Kettlebells? Why?



I never thought I'd be a staunch advocate for kettlebells.

For one, they look like cannonballs.

Second, if I learned anything from "Rocky IV," don't trust the Eastern Bloc.

And third, nothing makes my ears sing like the melodious crashing of heavy barbells.

But here I am, penning (er, typing) exactly a post on that. How did I get here?

It's easy to cite many of the pro-kettlebell reasons you'll find on Google: they're small(ish) and versatile; they're great for being efficient with your time; with proper instruction they can build strength, mobility, and improve your conditioning; every exercise with a bell is a full body exercise.

But after 5+ years in the industry and coaching hundreds of people, I'm going to try to boil it down to two main points.

1. Kettlebells allow for alternating and reciprocating movements.

People will often ask if there's any exercise (or modes of exercise) that I hate.  I truly believe that there's no such thing as a bad exercise. But there IS such a thing as a bad exercise for you, based on your movement, mobility, goals, athletic and injury history. Let me explain.

With a high prevalence of desk jobs - and Netflix constantly putting out several different reasons to stay on the couch - many people don't get as much movement as they require. Add in someone's likely list of previous injuries and mobility restrictions, and it creates a lot of rigidity in our bodies, particularly in someone's thorax.  This problem can often be exacerbated by traditional, gainz-seeking exercises - back squatting, bench pressing, and dare I say, deadlifting?  Our bodies adapt to these movements by making our rib cage and thorax even stiffer, contributing to back and shoulder problems, neck pain, and even lower limb and hip issues.

Many of the main kettlebell movements - especially those with only one bell - avoid this trap by allowing the rib cage and our thorax to move. The Turkish Get-up, Single Bell Racked Squat, One Handed Deadlift, Single Leg Deadlift, and Kettlebell Windmill are the first few to come to mind and there are plenty more.  These movements allow for multiple planes of movement and introduce alternating patterns, rather than what one typically gets from a barbell.

At the same time, kettlebells and barbells are not mutually exclusive. They work together in building a more resilient, stronger body.  We have 136 joints in our thorax.  It IS designed to move. But sometimes we need to take a step back before we take a giant leap forward.

2. They encourage skills, not a workout.

I still remember the first time I saw a beautifully performed kettlebell swing.  It looked simple, athletic, powerful, and graceful.  It was devoid of inefficient movement.  But most of all, there was a mystique about the kettlebell that I couldn't shake.

Then I tried the kettlebell swing. Monkey see, monkey do.  And, well, this monkey was a massive failure. 

And while I'm thankful I don't have video of my first few swings - with absolutely no instruction, of course - I've greatly improved since.  Through this continual improvement, the biggest lesson the kettlebell has taught me is to chase your skills, rather than chasing a workout.

Because if you're just chasing a workout, you'll end up with a workout. You may not know if you're actually improving any qualities. But you'll sweat and sweat, and if you've been in North Carolina over the past few weeks, you'll sweat some more.

But if you chase your skills - a more efficient and safer swing; prioritizing what you can squat, press, or TGU - you'll still get your workout, but much more.  You'll develop the strength, conditioning, athleticism, and grace it takes to master the basic movements. You'll know if you're making progress. If not? You'll know what you need to clean up, as kettlebells teach with a big stick.  

And that's when the fun begins.