Kettlebell: The Secret of Russian strength
Russian athletes dominate the world of weightlifting and power sports. Kettlebell training is one of the secrets of their strength. Kettlebell (Girya in Russian) sport is the national sport of Russia.
In the Soviet era, strongman or weightlifter in Russia was referred to as a girevik (‘Kettlebell Man’). Every Russian military unit has a gym called ‘the courage corner’. Kettlebells are an integral part of every courage corner.
Why should only the Russians enjoy the superior strength when everyone else has the opportunity to become stronger?
A kettlebell is a unique tool with tremendous benefits. Although kettlebell training has started gaining popularity around rest of the world, it is still in its infancy.
In this post, you will learn what it has to offer to strength athletes (professional lifters or people who just love to lift heavy).
Let us start from the basics.
What is a Kettlebell?
A Kettlebell has a shape like a cannonball with a flat bottom and a handle on top. It is a hand-held gym giving you an all-round fitness and it does not take up much space.
Why is Kettlebell unique?
Unlike dumbbell and barbell, kettlebell has offset center of load (load is away from the grip handle).
The unique design allows the bell to perform a fast swinging movement, which combines activation of cardiorespiratory, strength and flexibility training.
Ballistic movement of the kettlebell requires the body to constantly work on acceleration and deceleration to control and stabilize the weight which can help you build explosive power endurance and work capacity.
Types of Kettlebells: Mainly comes in two forms
The shape and size of the bell vary according to the weight.
Like a 4kg kettlebell will have a smaller handle and body compared to say a 10kg or 12kg kettlebell.
If you are not training at an advanced level with hundreds of repetitions without stopping, use this.
They are cheaper compared to Competition Kettlebell as it is relatively easy to make.
They are made of solid iron and are virtually indestructible and can last even a lifetime.
Competition Kettlebell (Steel Kettlebell)
Competition Kettlebell is made of steel (thus more expensive) and is hollow.
The dimension of the kettlebell does not change regardless of the weight. They have a universal design and measurement.
It is important to develop precise technique when doing 100 or 150 continuous repetitions because the position of kettlebell in the hand and against the body will be different with varying size.
The standard design is
- Height—228 millimeters (8.5 in.)
- Diameter—210 millimeters (8.25 in.)
- Handle diameter—35 millimeters (1.4 in.)
Thus an 8kg kettlebell will have the same size as a 32kg kettlebell. This is possible because of the hollow design and can be filled to get the desired weight.
Since shape remains the same, color coding is used to differentiate kettlebells of different weights.
8 kg / 17.6 lbs – Pink
12 kg / 26.4 lbs – Blue
16 kg / 35.2 lbs – Yellow
20 kg / 44.0 lbs – Purple
24 kg / 52.8 lbs – Green
28 kg / 61.6 lbs – Orange
32 kg / 70.4 lbs – Red
36 kg / 79.2 lbs – Grey
40 kg / 88.0 lbs – White
44 kg / 96.8 lbs – Silver
48 kg / 105.6 lbs – Gold
Why choose Kettlebell?
Builds optimal fitness- Lifting big but not able to do any rigorous activity without bringing your heart to your mouth is a sure sign of weakness.
Biggest insult for any self-respecting lifter is being called a weakling.
Strength is one aspect of fitness which always gets the spotlight/priority but endurance is left behind.
As the saying goes ‘You cannot flex your cardio’; True, but what if you can add weight to your cardio and strive to increase the level and intensity by increasing the weight. That is what you get with kettlebell training.
Great for the heart- Once you have the knowledge that there is a way to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance simultaneously challenging your strength then why anyone will still be running on the treadmill is beyond lifter’s logic.
Most guys who love to train heavy are guilty of skipping cardio days without any hint of remorse, although they know its importance for the heart muscle.
As a fellow gym freak, I understand the boredom of cardio exercises and aerobics are a disgrace (it is like The Rock becoming tooth fairy).
A kettlebell is a unique tool for keeping our heart strong along with your muscles. It is like pumping heart along with the fun of pumping iron.
Trains the complete posterior chain-
Kettlebell swings and snatch activates all the posterior muscles which include the muscle group of the lower back, Glutes, Hamstrings and Calves.
It also targets and strengthens the deep stabilizing and supporting muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Strengthening of these muscles is hard to achieve through dumbbells and barbells.
Strong stabilizers give more protection from injuries and provide better mobility and functional strength.
Enhances lower back endurance-
‘Stronger back protects our spine’. This is a common misconception that many of us believe.
Lifting a 200kg deadlift does not guarantee spine protection.
It is the endurance of the lower back muscles (multifidus, quadratus lumborum, psoas major) to maintain stability for the complete duration of the task.
Kettlebell training gives a dynamic and rhythmic movement which can be done for a cycle of ten minutes without stopping, which increases the endurance of the lower back muscles.
Speaking from personal experience, even after weekly sessions of 200kg deadlift, the first time I did 50 swing movement (basically moving the kettlebell between the legs using hip movement) with a 16kg kettlebell, it gave me a killing pain in the lower back.
Thus, exposing my weakness of low endurance of lower back muscles.
Sparing your joints as it is a non-impact workout-
Drs. Verkhoshansky and Siff state in Supertraining, “…joints subjected to heavy impact are relatively free of osteoarthritis in old age and those subjected to much lower loading experience a greater incidence of osteoarthritis and cartilage fibrillation.”
Kettlebell snatches and Clean&Jerks are ballistic movements when done for repetitions, provides adequate resistance (with repetitive loading) to the hip and knee joints along with the lower back muscles and shoulder joints.
This also dramatically improves the strength of tendons and ligaments in a relatively safer manner, thus improving the mobility of the joints, making it stronger and less prone to joint problems.
Gives a carryover effect to improve your squats and deadlift – This is one aspect of kettlebell training that pulled me into it.
Increasing the squats and deadlifts is what every lifter is targeting and try everything possible from tweaking the form to trying a new diet or supplement regime.
Kettlebell offers a great way to train the posterior muscle fibers to get activated more rapidly against resistance thus generating more power.
At the bottom of the squat, if your gluteal muscles are able to recruit more muscle fibers efficiently then you will be able to squat heavier loads.
Dormant muscles become activated, thus generating greater power helping you to lift a greater load.
Builds powerful forearms and grip strength- “when your grip strength improves, less neural drive is needed for the forearm and hand muscles to perform other exercises. That is why many trainees report breaking training plateaus in a host of lifts, ranging from deadlifts to curls, after doing a grip specialization routine.” – Charles Poliquin
A strong grip is a representation of your power and strength.
That is why it is always advised to have a firm handshake because it shows your confidence and dominance.
The strength of your forearm and grip is of prime importance when you have to lift a heavy object.
‘Welding’ is a term used by lifters as a cue for the brain to hold the bar or handle as tight as possible. The stronger you are able to’ Weld’ your hands with the bar the more you will be in control of the weight.
Ballistic kettlebell movements force your forearms to grow stronger and forge a steel grip.
Kettlebells can make your grip and forearms as strong as a professional mountain climber. So either climb a mountain or grip the kettlebell.
You will not lose muscles- Too much cardio will make you lose your muscle (Myth).
This is an excuse most guys will give to avoid cardio sessions altogether.
This will not be the case with kettlebell training.
Ivan Denisov is the world champion in kettlebell sports and he can also deadlift 275kg load: a pretty impressive combination of strength and endurance.
It is fun – ‘Cardio is boring. Lifting weight is fun.’
Lifting or swinging weights, which also gives you the benefit of cardio is like killing two birds with one stone.
There are around two hundred different exercises you can do with a kettlebell.
You can create an HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) schedule combining different kettlebell movement.
If you have not tried kettlebell yet it will be a very challenging workout session.
Unlike any other fitness equipment, this is single-handedly able to provide you hardcore session which will leave you exhausted and gasping for air within just 10-minutes.
It will test your physical capacity and mental toughness in a very brutal way.
If you think it is another fitness fad on the rise then just look at the history. It has a history of more than 300 years. The word Girya meaning traditional Russian weight made of cast iron appeared in a 1704 Russian dictionary. It is an integral part of Russian military training.
From the early 19th century it has molded many Russian athletes and strongmen and enabled them to unlock their potential making them a dominant force in the sports arena. No wonder why Russian athletes are tough as nails.
Still skeptical about it?
Why not try it yourself?