What’s so special about kettlebells anyway?

What’s so special about kettlebells anyway?

Seven (Dogma-free) reasons why kettlebell training will help you reach your fitness goals

At Catalyst, we use a variety of equipment and modalities to help our members reach their fitness goals: barbells, TRX, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, bodyweight movements, Functional Movement Systems; the list goes on and on. Yet, there’s just one piece of fitness equipment in our logo – the kettlebell. 

Why is this? What’s so special about a kettlebell anyway? 

Truth be told, there’s nothing magical about a “cannonball with a handle.” Though some devotees might have us believe otherwise (the kettlebell has attracted more dogma and cult mentality than any other fitness implement I know of), the kettlebell is nothing more than a tool, and like most tools, can be used for both harm and good. However, the kettlebell does have some unique applications that set it apart from other implements we use. 

1. Variety of grips allow for better training of “Authentic Human Movement”: One of the most interesting things about a kettlebell is how many ways it can be held. As opposed to a dumbbell, which can only be held by the handle, the kettlebell can be used from a variety of positions. See the photos below. 

This variety of positions lends itself particularly well to training authentic human movement – the movements humans do naturally, across a multitude of cultures, time periods, and geographies. For example, you don’t need to teach a baby how to crawl, and humans since the dawn of time have used the deep squat as a resting position.

Within the context of fitness, this means that kettlebells allow us to find just the right way to hold the weight to best preserve natural movement patterns, and get strong within the context of those movement patterns. 

2. Ease of unilateral movements: Unilateral movement is crucial to developing left/right balance, and by extension, to avoiding injury. Being stronger on your left side vs. the right side, or vice versa, is one of the surest ways to trouble. Kettlebells provide a variety of movements that use the left and right sides differently, giving us a chance to even ourselves out.

3. The Kettlebell Swing: The KB swing is such a special movement that it deserves its own bullet point here. When I first started swinging kettlebells, it completely changed my concept of fitness. The KB swing allows for incredible power production, and since each swing ends where the next one begins, you can continuously swing a kettlebell for multiple reps without stopping. This allows for massive power output in a short amount of time, which torches fat unlike any other exercise I’m currently aware of.

Contrast this to barbell movements – even if you’re doing an high rep set, there will still be a point at which the barbell rests on the ground, or even in your hands. You can’t swing a barbell back between your legs (if you can, please send us a video :) 

Point of caution: Kettlebells swings done properly are one of the best exercises known to man—they will bulletproof your lower back, build a strong core, and burn fat like a furnace. Kettlebell swings done IMPROPERLY are one of the quickest routes to injury. If you’re unsure on how to perform this powerhouse movement, seek professional guidance. 

4. Relatively easy to learn and perform: One of the major reasons we love kettlebells at Catalyst is because they are relatively easy to learn. Probably because most of the movements are based on real human movement (see #1), the learning curve is much smaller than, especially under the guidance of a skilled instructor. 

5. Versatile: The versatility of the kettlebell is unmatched. We’ve touched on this point throughout this article, but it’s worth stating directly. The kettlebell can be used for pushing, pulling, swinging, holding as a counterweight, holding isometrically with a single arm (armbars or get-ups, for example), and the list goes on and on. 

The other day someone asked me why our gym doesn’t have dumbbells. While I do love dumbbells, my answer was “Everything you can do with a dumbbell you can do with a kettlebell, but that’s not true in reverse.”

6. Power endurance: Kettlebells allow us to bridge the gap between strength and endurance. Their versatility lets us perform circuits or chains without ever setting the kettlebell down. And, since the technique is relatively straightforward, we can perform “power” movements like the kettlebell swing for very high repetitions without as much concern for degradation of technique. 

For example, if one were to perform 50 clean & jerks with a barbell as quickly as possible, it’s almost certain that technique would start to breakdown towards the end of that workout, save for the most advanced of advanced weightlifters. By contrast, someone who has a basic proficiency with the kettlebell swing could certainly perform 50 repetitions of kettlebell swing, with the 50th rep looking nearly as clean as the first.

7. Offset weight allows for optimal shoulder position in overhead lifting: One of the challenges with holding a barbell or dumbbell overhead is that it can be challenging, especially for beginners, to get into the right position. You’ll see bent elbows, incomplete extension of the thoracic spine, and a variety of compensations as the lifter struggles to stabilize the weight overhead. 

Holding a kettlebell overhead puts the shoulder in a uniquely beneficial position. While of course it’s still possible for the lifter to compensate, with the weight behind the hand, it’s much easier for the athlete to find a perfect vertical arm position. This position will build proper mobility and stability in the shoulder, scapula, thoracic spine, and core. 

Even a beginner will be able to intuitively feel these benefits of holding a kettlebell overhead, and I’ve had many clients put a kettlebell overhead for the first time and remark on how stable and comfortable the kettlebell feels. This benefit is one you’ve got to feel to understand fully. 

Request information

Inquire about Costs and Availability