When it comes to workouts, kettlebells rule.
Once used by Russian strongmen, these free weights, which have been compared to cannonballs with handles, are now commonly used during moves like squats, single-arm kettlebell rows and kettlebell swings to torch calories, boost endurance and build muscle.
“Kettlebell workouts are … a very efficient tool for all your workout goals,” says master kettlebell instructor Andrea Du Cane. “You can spend as little as 10–15 minutes and get a full-body workout.”
Here are five reasons to incorporate kettlebells into your workouts:
Like conventional weights, kettlebells are weighted (in sizes ranging from 3–60 pounds) and can be used in strength-training workouts — but Du Cane believes kettlebells have significant advantages over free weights.
“You can use them for swings, presses, squats, deadlifts … single-leg deadlifts and rows,” she explains. “One unique benefit over conventional weights is the design; the handle and offset load make the stabilizers work much harder, which improves strength and mobility … and holding heavy kettlebells in the rack position activates the core and requires the body to work harder during squats.”
In one study, participants who engaged in 30–45-minute kettlebell workouts experienced overall strength gains, but the most significant impact was a 70% increase in their abdominal core strength.
Kettlebells offer a great combination of strength training and cardio that provides off-the-charts calorie-burning potential. One American Council on Exercise report found the average calorie burn for a 20-minute kettlebell workout was a whopping 272 calories — a 20-minute jog burns around 160 calories. The key to torching calories with kettlebells is incorporating them into a high-intensity interval training program.
Kettlebell swings and running sprints require similar movements in the lower limbs, according to a 2019 study; sprinters whose warmups included kettlebell swings showed significant improvements in their time during the 20-meter sprint. Additional research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found high-intensity kettlebell workouts were associated with significant improvements in aerobic capacity and could be used to improve cardiovascular conditioning.
“There is more movement in a kettlebell workout and … once your form is good and the movements are done quickly enough and with enough repetition, it’ll get anyone’s heart rate up,” says Lynda Lippin, ACE-certified personal trainer and certified kettlebell instructor. “Even just the basic deadlift, squat and swing exercises will help build endurance with repetition. The kettlebell swing works especially well for endurance, getting the heart rate up while working all of our postural muscles, especially the glutes and back muscles.”
Your grip is a strong predictor of your health: A weak grip has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality (or the risk of dying from any cause). Working out with kettlebells is a great way to improve grip strength.
Gripping the kettlebell and maintaining proper wrist and shoulder stability helps improve grip strength — and dropping it could cause injuries so Lippin says, “There is an incentive to hold on!”
After two 60-minute kettlebell workouts per week for eight weeks, participants in a 2018 study experienced significant gains in grip strength.
Several common kettlebell exercises, from single-arm (or single-leg) deadlifts and kettlebell swings to holding the handles while doing pushups require you to engage your core and focus on balance.
“[During a kettlebell workout], there is a lot of standing work on the legs, back, abs and so we work a lot on balance,” Lippin says.
If you’re new to kettlebells, Du Cane suggests signing up for classes or a session with a certified trainer who can introduce you to the moves, explaining, “Proper technique is very important to prevent injury and produce maximal results. Once you have the basics down you will be able to use them on your own.”