Weekly Wellness What the heck is a kettlebell

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COLUMBIA - They are Russian. They were developed in the 1700s. They were originally created for weighing crops. The Soviet army used them as part of their physical training in the 20th century. They have been used for competition and sports throughout Russia and Europe since the 1940s.

What are they? Kettlebells.

Kettlebell exercises build strength and endurance, particularly in the lower back, legs, and shoulders, and increase grip strength. The basic movements, such as the swing, snatch, and the clean and jerk, engage the entire body in a way that mimics real world activities such as shoveling or farm work. The unique shape of the kettlebell provides the "unstable force" for handling - key for the effectiveness of the kettlebell exercises.

Kettlebell exercises often involve large numbers of repetitions. Kettlebell exercises tend to work several muscles simultaneously and may be repeated continuously for several minutes or with short breaks. In one study, participants performed a 20-minute snatch workout and were then measured. Researchers found that the participants burned, on average, 13.6 calories/minute aerobically and 6.6 calories/minute anaerobically during the entire workout which would be equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace. 

The anatomy of a kettlebell is comprised of the handle (the top), the horns (the sides of the handle that connect the handle to the ball) and the ball (the bottom weighted portion).

There are a few basic terms and exercises that a beginning kettlebell-user should know :

Basic swing: Lift with the legs. It's a "swing", not a pull nor a lift. Allow your arms to be a limp extension of your body and the movement is going to originate in your hips, pelvis and legs. Keep your core braced. You may feel discomfort in your back (especially if you're new to performing the exercise) but if you feel pain, you may be doing something wrong.

Rack position: Kettlebell handle should rest in the meat of the hand and the ball should rest gently on the back of the wrist. Keep your kettlebell and arm against your body. This is a smooth, gentle movement. When moving the bell into the rack position, it should be a smooth glide - not a hard landing.

Halo: Holding the kettlebell by the horns, start with the kettlebell inverted, ball up, at eye level. Keeping your arms tucked in to your body, you're going to allow the kettlebell to round your head, behind your head and back to the front starting position. As a beginner, you will keep the kettlebell behind the head at the back of the move. As you get stronger, allow the kettlebell to drop further behind your back. This is a great move to warm up and work the shoulders.

Most gyms and fitness centers have kettlebells for their members to use. Some even offer fitness classes that use kettlebells that are lead by an instructor. If you are interested in learning more about kettlebells, contact your local gym or fitness center or check online for how-to videos.