Live Right Live Well: Health & Fitness
Krazy for Kettlebells
By Karen Asp for Live Right Live Well
Everyone needs strength training. Aerobics target your heart and lungs, but strength training focuses on building and maintaining muscle. This is important because muscle mass naturally decreases as you age. Adopting a good strength-training program can help you stay fit and strong both now and in the future.
Among the many strength-training options (free weights, resistance bands, weight machines, body-weight exercises like push-ups, crunches and squats), one of the hottest choices today is kettlebells. Although kettlebell-training may be new to you, Russian athletes and the military have used these “cannonballs with handles” for hundreds of years. Only recently have they gone mainstream in the United States, largely because they offer numerous benefits for all fitness levels:
- Full body workout The weight of a kettlebell is offset; as a result, when you hold a kettlebell, your body has to work hard to stay balanced -- which means you engage more muscles, especially your core. "Kettlebells train your whole body, targeting multiple muscles with each move," says Kris Daly, senior instructor with Kettlebell Concepts and a physical therapist and personal trainer in Palm Desert, Calif.
- Functional training A kettlebell workout mimics the way your body moves in everyday life, says Daly. This makes you stronger and better able to handle life's daily challenges, from carrying your kids to lifting a bag of dog food to picking up sticks in your backyard.
- Aerobic benefits Since many kettlebell moves require momentum, which boosts your heart rate, you're training aerobically while building strength. "By doing strength and cardio in one workout, you get more done in a shorter amount of time," says Amy Bento, a Russian kettlebell certified instructor in Norwalk, Conn., and creator of the “Kettlebell 3-in-1” DVD. Kettlebell training also improves balance, agility and coordination, she adds.
- Faster results If you're trying to slim down or reshape your body, kettlebells may give you faster results. Whenever you try something new, your body will respond," Bento says. "Depending on how often you train and what intensity you train at, you can accelerate your goals with kettlebell training."
Although kettlebell training can benefit anybody, from the novice exerciser to the elite athlete, it does have a learning curve. That's why you should find a certified kettlebell instructor and take an introductory class or lesson. No instructor nearby? DVDs are the next best thing. To get the most out of your kettlebell training, follow these strategies:
Work out in front of a mirror This way, you can check your form.
Choose the right weight If exercise gives you heartburn, stick with lighter kettlebells. Otherwise, women who are new to strength training can usually start with a 10-pound bell, while women who have strength-training experience can go for 12 pounds, Bento says. Meanwhile, untrained men can start with a 12-pound bell, and trained men with 15 or 18 pounds.
Give yourself space Make sure you have enough room to move -- usually a minimum of your height squared, Daly says. So if you’re 6 feet tall, you should find a spot that’s at least 6 feet by 6 feet.
Avoid loose-fitting clothes Although loose and flowing pants may work for yoga, they won't work for kettlebell training, as you could accidentally get caught in your clothes. Daly recommends formfitting outfits instead.
Use good lifting technique When picking up a kettlebell off the floor, lift with your legs, not your back.
Sink your weight When performing kettlebell moves, sink your weight into your heels, hamstrings and glutes. "You want to feel grounded," Bento says. Once you get proficient with the moves, you can go barefoot -- the preferred way to train, as your feet provide a more solid base than shoes. But beginners may want to wear shoes until they feel confident they won’t drop the kettlebell.
Look up Avoid gazing at the ground when training with kettlebells. Instead, look up so that your chest is elevated, your core is engaged and your spine is aligned, Bento says.
If you’re bored with your current strength-training program or don’t have one to begin with, pick up a kettlebell. "There's nothing like kettlebell training," Bento says. "It's fun, you'll feel strong and powerful, you'll take your fitness to the next level, and you can work out your stress all in one workout."
Karen Asp is a fitness and health writer and a certified personal trainer who writes for numerous publications, including SELF, Glamour, Women’s Health, Family Circle, Prevention, Redbook and Men’s Fitness. Karen is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.
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