PART ONE - The History & Advantage of the Kettlebell!

For those of you that know me well enough and have seen me train, there is 90% of the time a Kettlebell involved. By no means am I an expert in everything kettlebells, however I have been lucky enough to train with some of the best in the world.

Above: James with 2x32kg kettlebells overhead, during a double kettlebell snatch complex at CrossFit Moreland.

Above: James with 2x32kg kettlebells overhead, during a double kettlebell snatch complex at CrossFit Moreland.

I know many of you have heard about the Kettlebell, but what is the history behind these tools that have exploded onto the CrossFit, Strength & Conditioning and fitness scene?

The aim of this article is to introduce you the Kettlebell and to give you an understanding of the benefits that have been researched by some very smart people.

In Russia, kettlebells are a matter of national pride and a symbol of strength, a strongman or weightlifter was referred to as a girevik or “kettlebell man” (Tsatsouline, 2006). The term girevik would later be used to develop a Russian National sport known as Girevoy Sport or GS. The first GS competition was held in 1948, and it was later in 1985 that the first USSR National Girevoy Sport competition was held (Tsatsouline, 2001).

To participate in a GS competition, athletes must complete a 10-minute round with the Snatch (single bells) with one hand switch or Jerks (double bells). Each event is tallied upon total reps, in the weight division of bell used and the weight class of the athlete.

Moving away from GS and back to the Kettlebell for strength, originally strongmen began to use these tools in feats of strength and juggling in circus acts, however lets focus on what makes the kettlebell unique.

1. SIZE & SHAPE

As humans we are designed to be able to grip objects and move them around. The perfect design of the kettlebell handle, with a rounded and slightly angled edge allows the positioning of the hand to be advantageous. Furthermore, when the bell is placed in the rack position or overhead, it permits the wrist to maintain a straight, and therefore, stable position (refer photo below).

Above: avel Tsatouline, demonstrates a stable rack position in his famous book “Enter The Kettlebell” (2006).

Above: avel Tsatouline, demonstrates a stable rack position in his famous book “Enter The Kettlebell” (2006).

As you can see from the photo above, the wrist is straight and the size of the kettlebell sits comfortably on his bicep/pec and anterior shoulder. Tsatsouline, calls this the triangle of the elbow (Tsatsouline 2006). This is a safe and stable position for the shoulder and does not require extreme mobility/flexibility to achieve, unlike the barbell clean for example.

2. OFFSET CENTRE OF GRAVITY

Building on the shape of the Kettlebell, the concept behind offsetting the centre of gravity is to potentially increase the amount of muscle recruitment and requires an increase in stability. If we look at Turkish Get Up’s for example, the middle or bridge/transition position places the shoulder in an area of vulnerability, the participant must maintain a straight arm and wrist while the kettlebell is working with gravity to pull the arm behind. 

Above: Pavel Tsatsouline completing a few phases of the Turkish Get Up (Tsatsouline, 2006).

Above: Pavel Tsatsouline completing a few phases of the Turkish Get Up (Tsatsouline, 2006).

3. EXPLOSIVE FORCE

To continue with the centre of gravity concept, the Kettlebell swing and any lift that travels through the legs (Clean/Snatch/High Pull) creates an explosive stretch shortening effect. As the bell begins to travel downwards the acceleration of the bell increases, ultimately coming to a brief stop after a period of deceleration with the spine in neutral position and shin vertical (refer photo below). The athlete must then produce an explosive hip drive, launching the kettlebell out of the “hole”, while keeping the arms relaxed.

Above: Pavel Tsatsouline completing the end or bottom position of the KB swing (Tsatsouline, 2006).

Above: Pavel Tsatsouline completing the end or bottom position of the KB swing (Tsatsouline, 2006).

4. INCREASED REPS

Besides the aforementioned size and shape for safety, offset centre of gravity and explosiveness, being able to swing the kettlebell/s between your legs allows for a higher amount of reps and a decrease in fatigue accumulation as the weights maintain a continuous arc. With barbells and dumbbells the chances of swinging between your legs are impossible or not advisable at best (Tsatsouline, 2009).

FINAL WORDS

Although these are some really basic concepts, they highlight the potential cardiovascular and strength gains associated with the use of kettlebell training, and give us insight into the reason that these tools have exploded into the limelight in CrossFit, Strength & Conditioning and the general fitness industry.

This alone has led to an exponential increase in the amount of research into the effects of kettlebells training. As such, my future articles will delve into specific exercises and research into the positive effects of Girevoy training.

For now, please enjoy this photo of my signed copy of Pavel’s original The Russian Kettlebell Challenge book. For a lot of people there journey started here.

Kettlebell Challenge - Pavel

All the best in all your upcoming kettlebell training!

James McConnell
-Strength & Conditioning Coach

For more info on Kettlebells and Strength & Conditioning or to book a session with James contact us here: info@crossfitmoreland.com.au OR (03) 9388-1279.

James Profile

References & Recommended Reading:

1.     Pavel, Tsatsouline . The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. Dragondoor Publications, MN. 2001.
2.     Pavel, Tsatsouline. Enter the Kettlebell. Dragondoor Publications, MN. 2006.
3.     Pavel, Tsatouline. Return of the Kettlbell. Dragondoor Publications, MN. 2009.
4.     Pavel, Tsatsounline. Russian Kettlebell Challenge. Instructor Manual.  2011

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