Kettlebells 101

Put down the dumbbells and grab their cannonball-like cousins for your next compound-movement workout.
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Kettlebell 101

Kettlebell & Flow coaches Marcus Martinez and Venus Lau

If you’ve spent some time in the gym, you’ve no doubt seen (and probably participated in) a few basic kettlebell exercises — the conventional swing, single-leg deadlifts and maybe a farmer’s walk. But kettlebells offer so much more versatility in your workouts than just these moves and plenty of other benefits, as well, including: 

  1. Nonstop movement. When it comes to conditioning workouts, the anatomy of a kettlebell allows for a variety of hand transitions. Since you don’t have to pause and reset your weights, this allows you to do nonstop circuits and keep your heart rate up. Since there’s no real uncomfortable position to put the bells in, you can keep them in the rack position or overhead so that you can always keep moving.
  2. Stability builder. For strength workouts, kettlebells build strength from an angle you won’t get using a balanced tool. Their offset center of gravity pulls you in a different direction, which adds variety to your movement pattern and forces your muscles to fire differently. Your goal is to create stability with a tool that’s trying to pull you in different directions.
  3. Power and strength. Believe it or not, most people don’t know how to use their entire body to do exercises — they are used to singular exercises that don’t move from one position to another position. In contrast, a full-body kettlebell workout provides the most bang for your buck when it comes to building strength quickly because you can incorporate ballistic (explosive) work with cardio.

When we work with clients who are new to kettlebells, they typically start the session feeling a bit intimidated and with quite a few “how-to” questions on their minds. Here are our answers to the most common questions we hear:

How Do I Grip a Kettlebell? 

Hold a kettlebell as if you’re holding a bird — not so tight that you’ll crush it but not so loose that it’ll fly away. You want it to be able to move seamlessly in your hand, without creating too much friction because that’s how you’ll rip up your hands. For sports buffs, another way to think about it is how you would grip a tennis racket or golf club. You’re swinging it around, so it needs to be mobile enough but grippy enough, too. It’s also important to be able to control your grip strength because it’s connected to all your other movements.

What Should I Expect With My First Kettlebell Workout? 

Full disclosure: There’s a small learning curve to kettlebells, but once you understand how to use this tool, you’ll really feel the difference in your body. The first time someone picks up a kettlebell, they usually say, “I can’t curl this!” That’s OK — it’s not about a single-joint movement because you’re going to be using your whole body.

So the first thing you should do is learn how to pick up a kettlebell properly (flat back, bend knees, squat and grab) so you’ll feel comfortable doing so in between sets. Next, because it’s important to understand positions and tension, we have everyone practice holding the rack position (the handle should be slightly diagonal angling across your palm and down toward the pinkie side of your wrist, keep your wrist in a neutral position, and maintain vertical alignment of your forearm), which is the foundation for many moves. Finally, you’ll practice the overhead position. (Your forearm muscles should be relaxed, so you may need to push your fingers farther through the handle.)

This upfront work may seem tedious, but it will help you develop a strong foundation for proper form and build the awareness of the mechanics of these basic positions. Once you’ve mastered the essentials, then you can start doing windmills, presses, snatches and cleans. But initially, go slow and steady, and focus on static, then controlled, then ballistic movements.

How Heavy Should I Lift? 

While you’ll have to play around to find the right weight for your workouts, here’s a general guideline on how to start finding the right size: Typically, if a woman can do 10 solid push-ups, then she can use a 26-pound bell; if she can do a plank for a minute, she can use an 18-pound bell. Thankfully, kettlebells have advanced over the years — they used to only come in increments of 18 pounds, but you can now find them in every 2 pounds or so, which makes it easier to move up in weight as needed without too much of a shock to your system.

We think kettlebells are not only a really fun tool in the gym but also incredibly time-efficient — with a little practice, you’ll be a kettlebell pro in no time.

Looking to challenge your body from multiple angles, including strength, athleticism, balance, mobility, coordination and power? This summer, we are pairing movement specialist and certified trainer Venus Lau with master kettlebell trainer Marcus Martinez for a series of 30-minute Kettlebell & Flow workouts that will train both your mind and body. 

So what are you waiting for? This high-octane program designed exclusively for Oxygen is guaranteed to build incredible resilience, strength, and body awareness — so switch things up by choosing kettlebells over dumbbells this summer! Join Kettlebell & Flow today.

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