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What you need to know about Kettlebells

Kettlebells have been hard to come by over the past few months during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why are kettlebells so popular for a home gym?

Kettlebells are a great addition to your home gym because they target muscles differently than free weights, are easy to transport, improve grip strength, demand good form, allow a variety of exercise options with one piece of equipment and can add load to your standard squats and lunges.

A brief history of the kettlebell:

Russian farmers in the 1700’s used it to weigh grain, but it dates back before that. Dr. Vladislav Krayevsky was a Russian pioneer of KB fitness in the early 1900’s. The Soviet Red Army in Russia adopted them into their training after World War 2 and kettlebell lifting became a national sport in 1948. The kettlebell started being used in the USA in the 1940’s.

How is a kettlebell different from a free weight:

A free weight or dumbbell connects two evenly-weighted bells and lies level in the center between them, a kettlebell’s center of gravity is offset from its handle. The offset load creates a center of gravity 6-8 inches from your grip and makes it harder to control, requiring more muscle activation to lift and control it.

What size should you start with:

The size depends on your fitness level, therefore; these recommendations are the average.

The average woman should start with an 6-8 kg kettlebell ( 13-18 pounds)

The average man should start with 11-16 kg kettlebell ( 24-35 pounds)

A few popular kettlebell exercises that we use in outpatient orthopedic physical therapy:

There are a variety of kettlebell exercises to choose from, but here are 4 of our favorites.

Kettlebell Goblet Squat:

The kettlebell goblet squat addresses core strength, leg strength, shoulder strength and balance. To ensure good form we have a patient place the KB by a wall, place toes up against the wall, squat down reaching for the KB and slowly lift into standing. Repeat until you get tired.

Kettlebell Plank Drag:

The kettlebell plank drag addresses core obliques, buttock strength & shoulder strength. Place yourself in a full plank or plank on knees, place the kettlebell under your armpit on the ground, take your opposite hand and drag the kettlebell along the ground to the opposite side. Repeat until you get tired.

Kettlebell Suitcase Carry:

The kettlebell suitcase carry addresses lateral (side) core strength, shoulder strength and balance. You can walk, slow march or do walking lunges as you hold the kettlebell at your side, shoulder height or overhead. Hold the kettlebell on one side until you get tired, then switch to the other side.

Kettlebell Halo:

The kettlebell halo is a great exercise to address shoulder strength, core strength and balance. We progress the exercise from the kneeling position, to half kneel, to standing and then single leg stance. The kettlebell is gripped with 2 hands starting in front of your face then brought in a circle positioned overhead over your right ear then turn to face backwards behind your head, then complete the circle over your left ear. Repeat in a clockwise direction until you fatigue, rest then perform in a counterclockwise direction until you fatigue. Find what position challenges you but does not create a strain on your body.

Kettlebells and physical therapy:

Kettlebells can be used to improve balance, strength, power and control in the 3 planes of motion, improve body awareness and address a patient's specific functional goals. Your physical therapist can use the kettlebell as a rehab tool in each phase of your recovery or educate you on proper use to achieve your fitness goals. Research supports the use of kettlebells for rehabilitation in physical therapy including work by Dr. Stuart McGill, from Canada.


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