I ALWAYS thought kettlebells were the domain of grunting, heavily-built men, but after a one-on-one kettlebell session with a personal trainer I realised that those were misconceptions.
Not only were the only clients I saw there women, but the weight I used for my first workout was only 8kg.
Kettlebells win fans because of the range of different exercises you can do with them, and the fact that lots of different muscle groups can be worked at once. That efficiency means kettlebell devotees see reasonably quick results, and improve their cardiovascular fitness as well as their strength.
The bells, which look a bit like a canonball with a handle on top, are thought to have originated as weights used by Russian farmers hundreds of years ago. They were then adopted for use by people training for strongmen competitions at the beginning of last century.
Trainer Mike Capper, owner of Kettlebells NZ, says: "Kettlebells were often used by strongmen to exercise with and have been used for strength training and exercise since."
They usually vary in weight between 8 and 48kg. Most men start with a kettlebell of 16kg.
Capper says he's a fan of the weights because of their adaptability. "[They] allow you to do a resistance and aerobic/anaerobic-type workout with one simple piece of equipment and get very fast results. Also, because you use your whole body doing both slow and quick exercise lifts through a full range of movements, you develop functional, useful fitness that transfers over to both sports and real life along with a toned trim look without bulky muscles or a loss of flexibility."
He says kettlebells offer an unlimited number of exercises.
Exercises like the swing and snatch are good for fitness and fat loss, and develop the hamstrings, back and core muscles. There is a big emphasis on posture and technique. Jim Chambers, who has been using kettlebells for a couple of years, says he's noticed his shoulders are no longer hunched and he stands taller. They are also easier on joints than other types of weight training.
"[They're] very good for doing circuits or combinations of exercises together which means you can compress your workout. Because you often use one arm and the weight is off centre, kettlebells are very good at developing the core and functional strength," says Capper.
I only spent half an hour working out with kettlebells in my first sessions but all the exercises went directly to the muscles they were intended for. Rather than focusing on lifting heavier weights, we worked on keeping my shoulders strong and my weight evenly distributed. There was no chance to compensate for some muscles' weakness with the strength of others.
I left feeling shaky in muscles I didn't know I had. Kettlebell training is worth trying if you are looking for a different way to build strength - even if you bear no resemblance to a Russian strongman.
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