Kettlebells are rooted in Russian and European athletic strength competitions but have come a long way since then. These cannonball-shaped tools are touted for their many benefits for both cardiovascular and strength conditioning. We’ve rounded up the top benefits of kettlebell training, according to experts.
In one small piece of equipment, kettlebells boost your fitness in several aspects. “The kettlebell is the most versatile fitness tool; you can use it to improve your strength, power, and cardiovascular endurance,” says Patrick Burkhard, a Montreal-based certified kettlebell instructor. A study conducted by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) shows that kettlebell training improves strength gains, aerobic capacity, balance, and core stability.
High Calorie Burn
Kettlebells are well known for their calorie-burning potential. “Kettlebells can be used during high-Intensity workouts to get a fantastic sweat on. Due to its circular nature and submaximal load for movements like the snatch or clean and jerk, you can work for higher longer and longer sets of 10 minutes or more,” says Burkhard.
During a kettlebell workout involving snatches, the calories burned were shown in an ACE study to be 13.6 calories per minute aerobically and 6.6 calories per minute anaerobically. A calorie burn at this level is similar to a six-minute mile running pace.
Improved Jump Height
“Kettlebell exercises such as swings and snatches can improve jumping ability,” says Chris Kolba, a physical therapist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. What’s more, kettlebells can improve your athletic abilities in many ways by developing explosive power.
According to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the hip-hinging motion of swings and the quick reaction needed to swing the kettlebell builds explosive strength in as little as six weeks.
Improved Posture and Balance
“Turkish get-ups, windmills, and armbars are some fantastic full-body movements that will increase your mobility, stability, and strength,” says Burkhard. Any tool that increases strength, stability, and mobility will help improve posture.
Kolba adds, “kettlebell exercises can improve postural reactions.” Postural reactions are movements that your body takes to help correct its position in space. Meaning, they keep your head, neck, and spine in the right place, helping prevent falls and poor posture.
Since kettlebells are adept at helping you burn a high amount of calories by increasing your heart rate and using your whole body, they provide excellent cardio training while avoiding the pavement pounding impact of running. Kolba recommends replacing running with kettlebell training for some less joint-demanding cardio.
Gripping onto the handle of the kettlebell helps increase grip strength, according to Kolba. Keeping ahold of a heavy ball while swinging it through the air is a difficult task that requires strength in your hands and fingers. Research shows that grip strength is a good indicator of overall health and quality of life, especially as we age.
A Stronger Core
Kolba and Burkard both agree that kettlebells help you build a stronger, more stable core. The nature of kettlebells changing your center of gravity forces you to brace your core, building functional strength and stability in the spine. Rotational movements are essential too, and easily done with a kettlebell. Try around-the-worlds, Russian twists, Turkish get-ups, and one-arm swings.
Kettlebells are easily transportable. They have a built-in handle and can provide a full-body strength and cardio workout with one tool. “You can keep one in your car and ensure that you always have a dynamic piece of equipment to get a good workout in,” says Burkhard.
Since kettlebells are so good at activating your muscle groups and burning calories, you can get both your cardio and strength training in one efficient workout session. “You can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time and get a great workout in 20-30 movements,” says Burkhard. Try using some kettlebell movements in your next HIIT or Tabata training session.
Increased Shoulder Strength and Stability
“Using a kettlebell for any pressing or overhead movements will challenge the shoulder in a unique way that a dumbbell or barbell won't, increasing your shoulder stability and strength,” says Burkhard. Shoulder strength and stability are vital since we reach and extend using our shoulders so frequently. Shoulders are easily injured, so keeping them fit should be a priority.
How to Know if Kettlebell Training Is Right for You
Kettlebell training can be performed by anyone who has been cleared to exercise. Be sure to get instruction from a certified kettlebell trainer, especially if you attempt more advanced movements like swings and snatches.
Kolba recommends starting with rows and carries, and seeking guidance from professionals to learn the proper technique for kettlebell swings and snatches. “Specifically, those with significant lower back issues and shoulder injuries. That’s not to say they can’t benefit from swings and snatches, but they need to proceed a bit more cautiously and should seek proper instruction,” says Kolba.
Kettlebells provide a unique method of training that can add variety to your workouts. They are highly effective and easy to transport. Start by adding a few simple kettlebell exercises to your routine and build from there. Seek out instruction for proper form to keep yourself injury-free and performing well.
American Council of Exercise. Kettlebells Kick Butt. Published March 2013.
American Council of Exercise. Kettlebells: Twice the Results in Half the Time? Published January 2010.
Lake JP, Lauder MA. Kettlebell Swing Training Improves Maximal and Explosive Strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(8):2228-2233. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2c9b
Musalek C, Kirchengast S. Grip Strength as an Indicator of Health-Related Quality of Life in Old Age-A Pilot Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(12):1447. doi:10.3390/ijerph14121447
Meigh NJ, Keogh JWL, Schram B, Hing WA. Kettlebell Training in Clinical Practice: A Scoping Review. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2019;11:19. doi:10.1186/s13102-019-0130-z