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Beginners Guide to Kettlebells

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Filed Under (Fitness, General) by Rick Kaselj



Last week, while I was in San Diego at the TT Summit, I did an interview with Forest Vance. 

What we decided to do was start from the beginning when it comes to the kettlebell.

Here is a beginners guide to kettlebells.

Rick Kaselj, MS

P.S. – If you are interested in a wide variety of workouts from beginner to crazy, make sure to check out Forest Vance’s Kettlebell Challenge Workouts 2.0.

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I am down here in San Diego at the Turbulence Training Seminar, or TT Summit. I stepped out from the conference and I am going to do a quick video interview with Forest Vance.

Forest and I are going to chat about a Starters Guide to Kettlebells from the absolute beginning of the kettlebells stuff.

At the start I thought it was just going to be another toy that entered in the fitness industry that was popular for 6 months and then leave. But it is something that’s stuck and I am starting to see the benefit of utilizing kettlebell when it comes to unique exercises, unique workouts, and exercises you really can only do with the kettlebell and nothing else when it comes to injuries and exercises.

Rick Kaselj: First I will get Forest to introduce himself and let people know a little bit about him.

Forest Vance: Yes, thank you very much for having me Rick, much appreciated. I am a trainer, bootcamp instructor, gym owner, kettlebell guy, and kettlebell expert based here in Sacramento California.

My athletic background in the past was I played pro-football for a couple of years and that’s about 10 years ago. I played offensive line. I was about 65lbs heavier when I was playing. It ended up right after I left and retired I knew that I wasn’t going back.

I was a trained athlete. The way that we trained was we lifted heavy. I was force feeding myself trying to become as big as possible and so I had to adjust to the real world and kind of get down to get where I wanted to not be 310lbs anymore because it wasn’t fun.

Well, I didn’t even really workout as hard when I stopped and I ended up getting fat, to be honest. So I lost like 64lbs in 7 months that was right after my football career and that sort of transformation got me into the fitness industry.

Now I’ve been training for almost 10 years; I got into the kettlebells about 5 or 6 years ago and that has done a lot to help me maintain in my fitness and I use it with my clients every day, in my studio and it helped me maintain my weight loss as well.

Rick Kaselj: Awesome! So lets’ start knowing what is the kettlebell?

Forest Vance: The Kettlebell is like a hunk of iron with a handle on the top. I personally believe that they are the best strength and conditioning tool around for loosing fat, building muscles, and boosting your performance.

Rick Kaselj: How did you get into kettlebells? Because if you think like professional athletes I think of them or I envision them doing the barbell stuff, the bench press, and all that. I don’t really envision in their training programs they are doing a lot of kettlebells stuff.

Forest Vance: Yeah, I think now the kettlebells have picked up a little bit of steam. I think a lot more people know about them even than when I started training with them 5 or 6 years ago. I think there are a couple of NFL teams that are using the kettlebells at this point.

Kettlebells have been around for a long time. In Russia the military use them. Actually they’ve used them for a long time because their standard issue is their weight. If you will look at the pictures of like old time strong men from the turn of the century they were using kettlebells along with two people on one hand and then a kettlebell on the other hand. I got a picture actually and I look at it every now and then in my gym. But they weren’t popular in the industry until maybe 5 or 6 years ago.

When I was playing the football, I wish I had known about the kettlebells, but I didn’t really use them back then. But the way I got into them, I have this crazy training partner guy and we were doing a really intense workout program using the kettlebells. He wasn’t really like an expert of the technique so we just kind of flopped them around; and then I was like that was a really cool training tool and I could see how this is such a great workout for your whole body. We can get to this a little bit more later but you can do a lot of things like you were saying.

A lot of people might see kettlebells and they think that “it’s just a weight and why just not use a dumbbell?” But you can do like a kettlebell swing as a good example of a movement that you can do that is high rep ballistic exercise and the kettlebell lends itself to doing those sort of things a lot better than any other training tool. You can just get a really fast and efficient workout in a short amount of time in a minimal amount of space which is really awesome as well.

Rick Kaselj: Where can someone get a kettlebell? And what should they look for in a kettlebell?

Forest Vance: That’s a good question.

First off I think it depends on the quality that you want to get. It depends on what you will be doing with it. You could probably go to the local department store and get one. I don’t really recommend that necessarily for people to get them from there because the quality is not going to be that great, and they are also really light and that’s a big mistake that a lot of people make is when they are starting they start with like a 3lbs. kettlebell or something because they don’t want to injure themselves, they don’t want to do things correctly. But the reality is it is so light a lot of times you can’t use proper form and you are not really getting anything out of it.

I would say you can order it online. It’s a good place to order them online. In my gym we have all the kettlebells from Dragon Door because I think I just like that brand of kettlebell. Apollo is another good brand that you could order if you are going to order them online. But it depends on what you are going to do with it. If you are just going to do some more of the basic stuff, you don’t have to go out and get the top of the line type of kettlebell.

If you are going to do more of the advanced exercises because the thing is the kettlebell will rotate on the palm of your hand, example doing the clean, doing the snatch, those exercises are on the spectrum a little bit more advanced, you can get like an abrasion and stuff on your hands when you are doing high reps of those exercises. I’ve actually seen someone hurt his head with a kettlebell falling apart when someone had it pressed over their head and it fell on top of their head. So that’s a good story to tell not to use a cheap kettlebell.

Rick Kaselj: I haven’t heard that but I could see that happening. So then looking at the kettlebell, why should I choose a kettlebell over a dumbbell?

Forest Vance: Like I said there are certain exercises that you can do with the kettlebell. The kettlebell has a handle and you got a thick grip. It has a thicker grip than a dumbbell which is great for building girp strength and functional type of strength.

The weight distribution of the kettlebell is a little bit different than a dumbbell. The weight distribution makes for a different challenge, you have to use your grip and your wrist and stabilize the bell a lot more strongly than you could with a dumbbell.

Let’s say people anywhere from everyday type of activities or they need to strengthen their grip all the way up to sports or anything like or they would be planked, is beneficial. And then also like I was saying, the kettlebell swing should be done for higher reps.

I will give you a very good example, certain schools of training I am not going to exactly say about who they are, but some like to do high rep Olympic Lifting and that’s kind of a slightly popular thing some people do; and you probably have heard about this Rick and I don’t know how you feel about this, but I am not a believer on high rep Olympic Lifting in 95% of cases because usually people just get sloppy and that’s not how it is supposed to be done. You are not supposed to do a clean press or a snatch for 30 reps at a time with an uneven bar. Some people may be able to do it but a lot of people can’t do it properly and they get really sloppy and they get injured.

To counter that if you want to get the same benefits but be able to keep it safe and stay injury free you can do something like a kettlebell swing so you got a lot of that high rep ballistic conditioning benefit. With the swing you can have different types of steps like you have it decelerate that load and it’s speed which is great. It has a lot of athletic benefits there for different sports and stuff like that where you have to absorb force.

Also, it is relatively easy to learn compared to the same power clean. Kettlebell swing is a lot easier to teach someone when they hadn’t properly done a power clean, that’s another big benefit as well.

Rick Kaselj: Maybe you can list a couple of examples of some exercises that are unique to the kettlebell that can’t be done with another piece of equipment or is not as effective with another piece of equipment. I know it is difficult to kind of demonstrate it here but you can talk a little bit and give a little bit of a description.

Forest Vance: Sure. The two basic movements that we start with at least in a hard style school of kettlebell training, there are different approaches that people take in stuff. But if you want to do competitive kettlebell lifting that’s one thing you are training specifically it’s like actual sport. But for the school that I teach it’s like 98% of people who just want to use kettlebell as a tool to get in shape, to lose fat, and to gain lean muscles.

The Turkish Get Up and The Swing are two basic movements that we always start people with.

Rick Kaselj: I think I have a video for both of them. You and I have already done the video when it comes to the kettlebell swing. And we have also done a video with the Turkish Get Up. If you want to see those videos just head over to exercisesforinjuries.com or just type in kettlebell in my YouTube Channel and those will end up popping up. Those are two unique exercises that are kind of best done with the kettlebell.

Forest Vance: That’s right, exactly. Like I was saying, a lot of people are trying to do swings with the dumbbell. Well it can be done but it’s not really quite the same and a lot of this is because of that weight distribution of the bell. So you have a handle and you have a weight at the bottom of the handle so you are able to hike pass the weight back and exert a maximal amount of force as it comes up to your chest level which is what we do in the Russian swing.

You see other people do the overhead American swing they call it, this is the Russian swing we go up to the chest level. But you cannot really get that sort of force generation and hip snap and all that stuff that goes with it nearly as well trying to hold a dumbbell or something else like that, that’s the big reason why we use kettlebells. If people are going to do nothing else just swings, I think it will be well worth it to get the kettlebell.

Rick Kaselj: Yes, because it is a ballistic movement which more and more research is showing is beneficial but under control. It’s high intensity which with intensity you can get more benefits as oppose to just walking on a treadmill.

I also find that it is the best exercise to help when it comes to teaching hip hinging and that is the number one thing that you could do like learning that hip hinge. The kettlebell swing is awesome at it in order to help like prevent irritating your back.

Forest Vance: Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more. I can’t even describe how many people that I see daily, new clients, that don’t really know how to do that hip hinging movement properly. Like they’re lowering their back, tweaks, and different stuffs going on and they are going to pick up their kettlebell and they are like a rounded turtle or something.

Rick Kaselj: And it all ends up being a new movement. I really like the kettlebell swing when it comes to teaching that hip hinging movement which is so important to help prevent back pain and then also just to educate you to get that movement; because I know since I’ve been doing more of that kettlebell work I just end up moving better when it comes to the hip hinging movements, squatting down better, reaching down for the ground better. So if my movement ends up being better, it puts less stress on my back and on my knees which ends up being a good thing.

Forest Vance: Yes, I agree. Absolutely! You may try a little bit of the Turkish Get Up too.

Rick Kasej: We got a video on that. We will look for the video and I will put it on my YouTube Channel or I will put it down below. I will put the video that you and I had done. Is there any other last things that people should think about when it comes to their starting right out there? They’ve head of all these kettlebell things and they want to give it a go. We talked about what it is? What they should look at when it comes to getting a kettlebell? How it is kind of different from other pieces of equipment?

Do you have any last minute tips or maybe like learning these techniques when it comes to kettlebell stuff? I know that you have some resources and a recent resource that you’ve kind of created when it comes to kettlebell exercises and workouts.

Forest Vance: Yeah, sure. A couple of things I would say, number one is take your time as a beginner. Learn the form. Make sure that you practice and that you are actually taking the time to instead of just going Day 1 and trying to go all out on every single exercise that you do with the kettlebell. Be safe. Practice using proper form. That’s one thing.

One thing that I like is that kettlebells tie in well to sort of like performance based kind of targets. Let’s say like you have a workout that you put together and maybe you are doing a certain amount of swings, maybe mix it with some bodyweight movements like goblet squats, swings, and pushups as an example. We actually use these at my bootcamps and my training studio like monthly to gauge people’s progress. So you put it as a circuit, it’s a really cool way to put together the workouts and gauge your progress overtime.

Let’s say what we will do is like you do a circuit of exercises at certain amount of reps at certain amount of time. Make sure they are using the same weight each time that they do it at the beginning of the month and do it at the end of the month and you can see how you are progressing over time.

Kettlebells are great. It motivates a lot of people further than just saying I want to lose 10lbs., and they are doing like “oh, I can do the swings better. I can use more weight.” You know you can do this round, this circuit more times in a certain amount of time. I think that is super motivating for people to get them going towards whatever goals they have with fat loss, muscle gain, performance, or whatever.

Rick Kaselj: Yeah. I really recommend that for people because I know there is all kinds of research back, like tracking progress and marking things down and that, I’ve done it for awhile and then I stopped for a few years. And then I got back into it just writing what I’ve done? What my workouts are? What my weight is around? What am I able to do now? It’s need to see progress. It’s need to see it as it kind of motivates you and kind of shows you where you were and where you’ve moved on to.

And doing that kind of self-test at the beginning of the month and at the end of the month you can see how your times improved, how your techniques improved, how many repetitions you can end up getting in. It’s cool. It’s good. I highly recommend writing it down. It’s more accountable and it’s more tangible when it is written down.

Forest Vance: Absolutely! That thing has been around for a long time, the physical fitness test that we did when we were at elementary school. It’s a sort of a new spin on it and it’s also kind of fun to do this. We do it in Kettlebell Challenge Workouts so it’s kind of fun thing to do that you get to see your progress over time.

Rick Kaselj: Awesome! Forest where can people get more information about you?

Forest Vance: They can head over to KettlebellChallengeWorkouts.com that’s my website and it’s dedicated to the workouts that we just were talking about here, that’s really the best place to find more information about me.

kettlebellchallengeworkouts 2.0

Rick Kaselj: Thank you very much Forest for your time. If you are brand new with kettlebells or kind of thinking about it, hopefully this gave you a little bit more insight and information on what to do and how to get started.

If you are watching this on YouTube, make sure you head on up above and you hit subscribe. What that would end up doing is it will subscribe you to my YouTube Channel so whatever interviews or videos like this come out you will get a notification saying that “Hey Rick’s got a new video.”

And then lastly, let Forest and I know what you think of this video, head down below and hit like or leave us a comment or a question and we will definitely help you out.

There you go. This is Rick Kaselj in San Diego and Forest Vance in Sacramento thanking you very much for joining us and we will talk to you soon.

Take care and bye bye.

Rick Kaselj, MS

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