Kettlebell Research, History and More…

Kettlebell History

A kettlebell is a centuries-old Russian training tool that looks like a bowling ball with a handle. The kettlebell appears in a 1704 Russian Dictionary (Cherkikh, 1994).It appears that, originally, kettlebells were counter-weights used in Russian markets. Country folk started throwing them around and eventually they became very popular in Russia as a training tool. In 1913 the Russian magazine Hercules reported “Not a single sport develops our muscular strength and bodies as well as kettlebell athletics.” A Russian strong man was referred to as a kettlebell man –girevik. Girya is Russian for Kettlebell. Although kettlebells develop strength, a kettlebell-trained body is not bulky.

Russian athletes and common folk have been using kettlebells for centuries. Tsarist Russia declared the kettlebell as the conditioning tool for the masses. The 1980 Russian track and field team trained with kettlebells and swept gold in all throwing events.

The Russian Military has long used kettlebells for conditioning and in fact do not test push-ups. They use a kettlebell snatch test.

The Christian Science Monitor reports: When Russian and US Special Forces started competing against each other after the Soviet Union broke up, the Americans made a disturbing discovery. “We’d be totally exhausted and the Russians wouldn’t even be catching their breath.” says…[a] Secret Service agent…”it turned out they were all working with kettlebells.”

The United States Secret Service has now instituted a 10-minute kettlebell snatch test. ((10-minute max. rep snatches with 24 kg KB (53 lb) =250 reps))

This leads to the next question…

How are kettlebells used?

Kettlebells can be used in ballistic or swinging movements or used in press and pull exercises similar to those one would use with a weight. The displacement of the weight from the hand requires that the stabilizing muscles engage more with each movement than would be required of a similar movement with a weight such as a dumbell. Kettlebell exercises are whole-body exercises requiring full body integration and core stabilization. There is no such thing as isolated muscle work in Kettlebell training.If you’re curious about the snatch test used by the military, it is one of the main kettlebell exercises. It’s an intermediate-level exercise, so you wouldn’t learn this the first day. You would learn more basic moves first and then learn the progressions that will get you there. The military uses a 53 lb kettlebell.

Why are full-body exercises important?

1. Our bodies are integrated. We do not do isolated movements in real life. We want to train the body in movement patterns that are natural to the body. We move in multiple planes with multiple joint action.

2. Full body exercises are functional exercises. Functional movements mimic motor recruitment patterns that are found in everyday life. They are mechanically sound and they strengthen the “kinetic chain” (integrated movement systems of the body).

3. Functional movements have been shown to elicit high neuro-endocrine response, a critical component for fitness improvement. In short, better results!

How do Kettlebells compare with other modalities in terms of functionality?

Without getting too technical, Paul Check a world-renowned expert in the field of corrective and high performance kinesiology has found kettlebell training programs to be superior when rated in terms of biomotor richness. Biomotor means “life movement”, so biomotor abilities are those abilities that are necessary for functional human movement. These can be defined as Strength, Endurance, Speed, Coordination and Flexibility. Power is the combination of strength and speed. The combination of flexibility and coordination produces agility.For example, we can take one movement –the squat– and compare biomotor richness. Check finds twice the results with an advanced KB squat over a machine squat, and 1-1/2 x the results over an olympic squat.

Speaking of research…

The carry-over effect of training with kettlebells is A M A Z I N G. First of all, there is something in the training world known as training specificity. That is, if you want to do better at something you train very specifically for it. If you want to run faster you have to run faster. If you want to jump higher, you need to spend time jumping. The interesting thing with kettlebells is that there is a great carry-over effect into other physical activities.The Voropayev study of 1983 involved 2 groups of subjects studied over a few years and tested with a standard battery of armed forces physical training tests. The tests were pull-ups, a standing broad Jump, a 100 meter sprint, and a 1 k run. The control group followed a typical university physical education program that emphasized these tests. The experimental group just lifted kettlebells. In spite of a lack of practice on the tested exercises, the kettlebell group showed better scores in every exercise!

And another example…

Athletes routinely work with momentum and therfore experience direct benefits when working with momentum-based kettlebell moves. As an example, Cal Poly’s Division I Football team and Women’s Soccer teams used kettlebells for conditioning and here’s what Chris Holder, strength and conditioning coach for Cal Poly’s 20 varsity sports says:“We were the fittest, fastest and strongest team every time we took the field …the only thing we did different from previous years was our kettlebell training.”

“…it proved to be the X-factor for our success (as far as speed, conditioning and that 4th quarter mojo we had was concerned. …We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the kettlebells…”