Your trainer: Michael Wittig is an ISSA trainer, three-time IPE natural pro champion and author of several fitness books (wittigworks.com) @wittigworks
Sun Tzu once said that to know your enemy, you must become your enemy. To this you could argue that the West has never had a longer standing enemy than the Russians. So how do they prepare their muscles? Well, kettlebell training has a long history and remains the national sport of Russia going by the name ‘Girevoy Sport’. While kettlebell type devices were used throughout history by different cultures stretching all the way back to the Greeks and Romans, the modern kettle made its appearance in Russia 350 years ago. Kettlebells resemble a cannon ball with a handle and are made from either cast iron or steel. What makes them unique is that the center of mass extends 6-8 inches beyond the hand unlike a dumbbell. As a result, they can be lifted, pressed, swung, and manipulated to challenge your muscles in numerous, innovative ways. Kettlebell lifting is a great way to lose weight, strengthen muscles, increase cardiovascular endurance, and maintain joint health, mobility, and flexibility.
There are a lot of ways to use kettlebells for sport and exercise, but if you’re primarily a bodybuilder and looking to build and keep muscle then the following is going to deliver big on results. A set of bells can be purchased for home use and can only add to the diversification of your training. The lesson here is to be comfortable getting out of your comfort zone and try new things to challenge yourself. Working out with kettlebells at home during gym closings certainly opened my eyes and I was sore in new places. Here are some of the kettlebell exercises I benefited from as a natural bodybuilder and that I plan to keep in my routine moving forward.
Save your Back
Just like with any weight be careful how you pick a kettlebell up off the ground. Never just bend over and round your back to pick one up or lower it, but rather use proper deadlift form.
It’s important to forcefully breathe out whenever you exert force when lifting kettlebells.
Lower Body Starter
Goblet Squat: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Focus: Quads and glutes
Hold the handle of a single kettlebell with both hands by the horns (sides of the handle) up near chin level. Keep the lats contracted and chest out. Your legs should be wider than shoulder width with toes slightly outward. As you squat down keep your hip down and chest up, don’t let your knees go past your toes, and your forearms should stay inside your knees throughout the movement. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor if not slightly lower.
Double Bell Squat: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Focus: Quads and glutes
Hold a pair of kettlebells by the handle, one in each hand, up just under your chin allowing them to rest on the top of your hands and wrists. As you squat down, keep your hip down and chest up, don’t let your knees go past your toes, and your forearms should stay inside your knees throughout the movement. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor if not slightly lower.
Swing: 3 sets of 15-20 reps
Focus: Glutes and hamstrings
Hold a kettlebell by the handle with both hands. It should be swung just below the groin at the top of the V your body makes and not lower. Concentrate on hinging your hip and not excessively bending your knees. Swing the kettlebell back up by driving your hip forward explosively. The power of this exercise comes from your glutes and hamstrings, not your quads and arms.
Deadlift (suitcase): 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Focus: Lower body and back
Have your feet shoulder width apart and a kettlebell on the outside of each foot. Lower down into a squat position by dropping your hip. Your knees should stay behind your toes and your back remain straight. Grab each kettlebell by the handle and return to the standing position. Concentrate on keeping your shoulder blades together and your chest up throughout the movement. Gently touch the kettlebells to the ground with each rep and don’t bounce them.
Upper Body Starter
Row: 3 sets of 15 reps
Hold a kettlebell by the handle in each hand. Hinge your hip backwards until you are bent over while keeping your back straight. Aim to have your upper body near parallel to the floor. The kettlebells should be hanging from straight arms in front of your shins in the starting position. Keep good posture, but let the lats stretch. Row the kettlebells upward by raising your elbows until you feel your lats fully contract then slowly lower them.
Pull Over: 3 sets of 15 reps
Lay down on the floor face up. Hold a single kettlebell by the horns above your chest with arms slightly bent. Lower the kettlebell back over your head until it nearly touches the floor then pull it back up to starting position using your lats. The slight bend and angle in your arms should remain constant throughout the movement. Concentrate on keep your lats engaged throughout the movement.
Press Out: 3 sets of 12
This can be done in a kneeling or standing position. Grab a single kettlebell by the horns and hold it in front of your sternum. While applying inward pressure with both hands press the kettlebell straight out and back in.
Floor Chest Press: 3 sets of 15
Lay flat on the floor facing up. In each hand, grab a kettlebell by the handle and get into a press position. Concentrate on keeping your shoulders back and chest up. Your forearms should remain perpendicular to the floor. At the bottom position, your arms should make 90 degree angles. Don’t bounce the kettlebells off the floor, but rather when your upper arm gentle touches the floor press them back up. At the top of each rep the kettlebells should be above your shoulders. Apply an inward chest squeeze at the top of each rep. Be careful grabbing hold of the kettlebells to get into the starting position.
Triceps Extension: 3 sets of 15
Execution Notes: Lay flat on the floor facing up holding a single kettlebell by the horns. Your arms should be straight and the kettlebell above your forehead. While keeping your upper arms and elbow stationary slowly lower the kettlebell behind your head and fully stretch the triceps. Lift the kettlebell back to starting position and flex the triceps by straightening out your arms.
Kettlebell Curl: 3 sets of 15
Execution Notes: This can be done in a kneeling or standing position. Hold a single kettlebell by the horns and perform a biceps curl. Keep your elbows stationary and do not allow them to drift forward. Flex the biceps at the top of each curl. Lower the kettlebell slowly and allow the biceps to fully stretch.
Create Your Workout
A great way to workout with these movements especially if you only have one set of kettlebells of moderate weight would be in circuit fashion doing a handful of them back-to-back without rest. You can do a full body circuit, or separate lower body and upper body. Do 3-4 rounds per circuit and rest two minutes between rounds.