What Are Kettlebells, and Why Use Them?

Enjoy stunning fat loss, maximal strength gains
and huge strides in your conditioning with
the amazing power of Russian Kettlebells

This is a Kettlebell. It is an iron ball with a handle. Looks innocent enough, no? Remember the adage "looks can be deceiving." It is innocent when it's just lying on the floor, but pick this thing up, and start exercising and two things immediately happen. 1.) You're hooked on it, like a powerful drug, and 2.) You'll begin an unbelievable fitness transformation. See what national magazines have had to say about kettlebells.

The sport of Kettlebell lifting, also called girevoy originated in Russia before the later part of the 19th century. A Kettlebell Lifter, or "girevik" was anyone who trained with the kettlebell. Kettlebell "lifters" or gireviks, compete in 2 primary lifts: 1 arm snatches, and 2 arm/2 KB clean and jerks, both for repetitions. A third type competition exists where the lifter performs a "long-cycle" clean and jerk where the KBs are "cleaned" from the hang position and then "jerked" overhead for each repetition. In the traditional competitions of snatches and C/Js, the top lifters perform over 150 snatches, and over 100 C/Js. This is not only incredible feats of strength, but also incredible endurance, and tenacity. Lifts, however, are not confined to the "competition" lifts. There are many, many others such as;  military press, bent press, windmills, the Turkish get-up, 1 leg deadlifts and more. The competition lifts and supplementary exercises make kettlebell lifting a superb strength-and-conditioning routine for athletes, martial artists, soldiers, and anyone else who desires out-of-this-world fitness. In fact Olympic lifts, the "Snatch," and "Clean and Jerk" are two of the most productive exercises anyone can do. They involve more muscles of the body than any other exercise, and due to the explosive nature of the lifts, the workloads are incredibly high. Follow this link for more information on benefits of Olympic Lifts. However, due to the technical nature of these lifts with a barbell, high repetition sets are not recommended, but with a Kettlebell, the lifts are less technical so one's form does not deteriorate making high reps much much safer and introduce the strength-endurance element. Many people suppose that one could get the same benefits from training with dumb-bells. While the total mechanics of why kettlebells are superior to dumb-bells is difficult to explain, here are a few basics. 

  • The kettlebell has a very wide handle. Which makes it more difficult to handle and builds incredible grip strength. 
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  • As a dumb-bell is lifted higher (such as in a curl) the center of gravity remains in line with the hand and forearm, and tension/force dissipates. The kettlebell, on the other hand, is constantly pulling against the force applied due to it's "offset" center of gravity.
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  • Learning to absorb the shock as a kettlebell flips over, as in a snatch, utilizes an incredible number of stabilizing muscles, and strengthens tendons and ligaments.
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Often referred to as an "ethnic sport," kettlebell lifting was not limited to Russia and eastern Europe, in fact many American "old time" strong men relished training with kettlebells. Many people might think, "well that was old time strong men, they are not the same as today's lifters." That statement would be 100% correct, they are not the same. Many of the old time lifters performed feats of strength that today's lifters only dream of. For instance, Arthur Saxon's 370 lb bent press. That is with a barbell, 1 arm, at bodyweight of 210 lbs, and more than fifty years before steroids, nautilus machines, and "this month's top body-building routine." Or Herman Goerner's 727 lb One Arm Deadlift!. Now for the record, their incredible strength wasn't built with only Kettlebells, but kettlebells were some of these lifters favorite tools. However, many of today's fitness programs involve "scientific research" by "theorizers," are way too complicated, and are hugely in-effective and sometimes outright wrong. People have been drawn away from the basic and highly effective methods, simply because they are physically demanding, but that is the only thing that will bring success; hard work!

As for transfer-of-training, or carry-over training effect, Voropayev (1983) of the former Soviet Union, conducted research into kettlebell training. He observed two groups of college students over a period of a few years. A standard battery of the armed forces PT tests was used; pullups, a standing broad jump, a 100 meter sprint, and a 1 K run. The control test group followed the typical university physical training program which was military oriented and emphasized the above exercises. The experimental group just lifted kettlebells. In spite of the lack of practice on the tested drills, the KB group showed better scores in every one of them.  (Tsatsouline, The Russian Kettlebell Challenge, 2001)

For fat-burning properties, how many programs have you seen that can burn off 1% and more of your body fat each week, without changing your diet?

As with any exercise program, kettlebell lifting can be hazardous. Clear all physical activity with your physician prior to engaging in any weightlifting, or other physically demanding activity. We also suggest obtaining proper instruction in kettlebell lifting from a certified RKC Kettlebell instructor.

These points are directly from Pavel Tsatsouline's book, The Russian Kettlebell Challenge:

  • Get really, really nasty -- with a commando's wiry strength, the explosive agility of a tiger and the stamina of a world-class ironman
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  • Own the single best conditioning tool for killer sports like kickboxing, wrestling, and football
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  • Watch in amazement as high-rep kettlebells let you hack the fat off your meat -- without the dishonor of aerobics and dieting
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  • Kick your fighting system into warp speed with high-rep snatches and clean-and-jerks
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  • Develop steel tendons and ligaments -- with a whiplash power to match
  • Effortlessly absorb ballistic shocks -- and laugh as you shrug off the hardest hits your opponent can muster
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  • Go ape on your enemies -- with gorilla shoulders and tree-swinging traps

"For practical types..kettlebells could be just the tonic" New York Times Sunday, 2002

"For more intensity try kettlebellsÖit's a full-body workout, aerobic and strength-building" óTime Magazine, 2002

"KettlebellsóHot Weight of the Year" óRolling Stone, 2002

"In-the-know Americans are purchasing ancient Russian fitness equipment, resurrecting old exercise philosophies and obtaining significant gains in cardio conditioning, muscle tone and strength as a result..."óMarty Gallagher, WashingtonPost.com, Feb, 2003.

 

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Testimonials From Posts at  

The Dragon Door Discussion Forum

Kettlebell WOW

I have my kettlebell three weeks now and WOW! So far my back and shoulders are growing and getting cut up all at once and my forearms look like Popeye's.I can't stop eating but I haven't gained an ounce but have lost an inch in my waist.Thanks to Comrade Pavel

From: Robert Arciola. Date/Time: Tuesday, February 19, 2002 6:52:08 PM .

 

Hacking fat off meat

In the last few months I've hacked off about twenty-five pounds of lard without even cutting out the goodies or doing any special eating plan, simply by doing three RKC workouts per week, each of which averages the equivalent of around 120 reps of two pood ballistics, floor to full overhead. I usually keep wheezing the whole workout, ie, I keep the rest breaks relatively short.

From: Craig N.  Date/Time 2002-03-11 19:49:37

 

Help with kettlebells

Mike,

I have had our athletes use kettlebells since March of 2001 here at Wake Forest .

I have been putting it in with our Olympic lifting routine. The one arm Kettlebell Snatch is best. I like the one and two arm swings. I will never give up the Olympic style lifts with our athletes but kettlebells are a great addition. I strongly recommend Pavel's Kettlebell book and video. As for myself I have been using the kettlebells. I am 47 years old and have severe (grade 5) osteoarthritis in my right knee due to a wrestling injury that when the doctors took out all of my medial meniscus. I can even use the 72 lber., and it doesn't bother my knee as much as when getting up to 90 kgs. on power cleans. I basically have had to give up the Olympic lifts with bumpers for the kettlebells!

In Strength,

Ethan Reeve   

From: Ethan Reeve. Date/Time: 2002-02-23 14:27:50 .

(Site Note: Ethan Reeve is the Strength Coach for Wake Forest)

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Kettle bells and State Wrestling Champion

Pavel, I just wanted to let you know how kettlebell training helped my 15-year old son win the 171 lb. 2A Colorado State wrestling championship last month as a freshman (season record was 49 wins, 2 losses, and 35 pins). He defeated a senior who was last years 171lb champion. He defeated seniors and juniors all season, in part, due to his increased strength and explosive power that was a direct result of our kettlebell training. We did KB presses every other day alternating with KB high rep workouts on alternate days. He dominated his weight class and his only losses were to the 3A 171lb champion and 3A 171lb runner-up, and that was early in the season before we really got going with the program. We started with the 1 pood bells and then later added the 1 1/2 pod. We just received our 2 pod bells and really enjoying them. No freshman in Colorado has ever won a championship at that heavy of a weight. Thanks again for helping make his success possible.

Safety of the one arm snatch? (decision time!)

The one armed snatch is quite safe when performed according to the instructions. Take your time learning the lift. I had a hard time figuring out the flip at the top. With a little practice and some good tips from the members on this board I figured it out. There are plenty of good exercises in there to work with until you have perfected the snatch. You can get a good workout with high rep swings, cleans, and jerks. Of course there is also a whole battery of Grind exercises for you to do as well. Go get a KB and RKC I think you will be happier than with Combat conditioning. You can always include some Combat conditioning drills in your workouts but I donít think you will find that necessary.

For inspiration, I dumped three pounds this week using KB's. I am an experienced trainer who usually finds it difficult to loose more than one pound a week most of the time. They really do work.

From: Mongo. Date/Time: 2002-03-03 21:33:18 .

 

Went to the Gym for the first time in months today...

I have been working out with Kbells for over two months now, and haven't set foot in a gym during that time. I also haven't pulled a deadlift, any deadlift whatsoever, in over a year and a half. Did the following:

Military press- 150 for 6, 160 for 4, 150 for 4.

W.towel pullup- bw+85 for 5,5,4,4,3

One arm dumbbell clean and jerk- 80 for 5, 90 and 100 for 3, 105 and 115 and 120 for a single.

Deadlift- 135, 225, 275, 315, 365, 405, 435

At 168 pounds, I deadlifted 435 without deadlifting for a year and a half. Add to that the record 120 pound clean and jerk, and I am a happy camper. The main thing is that I now I'm getting everything I need from kettlebells. Strength, endurance, power, strength-endurance..... truly awesome. Thanks Pavel...       

From: Johnypullups. Date/Time: 2002-03-24 20:23:08  

 

Kettlebell carryover to volleyball=success

I haven't seen many posts regarding athletic performance gains with kettlebell training so I want to relate to the Party my success in the brief time I've been slinging around my puny 1 pood kettlebell, more specifically as it relates to recovery. For over a month my volleyball team hasn't played in a tournament due to scheduling conflicts, injuries, etc. and during that time I've been practicing mostly the ballistic drills, swings and one-armed snatches with some military presses thrown in. Well, after an all day tournament yesterday, with 6 matches that lasted up to an hour each, I finally got to see what everyone has been raving about for myself. Although I didn't notice an increase in my vertical leap I was able to jump just as high and come in for my approaches just as fast at the very end of the day as the beginning. I play one of the most physically demanding positions in volleyball, middle blocker, and normally the day after a tournament I can hardly walk and experience delayed onset muscle soreness in nearly every muscle in my body, especially my abs and legs but I woke up this morning with hardly any ill effect. It's unbelievable! I'm the grizzled veteran on my team at 34 but after long rallies when my much younger teammates were sucking wind I felt fine and after the last match when they were all hobbling around, moaning and groaning I felt fresh as a daisy. Who knew kettlebells could have such a profound effect?       

From: majorwoody. Date/Time: 2002-02-11 15:04:22  

 

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Testimonial on effects of KB's - longish

I know I'm mainly preaching to the choir here, but I wanted to share some of my results after using my new 1 pood KB for the past month. A month ago I could only do 1 pullup. I'm a bit embarrassed to have to admit that here, but there you go. Today, having not tried to do any pullups for the past month I did 3! Again, no great shakes around here, but a 300% improvement for me. A few minutes later I did 3 again just to prove to myself that it wasn't a fluke. A few minutes later I did 2 - I might have been able to crank out another, but I didn't want to go to failure on it. I followed up with 3 dips, again something I haven't been able to do before. I decided to try deadlifting. I'd only done it once in the past month and put 245 lbs on the bar - 20 pounds heavier than I've ever done with the Oly bar. I got it up! I did a set of 5 at that weight and finished with a 1x5 at 215lbs. The lighter weight almost felt like it floated up.

What fun! I'm sold. Thanks for listening.

Mark

From: MarkWT. Date/Time: 2002-04-09 23:43:37 .  

How to add 80lbs to your DL in three weeks without DLing!!!

All you have to do is take Supper XXX Gain and you can do it too.... NOT!!!

Ok before I get flamed off the board, I am sure I canít keep up this kind of thing. Otherwise, I will be DLing over 1400 pounds by the end of the year (which I seriously doubt). About three weeks ago I got a 1 pood KB. For the first week I worked with it a little and still did my PTP style workouts. I have dumped about 8 pounds in the three weeks. For two weeks as of yesterday I have been working KB almost exclusively (I still did pullups and pistols). I decided to go over and find out how KB had effected my DL. To my amazement my previous max of 285 felt like paper. So I tried 300. Still not too hard. Then I did 315. Difficult but still not too bad. So I said what the ... and put 365 on it. And it went up!!!

Why this miracle? I am going to have to guess its nervous systems gains from KBing as well as explosive gains for the start. I know 365 is still not that much on this board but for me itís really good. I am one of those people Pavel jokes about with a big squat and a tiny dead lift. Maybe in a few months I can get up to 400. The great thing is I am an experienced lifter. (never did too many DL though) I havenít gained like this since I was 15! Have fun guys and if you havenít bought a KB go do it!!!!!!

mongo

Excellent, Mongo, Excellent    

From: Mongo. Date/Time: 2002-03-04 20:14:44 .  

I've added RKC explosive drills to my regimen with great success

The bodyfat is melting off while my muscles seem to be getting "denser".

Someone I work with came up to me the other day and said, "you're getting in better shape right before my eyes".

Really - the results are so amazing, it's immensely motivating.

No, you can't spot reduce (except with surgery) so fat loss has to be systemic. From: Master Rinpoche. Date/Time: 2002-01-31 10:26:31 . 

 

These explosive KB drills are making me svelte

OK,

I'm doing my best to watch what I eat - and this has been helpful.

Last night I didn't get home till late, and I had no groceries, and it was snowing (sounds like the beginning of one of my grandfather's stories). The only thing open close by was McDonalds, and my wife was yelling that she was hungry and wanted something quick.

I was starving and ate a big mac, super size fries, coke, apple pie, and hot fudge sundae.

Weighed in this morning - expecting to have bloated out from the salt / fat / carbs nightmare I just ingested - and I lost a couple pounds.

Now I wouldn't keep eating like this every day, but it's nice to see I can abuse myself once in a while as long as I exercise right. I like the tight wiry strength I'm getting too - even if my jujutsu mates don't.   

From: Master Rinpoche. Date/Time: 2002-02-01 14:08:04 .

 

Re: People of Dragon Door!

Steve, kettlebells are better for two hundred different reasons, half of which can be explained and half of which have to be experienced. If you don't believe us, fine, that's your prerogative. But I strongly suggest you invest in one kettlebell, and that will settle the matter. I've converted numerous kettlebell skeptics in approximately five minutes apiece. As with certain religious conversions, each of these ended with the converted writhing on the ground ... in agony or ecstasy, it was hard to tell.

From: Rob Lawrence. Date/Time: 2002-02-25 20:51:37 .

Left coast new party member

Greetings

I am an ex SEAL (12 years in) with some back damage. Listened to pencil necks for too long following disc surgery, led to 10 years of decay. Woke up and began working out again about a year ago. Discovered KBs a couple of months ago and am having fun and feeling better than I have in along time. The 1 poods are getting light so a 1.5 is on the way. Just signed up for the seminar in Seattle . Looking forward to starting PTP.

Dave  

From: Dave W. Date/Time: 2002-04-02 16:33:45  

 

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I'm HOOKED! THANK YOU!

Here's another testimonial to the wonderful benefits of RKC.

 

I should give you a little background. Iím currently in the Army, so Iím used to doing P.T. everyday and then lifting 3 times a week. I USED to lift weights and I WAS doing the BFL challenge. I got by boyfriend, Chuck, interested in the BLF program (after a little arm twisting) and he also started reading Muscle Media (a little arm twisting again). Chuck is the one responsible for getting me hooked on RKC and PTP.

You see, Chuck didn't really enjoy bodybuilding and when the November issue of Muscle Media came out with the article "Red Alert! Russian-style dumbbell training" he took notice. Myself, on the other hand, noticed the BIG BULKY guy. Unfortunately, I immediately flipped the page without giving it another thought. The last thing I want to do was bulk up anymore especially since, I'm already on the muscular side for a female and my main goal is to tone up and hack off body fat.

Was I ever wrong!

Before I knew what was happening Chuck has gone completely insane (or so I thought). One day, I go to pick up my mail and I have a 36pound package waiting for me. YES, you guessed it! He bought me a 1 pood KETTLEBELL along with the PTP book and RKC book. Okay, now I better take the time to seriously look into his MADDNESS! After all, the countless e-mailed articles were understandable, but this is going a little overboard.

To say the least, the books were wonderful, but it still took a little twisting MY ARM to get me to start the workouts, because I still had my doubts.

Luckily for me, Chuck ...came to the rescue. After twisting my arm (paybacks) he got me to do his PTP workout. WOW! I wasn't tired, but rather energized (unlike my workouts). It took me a little longer to get the nerve to start the RKC. I went from being literally flipped head over heels (my first attempt to do a two arm swing) and barely being able to lift it, to getting control and it's getting lighter!

I haven't even got to the best part yet! Company P.T. has gotten easier, I've noticed a considerable increase in strength and endurance. This all seems too good to be true, especially since Iíve just scratched the surface (Iíve only been working out ďRussianĒ style for almost a month (2wk PTP, 1.5wks RKC). Iíve never had these results with my weight lifting routines.

Now, I'm the crazy one talking about kettlebells to all my friends and how wonderful they are. Of course, they donít have much interest... YET!

Moral of the story... beware of what you do unto others, for they may turn the tables. Luckily for me, this has been a wonderful experience. Thank you, Chuck! I couldnít ask for a more loving, boyfriend! Of course, thank you to Pavel for making all of this possible.

Regards, Tonya          

From: tonya1980. Date/Time: 2002-01-11 18:06:54 .

Re: RKC RESULTS????

6 months

At age 68-incredible gains in energy, strength, explosiveness, power, speed, overall coordination, balance, flexibility, joint mobility, restoration of all ranges of motion, ability to do difficult body weight exercises, dramatic increase in overall endurance, posture, correction of lower back weakness, completion of the repair of a very serious shoulder injury from 6 years ago and far better muscle definition than ever in my entire life. From a typical aging old codger to being able to keep up with some of the best young whipper snappers. All from a funny looking iron ball with a big fat handle introduced by some dude from Russia !

All I can say is that if you want a wild ride just put aside anything you know about training the human body, get one, and follow the directions.... Andy68          

From: Andy68. Date/Time: 2001-11-20 10:25:53 .

 

Re: going back to the gym

For the cost of one's month's gym membership you can buy a heavy dumbbell (or two) to do KB workouts. For the price of 2 months membership you can buy a small KB.

Unless you live in a closet or can't exercise outside, gym memberships aren't worth it. Simplify         

From: David C. Date/Time: 2001-08-21 14:19:57.

A stellar exercise system

This tape introduces the Russian ethnic sport of kettlebell lifting. A "Kettlebell" is like a little cannonball with a suitcase handle attached. Hard to find, but several website sell "kettlebell handles" which can be used with standard weight plates, and in truth, many of the exercises can be done with dumbbells. For a variety of biomechanically sound reasons, the Kettlebell workouts deliver an astounding variety of athletic benefits, including literally melting the fat off your body. I've lost about 1% body fat per week on the system. It is so intense it's downright scary. The endurance benefits are equally impressive. Pavel's presentation is clear, concise, informative, no-nonsense. This tape is for people who are SERIOUS about fitness.

From: Steven Barnes Date: August 7, 2001

Re: Kettlebell Question from BradJ's wife

Com Brad,

My wife started on KB's three weeks ago along with my 12 year old sons, the changes in my wife's appearance are staggering to say the least especially when you consider that the first 7 days were spent teaching her proper technique. She has now dropped her gym membership and will be working out entirely with the KB's for the next three months, we will be taking measurements tonight so that I can quantify her progress which I will post monthly.

Encourage your wife to try this form of exercise, it will deliver results the spandex and lycra brigade could never hope to match.

Nick

From: nickle. Date/Time: 2001-12-03 07:31:10 .

 

KB vs. Tae Bo

Now, this is going to be embarrassing, but I have to admit that I enjoy doing Tae Bo tapes with my wife. The advanced ones, hitting a heavy bag, offer a decent sweat, and the time with the Better Half is great. But something interesting happened yesterday. It was the first time after several weeks of getting back to Tae Bo. My wife had been treadmilling faithfully, and we'd run on the track a bit, but I'd been KB'ing 5-6 days a week for the past 3 weeks, and wondered how the Tae Bo would feel. Usually, we work hard enough (hitting a heavy bag for an hour is tough--even if only to an aerobics tape) for both of us to stop and gasp from time to time. Well, my wife was wiped out, and I was GRINNING through 90% of it. Only some of the small-muscle floor exercises taxed me at all! About all I can say is...Pavel, if you don't do a "KB Work-along" tape for the general market, someone else is going to, and will get rich doing it. Your methods are, quite simply, superb.

Com. Steve    

From: sebarnes. Date/Time: 2001-07-20 10:51:22 .

 

A drop in heart rate after two weeks of straight KBs

Yesterday morning after I got off from 12 hour night shift I went to Walmart to pick up a couple of dumbbell handles. I went over to pharmacy section and did a blood pressure test on a machine there. It show my heart rate at 60 beats per minute. I didn't believe as first so I did a second test and it shows 61 beats per minute. My previous heart rate was always at in lower seventies. After two week of torture on 24kg KB and I just dropped 10 BPM on my heart rate in that so short of time.   

From: Craig. Date/Time: 2001-10-18 06:34:09 .

 

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