Despite allusions to the contrary, kettlebells are not new. It’s unclear exactly when someone decided it was a good idea to attach a handle to a cannon ball but my research suggests that it was over 350 years ago and probably in Russia. This Russian origin is reinforced by the standard unit of measure traditionally used when describing the weight of a kettlebell; the pood. One pood equals 16.38kg or 36.11lbs, no doubt the weight of a standard military cannon ball at the time.
While Russia may be able to lay claim to kettlebells, so too can many other cultures. The Celts, Indians and also the English have a history of swinging and throwing heavy objects for exercise and sport although the Soviet Union did adopt kettlebell lifting, called Girya, as a national sport back in 1948.
More recently, kettlebells have re-caught the imagination of exercisers and trainers around the world and are big news again. Many well known sports personalities are using them, as are some very in-shape actors and pop/rock stars.
What is a kettlebell?
Modern kettlebells are not really that different to the original Russian cannon balls with handles from 300+ years ago. Essentially a weight with a handle, in many ways a kettlebell is like a dumbbell but the handle is above the weight instead of in between. Kettlebells are available in a variety of sizes from around 2kg up to 40kg or more. They are generally sold in fixed weights but some manufacturers have designed adjustable kettlebells to save you having to buy a lot of different ‘bells.
Kettlebell exercises differ from more common strength training exercises as
a) they are almost all performed in a standing position,
b) are often performed unilaterally i.e. one limb at a time, and
c) are frequently performed explosively.
Most kettlebell exercises have a strong core emphasis as holding a single weight means that you have to use your deep abdominal muscles to stabilize your torso and keep yourself upright.