Why Are Kettlebells So Effective At Getting People In Shape?

An entire gym in your hand.  “Not a single sport develops our muscular strength and bodies as well as kettlebell athletics,” – Russian magazine Hercules, 1913″

While the quote above is nearly 100 years old, it doesn’t lessen the fact that the kettlebell is still one of the most effective, efficient, fast blasting, muscle building, all-around conditioning tools that you can add to your training arsenal.

Kettlebell History:

While it’s probably older, the first recorded use of kettlebells appeared in a Russian dictionary in 1704.

The Russian name for kettlebells are “girya”; thus a “giryavek” is a kettlebell athlete.

The original kettlebells weight was measured in poods.  1 pood=16kg=35lbs

While the American military conditions its troops using calisthenics, the Russian army uses kettlebells.

Old-school Strongmen often used heavy kettlebells.

Since the kettlebell has been rediscovered, and is heavily used by elite military units, martial artists, moms, and regular joes.

Kettlebell Benefits:



Fat loss (kettlebells can burn up to 1200 kcals/hour)

Lean muscle



Total body work

Trunk (core) workout

Strengthen the posterior chain

Strengthen joint mobility

Kettlebell Physics

Check out the shape of a kettlebell – Yep, it looks like a cannonball with a handle.  Due to the way the hand is offset from the bell’s center of gravity, getting the bell where you want it to go requires ballistic (think “throwing”) force.  It’s this ballistic movement that makes training with a kettlebell so unique and effective.

Delving deeper into this, we have to go back to our elementary understanding of Newton’s Three Laws of Motion:

First Law: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

Nothing new here, since this applies to any weighted object that is moved through space.  However, what is unique to the kettlebell is that as it’s swung an “external force needs to be applied to it” to reverse it’s motion, over and over.

Second Law: The relationship between an object’s mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma.

Here’s where it gets exciting (and you thought 6th grade science was boring!) The great thing about kettlebells is that the training load on the body can be varied by the speed at which the force is applied to the kettlebell.  Traditional weight training sees the weight moving in a more-or-less linear, slow to moderately paced movement.  With a kettlebell, we apply quick and violent force on this hunk of iron, then control its return.  Which brings us to…

Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

When you swing (or snatch, or clean, etc) a kettlebell, the forces produced have to be controlled and eventually reversed with an equal amount of force.  This basically doubles the training load and engages the core and you struggle to to stabilize your body.

Now you see what makes kettlebell training so effective.  In short, kettlebell force is produced by the legs and hips, driven through the core and controlled by the shoulders and arms.  In other words, you hit dang near every part of your body in every single movement.

On buying your first set of kettlebells:

Women should start with 15lbs, eventually buy a 25lbs.  Men should start with 25, eventually buy a 35.  Thus, a couple that trains together could be set for awhile by getting 15, 25, and 35 pound bells.  Obviously, as you get stronger, you can buy greater weights.  However, there are plenty of ways to vary the training loads on kettlebells without having to move up in weight.  Herein lies another benefit, your financial outlay is much less for an awesome piece of kit that you can take anywhere.

Why train with kettlebells?

Kettlebells deliver extreme all-around fitness, and it’s arguable that no single other tool does it better.  It can effectively replace: barbells, dumbbells, weight vests, bars, medicine balls, grip devices, and cardio equipment (cardio is boring… grab a kettlebell).  In addition, kettlebell lifts demonstrate the amazing ability to right size your physique.  Thus, if you’re overweight, kettlebells will melt fat and lean you out.  If you’re skinny, they will pack fit and muscle onto your frame.  Indeed, the Kettlebell is a powerful tool for fixing your body composition, whichever way it needs fixing.

That said, kettlebell training is not something you can do while being distracted or staring at a TV screen.  You cannot just throw a kettlebell around or lift it haphazardly.  There are specific postures and skills required for safely and effectively working with kettlebells.  Make sure you work someone who actually knows what they’re doing.