This article was written by Michael Easter and repurposed with permission from Men’s Health.
Fifteen years ago, very few people outside Eastern Europe had ever heard of kettlebells. Today, these weights are in almost every gym in America, and “kettlebell workouts” is the sixth most Googled exercise term on the planet. No wonder: “Kettlebells are more user-friendly than barbells or dumbbells,” says kettlebell pioneer and StrongFirst.com chairman Pavel Tsatsouline.
“You don’t need as many to hit every muscle, and they offer distinct advantages for boosting mobility and all-around strength.” Follow these rules to get the most out of every rep.
Training Rule 1: Understand How They Work
Unlike a barbell or dumbbell, a kettlebell has a load that’s offset from its handle. “That amplifies the ballistic forces in quick, dynamic movements, effectively making the kettlebell feel heavier than it actually is,” says Tsatsouline. It also places greater demand on your stabilizing muscles, core, and coordination, leading to bigger (and much faster) gains. Plus, because of its thick handle, the kettlebell is a great tool for developing better grip strength, says Tsatsouline.
Training Rule 2: Know When to Use Them
“Kettlebells are ideal for explosive, total-body exercises, such as swings and snatches,” says Tsatsouline. They’re also good for the overhead press because you get a good stretch at the bottom and a perfect lockout at the top. As for the triceps extension, biceps curl, and other moves that hit smaller muscle groups, a kettlebell works just as well as a dumbbell does. But if you’re going heavy (deadlift or bench press, for example), grab a barbell.
Training Rule 3: Focus on Your Form
A kettlebell’s off-balance design makes good technique even more important. “Keep your wrists straight,” says Tsatsouline. Bending your wrists raises your risk of strain and doesn’t let you transfer power as effectively between your body and the bell. Also, keep your weight on your heels and your shoulders pulled down and back. “That increases your stability and allows you to generate more power, boosting your performance in every exercise,” says Tsatsouline.
And for a complete guide on mastering kettlebells—as well as dumbbells and sandbags—check out Men’s Health’s new book, Push, Pull, Swing! It’s got important know-how for men and women!