Combining HIIT with kettlebell training builds muscle and endurance at the same time. Kettlebell training uses high speed, ballistic motions that derive power from the hips and legs, while sparing and stabilizing the back. Whole-body movements require carefully choreographed control patterns from the nervous system that build muscles functionally— the way we use them in sports and in life.
Most kettlebell movements start from the basic athletic position, with knees bent, hips back, arms forward, chest out, and spine and head neutral. Kettlebell exercises build strength from this position, which transfers to almost everything we do. Basic kettlebell exercises will give you a pile driver golf swing, increase your vertical jump, and boost strength and power that will transfer to any movement.
Unlike dumbbells, the kettlebell weight is located at the end of the handle, instead of on either side of it. The kettlebell design allows you to do high-speed ballistic exercises with a pendulum-like action. Many kettlebell exercises, such as swings, snatches, and cleans require high-speed eccentric muscle contractions, which produce surprisingly high muscle forces. High-speed eccentric training develops whole-body fitness rapidly, with little or no muscle soreness.
Even though kettlebell training has been around for more than 150 years, scientists are only beginning to study this remarkable form of exercise. Recently, Chico State biomechanics professor Dr. Chengtu Hsieh and I studied ground reaction forces during the principle kettlebell exercises— the one- and two-arm swing, and one-arm snatch. Most of the muscle loading occurred during the downward phase of the swing (eccentric phase). The weight of the kettlebell increased by four times during each swing, which is far greater than traditional weight training.
Kettlebell workouts involve few exercises and don’t take very long, but they’re not easy. Doing 5 to 6 sets of 20 or 30 kettlebell swings or snatches with minimal rest is like riding a bull at the rodeo. Your thighs, glutes, and abs burn as you try to control a pendulating weight moving at high speed. The muscles of your upper back, shoulders, chest, lower legs, and spine contract and relax to provide stability during these dynamic exercises. Kettlebells are for you if you want impressive results in a short time and are willing to work hard. Water aerobics, yoga, and step classes might be easier and more civilized, but they won’t turn you into a block of human steel the way kettlebells will.
The principal kettlebell exercises— the swing and one-arm snatch— are highly ballistic and involve concentric, eccentric, and static muscle contractions from different muscle groups. Muscles contract concentrically when they shorten as they exert force. Examples include the active phase of standard exercises such as the biceps curl and bench press. Muscles contract eccentrically when they lengthen as they exert force. Lowering the weight to the chest during a bench press is an example of an eccentric movement. Static contractions develop force without changing muscle length. During any motion, some muscles contract concentrically to cause the movement; other muscles contract eccentrically to control the movement; while other muscles contract statically to stabilize the motion. Most standard weight training programs concentrate on concentric contractions and largely ignore eccentric and static contractions.
Muscles can exert much more force eccentrically than concentrically. Also, the absolute force during eccentric contractions increases with velocity. In other words, you can overload muscles better training at high speeds then at slower speeds. Kettlebell training works the muscles dynamically in a way that builds strength and fitness while minimizing joint loads.
High-speed ballistic kettlebell training involving concentric, eccentric, and static contractions increases muscle mass and strength at an incredibly fast rate. Canadian researchers, led by Tim Shepstone, found that high-speed training increased muscle cross-sectional area and the size of fast-twitch motor units (muscle fibers and their nerve) better than slow-speed training. High-speed contractions caused greater disruption at the cell level which promoted muscle protein synthesis and caused larger increases in muscle mass and strength.
Kettlebells build aerobic fitness and promote weight loss. Kettlebell workouts are closer to interval training than standard weight training. The principle exercises (two- and one-arm swings and one-arm snatches) are practiced continuously and intensely, using high reps. This causes whole-body stresses that more closely resemble repeated 400-meter sprints than standard weight training exercises (e.g., bench presses and squats). Kettlebell training creates metabolic stress that increases cell structures called mitochondria that build endurance and stress the heart so that it can pump more blood.
Kettlebell training programs promote weight loss. As discussed, many recent studies have shown the power of high-intensity interval training for increasing metabolic rate and reducing body fat. Kettlebell workouts are consistent with the kinds of exercises that produced rapid weight loss while maintaining muscle mass. Combining high-intensity interval training with kettlebells will build muscle mass and endurance quickly and effectively with a minimal time commitment. This program is not for wimps, but the pain doesn’t last long. You will be amazed by the results.
Pavel Tsatsouline, a former physical training instructor for the Soviet Special Forces and a nationally-ranked kettlebell competitor in the former Soviet Union, popularized kettlebell training in the United States. He elevated it from an obscure, quaint training method of ancient athletes to a wildly popular form of exercise that has applications for people ranging from elite athletes to elderly people in nursing homes (see www.dragondoor.com). He described the elegance of kettlebell training: “You do not need incredible amounts of gear or elaborate venues; just one bell, one man, and a lot of green grass.”
You don’t need a rack full of kettlebells to get a good workout— start with one. Pavel recommends the following kettlebells for men and women:
|Choosing the Right Kettlebell|
|You||Your First Kettlebell||Recommended Set (after you get hooked)|
|Average Man||35 pounds||35, 44, 53, 70 pounds|
|Strong Man||44 pounds||44, 53, 70 pounds|
|Strength Athlete||53 pounds||53, 70, 88 pounds|
|Average Woman||18 pounds||18, 26, 35 pounds|
|Strong Woman||26 pounds||26, 35, 44 pounds|