Kettlebell Warrior: A Plateau-Busting Workout Regimen
By Mike Donavanik CPT, PES
Kettlebells—those heavy cast iron balls that closely resemble a cannonball with a handle on top—can radically transform your body. These old-school workout tools originated in Russia in the early 1700s and have been used to train the country's special armed forces. In recent years, kettlebells have become increasingly popular in the United States, particularly since they were used by the well-muscled cast of the film 300 to help build their lean, rock-hard, bodies—not to mention their eight-pack abs.
Kettlebells have been described as the ultimate workout tool—and for good reason. Used correctly, they will give you an intense aerobic and anaerobic full-body workout, as almost every movement you do with them utilizes virtually every major muscle in the body. They're hard to use, but well worth the effort. Kettlebells vary in size and weight, ranging from nine pounds to an 88-pound behemoth, and even the smallest can be used to build some serious strength.
Using kettlebells will improve not just strength but also endurance (both muscular and cardiovascular), flexibility, range of motion, and joint stability. You will be hard pressed to find any piece of equipment, big or small, that offers the variety and benefits that a kettlebell can. Add them to your current workout regimen or use them to break through a plateau; either way, you will reap the benefits and see the gains from using one.
KETTLEBELL WARRIOR WORKOUT
Below is a great workout for either the beginning or experienced kettlebell enthusiast. Start with a lighter weight—25 pounds or lighter, depending on your strength and fitness level—to first learn the movements. Don't get overzealous about size; even an 18-pound kettlebell can present quite a challenge. For an advanced version of this workout routine, increase your repetitions to 20 per set. For an extra intense workout, do a circuit: Complete one set of all eight exercises back to back with only 30 seconds rest between exercises. Then give yourself about three to five minutes rest and go through the entire circuit two more times.
When starting any kettlebell workout routine, it is imperative that you be cautious. Kettlebells provide a lot of benefits, but one bad move can seriously tweak a joint or injure your back. If you have any pain in your back, knees, shoulders, or hips, use extra caution and consult your doctor before beginning this kettlebell routine.
Exercise: Halos Primary Muscles Worked: Shoulders Reps: 10 in each direction Sets: 3 Rest Between Sets: 30 - 45 secs Description: Halos are a great exercise for opening and warming up your shoulders. Stand holding a kettlebell in both hands. Position the kettlebell bottom side up in front of your chest, with your palms facing in towards your chest. From this starting position, in one smooth motion make a counter-clockwise circle around your head by raising your right elbow and rolling the kettlebell back, between your shoulder blades, around your far shoulder, and back to the front. As you go around your back, your left elbow will come right over your head. Keep the kettlebell close to your body throughout. Next, repeat the exercise in the clockwise direction. Continue to alternate directions throughout the set. Your head and neck should remain in a neutral position, with the only movement coming from your shoulders and arms.
Exercise: One-Arm Kettlebell Swings Primary Muscles Worked: Legs, Core, Back Reps: 15 with each arm Sets: 3 Rest Between Sets: 30 - 45 secs Description: Get into a squat position with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, hips pressed back, and weight primarily in your heels. Hold the kettlebell between your feet in one hand, with your thumb facing forward. Keep the other hand off to the side. Make sure that your back is flat and look straight ahead before starting the movement. Start by swinging the kettlebell back between your legs. Quickly reverse the direction and drive through with your legs and hips explosively, taking the kettlebell straight out in an arc. From the top of the arc, allow the kettlebell to swing back between your legs and repeat. Switch arms with each set. The exercise primarily works your legs, so that is where your power should come from. This is not a frontal raise, so you should not be using your shoulders to bring the weight up overhead. Do a full set with one arm, and then switch arms and repeat.
Exercise: One-Arm Kettlebell Snatches Primary Muscles Worked: Legs, Shoulders, Core, Back Reps: 15 with each arm Sets: 3 Rest Between Sets: 30 - 45 secs Description: You should feel comfortable doing the kettlebell swing before attempting the snatch. Start the snatch in the same position as the swing above, with the kettlebell hanging between your squatted legs. Swing the kettlebell back between your legs. Quickly reverse direction and drive through with your legs and hips. As the kettlebell rises to shoulder level, pull it closer to your body using your biceps. As the momentum continues to carry the bell upward, punch through—straight overhead—to complete the snatch. It is important to finish with the kettlebell pressed straight overhead, as this will prevent the weight from slamming against your wrist. Don’t let the kettlebell come up and over the hand; instead, punch the handle so that the bell comes around to the wrist. Do a full set with one arm, and then switch arms and repeat.
Exercise: One-Arm Kettlebell Clean and Presses Primary Muscles Worked: Shoulders Reps: 15 with each arm Sets: 3 Rest Between Sets: 30 - 45 secs Description: Start in the same position as the last two exercises and swing the kettlebell back between your legs. Quickly reverse the direction and drive through with your legs and hips. Using the momentum, pull the kettlebell towards your body as if you were starting a lawnmower. As the weight comes forward, tuck your elbow into your side and let the bell wrap around your forearm. You have just completed the clean and are now in the racked position. From this position slightly bend your knees and use them to help you push the kettlebell straight up like a military press. From the top of the press, slowly bring the kettlebell back into the racked position, then bring the weight down to the starting position. Do a full set with one arm, and then switch arms and repeat
Exercise: Kettlebell Lunges Primary Muscles Worked: Legs Reps: 15 with each leg Sets: 3 Rest Between Sets: 30 - 45 secs Description: Start in an upright standing position with the kettlebell in one hand. Step one leg back in a lunge. Drop down through the back knee, keeping the weight more in your front leg's heel. As you step back, pass the kettlebell underneath your leading leg into your other hand. Step forward with your back leg, driving through your front heel to get back to an upright standing position. Repeat on the opposite side and continue to switch after each repetition.
Exercise: High Kettlebell Windmills Primary Muscles Worked: Abdominals (obliques), Shoulders (rotator cuff/stabilizers), Core Reps: 15 with each side Sets: 3 Rest Between Sets: 30 - 45 secs Description: This exercise is very similar to the triangle pose in yoga. To begin, clean and press or snatch a kettlebell overhead with one arm. Keep the kettlebell locked out and vertically overhead at all times. Your eyes should always be on the kettlebell, so look up to the sky (if this affects your neck, keep your head neutral). Keep your feet about shoulder width apart, and angle your feet out to about 45-degrees (both feet do not have to be at the exact same angle). Push your butt and hip back towards the kettlebell. The back leg should remain straight while the front leg should stay slightly bent. All the weight should be kept on your back leg and should never shift to your front leg. Bend at your hip and lower yourself until your non-working hand touches or almost touches the floor. Reverse the motion, extending your hip and using your glutes and obliques to bring you back to the starting position. It is very important to keep the working arm vertical and perpendicular to the floor at all times to ensure no injury to the shoulder. Do a full set with one arm, and then switch arms and repeat.
Exercise: Kettlebell Renegade Rows Primary Muscles Worked: Back, Core Reps: 15 with each arm Sets: 3 Rest Between Sets: 30 - 45 secs Description: Get into the top position of a plank, or push-up position holding onto two kettlebells that are less than shoulder width apart. Take a shoulder-width stance and shift your weight to your left side, creating weightlessness on your right side. You should be able to hold your right hand out without losing balance or having to re-shift your weight—this will prevent you from jerking the kettlebell while you row. Once you have shifted your weight and established weightlessness on the opposite side, begin your row: Lift the bell up in the row by pulling your elbow directly upward, and then slowly lower it back to the ground. Next, shift your weight to your right side and row with your left arm. Continue to switch arms after each repetition.
Single-Kettlebell Variation: If you only have one kettlebell, take a dumbbell (30-pounds or heavier) and turn it vertically so that one end is on the floor. The dumbbell will take the place of the kettlebell that you balance on. Shift your weight onto the dumbbell side and proceed to row with your opposite arm. Do a full set of rows with one arm, and then switch the dumbbell and kettlebell and repeat with the other arm.
Exercise: Turkish Get-up Situps Primary Muscles Worked: Core Reps: 15 with each arm Sets: 3 Rest Between Sets: 30 - 45 secs Description: Lie down on the floor as if you were to do a regular crunch. Hold a kettle vertically overhead with the bottom pointing up. Keep the arm locked out and vertical at all times. Be sure to keep your eye on the kettlebell at all times. The non-working hand should stay to your side, slightly elevated off the floor. In one smooth motion, do a complete sit up, punching the kettlebell upward and keeping it locked out and directly overhead as you lift. Your feet may slightly lift off the ground. Try to come up until your back is straight and in a neutral position. From the top of the situp, slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position, keeping your feet from lifting off the ground and holding the kettlebell above you.