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Why is kettlebell training so effective? [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jan 15, 2018 10:00:00 AM

Why is kettlebell training so effective

Why is kettlebell training so effective? [Article]

There is a craze about kettlebells and they have taken the fitness world by storm. You can now find them in any major fitness outlet in different forms and shapes. But why is kettlebell training so effective? It all depends on what your goals are and it just so happens to be that kettlebells have a pretty good alignment with what most people in the market want.


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Effective for what?

When it comes to fitness you have to ask yourself what effectiveness even means. Effectiveness is depending on your goals and whether a certain exercise helps you to meet these. The most common aspirations clients have cover three different territories 
  • Looks
  • Performance
  • Health 
So first it is important what your desire is and whether kettlebell training fits to be effective. Looks are deceiving and achieved most often by a tight dieting regime. Performance is achieved by pushing yourself beyond your capabilities to grow. Health is maintained by a balanced and calculated approach.
Cleaning up your diet and being disciplined is harder than exercising based on established habits. If it is the looks you are after doing half of the calories you consume now for a limited time usually gets the desired result of a six-pack. Based on how many calories and weight you have to lose this time period is longer or shorter. Always consult a doctor when you make major changes to your diet, especially with the goal of weight loss. The kettlebell can be a tool to shape up and burn calories in addition and is not the main driver for better looks. 
Performance is different and usually tied to a sport. There are several parameters and as long as your goal is strength related the kettlebell will be an effective tool to make you stronger. Especially when you want to be explosive and work on how fast your existing power unfolds the kettlebell will be an instructive, exciting and effective tool. For increases in absolute strength, however, many athletes and coaches find the barbell to be more effective. A healthy mix of both is a recipe for success for anyone serious about strength. 
Training for health purposes is usually related to cardiovascular challenges or rehabilitation from injury. If you want to work on your heart rate and blood circulation a kettlebell is an effective tool and good alternative to other forms of exercise which you personally enjoy less. Be aware that the kettlebell swing is a complex movement and already requires a slightly better than average fitness level to be performed correctly and securely. It is not necessarily a proper tool for absolute starters in the gym who are better off to start with bodyweight exercises. For rehabilitation from injury, it depends on the injury whether the kettlebell is effective or not. Generally, exercises with added resistance without supervision are not a good idea for rehab. If used start slow and build up rather than jumping in the deep end. 

Is it the kettlebell or the way you train? 

When you ask "why is kettlebell training so effective" more often than not you are thinking about the context of fat loss. Kettlebell training is effective for fat loss but not necessarily because of the kettlebell but the structure of most kettlebell training programs. 
When it comes to fat loss there are these things to consider
  • Diet
  • Workload 
  • Type of stress 
  • Adaptation to the stress
We already talked about diet and how you will lose fat when you go into a caloric deficit. The equation behind the fact that you gain or lose weight is simple 
Calories eaten - calories burned = surplus or deficit 
While diet manipulates the intake part of this for this equation, exercise attacks the subtractor. For weight loss, intense bursts of high-intensity work or long sustained aerobic exercise are very helpful. Basically, anything which makes you sweat hard. The advantage of kettlebell training is that it is well suited to be used for high-speed intensity training and sustained aerobic exercise. Where barbell training is not ideal to have you continuously make you move over time kettlebells can. 
The major point about the perception of kettlebells being effective tools for training is that most people want to look better by losing weight and that kettlebells can be easily used to create high-intensity workouts with a high rate of calories burned per minute. In addition, they also provide a more fun and challenging alternative to individuals who like to push themselves in the gym compared to treadmills and free weights. 
However it is not the kettlebell that drives its effectiveness for losing fat, but the way it is being used. You can achieve similar results by planning interval training using running, free weight training or machines. If you do not like the kettlebell, the way you use the tools trumps for effectiveness for weight loss over what tool you use. 

Components of athleticism 

If you want to be an athlete and you mainly care about performance rather than looks or health there are components of athleticism you will care about. It is very likely that these factors are important to you
  • Strength 
  • Explosiveness 
  • Endurance 
  • Reaction 
  • Intelligence
And many more factors which are directly related to your sport like control of a ball or the ability to feel the field. While you can not train all of these 5 parameters with kettlebells three out of five is not a bad deal. Based on the nature of the kettlebell swing, which is usually used synonymous with kettlebell training, you have a compound exercise that makes you more explosive, strengthens your body and trains endurance at the same time.
In terms of strength, it is hard to put your finger on what kind of strength kettlebells build, as this is hard to measure. For me, in my training and based on many anecdotal references it helps to build grip strength, a balanced power pattern in the midsection and muscle in the lower back area. I feel like the kettlebell helps me to build a more athletic and nimble body when I was already very strong in terms of absolute strength. The downside for strength development with the swing is that compared to the big three, the bench press, squat and deadlift and the Olympic lifts, it does not attack the big muscles like the glutes and pecs to the same extent. To be fair, if you have heavier kettlebells and put together more complex routines this can also be done. If you aim to do a 200kg back squat get some barbell training in. Kettlebells only will not do the trick.
Explosiveness is the one thing in which the kettlebell excels. If you want to train to contract your midsection quick and efficiently to develop maximum strength in this area in milliseconds this is the exercise for you. To make this work it is important that you know how to execute the swing correctly. I recommend the books by Pavel Tsatsoulin and a course with a Certified Strongfirst coach for you. It is worth the investment to swing like a pro.
Endurance is the last of the kettlebell triumvirate. The nature of the swing allows for longer sprints in interval training or circuits than the barbell. It also helps that the setup is easier as the kettlebell does not need a rack or safety pins. The kettlebell helps to extend the time under tension compared to other free weight exercise and helps to build strength endurance. If you want to improve your VO2 max, which is important for long distance endurance athletes, there is no way around long distance runs and swims. For Mere Mortals, the kettlebell will help you to get up the stairs without huffing and puffing, though. 

The study everyone harps about

When you do some research on kettlebell training you will often read that swinging away burns more calories per minute than running. While kettlebells are an excellent well-rounded tool which is cost effective to improve overall fitness this number has to be looked at with a bit of skepticism.
The study which is often referred to states that kettlebell training burns up to 20 calories per minute. When compared to running that is an excellent number. However, the study was conducted with experienced kettlebell athletes performing one of the most demanding exercises, the kettlebell snatch. Compared to most running studies which are conducted with relatively unfit individuals this is like comparing the calories which Micheal Phelps burns in the pool when training to your husband's calorie consumption when he has a jog around the blog. I am exaggerating purposefully here but you get the point. If you opt for kettlebell training do so because it is the right tool to work hard and regularly on your goals because it suits you rather than because you get more bang for the buck. That is the more sustainable decision as consistency of work trumps anything else in fitness, especially if your only goal is weight loss. 

Which program to pick 

There is a multitude of programs out there which use the kettlebells. The newer you are to the tool, the simpler the routine should be.
Programs which let you change positions often and use two kettlebells at the same time or many kettlebells of different sizes unnecessarily bring complexity to the table which you do not need as a beginner.
This is a concept you will find in many sports and also a folly which trainers and athletes fall into. It is not about how many different things you can do shitty. It is about mastering one building block first and then build the next on top of it. As Bruce Lee said 
"I do not fear the man who practiced a million different kicks once but one kick a million times."
Your daily friend would, therefore, be the simple and sinister routine by Pavel Tsatsoulin which prescribes 100 swings and 10 Turkish get-ups. This might not sound a lot and believe me it will lick you into shape. Please read this book to fully comprehend the details and how to perform the routine for the most impact for your fitness goals. 


The kettlebell is a very effective tool to build overall strength and endurance that can be applied to many real-world scenarios because of its simplicity. Especially for women, it is a great entry point to strength training and for men a good tool to teach better body awareness and stability. Its effectiveness on the internet might be a little overstated based to reference and comparison flaws but his should discourage you to give kettlebells a spin, especially if you do not like free weights and treadmills and want something in between.

Further reading 


Topics: Lift stronger, Kettlebell