If you go to any commercial gym in America there is no doubt that it will be filled with countless amounts of machines to “work out” on.
Sometimes I wonder why they don’t just melt them down and make more free weights!!!
In this article I hope to clearly show you how using kettlebells in your workout routine can build strong healthy joints and a lean mean body. Let’s start with a little history from a time before crowded mega gyms and fancy fitness machines.
The 60s – Gyms Before Machines
Before 1960 it was uncommon to see a gym anywhere that was stocked with multiple floors full of butt blasting machines, hip adductor machines, and the all too common cardio machines. Back then most of the gyms were set up with an open floor, some spotting racks, and an ample supply of free weights and gymnastic equipment. Why?
Because it works!!!
I’m sure you’ve recognized by now that athletes from all sports, notably sprinters, weightlifters, and gymnasts, end up developing spectacular bodies.
Do you think that these people spent their time banging away on machines to develop their physical skills and their amazing bodies?
I think not.
They forged their amazing physiques and indomitable wills using high-intensity training and they were coached to consistently improve themselves on a steady diet of functional exercises. This is the key to change that lasts!
Now, you may be thinking…” But they are athletes and professionals no doubt, I can‘t do that”.
What Can We Learn from Athletes?
Most people separate themselves from athletes and think that for some reason they should mimic the latest bomb and blitz muscle pumping routine from Women’s Fitness because, after all, who doesn’t want lean triceps?
Stop right there, because all of the women in the magazine are paid models or trainers and their job is to convince you to use a particular machine, gym, or supplement.
When is the last time your friend Mary down the street saw awesome results with her daily dose of crunches and tricep kickbacks?
My bet is never!
My point is that whether you are an athlete or a mother of 4 since we all move the same way, why should we opt to train differently? Don’t we all want to be strong? Don’t we all want to be lean? Don’t we all want to feel capable and confident? I know I do and that’s why we should always focus on using the best exercises, the ones that have been tried and tested to produce the greatest results quickly and safely.
Machines versus Free Weight – What Does the Research Say?
Still not convinced? You don’t have to take it from me….
A study that compared free weights to weight machines was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning (2008 Jan, 22(1):75-81). There were 3 control groups assembled, one group to participate in free weight training, one for participating in machine training, and another to not exercise at all. All groups were told to keep their diets the same, making nutrition irrelevant. All groups exercised the same muscle groups in the same order with the same progression. At the end who came out the victor?
What do you think?
The weight machine group had improved their strength by 57% while the free weight group had improved their strength by a whopping 115%.
I don’t know about you but I’ll take double the results in the same amount of time any day.
Not only that but balance improved by 245% in the free weight group versus a minuscule 45% in the machine group.
And if we know anything about balance it’s that an asymmetrically developed body with good balance is an injury-proof body. And if that’s not enough we can take one more thing from this study.
In both the free weight and machine group participants that entered the study with notable joint pain were asked to keep track of the level of discomfort that the pain was causing. The free weight group experienced a 30% reduction in their joint pain while the entire machine group whether they had pain or not experienced a 111% increase in joint pain. WOW!!
Do yourself a favor and get your butt off of those machines before you become a statistic, you should avoid machines like the plague!!!
Get on some functional equipment, i.e., kettlebells, jump ropes, rings, bodyweight, etc., and a well-designed training program that emphasizes compound movements and proper technique and gets started on your journey to a better you today.
Free Weights & Kettlebells
So if free weights are the obvious choice for building strong joints and a lean mean body, why should you use kettlebells?
In the next few paragraphs, I will show you why kettlebells are perhaps the best type of free-weight to use for building a strong resilient body.
First off, the kettlebell differs from the dumbbell and barbell because of its off-center of gravity. This proves harder to control especially when performing ballistic exercises. Secondly, the kettlebell was designed primarily with ballistic exercises in mind, making it a perfect tool for beginners to learn things like cleans, jerks, and snatches.
You see, many modern fitness trends are recommending slow rep cadences; 2 up 3 down or 1 up 2 down. Although there isn’t a problem with training this way, is it going to get you or your clients the best results possible?
Again, I don’t think so.
To start let’s look at our body’s reaction to movement patterns in daily life. If you were told that the best way to move to stay 100% safe was to move slowly, wouldn’t that prevent you from doing so many common movements necessary to having a happy and active life?
Try this Test
Stand up and try this right now…seriously before you read any further I want you to stand up and give me your best high jump at a 2-second up 3-second downtempo.
Did you make it?
If you did you are either a flying monk or Superman, if you didn’t then you see my point. To operate in daily life we have to be able to jump, run, throw and lift aggressively. So why do we want to intentionally train our bodies to move slow and sluggish? Are we doing Tai Chi? Are we a tortoise? NO!
You train the same way that you move in daily life. This enables you to PREVENT, NOT CAUSE injuries associated with training using momentum.
There is a law common in the fitness industry called the SAID Principle.
SAID is an acronym for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.
What does that mean and why do I care?
This principle can be summed up simply: you only get better at the activity that you are practicing. Understanding this, we should conclude that training slowly only makes us better at moving slowly. On the other side of the coin, when you practice training with momentum in foundational movements patterns it will make your life easier and will make those movements stronger and safer. The practice of controlling momentum and deceleration will spill over into your daily life making you feel strong, resilient, confident, and not to mention the continued energy burn post-exercise, BONUS!
Let’s take the granddaddy of all kettlebell drills, the swing, as an example.
Swings, which are almost completely a momentum-based exercise, can teach people to properly pick anything up off the ground, to properly use the hips to accelerate weight with a stable spine, and to properly slow down or redirect movement that would usually come to an abrupt stop.
One of the most common ways for people to injure themselves is by movement having to abruptly come to a complete stop. By practicing many of the most popular functional fitness drills, including kettlebell swings and push presses, you will be training your body to better absorb shock and redirect momentum, thus allowing you to become safer, stronger, and faster.
I hope you are now convinced or at least curious about the kettlebell being the best way to get optimal fitness results!!
Cody Bramlett is a kettlebell fat loss expert with over 7 years of experience training clients with kettlebells. He was one of the top trainers at the first kettlebell gym in the United States before starting his gym and creating his online programs. Cody is an RKC instructor who is FMS certified, Yoga Alliance certified and Z Health certified. He holds a BS in Business Management from San Diego State University.