will give you the sensitivity and control you will need to play or fight at a higher level. Kettlebells will rub your face in your weaknesses until they become strengths – and then humble you over and over again.

10. Complete System – Training with Kettlebells may be the perfect system for developing strength. Kettlebells allow you to perform all of the basic movement patterns (Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, Carry and the Turkish Get-up; kudos to Dan John for this list) safely, efficiently and effectively. No other tool out there can make this claim and many will try – but very few will even come close. Through a unique combination of design, utilization and loading the Kettlebell is “efficiently inefficient” in building strength – something that will serve anyone from a “Soccer Mom” to a US Navy SEAL.

I’m sure that you can think of a lot more reasons why someone should train with kettlebells and I’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to respond to this blog post to share your thoughts and ideas.

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Michael A. Krivka, Sr., RKC Team Leader is a Washington, DC native who has been involved in Kettlebell training for over a decade and is currently an RKC Team Leader and member of the RKC Board of Advisors under Dragon Door (where he has been listed as one of the top reviewed RKC’s in the world for the last five years… read more here.

 

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  • Awesome article Mike! You picked up on some great points there, well done.

  • Jim Hatcher

    Mike, Thanks for a great article. I would add that under a capable trainer, kettlebell training makes one far less susceptible to injury. At seventy-one years of age, I have been a gym rat for close to fifty-five years or so. I have seen a lot of training strategies and devices come and go. Having now been using kettlebells twice a week with a RKC/SFG coach for over two years, I have been injury free for the first time and those little over-use nagging issues from past heavy lifting are either gone or only a minor nuisance. Great article!

    Jim

  • Wrestled to the floor and choked out! love it, thanks Mike!

  • Joshua Holmes

    I like training with kettlebells, but this list is silly. You can do all of these things and develop all of these qualities with barbells, dumbbells, and bodyweight training, too.

  • Troy Patton

    Great article, Michael.

  • Edward Shattuck

    Dear Sir:
    Thank you for the great blog. It reinforces everything that I have learned about the gyria, and showed me a couple of new things. At 54 years , my joints don’t do so well with the heavier bells, but I am in constant practice with my 24 kg. My new goal is to meet the minimum requirements for the RKC snatch test, and then the USSS test. Your article was very motivating. Thank you again.
    Edward Shattuck

  • Edward – glad it helped you out and I wish you tremendous success with your goals. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you out! 🙂

  • Julie

    Mike,
    I enjoyed your article. I was wondering if you could suggest a basic book for training with kettlebells. I live in a rural area with no access to a gym or trainer and I would like to start trying them out. I know everyone suggests attending a workshop or such, but at this time it’s just not possible for me. Thanks for your time!

    • Nate White

      Enter The KettleBell by Pavel.

    • Dr. Ronald S. Ipock

      Julie,

      I have been training with kettlebells for a little over ten years. Books come and go with the fads that inspired them. However, the two kettlebell books that I would miss are Scott Shetler’s _Kettlebells for Sport_ and _Russian Kettlebell Challenge_, Pavel’s original book (written when he was still a Master of Sports ).

      • Julie

        Dr. Ron, Thanks!

  • Frank Guastella

    Mike,
    Terrific article. I am 61 years old and have been doing kettlebell workouts the last two years and I have never felt better. My over fitness level and athletic performance level have improved to a level I thought I could never reach at this age. No more going into the gym and banging weights for me. Kettlebells and circuit training are my form of fitness nowadays.

  • freddie cruz

    I’m like your article and am interested if you have a basic book on kb exercises that is available that I can do in my home. I’m 77 years old and I wonder if I’m too old to benefit using kb to increase my strength and flexibility. Thank you for your prompt response. I’m play a lot of golf and I’m interested in increasing my swing speed to acquire more distance in my ball flight off the tee box and in all my golf shots.

  • Tan Rowan

    I love that we can take them pretty much anywhere with us. When I was training for RKC my family was due to go on a family holiday. I was so worried thinking I’d miss too much training. No worries though. My husband surprised me and rang the airline and organised for a kettlebell to come too. He packed it in its own suitcase, threw a band in for my pull up practice and packed a beach towel around it (for my recovery swim! haha). We’d go to a park along the beach and use the bars and train. Such a versatile tool!

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