At a gym, you'll find barbells with a coat of rust, dumbbells thrown all around the room; at a newer gym you'll see smooth, coloured plates neatly racked. Compared to all this 'serious' equipment, the kettlebell seems almost uninviting: a globe of compact weight with a flat surface and a handle jutting out on top. It evinces curiosity, yes, but it isn’t the first thing you would pick up at a gym. Which is a shame, because the kettlebell is one of the most versatile pieces of workout equipment.
“The first time I saw a kettlebell, I thought its only purpose was to do kettlebell swings,” says Priyanka Lahiri, a fitness and nutrition consultant. She has since acquired a kettlebell to aid her home workouts. The kettlebell swing is a popular functional move which works the glutes, hamstrings, back, core, and shoulders.
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It is a difficult move to execute correctly. For starters, you need at least a basic level of fitness, and need to work on getting your posture right. The move involves hinging the hips back while holding a kettlebell with both hands and returning to an upright position using your posterior chain rather than just momentum and arm strength; the arms, in this case, merely hold the kettlebell. The kettlebell swing works muscles and increases the heart rate, making it an excellent overall move.
“The sad part is If you go to any commercial gym in India, hardly anyone will be able to teach you how to do a kettlebell swing: the posture required, and the muscles to be activated,” says Umesh Batchu, 37, who specialises in kettlebell coaching and owns a gym in Bengaluru.
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Batchu’s favourite kettlebell exercises—apart from the swing—are snatch, clean, and some complex flows which combine these exercises together. He says that these moves need a degree of coaching, because if you do them wrong and without correct form, it could lead to wrist pain. “The kettlebell is not just a pre-workout warm-up tool. It is primary workout equipment and that means you need to work on your shoulder, wrist, and hip mobility before even attempting something as basic as a kettlebell swing,” says Batchu. He regularly posts kettlebell workouts on his Instagram page @coachumesh.
The kettlebell also doubles up as a mobility and stability tool. My calisthenics trainer would put me through an entire routine of kettlebell-aided moves before a workout. These would target the stabilization of the shoulders and the core. These moves would be performed with lighter weights of 4-6 kgs.
“The kettlebell is designed in a way that you simply have to engage your core to balance it when you’re lifting it top down. If you don’t engage a host of muscles, it becomes difficult to lift it. That said, I find the grip design much better than barbells which are either too thick or too clunky to carry around,” says Lahiri, whose daily workouts now include a 24-kg kettlebell.
She has enjoyed figuring out how much one can do with a single kettlebell: sumo deadlifts, goblet squats, lunge-to-press, and single-leg deadlifts are just some of the moves she’s been practicing. “My gains have become better after I incorporated a kettlebell into my routine. Given the way it is designed allows for a better posture and a better mind-muscle connection,” she adds.
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Batchu did his kettlebell coaching course from the US-based instructor Eric Leija, who is a well-known kettlebell specialist in the fitness industry. Leija’s approach to the kettlebell is more creative than functional. He believes that this equipment can change the way traditional training works. “My kettlebell courses combine strength, conditioning, and mobility to make sure you are not only getting bigger, faster, and stronger but also more mobile and durable so that you can minimize your risk for injury and keep training and getting better,” says Leija on his website.
The final, and quite attractive, proposition is that with home workouts being the only option for the foreseeable future, getting a kettlebell is perfect investment. Not only is it a versatile piece of equipment, it also takes up very little space. “It is easier to store, grip, and you won’t need to keep investing in plates when you have one kettlebell,” says Lahiri.
Kettlebell weights usually start at 4kgs, so if you’re wondering what weight you should use for most workouts, then Batchu suggests buying one which is slightly difficult to lift. “The weight you order shouldn’t be too comfortable to pick up. And if you have two kettlebells, I am sure that you will have a killer workout,” he says.
The primary suggestion from Batchu is to start light and speak with an experienced fitness trainer to get form right. If one cannot do that, there are lots of videos on YouTube on the various grips for a kettlebell, and how to get your form right. But from biceps to back, chest to triceps, and legs to shoulders, every minute spent on learning how to properly work a kettlebell will go a long way to getting fitter, faster, and stronger.
“When you work out with a kettlebell, it feels very different. It maintains your body, even if it won’t immediately bulk it up. And the best part is you don’t need to keep loading up on the weights - just one piece of equipment is enough.”
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.