My New Buddy The Kettlebell

kettlebellsIt has been a very busy summer with far too much time spent in front of a computer and not enough time out and about having fun. Looking for a quick workout fix that I could indulge in at the end of the day or even in a short break away from the desk and under the influence of a Tim Ferris podcast interview with Pavel Tsatsouline, I purchased a set of kettlebells and embarked on Pavel’s Simple and sinister programme.

As someone who has always done outdoor sports (i.e. I like being outside) and avoided classic gym and weights work (i.e. I avoid being inside) the kettlebell and the related exercises have been a revelation in that they feel like real functional movements that work a variety of body parts and as a quick hit they really get the heart and muscles working quickly to rapidly dispel that stiff, hunched up body feeling from being bent over a computer for hours on end.

Based on my experience of following the programme and also discussing the exercises with our expert clinician Neil here are my tips for anyone else wishing to experiment with kettlebells.

Kettlebells, which and how many?

Deciding which model of kettlebell and what weights to buy is the first step. I went for 8, 12, 16 & 20kg and bought the cheapest models I could find on Amazon (nothing fancy… just plain black cast iron) which have proven more than adequate. I very quickly moved beyond the 8kg size but it was a very useful weight to initially get to grips with the Turkish get up movement, so I can’t recommend missing out this size.

The exercises are simple but getting them right is key

The Simple and sinister programme is based on only two kettlebell exercises (it certainly is simple!), the Kettlebell swing (2 handed and 1 handed) and the Turkish get up. They appear to be very simple but there are mistakes that can be made with both which could lead to injury, particularly as the weights involved are increased. When you first embark on any weight programme start with the smallest weight and really ensure you are using good form before progressing.

The swing – ensure the drive comes from the legs and glutes and not from the lower back. Really tense the core and glutes at the top of the swing to prevent over extension and do not swing the kettlebell above shoulder height.

The getup – start with low weights and perform the movement very slowly ensuring you could stop, pause and even reverse the movement at any point. Make sure you are absolutely in control at the current weight before you increase the load. Even then progress incrementally by introducing a single rep at a higher weight into your set. Form becomes dramatically more important as the weight is increased and you will convince yourself you have good form with a low weight but you will then quickly discover flaws in your form when you increase the weight… so take care and progress slowly.

The exercise isn’t over until the kettlebell is parked on the ground!

When swinging or finishing a getup there is a tendency to relax before the final rep has been completed. Don’t! Keep your focus and your body fully engaged until that kettlebell is safely parked back on the ground otherwise your shins and toes may be in the firing line!

Warming up is important

The simple and sinister programme comes with a equally simple warm up. Perhaps I am showing my age, but I find I perform better if I do a longer warm up with a greater variety of activities (e.g. figure eights, squats, press ups) before starting the workout proper. Then warm up for the kettlebell exercises themselves with a couple of reps using a smaller weight to tell your body what’s coming next.

Your kettlebell is a portable gym

When travelling with work or on holiday it is easy to slip a single kettlebell into the car and you can do your workout pretty much anywhere. I’ve found my 12kg kettlebell is now a key item to be packed on car travels. Obviously taking your kettlebell when flying or using public transport is a lot more difficult. In these scenarios you can create a kettlebell of sorts using a travel bag loaded with heavy items (books, bottles of water, laptops etc). You can now even purchase portable kettlebell bags that you can fill with water or sand wherever you end up.

Final word

I do love my kettlebells and now do my best make these exercises a part of my regular routine, however with the ski season now looming the SkiFit programme will soon take precedence. Great though they are, the kettlebells can’t replace the ski specific exercises in this programme and get my body ready for the demands of the winter. However I am hoping a summer of get ups and swings will make the SkiFit core exercises a little less challenging this year!

Tony Lowe