Ever see a guy at the gym squatting like a duck, swinging a big black projectile through his legs, and wonder – what is that all about? Allow me to introduce the kettlebell.
A kettlebell is nothing more than a compact, cast iron weight that looks like a cannonball with a handgrip. Unlike traditional dumbbells, the kettlebell’s weight is evenly dispersed, which facilitates swinging exercises that work several muscle groups at once (rather than the rigid up-and-down dumbbell and barbell movements, which tend to focus on a single group at a time).
Invented centuries ago in Russia and recently popularized in the United States, the kettlebell is the latest up-and-coming trend in Costa Rica – and with good reason. It’s perfect for streamlining exercise routines.
“The way the handle is designed, it adds for versatility and a lot more options for strength and conditioning,” said Nick Holt, a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) certified personal trainer and owner of Nick Holt Fitness in Tamarindo. “You can do a lot of explosive movements and full-body conditioning moves that are very effective, that you wouldn’t’ be able to do with barbells or dumbbells. That’s the big advantage.”
In any given kettlebell session, it’s common to incorporate the entire body pretty much simultaneously: legs, thighs, butt, core, arms – you name it. Expect to break a fierce sweat working on functional strength, flexibility and endurance while executing provocatively-named exercises like “the snatch,” “the Russian twist,” “the get up” and “the slingshot.”
“If you’re talking about fat loss,” Holt went on, “shorter and more intense exercises are going to be more beneficial than steady-state cardio [i.e. running, biking or elliptical machines]. The science is pretty clear on that. You can get just about the same amount of caloric burn with an intense 15-20 minute kettlebell weight circuit than you can in a one-hour jog. Not only that, but you’re activating a different energy system in the body and promoting more fat-burning hormones with the strength training.”
That means as long as you’re working hard and smart, you probably won’t have to workout very long or very often.
Why Kettlebells are Awesome
They build functional strength
So many bodybuilders work out for hours on end to sculpt their powerful physiques – only to find that their newly acquired muscles aren’t going to help with day-to-day activities. Kettlebell workouts, on the other hand, strengthen muscles and increase agility in fundamental ways you’ll benefit from on a daily basis – like carrying heavy objects up stairs, bending down repeatedly in the garden, or playing football with your kids.
Forget the treadmill
According to Nick Holt, so long as you’re doing short, intense strengthening and conditioning routines, you can say goodbye to chronic cardio like running for miles on end. “As far as body composition and wanting to get fit, jogging is just not going to get you there,” he said. “Cleaning up your diet and doing short, intense circuits is going to be the answer. Kettlebells fit pretty well into one of those short circuits.”
They strengthen the abs (relatively) effortlessly
Most sane people would agree that crunches are downright torture. If you’re doing them right, kettlebells will inherently give your abs a killer workout – without having to think about them all that much. Just tighten the core throughout the workouts, and crunches generally aren’t necessary. Strong, toned abs are sexy, protect the lower back and improve life in general.
A few reps go a long way
You don’t need to work out for a long time to see and feel results – countless effective kettlebell circuits only last 20-30 minutes. Laura Luconi, a certified kettlebell instructor in Guanacaste, says it all depends on what an individual’s objectives are. She recommends either 2-3 long sessions per week (each lasting 40-60 minutes) or 3-5 short sessions (about 20-35 minutes each) per week.
They look cool
You can buy kettlebells in all sorts of colors, and even hand-carved ones that look like a chimp or gorilla head (I heard about these at https://www.onnit.com/primal-bells/?a_aid=COCO, on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast.) Try swinging an angry primate’s face around and see how tough you feel.
Hire a trainer to show you how to properly execute each exercise.
In Costa Rica you can find personal trainer in almost any town for as little as $30 per hour for a private session, and many places offer collective classes for just $10 – so there is no excuse not to go. You may think you’re picking up proper technique with online tutorials only to find that you’re damaging your lower back or neck. A couple of private lessons are a heck of a lot cheaper than a lifetime of future chiropractic bills.
Don’t do kettlebell videos directly in front of your TV or computer
Many horror stories online tell of a kettlebell fan following a class on YouTube, facing the computer screen. The kettlebell slips out of sweaty hands, and KAPOW! The computer is smashed, caveman style.
Don’t freak out about using less weight than you would with a dumbbell
You may require much less weight than you would with typical hand weights, because of the different range of motion and types of exercises with kettlebells. It’s important, especially in the beginning, to get the correct technique down before increasing weight.
If money is tight, make your own!
If you’re on a budget, kettlebells can be expensive. Luckily with a bit of patience and determination, you can make your own set of jerry-rigged kettlebells with some PCV pipes and concrete. Several tutorials can be found online.