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Why You Should Add Kettlebell Training To Your Schedule

Kettlebell training could be the perfect combination of strength and cardio work for endurance athletes.

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In a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers took a group of NCAA soccer athletes and prescribed a kettlebell workout three times per week to half of them and a more traditional circuit training workout to the others. At the end of the four-week protocol, the kettlebell group increased VO2max by an impressive 6 percent, while the circuit group saw no such improvement.

Since kettlebell exercises tend to be more dynamic than lifting free weights or machines, they serve as an ideal complement to multisport training. “You move with the weight through all planes of motion,” explains Jessica Dollar, a USA Triathlon-certified coach and kettlebell instructor. “Learning to move with weight is different than just pushing weight on a machine.”

She suggests that most men can start with a 20-kilogram bell (44 pounds) and most women a 16-kilogram bell (36 pounds), but that will depend on your current level of strength. Mike Robertson, the president of Robertson Training Systems in Indianapolis, advises, “In most cases, erring on the side of going too light is always the best option so you’re less likely to get injured; however, with exercises like cleans or swings, sometimes if the kettlebell is too light, it throws things off.”

This is why working with a trainer for your first couple kettlebell workouts is advantageous. What’s more, they can help you perfect your form and technique, which can make or break these exercises. “The most important thing to remember is to keep your back flat throughout,” says Robertson. “Most of these exercises work through deadlifting- or hinging-type patterns, so make sure to work that motion with light weights and slow and controlled exercises before moving into more explosive and dynamic kettlebell variations.”

Dollar also emphasizes the importance of easing into any new exercises. “More is not better. Keep your strength routine simple and recover well,” she says. “If your weight is heavy enough, a few sets of 3–5 reps per week will be a great addition to your training.”

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Two kettlebell moves to try

Kettlebell swings
With your feet hip-width apart, squat down and grip the kettlebell with palms turned toward your body. Stand up with your core engaged and back flat before lowering back down with your butt out (think gorilla) and your weight on your heels. At this point, the exercise becomes more explosive as you drive your heels into the floor and begin shifting forward, stand up and quickly swing the weight upward in front of your body with your arms fully extended. As the weight swings back down, brace through your heels and hinge at the hips as the bell swings between your legs. Using that momentum, continue to repeat the swing.

Goblet squat
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the bell with both hands on either side of the handle in front of your chest. In a front squat motion, lower your body downward with your chest out and your back flat. When your hamstrings meet your calves, pause for a few seconds, then return to your starting position.

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