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If you think kettlebells are just glorified dumbbells, keep reading.
“A kettlebell’s centre of gravity actually shifts during the course of the exercise,” says strength and conditioning expert Jason C. Brown. In that way, it’s like many of the objects you lift every day (overstuffed briefcases, lopsided shopping bags, unruly toddlers), and repeated use provides much the same benefit: functional, real world strength. “A kettlebell’s unique shape also allows you to transition from one exercise to the next without putting it down,” says Brown. Trainers call this nonstop strategy “kettlebell flow,” and the results speak for themselves: a better metabolic burn and more muscle in significantly less time.
Perform the following workout as a “ladder”. Begin with one rep of each exercise on your right side, moving from one to the next without rest. Next, do two reps of each on your right side, then three, and so on up to five reps. Rest for two minutes, and then repeat the ladder on your left side. If your grip isn’t strong enough to complete a full ladder on one side, alternate sides, resting for one minute between rep levels. To improve your grip even faster, do the farmer’s walk.
1 Kettlebell single-arm snatch
Grab a kettlebell with your right hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, letting the kettlebell hang at arm’s length in front of you. Swing it between your legs and, in one fluid motion, pull it forward and up. When it reaches heart level, flip it behind your forearm and punch it overhead. “The snatch trains your whole body in one move,” says Brown.
2 Kettlebell windmill
With the kettlebell still overhead, pivot your feet so your toes point 45 degrees away from the weight. Keeping your right arm straight overhead, push your hips to the right and slide your left hand down your left leg. Pause, and then reverse the move to return to the start. “Not only does this strengthen your shoulders,” says Brown, “but it also hits your core.”
3 Kettlebell single-arm front squat
Bring the kettlebell into the “rack position” – right elbow by your side, weight in front of your right shoulder, palm facing in. Push your hips back and lower your body into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor, and then stand back up. “Doing squats with a barbell puts a lot of stress on your wrists,” says Brown. “With kettlebells, your wrists stay in a safe, neutral position.”
4 Kettlebell single-arm shoulder press
Stand with the kettlebell just outside your shoulder, palm facing forward. Push the weight straight overhead, and then slowly lower it back down to the starting position. “The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body as well as the least stable, so it’s important to maintain proper form,” says Brown. “That means keeping your elbow close to your side.”
Gird Your Grip
A firm handshake isn’t the only reason to strengthen your grip. “A powerful grip increases both the amount of weight you can lift and the length of time you can hold it,” says strength and conditioning coach Tony Gentilcore. It also helps translate strength from your upper body to the world around you. To improve your grip, Gentilcore recommends doing the farmer’s walk twice a week at the end of your workout or whenever you can fit it in.
Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells and let them hang naturally at arm’s length by your sides, holding them as tightly as possible. Now walk for as long as you can before your grip starts to fail. (For an added challenge, grasp each dumbbell by its end, or walk on your toes to make the exercise do double duty by targeting your calves.) If you can walk for longer than 60 seconds, you’re ready for a heavier weight.