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Kettlebells For Beginners – What, Why, and How To Get Started
Are you getting started using kettlebells but you don’t really know where to start or what you should even know before using them?
In this article, which was wonderfully written by one of our Dark Iron Fitness writers Tina Ngai, we explain everything a beginner should know and might have questions about when it comes to using kettlebells.
By the end of this article you’ll be walking away with the knowledge of a fully certified kettlebell swinger ready to swing away ;)
Also if you’re going to start working out with kettle bells or you already are then I highly recommend:
Once you join you can get 10% off our genuine leather wrist wrap guards for kettlebell workouts.
A good pair of high quality kettle bell wrist guards like these keep the kettle bells from banging into your wrists during exercises.
Aside from that, I hope you enjoy this introduction beginners guide to kettle bells
This comprehensive beginners guide for kettle bells is broken down into 9 sections below:
- 1.) An Introduction to Kettlebells
- 2.) Benefits of Kettlebell Swings and Kettlebell exercises
- 3.) Kettlebell Before and After – Why You Should Add Kettlebells To Your Work Out
- 4.) What Kettlebell To Buy? – The Different Types of Kettlebells
- 5.) Best Weight for Kettlebell – What Kettlebell To Start With
- 6.) How Much Do Kettlebells Cost?
- 7.) Kettlebell Workout for Beginners – Types of Exercises
- 8.) Kettlebell Workout Form for Beginners
- 9.) Getting Started Using Kettlebells For A Beginner – Final Thoughts
These sections are best read in order but feel free to jump around to the information you’re specifically looking for Enjoy ;)
1.) An Introduction to Kettlebells
A kettlebell is a cast iron weight shaped like a bowling ball with a thick suitcase-style handle.
It can range in weight from 4kg (9 lbs) to 48kg (106 lbs). Kettlebells first appeared in Russia over 100 years ago., and were used in fairs and markets to balance scales when weighing heavy objects.
The Russian military began using them within their training regime because they work the bodies’ energy systems simultaneously.
Kettlebells come in ‘poods’.
A pood is an old Russian measure of weight, which equals 16kg, or roughly 35 lbs.
In terms of weight lifting equipment kettlebells gained popularity in the east while dumbbells went to the west!
If you want a little more in-depth information on the origins to kettle bells you can check out the Wikipedia page on kettle bells that has a lot of cool information and facts about kettle bells
2.) Benefits of Kettlebell Swings and Kettlebell Exercises
The picture above is brought to you by Human Kinetics. They actually have pretty decent article on the benefits of kettle bells that can get you some extra additional information.
MAIN MUSCLES BENEFITED DURING KETTLEBELL SWINGS:
Core: Most kettlebell workouts include squats, lunges, crunches, and other moves that work your abs and entire core.
Arms: Great for arm exercises like single-arm rows and shoulder presses.
Legs: Lunges and squats are some of the most popular moves in a kettlebell workout.
Glutes: Tighten and tone by using the kettlebell for added weight during lunges and squats.
Back: tone your back muscles when you use a kettlebell for dead lifts.
Flexibility: Adding kettlebells will improve your flexibility.
Aerobic: Your heart rate will increase with this high-intensity workout.
Strength: The kettlebell will effectively and efficiently help build muscle strength.
Weight bearing exercises increase bone density and make the muscles in the body stronger.
This is important for people of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels. Kettlebell workouts offer a great deal of flexibility.
You can include a few of the moves in your own workout or do a dedicated kettlebell workout a few times a week.
With older athletes, or people who are just starting a workout program, focusing on proper form and choosing an appropriate weight for your fitness level is crucial. Kettlebell methodology is unique and offers many options.
Normal western progression with dumbbells or even barbells, is to progress to a limited number of reps and continually add weight to an exercise.
Meaning you can progress to possibly 10 reps of an exercise and then simply take your weight up (maybe going from 10 lbs to 15 lbs).
Kettlebell progression can include weight progression, but many times it’s based on progression of repetitions or switching to a harder exercise.
So rather than moving to a heavier kettlebell you can complete more reps or change the exercise to a more difficult one.
You can get a great strength and endurance workout without necessarily having to use the heaviest weight you can find.
You just tweak the exercise for the result that you want. Those who are more advanced will still benefit from this high intensity training.
You’ll work up a sweat doing a series of fast-paced cardio and strength-training moves like kettlebell swings, lunges, shoulder presses, and push-ups.
It won’t take long to understand why celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Biel, and Katherine Heigl are dedicated fans of kettlebell workouts.
3.) Kettlebell Before and After – Why You Should Add Kettlebells To Your Work Out
Kettlebells can be used to supplement cardio training as well as for active recovery between heavy training days.
Kettlebell training is also an excellent complement to heavy barbell work.
Whether your main focus is strength or endurance, the kettlebell will fit the bill.
You’re super tight when you lift a heavy weight, but loose when you do conditioning.
The kettlebell alternates periods of intense contraction and controlled relaxation to give you a superior workout that combines both strength and endurance training.
Its round shape lends itself to unique exercises and its odd center of gravity forces you to stabilize your muscles to create explosive movements with the bell.
It’s also a good tool for helping teach Olympic lifts safely with a small learning curve.
It’s much easier on the wrists and shoulders to rack kettlebell cleans and to hold for front squats than it is to use a barbell. It’s also faster to learn one-arm kettlebell snatches than barbell snatches. Kettlebell workouts engage the entire body, working many muscle groups at once rather than just targeting one or two muscle groups.
The main muscle groups that are involved and strengthened the most with the basic kettlebell swing motion are the hamstrings, glutes, quads and abs. With a good kettlebell workout, you can burn up to 400 calories in 20 minutes.
4.) What Kettlebell To Buy? – The Different Types of Kettlebells
There are two different types of kettlebells available–regular and adjustable
A regular kettlebell is the most common and has a fixed weight.
An adjustable kettlebell often has weighted plates that can be added or removed.
I actually highly recommend buying your kettle bells from a trusted online resource like this one
Another adjustable option is a hollow kettlebell that can be filled with sand, water or coins to adjust the weight.
If you anticipate using your kettlebell occasionally to supplement your training, an adjustable kettlebell will work and can take up less space.
If you plan to use the kettlebell more consistently, it is best to buy a regular, fixed-weight one.
You may want to purchase some gym chalk to improve your grip on the handle.
It might take some time to develop your grip strength.
Try to use your kettlebell without gloves, they can sometimes mask improper form.
If you are just starting out you might consider wearing a kettle bell wrist guard.
When learning how to “clean” the kettlebell, people often experience some banging of the bell on the backside of the wrist.
You can double up wrist/sweat bands or look into special kettlebell wrist guards
If you find the handle of your new kettlebell too slippery, you can gently sandpaper the handle to help chalk stick better to its surface.
Keep in mind that the handle size varies from one manufacturer to another.
If you are new to strength training or have small hands, check to see if the kettlebells you are comparing have different handle sizes for different weights and buy accordingly.
Test the handle size to make sure both hands fit comfortably on the handle without touching each other.
Wrap one hand around the handle to make sure the tips of your fingers are only a couple of inches from your palm.
5.) Best Weight for Kettlebell – What Kettlebell To Start With
Your kettlebell shouldn’t be too heavy or too light; you should be able to press it over your head with control and stability, but with some resistance.
Too many people start with a heavy weight and end up injuring themselves.
Start light and master the form and movement first.
It’s best to have the instructor of the class give you the okay to move onto a new weight.
A beginner female should start with an 8-kg (18 lb) bell
The 4 kg may not be heavy enough to provide a solid weight lifting effect for most women.
Women with more weight lifting experience and fitness can start with a 12-kg (26lb) bell.
A beginner male will do best with a 12 or 16-kg (35 lb) bell
If you are familiar with weight training and moving with weights, then 16 kg can be appropriate.
If you are new to strength training, a 12 kg will probably be better.
It doesn’t sound like a lot but it feels a lot heavier than you’d expect! Most men will eventually progress to a 53-pounder, the standard issue size in the Russian military.
Although available in most units, 70-pounders are used only by a few advanced guys and in elite competitions.
It’s nice to have the option of different-sized kettlebells for various exercises.
If you have the budget to invest in several at a time then this is what is often recommended for the average male and female: Women – 8kg, 12kg, 16kg Men – 16kg, 20kg, 24kg
6.) How Much Do Kettlebells Cost?
Kettlebells can range in price from $10 to $150 depending on the weight of the kettlebells (heavier ones are more expensive).
Ideally your kettlebell is made from one piece, rather than having the handle attached separately.
You don’t want your kettlebell to come apart while you’re swinging it.
Check to make sure your kettlebell comes with a one-year guarantee.
Manufacturers who aren’t willing to stand behind their products aren’t making quality kettlebells.
7.) Kettlebell Workout for Beginners – Types of Exercises
There’s tons of kettle bell exercises and routines to choose from. However if you’re just starting out I suggest taking a look at this link to get started:
- 6 all around great exercises for kettle bells:
- 9 simple kettlebell moves and exercises for beginners:
- 20 of the top kettlebell exercises:
Those three links above should be great resources for getting your kettlebell exercises going.
Here’s Our General Tips While Working Out With Kettle Bells:
When it comes to kettle bells proper breathing is so important and often overlooked in most exercise studios.
While performing the swing, on the down swing you want to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth — nice and strong as you come to the top of that swing.
Don’t be afraid to thrust!
Focus on quickly squeezing your glutes and thrusting your hips forward to create momentum that will launch the bell into the air.
Explosive power from your butt will protect your lower back, not hurt it.
Just be careful not to thrust too far.
At the top of your swing your hips should be under your shoulders. Don’t “tuck” the pelvis; this will pinch your lower back.
Another resource I can recommend for kettlebell exercises are the best kettlebell workout videos that you can purchase
Working out with a kettlebell gives you what fitness pros call a “functional” workout.
That means it works your muscles in the same way as when you do everyday activities: such as picking up a toddler, carrying your briefcase, or hoisting a gallon of milk.
So, in addition to the more obvious benefits you would gain from developing muscles and strength using kettlebells can also result in making life a bit easier in other, unexpected ways!
And for those of you out there who are truly invested in your kettlebell workouts — check out the comprehensive content from our friends over at Cavemantraining.
Their book Kettlebell Workouts and Challenges is a great investment for your kettlebell journey.
8.) Kettlebell Workout Form for Beginners
The kettlebell swing is a powerful movement with amazing health benefits that can increase strength and flexibility.
However, when performed incorrectly it is also a movement that can create back, hip, or knee injuries.
ALWAYS be aware of your form and periodically have a certified trainer evaluate your swing.
This is actually a really good article specifically focused on kettlebell form if you fell you’re not performing and exercises right.
You can also do this yourself using a smart phone or video camera.
Be sure to squeeze the glutes and quads every time you swing and tighten the abdominal muscles as if you are bracing hard for a punch.
Swinging correctly will make you stronger and more flexible than ever before, however incorrectly performing the movement can create or increase back strain or pain.
Perfect your squat. Swings, high pulls, and lifts such as snatches and cleans, originate out of a squat position, and keeping good form is essential to avoiding injury.
Executing kettlebell exercises correctly takes concentration.
Remember this checklist and use it as your guide for getting into the right start position for all your kettlebell exercises:
A Checklist For Good Kettlebell Form
- Position your feet shoulder width apart, or slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
- Put your weight on your heels. If you are doing this right you should be able to wiggle your toes.
- Keep your shoulders back and down and chest up.
- Maintain a tall spine and neutral head position.
- Look at a focal point on the floor six feet in front of you.
- Contract your glutes, tighten your thighs and abs, and pull up your kneecaps.
- Make sure the area immediately surrounding you is clear and you have room to swing and move freely.
Don’t wear running shoes with a high, cushioned platform; you could roll your ankle.
The kettlebell masters in Europe do kettlebelling in bare feet.
9.) Getting Started Using Kettlebells For A Beginner – Final Thoughts
If possible, look for a certified kettlebell instructor from a respected kettlebell organization and/or sit in on a class or session.
Be sure the instructor’s philosophy matches your needs.
If you don’t have access to a quality kettlebell instructor or not interested in taking a class or being around an instructor then the next best thing is a highly regarded instructional DVD.
There are many people who have learned strictly from watching DVDs.
Instructional books are also great resources.
Ultimately learning in person is the best scenario, but a quality DVD is definitely sufficient if that is your only option.