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December 2, 2009
Kettlebells not Always Best
As the fitness fad of stability balls fades, the excitement over Kettlebells has encouraged many coaches, trainers and athletes to pursue this training as it provides a very portable workout. The Kettlebell is a weight consisting of a cast iron ball with a single handle for gripping the weight during exercise. Its Russian roots only make this implement more mysterious and appealing for consumers. Like anything new to your workout, the Kettlebell will provide a challenge, but presents 2 major problems for athletes. The first problem in using Kettlebells for athletes is that you only have a certain amount of time to train outside of your sport. Therefore, we must choose the most “bang for your buck” movements. As reviewed previously (see Sparta Point 10/9/09), the squat stimulates more lower body musculature than any other exercise. A study out of the University of Oregon found that trained subjects recruited more muscle in a squat than other movements, as well as recruiting more muscle during the squat than their beginner counterparts. Once you’ve ensured squats are in your program, you have the option of adding other movements, but again the choice must be centered on the most efficient route. For example, how many exercises do you add and how many sets can you fit into the allotted training time. Because athletes need to be challenged both physically and mentally, the best way is to master weightlifting movements, like a sport skill of throwing a ball or jumping. In order to master this skill, the more repetitions and sets, the better (see Sparta Point 7/8/09). The second problem with Kettlebells for athletes is the risk of injuries that are actually present during some of the more common movements like Olympic Lifts, even among a trained specialist. Ideally, the Olympic lifts are performed with a barbell that spins as the athlete’s wrist turns over for the catch on the shoulders or above the head. When this barbell is replaced by a Kettlebell, the shoulder muscles are at risk for strain as they must stabilize for the “unnatural” fall of the Kettlebell at the end of the catch. The rapid stretching of these muscles and the forearm puts considerable stress on the elbow joint as well. We won’t even address the performance gap between you performing a 40 lb Kettlebell clean and a 220 lb barbell clean. Which movement recruits more overall musculature? We  focus on the most efficient sport skills (i.e. sprinting and jumping) and weightlifting movements that will generate the most muscular activity (i.e. squats and overhead pressing).
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December 2, 2009
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6 thoughts on “Kettlebells not Always Best”

  1. hi i use kettlebells and i do a workout for 20-25 mins 40 second per exercise 10-15 second rest 20 exersices with a 9kg kettlebell so its a cardio workout for my boxing training i choose one alloverbody movement than follow with a core movement then upper body then lower body then is back to a allover body movement and so on until i have completed 20 exersises and i do diffrent exercises for monday wednesday and friday workouts, and this has worked well for me im ripped ,fit and got an inch of muscle more than i had plus more power in my punches due to lower body exercises as i hated workin legs with weights with the kettle bell say for instance kb swings your workin legs and you dont even realise it how cool is that

  2. I hope you’re not personally offended Anonymous by our blog, as I’m confused on your ?.

    The point of this article is not that kettlebells are very bad, but that our athletes (high school, college, and pro) have limited time to train. In this limited time to train, we must prioritize exercises according to maximal benefit.

    The need for improving the skill/muscle activation of a squat and running outweigh the provision of lighter and slower implements of kettlebells and dumbbells

  3. I’m not a kettlebell zealot, but think they have the advantage of generally being unilateral in use. Barbells work the body bilaterally, only in the sagital plane, and don’t require engagement of as many synergists and stabilizing muscles. Isn’t this also important to sports training?

    I do agree that some of the exercises that involve flipping the weight over the wrist are sketchy and probably better done with a dumbbell.

    Positive Massage Therapy

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