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Kettlebell workout: How to use them for strength and cardio

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A personal trainer and kettlebell pro shares tips for kettlebell newbies.

Kettlebells are great workout tools to incorporate into your routine.

When you’re new to working out, or to strength training in general, there’s something really intimidating about facing a weight room or even a set of dumbbells (if you can even manage to find them right now). Enter the kettlebell, a type of dumbbell that’s round (like a bell) and has a handle, making it easy to lift and carry around. 

Because they are simple, yet versatile, they are great for beginners and workout veterans alike. And, as a bonus, they’re relatively inexpensive and you only need one to get a great, full-body workout.

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Kettlebells come in a variety of weights and styles, and can be used for many different workout moves. “The kettlebell is probably the most underrated piece of equipment in the gym. The way the bell is shaped allows you to train power, endurance and strength all in one little piece of iron,” says Lauren Kanski, certified personal trainer and founder of the K Method.

Getting started with a kettlebell workout may seem as easy as picking one up and swinging it around — but that can lead to injury. You need to know some basics before you get started to stay safe and get the best results. Keep reading for Kanski’s advice on how to get started with a kettlebell workout routine below.

Kettlebells come in a variety of weight increments, but newbies should start with a lighter weight. 

If you’ve never worked out with kettlebells, it’s important to start with a lightweight model so you don’t hurt yourself while you learn the basics. Kettlebells involve a lot more range of movements besides lifting them — so just because you can lift 15-20 pounds easily does not mean you can easily swing that over your head. 

Even though the weight you use will depend on your personal fitness level and background, in general Kanski recommends starting with an eight to 10 kg (about 17 to 22 lbs) kettlebell for workouts that involve any overhead movements and 10-14 kg (22-30 lbs) for beginners who want to learn how to do kettlebell swings (instructions below).

If you have experience with lifting weights or are currently strength training, you can try starting with a heavier weight. Kanski says those people can start with 12-24 kg (26-52 lbs) for any workout that involves lifting it overhead, and 24-32 kg (52-70 lbs) for kettlebell swings.

If you’re hesitant to try working out with kettlebells, don’t be intimidated. Although you can do a ton of advanced moves and workouts with them, they are completely beginner-friendly.

“Anyone can use kettlebells, no matter their training history. I train a wide demographic from athletes to the elderly to those recovering from injuries. It’s a very functional tool to target multiple planes of motion,” Kanski says. “The biggest thing for beginners is to learn how to hold the bell and work on that grip strength.” 

Standard grip: The standard grip is when you hold the horn or handle as you would lift groceries by the handle.

The standard kettlebell grip is similar to how you would grab a bag of groceries.

Front-racked position: “The front racked position is where the wrist is interlaced through the horn to position the bell between your chest, clavicle and bicep. This position is great for loading squats and acts as the starting position for any overhead pressing,” Kanski says. 

As with any new exercise routine, it’s important to take things slow. Be sure to take time to understand the proper form before you do each move, and make sure to warm up properly before you workout.

According to Kanski, one of the biggest mistakes she sees people make is jumping right into more advanced moves like swings and snatches before they’re ready. “Make sure you have the movement patterns mastered before you do anything explosive or with heavy loads,” she says. 

Master these three moves from Kanski and you’ll be off to a solid start with your kettlebell fitness routine. 

“This is really good for your core as you are loaded on one side and not the other. Your core stabilizers fight hard through the squat to keep you balanced,” Kanski says. 

“This move is exactly as it sounds, like you are carrying groceries home,” Kanski says. “This is great for your core, grip strength and overall body strength. Depending on load, do 30 seconds to 1 minute for each set.”

“Remember that this is a hip dominant movement not a squat. Your hips move the bell, your arms guide it into place. This takes a lot of practice, so play with it,” Kanski says.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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