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The Exercise Equipment You Never Knew You Were Using Wrong

Of all pieces of exercise equipment in the gym, the kettlebell seems to be pretty simple. Unlike cable machines with pins, plates, and assorted handle attachments, it's just an iron ball with a handle. The thing is, it is simple in design, and there are straightforward exercises you can do with it (for example, farmer's walks, bent-over rows, and floor presses), but there are also nuanced exercises, including the move it's most known for: swings. Personal trainers, workout video stars, group exercise leaders, and everyday folks have all been culprits of using this tool with improper techniques. I, too, used the kettlebell improperly before getting trained by the Modern King of Kettlebells, Pavel Tsatsouline, and achieving gold-standard kettlebell certifications (Dragon Door's RKC 2011, StrongFirst Girya's SFG I 2013, StrongFirst Girya's SFG II 2014). Maya Angelou said, "Do the best you can unless you know better. Then when you know better, do better." Here's to growth.

There is arguably no single piece of equipment in the gym that receives more audacious claims than the kettlebell. There’s the hype: training with this, alone, can give you a butt like J.Lo! There’s the hate: kettlebells are dangerous and surely going to destroy your lower back. Then there’s reality. Read more to read real claims about kettlebell training and separate the truth, false, and the ish (half-truths). After sorting this out, I'll leave you with a 15-minute Kettlebell Wheel Workout.

CLAIM #1: Kettlebells are dangerous.

False. Kettlebells are no more dangerous than any other iron weight in the gym.

Kettlebells are not dangerous. People are dangerous, using kettlebells without proper training.

CLAIM #2: A dumbbell can substitute for a kettlebell, if your gym doesn’t have kettlebells.

False. The U-shaped handle is the unique attribute of a kettlebell that differentiates this type of training from dumbbell training. The center of mass of a kettlebell hangs several inches below your grip with a kettlebell. Conversely, the center of mass of a dumbbell is right in your hand. The heart rate response and core strength/stability challenge that you will get from a rotating massive ball swinging away from you far exceeds the challenge of swinging your arms with a dumbbell fixed in your grip.

CLAIM #3: Kettlebell training will give you a great butt.

Maybe. Many kettlebell exercises initiate with gluteus maximus strength. With utilizing an adequately sized kettlebell, committing to a clean diet and proper post-workout nutrition, and ample rest between workouts, most people will be able to lift and tone their glutes. That’s right, regular kettlebell training should change the appearance of the derrière. However, there’s a little something called genetics that play more of a part in all of this than most of us would like to acknowledge. Instead of coveting somebody else’s body part, do what you can to maximize what you’ve got, all the while appreciating your own body type.

CLAIM #4: Kettlebell swings are bad for the lower back.

False, if done properly. Kettlebell swings strengthen the posterior chain. We live in a culture obsessed with the glamour side (abs) and often times neglectful of the backside. Because of this imbalance, the core is weak. Kettlebell swings are excellent for STRENGTHEING the lower back, and all through the core. Paul Chek says, “You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.” If you are weak in the core, your body cannot be powerful. If done properly, with a neutral spine and supported forward flexion, kettlebell swings are actually beneficial for health of the lower back.

Unfortunately, sometimes I see people swinging kettlebells with backs as crooked as question marks {Jillian Michael's Shred-It with Weights DVD}… this is obviously bad for the lower back- but it’s also flawed execution of the intended exercise (swing).

CLAIM #5: Kettlebells are suitable for senior fitness

True. Active aging is a population that needs attention. The “booming” American population is now in to their golden years, and they’re more active than ever before in history. These are people who have run marathons, done triathlons, and the like. Now, their joints are not agreeing with these exercises. High impact is out of the question for so many. But they have healthy hearts, lungs, muscles, and they are motivated- SO motivated to keep making positive gains. They want something intense, yet kind on the joints. Kettlebells provide all of the intensity of a hard run without the impact. It is a perfect fit for physical fitness, wellness, and self-efficacy, especially for active aging. *My recommended progression for senior kettlebell training is to begin with “air-ball” (no equipment/imaginary kettlebell) to focus on coordination. Then progress with weight accordingly.

CLAIM #6: Kettlebell burns more calories than any other workout.

FALSE. Kettlebell swings train strength, power, and cardio all in one. That makes them a very effective for energy expenditure. There are plenty of other exercises that also challenge strength, power, and cardio. Some body weight examples include: burpees, plyo lunges, and stance jacks- to name a few. Of course, those come with a higher price to pay for your joints. With the former (kettlebell swings), the potential energy is transferred to the bell, whereas with the later (burpees, etc), the potential energy is transferred to the body. So, the downside to body weight strength/power/cardio exercises is the toll it takes on your joints. But from an energy expenditure perspective, they render a high caloric burn. Be leery of any workout that claims to be “the best” for burning calories. Kettlebell swings, snatches, clean and jerks, etc can surely render a high caloric burn. The thing to always keep in mind is that you’ll get out of it what you put in to it.

CLAIM #7: “Kettlebell training is the only exercise that melts away cellulite”

FALSE! Please, can we all agree to stop saying any exercise can burn/melt/erase cellulite? It just can’t! Science proves that getting fitter through exercise (not just kettlebell- any regular exercise that effectively creates a leaner body) can diminish the appearance of cellulite. But it can not/will not/never will take the cellulite away. The only way that cellulite can effectively be extracted is through liposuction- on a living body or cadaver. If we can agree that you cannot decrease the number of fat cells that you have (you can only shrink those cells in size), then we can agree that you cannot “melt” cellulite with any exercise regime. {This false claim in "The Kettlebell Revolution" by Missy Beaver}.

CLAIM #8: It’s best to start with light kettlebells

Maybe. For exercises that are traditional strength, in nature, such as a presses and rows, it’s a good idea to start with light kettlebells. However, for exercises such as swings, cleans, and snatches, a light kettlebell can be detrimental to learning. If the weight is really light with swings, many clients will try to muscle the bell up with their deltoids, instead of using the glutes. Glutes should be the primary muscles in a swing! If using a light bell with a clean, the ball never even makes it to the triangle between the biceps and forearm, where cleans should land, because the ball is so small- it just lands on the back of the hand/top of the wrist. With the snatch, clients struggle to grasp the necessity to fire initially through the glutes, then to tame the arc, and lastly to ensure the ball travels around the arm (not over the knuckles) when they are manipulating a very light bell. Learning these things is much easier with the feedback of a heavy bell.

CLAIM #9: Doing a home study, reading a book, or watching a DVD is enough to learn kettlebell training

False. In order to keep Claim #1 “false,” it behooves fitness professionals to take live kettlebell certifications workshops, complete with theoretical and practical skills. It’s a good idea to check out the background of the presenter and the content of the certification. Because kettlebell is so vastly different than traditional strength training, previously held beliefs you may have about how strength training should be performed may be challenged. Learn how to safely teach and train with kettlebells with the supervision of a qualified kettlebell trainer in a live training. Quality kettlebell certifications to explore include Dragon Door’s HKC and RKC programs, as well as StrongFirst’s SFG workshops and certifications.

CLAIM #10: High Volume Intensity Kettlebell is the best-of-the-best kettlebell video

Maybe. This is my claim. And it's my belief! But it's my video, so I'm a teeny bit biased. One thing's for sure: it has a complete technique tutorial in the beginning to teach you the foundational postures to lay the groundwork for a safe experience. It is an extremely challenging 30-minute workout, but safe and super effective. This video can be purchased at downloaded at

Here's a 15-minute Wheel Workout that will demonstrate proper form in some of the exercises the kettlebell is most known for. It features Turkish Get-Ups as the "hub," and swings, snatches, windmills, dead lifts + goblet squats, and bent presses exercises as "spokes." After each spoke, it returns to the hub- like a wheel! This is a demonstration, not a guided workout. For a guided workout to teach you how to perform some of these moves properly, see "Claim #10."

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