Put the kettle on and power up your training

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer

Every few years, a new piece of fitness equipment appears on the exercise scene; and before we know it, a new phenomenon seems to spring up in gyms all over the country.  Sure, we have seen many of these fad items come and go, fading into fitness history right alongside Jane Fonda’s ubiquitous leg-warmers. The kettlebell, however, seems to be gaining a legitimate stronghold in the industry, and perhaps deserves a closer inspection.

Kettlebells have actually been in use for centuries. Their origin is still a matter of speculation, but archaeological records show evidence of their use in Ancient Greece. Kettlebells made their way to Russia at the beginning of the 18th century; at that time, the kettlebell just happened to be used as a weight to measure grains and other goods. However, given that the Russian culture viewed strength as a highly desirable quality, vendors at street fairs started swinging and lifting kettlebells to demonstrate their strength, and quickly came to recognize the health benefits related to this activity. 

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The most common debate with regard to kettlebell training is how it might differ from a traditional resistance workout that utilizes dumbbells.  The similarities are easily recognizable: both are considered “free weights” since they remain untethered during exercise, and the user must be able to lift, pull and push them during a routine. Both dumbbells and kettlebells are designed in various weight increments. 2 dumbbells are typically used during traditional weight training (one for each arm), whereas exercisers don’t typically employ more than one kettlebell during a strength workout.

The true difference between kettlebell use and more traditional forms of strength training lies in one’s center of gravity, which is constantly changing during a kettlebell workout.  This creates the potential for improvements in balance, flexibility, core stabilization and endurance.  Since a typical kettlebell exercise results in a greater increase in heart rate than strength training with dumbbells, a higher number of calories can be expended in an equivalent period of time.

Training with dumbbells offers the benefit of allowing one to hone in on one  particular muscle at a time (for example, the bicep or the deltoids), with the intent of inducing hypertrophy, or growth of muscle fibers.  Kettlebell workouts utilize many muscles and joints simultaneously, thereby enhancing coordination. This can prove beneficial for many activities of daily living.

As a dedicated strength-training athlete for over a dozen years, I admit to being partial to dumbbells and barbells.  However, I certainly recognize the benefits of the kettlebell, and with proper professional instruction, would recommend its incorporation into your workouts.