Kettlebells for Strength, Power, Stability, Rehab: START HERE

The Series

Why Kettlebells

Kettlebells add a stability component to traditional barbell strength training. Barbells are great for building strength in the main lifts like squats and deadlifts. Because kettlebells are often used single-handed, they provide an additional element of stability, especially in the shoulders and arms, that's crucial for rock climbing. I split my training equally between barbells and kettlebells.

Kettlebells improve power output. Many kettlebell exercises like the swing add coordination and plyometrics to the standard barbell squat. By using a ballistic object, gravity adds weight, making a 20kg/44lb kettlebell weigh upwards of 100lb. You get a great power workout that's less intimidating than powerlifting with a barbell.

Kettlebells improve vertical jump. Many athletes like volleyball players are turning to kettlebells to improve their vertical leap. Research has shown 14-20% increase in explosive strength after a 6 week kettlebell training session. Vertical jump also translates to vertical falling, which boulderers need.

Kettlebells are non-impact, perfect for rehab patients. There's nothing more frustrating after being injured than the feeling like you can't do something even though you're motivated. Kettlebells allow you to get all the benefits and more of training without impact to your lower body. You'll be "falling," catching near your body weight [with the swing], getting your muscles conditioned months before they can take impact.

Kettlebells promote eccentric motion. Eccentric exercises are lengthening a muscle under load, like campusing downward, or the down portion of a squat and deadlift. The eccentric motion promotes healing of tendons and ligaments by inducing collagen synthesis, which you'll desperately need for many types of injury rehab. While you can focus on the eccentric motions with barbells, it's a lot easier to get wrapped up in the "lift as much as I can" mentality (especially for men), rather than the subtleties of eccentric motion and form.

Kettlebells highlight momentary lapses of muscle tension. Many exercises like the Turkish Getup require you to shift strength between major muscle groups while stabilizing a kettlebell above your head. Any brief "glitches" in bracing yourself through your trunk, core, and shoulders will cause the kettlebell to veer off its center of gravity, and you'll immediately know it. These lapses of tension are crucial for rock climbing: if you lose tension momentarily, and then reach for another hold, shock loading your body, it's asking for injuries like shoulder tears.

Kettlebells add variety. Can't argue with having more options.

Kettlebells are a fast workout, give you awesome looking shoulders, and are great conditioning for injury prevention. Need I say more? <15min post-climbing to get it all.

Resources

  • StrongFirst blog. Great articles on both barbell and kettlebell form.
  • RKC blog (Russian Kettlebell Association)
  • Simple and Sinister, the kettlebell book to read. It's only 100 pages and written by Pavel Tsatsouline, father of the kettlebell.
  • Kettlebell wrist guards. If you're prone to bruising or get into exercises that require the kettlebell to be racked at your forearm, or do cleans and snatches, these are great.

Want to buy your own kettlebell set?

Kettlebells are fairly cheap, don't take up a lot of room, and are great for your house if you don't want to hike it to the gym all the time.

There's a ton of kettlebell brands out there and I own a set of KettlebellsUSA (I'm not in any way affiliated with them, I just did a ton of research and tried a bunch myself). My set from 8kg-20kg was under $500.

I recommend you look for kettlebells that are:

  • Single die cast, meaning that they're smooth. The more affordable kettlebells you find at places like Dick's often have a seam in the handlebar where the 2 halves of the bell meet, and that takes a toll on your hand skin.
  • Have a rust-resistant coat
  • Have all weights in 2kg increments. Some brands offer 8-10-12kg, 16-18-20kg, 24-26-28kg, etc., skipping a weight every trio. That's nearly a 10lb difference between sets.
  • Not vinyl coated. Your arm hairs will hate you.

Have fun!