Kettlebell Exercises are Not As Awesome As People Think

I am excited for today and this weekend.

Today is Sports Day for my 4 year old son and the dads get to go and participate.

I don’t remember the last sports day I was in, it might have been over 20 years. Way back in 1986 at Harbour View Elementary.

The post from Trey a few days back got me thinking about new fitness toys to add to my tool box.

Three fitness toys that have got a lot of discussion of late are kettlebells, sleds and suspension trainers.

I have been resistant in spending much time, energy or money on these toys as I wondered if they would be another fad, but it looks like they are going to stay.

When it comes to fitness toys, I like to dig into the research and see what it has to say about the toy and compare it to all the promises the manufactures and distributors make.

Let’s dig in.

If You Like Kettlebells, Don’t Be Like This Guy

When I hear people talk about kettlebells, I roll my eyes.

People that are into kettlebells remind me of a friend. The friend was into bowling. I mean really into bowling.

He bowled every day.

He only talked about bowling.

He felt everything could be solved with bowling.

He had his own bowling ball.

He had his own bowling outfits.

He had different types of bowling shoes depending on where he was bowling.

He was “over the top” into bowling. To a point where it repelled you from bowling rather than being interested in learning more about it.

This was the same with triathlon when I was training for Ironman Canada in Penticton. Some people were “way into it”, and it pushed you away from the sport.

I find many kettlebell people are the same.

Let’s see if we can find where kettlebells can fit in to help a trainer when it relates to fitness and rehab.

Kettlebell for Knee Rehabilitation

Let’s get into some rehab stuff.

In this article:

Brumitt J, En Gilpin H, Brunette M, Meira EP. (2010). Incorporating kettlebells into a lower extremity sports rehabilitation program. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2010 Dec;5(4):257-65.

They made a case for using kettlebells when it comes to the rehabilitation of lower body injuries. It is an interesting suggestion.

They talking about these exercises with the kettlebell:

  • kettlebell swing – 1 hand
  • kettlebell swing – 2 hands
  • deadlift – 1 arm
  • deadlift – 2 arms
  • lunge with kettlebell pass

Here is a little video that I did with Geoff Neupert on common kettlebell mistakes:

I do like their suggestions. With the exercises they listed, these are new-ish movements to fitness which is nice. The more we can expand on our bodybuilding roots, the better.

Being realist, most rehabilitation clinics likely will not have kettlebells or will pass on getting them due to a number of factors (space, cost, client education of the new toy). In facilities where there is athlete recovery or training, there is a good chance one will find kettlebells. Plus at a lighter load, all the above exercises can be done with a dumbbell.

One other comment they made in the article, was they only found one other article in Pubmed when it related to kettlebells. I just checked, the number has gone up, it is now at 10.

Kettlebell Swings are Good for the Lower Back

This was fascinating research:

McGill SM, Marshall LW. (2012). Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jan;26(1):16-27.

Before I chat about the research, let talk about Dr. Stuart McGill. This guy is amazing plus he has an epic stash (mustache). It is almost as awesome as my dad’s.


I organized a conference back in 1998 and brought him out to Vancouver to present on his back research. Even at that time he had 200 research articles published. I can’t image what it is now. We can learn a lot from his action on what we need to do as individuals and fitness professionals:

  • Passion – Find your passion and put everything into it. I don’t know anyone that had done more research on the back than Stu.
  • Curiosity – He is always curious to see if what people say is true. My guess is people were saying that kettlebell swings were good for their back so he went out to see if that was true.
  • Prolific – This guy just keeps doing more research, writing and presenting on the topic which he is passionate about.

Okay, back to the research.

In this research they wanted to measure the spinal load of different kettlebell swings and carries.

Here are some highlights from the research:

  • The kettlebell swing created a hip-hinge squat pattern with raid muscle activation and relaxation.
  • The kettlebell swing created 50% maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) of the back extensors and 80% for the gluteal muscles using a 16-kg kettlebell.
  • Kettlebell carries created a unique abdominal muscle pulse associated only with kettlebells
  • The kettlebell swing created a posterior shear on L4 on L5 which is the opposite compared to traditional lifts, which may be why some report kettlebells helping their back.

What I end up taking away from the research is kettlebell swing provides great gluteal activation and could help some people with lower back pain, plus kettlebell carries provide a unique abdominal activation.

Here is a video of Tony Gentilcore performing a kettlebell swing: