If I had to choose one piece of equipment and only one piece of equipment to work with for the foreseeable future it would definitely be the ketitlebell. This simple cannon ball with a handle on it is easily one of the most versatile pieces of equipment that you can buy and can be used to train both strength and conditioning. Will it get you as strong as you need to be in order to win a powerlifting or strongman competition? No, but it will make you strong enough to survive and help you undo the damage that years of sitting in chairs has done. I personally travel with a 55 lbs kettlebell at all times in case I'm unable to make it to the squat rack.
Orginialy developed in Russia during the 1700's as an implement used for weighing crops, farms found that handling these pieces of equipment would increase their strength. Soon feats of strength featuring the kettlebell became commonplace at local festivals. This eventually led to circus strongmen who could supposedly juggle these tools with ease. In Pavel Tsatsouline's book "Simple and Sinister" he writes that legend has it that the old time strongmen, before taking an apprentice, would send their perspective student away until they could perform a Turkish get up with a 100 lbs kettlebell. I haven't personally done this yet but I'm working on it. During the 20th century kettlebells became a staple in soviet military training and have since moved to the US military thanks to Pavel. Since the explosion of crossfit a few years ago you can now find kettlebell training everywhere as it starts to become more mainstream.
So how would you use a kettlebell?
Well that's really up to you. Anything you do with a barbell or a dumbbell can be done with a kettlebell. You can press it, row it, squat it, deadlift it or do any of the other basic lifts. Most of the time, however, you'll most often see people doing more dynamic movements such as a Turkish Get Up or a Kettlebell Swing, which is what we will focus on for this blog post.
Why do swings?
Next time you're walking around in a populated area I want you to watch the way the people around you are moving. Noticed how a lot of them aren't standing up straight. Noticed how their shoulders are rounded forward. If someone bends down to pic something up does it look like they have trouble getting in a good position to do so? If you're a member of a gym, which I hope you are, watch people squat. How low are they able to get? Do their heals come off the ground? Does their lower back start to round? Does the person I'm describing sound like you? Fixing these biomechanical issues are all benefits of kettlebell swings.
So how do you do swings?
Start the movement by cutting the kettlebell in half with your foot like you would for a traditional deadlift. With control, bow at the waist while keeping your chest up and deadlift the kettlebell up. While keeping a strong, flat back you then hike the kettlebell in between your legs and explode with the hips to thrust the kettlebell at a height roughly level with your eyes. THIS IS NOT A SHOULDER EXERCISE. All force driving the kettlebell up should come from your hips. When you get tired you may start over extending your back and meeting the kettlebell half way. Please do not do this. Its a good way to hurt yourself. I'm personally not a fan of what is called the American swing. This is a version of the kettlebell swing where you swing the bell directly over your head. I don't like this version because most people do not have the proper shoulder mobility to do this safely and personally I believe if you're able to swing the kettlebell that high then you should just grab the next size up.
Hope you enjoyed this run down of the kettlebell swing. Have a movement you'd like me to go over? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and you'll most likely see it soon after!!
The Russian Swing