Originally from Russia, kettlebells — those rubber-covered metal weights with handles found in the free-weights section of most gyms — are gaining popularity in the United States, thanks to their ability to torch calories and increase strength in short order.
“Kettlebells are an effective fitness exercise because you’re using your whole body in interval-training fashion,” says Mark Reifkind, owner of Girya Russian Kettlebells in Palo Alto, Calif. Interval training is exercise that alternates between spurts of intense exercise to get your heart rate way up for a short time and more moderately paced intervals to bring it back down. Numerous studies have found that these short burst of intensity can do more to increase your strength, endurance, and calorie burn than longer periods of more moderate exercise.
It’s best to receive hands-on kettlebell instruction for your first time, but if you do want to try it on your own and your doctor has approved you for exercise, get started with these nine total-body toning moves.
This beginner’s move is from Jeff Martone, author of Kettlebell Rx, a 300-page step-by-step guide to using kettlebells.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Center the kettlebell between your feet, toes facing straight out. The kettlebell handle should be in line with the base of your toes.
2. Fold at the hips, shifting your weight to your heels. Look out, not up. Secure a two-handed grip on the kettlebell, keeping your arms straight.
3. Inhale through your nose, and tighten your abs and glutes. Fold at the hips by contracting your hip flexors and hike the kettlebell back between your legs.
4. As the kettlebell reaches the end of the back swing, drive through your heels and extend your legs, hips, and back until you are in the upright position. This action should launch the kettlebell to chest or eye level. Perform a set of 10 swings. Start with very low swings and gradually build up the height with every rep, Martone says.
This exercise should be performed at as fast a speed as jumping rope.
1. Stand with your feet wider than your hips, toes slightly out. Place two hands on the handle of your kettlebell and hang it between your legs.
2. Bend your knees and hips as in a squat. Then quickly straighten them, lifting the kettlebell.
3. Shrug your shoulders to pull the kettlebell straight up to chest height. Make sure your elbows are above your wrist when the kettlebell is in the top position.
4. Allow the kettlebell to quickly return to the starting position. Keep your arms straight. Bend your knees and hips to absorb the weight of the dropping kettlebell. Repeat rhythmically and at a fast pace for 10 seamless repetitions.
1. Repeat steps 1-3 of the single-arm vertical pull.
2. Then, instead of completing all reps on the same arm before switching to the other arm, change hands at the bottom of the movement. Repeat with the other arm. Repeat rhythmically and at a fast pace for 10 repetitions, switching arms each time.
1. Start in the double-arm vertical pull position, but with your feet shoulder-width apart.
2. Slightly bend your knees and bend forward at the hips while maintaining the arch in your lower back.
3. Quickly straighten your knees and thrust your hips forward to make the kettlebell swing forward and up to shoulder height. “It may take a few swings to get enough momentum to achieve the desired height of the kettlebell,” Metzo notes.
4. Allow the kettlebell to quickly swing back between your legs and slightly behind you. Repeat rhythmically and at a fast pace for 10 flowing repetitions.
1. Repeat steps 1-4 of the double-arm swing.
2. Once the kettlebell swings back between your legs and slightly behind you, swing again and step the right foot backward, followed by the left foot.
3. Repeat the swing, forward step, forward step, and the swing, step back, step back rhythmically and at a fast pace for 10 repetitions. The repetitions should flow together.
Benefits: Like the double-arm swing, this exercise will strengthen and tone your posterior. The foot movements help to develop timing while the hip “snap” activates your glutes.
1. Repeat steps 1-3 of the double-arm swing.
2. When the kettlebell is in the up position, step your right foot in toward your left foot and then step the left away quickly so that your feet are apart before the kettlebell comes down.
3. Allow the kettlebell to quickly swing back between your legs and slightly behind you.
4. Now step the left foot in when the kettlebell is up, and your right foot out before it comes back down.
5. Swing up, step together and then apart, as the bell comes down. Repeat rhythmically and at a fast pace for 10 flowing repetitions.
Benefits: A stronger, more toned posterior, plus inner and outer thigh toning.
For this exercise, you’ll put the kettlebell in the “rack” position — held against the chest with the hand through the handle, and the kettlebell resting on the outside of your forearm and biceps. Your wrist should be straight and the kettlebell handle on a diagonal from the web of the thumb to the heel of the hand.
1. Start with your feet outside your hips, toes slightly out, and the kettlebell in the rack position described above.
2. Bend your knees and hips as though doing a squat.
3. Quickly straighten them like you’re jumping. Follow by straightening your arm so that the kettlebell is held overhead.
4. Allow the kettlebell to quickly return to the starting rack position. Bend your knees and hips to absorb the weight of the dropping kettlebell. Repeat rhythmically and at a fast pace for 10 repetitions on each side.
Benefits: Stronger legs and arms. “It teaches us to transfer force from the lower body to the upper body, and it revs up the heart rate,” Metzo says.
1. Start with your right foot forward and left foot back. Bend your right knee. Hold the kettlebell in your left hand. Put your right hand or elbow on your front knee.
2. Straighten your arm and hang the kettlebell toward the floor.
3. Pull the kettlebell up and toward your hip to get a full movement at your shoulder as well as your elbow.
4. Repeat with your left foot forward and your right foot back. Repeat for 10 repetitions on each side.
Benefits: Stronger shoulders and pulling muscles. “In any exercise program, it’s important to strengthen the body evenly,” Metzo notes.
1. Stand on your right foot with the kettlebell hanging in your left hand. Imagine a straight line between your back foot and head.
2. Arch your lower back. Bend forward from the hip and lower the kettlebell while swinging your left foot back. You can bend your right knee slightly, but make sure your hips/pelvis stay parallel to the front.
3. Repeat standing on your left foot and holding the kettlebell in your right hand. Repeat 5 times on each side.
Benefits: Stronger back, hamstrings, and glutes. It also improves balance and the integrity of your hip joints.
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