Bias declaration. I love kettlebells. There, I said it! So let me just clarify one thing. Resistance training of any kind is great. I don't care if you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter, CrossFitter, kettlebller (is that a word?) or a Calisthenics guru. If you are performing repetitive movements under load you are doing resistance training and you are, therefore, strengthening your bones, muscles and mind and I applaud you! But seeing as Kettlebells are my personal favourite and the tool I use the most with my clients to help them become physically and mentally better versions of themselves, this article will focus on kettlebells, so there!
It's no surprise that strength training makes you stronger, hence the name. But what exactly is strength training? Resistance training is the application of the progressive overload principle. The idea being that is you add resistance or load to movements you make them harder, thus forcing adaptations to strength, However, a lot of people avoid strength training for various reasons. Strength training is often stigmatised as something that only athletes like bodybuilders do. Some people believe lifting weights is bad for them, or that it can injure their selves. Certainly if you try to lift heavier loads than you are adapted to tolerate injuries may occur, but in actual fact, there are far fewer injuries reported due to weight lifting than commonly participated sports like running or cycling, while recreational weight training has an injury frequency ration of 0.0012 per 100 hours of participation, compared with Football (Soccer) which has a ratio of 6.2 per 100 hours.
Anything that makes you stronger is good for you. And no, you won't get 'bulky'. Building serious muscle mass takes a LOT of time and effort. You would need to be in a consistent energy surplus and be training consistently and progressively for an entire year to add just 1-1.5% of body mass for a novice lifter (according to the Alan Aragon Research review).
So if building muscle is hard, why lift weights? I'm glad you asked because the benefits go far beyond how buff you might look on a beach. Lifting weights strengthens your bones and can significantly reduce the likelihood of ageing populations developing conditions like sarcopenia or osteoporosis (1). This means that not only will you have stronger muscles and joints - so likely less joint pain, but you will also be less likely to fall down and never get up again, so resistance training is an essential aspect of longevity.
Longevity, just to be clear, isn't about making you live longer. It's about ensuring that you have a better quality of life during the years you live. But not just weight lifting, any load-bearing exercises including running and jumping-based exercise like plyometrics (2).
But that's not all. in this study (3) 10-weeks of resistance training saw the following changes occur in participants:
So you can see, just by scraping the surface of the vast pool or evidence available to us you can see that resistance training ought to be a non-negotiable for anyone who cares about their health. Sure, you might be new to the idea of this form of exercise and any kind of change is intimidating so just start with something easy, like press ups. By the time you can do 20 full-body press-ups with good form you will be significantly stronger than you are now and can then start adding more load to your workouts.
As I said, my personal preference is for kettlebells so that's what this blog will focus on - other forms of resistance equipment are available.
I was always fascinated by kettlebells but they were rarely available in commercial gyms when I started training so, like most people, I started out using fixed motion resistance machines and cable pulleys before moving on to free weights. That style of training is fine and, barbell training in particular lends itself to maximal strength development, by allowing you to load the main compound movements. Compound movements are multiple-joint movements like squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc. To learn more about training movement patterns read this old blog HERE. The thing is, you want your workouts to be enjoyable so if one type of resistance training doesn't excite you try another. I like lifting barbells and dumbbells but I find kettlebells more interesting, which means I am more likely to pick them up and do the damn workout.
So, as the title says, here are three reasons kettlebells are awesome.
I love the versatility of kettlebell training. You can take a single kettlebell in the car to a park or beach and have a great workout. You could keep a kettlebell at work and do a workout in your lunch break. You could, of course have kettlebells at home so you never have to go to the gym - most gyms have a shitty selection of kettlebells, if they have any at-all! You could use kettlebells to develop aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. You could use kettlebells to build strength or muscle. You could use kettlebells for power development and athletics. You could use kettlebells to improve mobility and agility. You could use them to do all of the above.
I love to get creative with my kettlebells to challenge my body and mind in different ways.
For example, here's a clip of me doing heavy deadlifts with 4, yes FOUR kettlebells!
In my experience endurance athletes often shy away from strength work. I get it, it's not their bag. They are good at Aerobic exercise, they like running, cycling, swimming, etc. If you are competitive you want to maximise the time spent on your training so you focus on doing developing your skill and endurance. Fair. But strength training will make you a better endurance athlete by increasing oxygen economy, carbohydrate tolerance and reducing certain types of injury risks. I have never had an endurance athlete start working with me and, after 6-months, say '"you know what? I've got slower!"
The endurance athletes I have worked with seem to find kettlebells less intimidating that barbells and more enjoyable. Maybe it's because there's a certain ergonomic and dynamic feel to many of the kettlebell exercises. At the very least if you grabbed a 16 or 24kg kettlebell and did swings and goblet squats 2-3 times per week you would notice a big improvement in your durability while running or feeling less neck or back discomfort on the bike during longer rides. You'd find hills easier to get up, sprints would be more explosive, your times would start reducing.
Here's a simple kettlebell workout that would be suitable for most endurance athletes:
Complexes are where you combine multiple movements into a superset style circuit or even chaining them into a flow. These are great to be used as finishers after some heavy lifting. This is where kettlebells could be a great and fun tool for strength athletes who want to add some conditioning work to their routines after doing 3x body weight deadlifts or benching cars. You could use them as a workout on their ow, either to save time or just for a bit of conditioning and to make life fun. Besides, they look cool on your Instagram feed, which as we all know id the most important thing in life.
Complexes and flows do require a certain level of technical competence and confidence so are not suitable for beginners. Don't just search for 'kettlebell complexes' online and then copy one without first practicing the technique of each individual movement. The swing clean (or Hardstyle clean as it's sometimes called) is integral to linking different exercises together without putting the bell down. This is why I always coach my clients to master the clean, once they have got to grips with the basics and built a decent base of strength and stability.
Here's an example of what a simple complex might be. Single arm deadlift - clean - OH Press - Rack squat - single arm swing. To perform this you would need to select a weight that you can comfortably press overhead for reps. The you choose a rep range for each exercise and complete the desired amount of reps before linking to the next movement, you will then swap hands and repeat on the other side without putting the kettlebell down. It will get the heart rate up and flood your brain with endorphins, while you rest between sets.
Click here to see an example of a kettlebell complex.
A flow, on the other hand, is slightly different. You usually link exercises together into a dance-like flow. You would typically do this with a lighter kettlebell. It's more about exploring flow movements and mindfulness. It fun to finish a workout with a flow or even to start the day with one. They're just fun and if you're not having fun while working out then what the hell are you doing? Here's an example of a flow.
The above examples are to demonstrate where you could get to if you invested some time into skills development. This is an important attitude to adopt where fitness is concerned. Too many people look at something that is new to them and think "oh that's too hard, I'll never do that!" Do you think Jimi Hendrix thought that when he first picked up a guitar? No, he wanted to get better so he practiced. Actually, that might not be a good example, I mean he was self-taught and learned to to play the guitar upside down FFS! But what I want you to realise is, that everyone has to start somewhere, and the best place to start is at the beginning.
The take-home from that is, if you see something that looks difficult now, imagine how you will feel doing it a year from now after months of practice? THAT is how we approach fitness. It requires a growth mindset. Acknowledge where you are now, decide where you want to be and then set a timeline for getting there. Trust me, the journey to achieving a new level of skill and mastery is very rewarding!
Kettlebell training might not be to everyone's taste but there are many possible applications for it and if, like me, you enjoy the style of training enough it can be a very effective method for resistance training that can concurrently develop strength, power and cardiovascular conditioning. Ideal for endurance athletes and trainees of any age or gender. Because there is a very specific technical aspect to many of the more unique kettlebell exercises one should really consider hiring a coach to help you develop the correct technique and form and to learn how to effectively program your training for best outcomes.
If you are interested in making kettlebell training a part of your health-seeking lifestyle and you don't happen to be close enough to come and see me in person you might try my online training program for men Kettlebells & Beers or contact me to ask about 1:1 online coaching.
For those of you on a budget I also have my Patreon account that currently has more than 35 workouts ranging from kettlebell specific routines to power lifting, marathon training and even some stationary bike workouts. In add to the training library every month and it only costs you £5 a month to become a member.
Right, self-promotion done. Go forth and swing some kettlebells.
1. Hong AR, Kim SW. Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health. Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2018 Dec;33(4):435-444. doi: 10.3803/EnM.2018.33.4.435. PMID: 30513557; PMCID: PMC6279907.
2. Saavedra, Francisco. (2023). Strength Training, Quality of Life, and Health in Elderly. 10.5772/intechopen.109026.
3. Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012 Jul-Aug;11(4):209-16. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8. PMID: 22777332.