Kettlebells are strange-looking, but that’s part of their appeal. They look like something you might see in a cheesy early-1900s black-and-white film about weight lifting, but that’s probably because they’ve existed for hundreds of years.
Hailing from Russia, these balls of metal with handles on top are used to perform exercises that often appear as foreign as the weights themselves. While they might seem clunky, their odd design actually unlocks a completely new set of movements that dumbbells and barbells can’t provide.
Take kettlebell swings for instance. They’re very simple, but you really don’t want to try doing them with dumbbells. There’s just something about the shape of a kettlebell that makes the motion safe and accessible (not to mention challenging).
Compare a shoulder press with a kettlebell to the same exercise with a dumbbell. When pressing a bell overhead suddenly your torso tightens and you have to brace yourself against the offset weight.
Turkish get-ups and windmills are wicked core exercises that take a while to learn but provide functional strength that few exercises can rival. Then, there are some fast and tricky movements like the kettlebell clean and snatch that make you feel athletic.
Even the short list of exercises mentioned above cover a lot of ground. Kettlebells build hip and hamstring power as well as strength. The same can be said for cleans and snatches. The shoulder press works your upper body, and the Turkish get-up works the upper body and core muscles.
Add in lawnmower rows for your back and you’ve worked just about every major muscle group in your body. Plus, kettlebell exercises force you to balance and fight the awkward pull of the weight.
The design of a kettlebell is what makes it so unique. The handle is off-center from the weight. When you pick up a barbell or dumbbell, your hands are right in the center. That gives you a feeling of control. With kettlebells, the handle is significantly higher than the center of mass.
When you do a deadlift the higher handle is actually helpful because you can lift the weight without reaching all the way to the ground. However, on something like a shoulder press, the weight is pulling your arm away from the center of your body. In this way the kettlebell makes some movements smoother while adding complexity to others.
The handle is also bent, allowing you to use two hands for exercises such as the goblet squat. Think of kettlebell training as its own sport where you have to learn the techniques to reap the benefits. The better you are the more weight you can use, and the faster you’ll build muscle and strength.