However, If you consider yourself an open-minded and seriously awesome individual who wants the truth with no fluff, filler, or BS – then this post is for you!]
I love the freakin’ kettlebell. It is after all, my primary training modality. Is has always served me well – as a loyal and mostly obedient creature.
What I don’t love, and what annoys me to no end – is when folks try to tell me that the “kettlebell is just a tool” – like that actually means anything.
And no, it’s not just “how you use the tool that matters”. That fails to recognize that in some circumstances, certain tools are a hell of a lot better than others. It doesn’t matter how you use a hammer to dig a hole. Because no matter how you hold it or swing it; a hammer still flat out sucks for digging a hole. It sucks even worse for trying to drive a golf ball (especially if you already suck at golf…).
While I have a deep infatuation with the kettlebell, I have no problem admitting that it has it’s limitations, and that in some contexts it may very well be an inferior tool to use. That being said –any tool’s effectiveness is relative to the task you are using it for and the individual performing the task. In some cases one tool may be a lot better than another and vice versa. For now on anyone who says something is “just a tool” - is officially a tool.
The following are just a few of my observations on the effectiveness of the kettlebell for certain tasks (for MOST individuals):
The Kettlebell for Increasing Limit Strength
This all depends on the lift and the individual…
Is the kettlebell the MOST effective tool for increasing your limit strength on the deadlift?
Eh, not really. Especially when compared to a barbell. The swing and other dynamic hip dominant movements with a kettlebell may help to “fill in some of the blanks” and in turn up your deadlift. So in an auxiliary sense the kettlebell may be an effective tool to help increase your deadlift. But as a stand-alone tool, don’t expect to ever be able to pull as much weight off the ground as you would when training appropriately with a barbell.
Is the kettlebell the MOST effective tool for increasing your limit strength on the military press?
Arguably, yes. Not many folks, especially men of a lighter (and often leaner) nature cannot already press two 48kg kettlebells overhead. I’m one of those men. So for me (note: a huge deciding factor as to whether or not a certain tool is most appropriate will depend on YOU and your current abilities), the kettlebell is still an effective tool to use for working on my overhead limit strength – assuming I have a reason that I want to improve my overhead limit strength (but for simplicity’s sake, let’s just say that I do). Furthermore, in most cases, the unilateral nature and offset center of gravity of the kettlebell makes it easier to maintain proper shoulder position when pressing weight overhead than most other training implements. The barbell, in particular, is a nasty little bugger to get overhead without compromising some aspect of your form.
Is the kettlebell the MOST effective tool for increasing your limit strength on the Squat?
Comparing apples to oranges here. The kettlebell front squat, particularly the double kettlebell front squat, is a very different beast than the barbell back squat, and even quite different than a barbell front squat. If your goal is the squat the heaviest possible load – then the barbell will almost always trump the kettlebell. But like I mentioned before with the swing, kettlebell goblet squats and front squats may serve as a useful auxiliary lift to help “fill in some of the blanks” an in turn give a bit of a bump to your back squat numbers. Again, this will depend on the needs of the individual and it’s not to say that you can’t develop a strong squat with double kettlebell front squats. You most certainly can - and for a lot of folks, backsquats may be out of the questions or even entirely inappropriate depending on their goals. Like I said before, everything is contextual. It all comes down to what are you working for and what is most appropriate for YOU.
I could continue this list for any and all lifts – but I’m sure you can see where I’m coming from by now. In terms of being the most effective tool for increasing your limit strength on the big lifts, the kettlebell will typically (not always, but typically) fall short of the barbell. And it really all comes down to the fact that you can load more weight on a barbell then you can fit inside of a kettlebell. But then again, (playing devils advocate with myself) what about for somebody who is just starting out - who doesn't already have a solid strength foundation? Well, in that case, then the kettlebell may very well be the most appropriate tool to use. It always depends on the individual, and what it is that they are trying to achieve...
The Kettlebell For "Strength-Endurance"
I don’t understand why “strength-endurnace” has gotten such a stinky reputation. Yes, increasing limit strength will often spill over and increase your strength endurance and rarely is the reverse true. But, training strength endurance (higher reps) is quite effective for maintaining healthy joints and toughening up your connective tissue and passive structures. Furthermore, training “strength-endurance” leads to increased contractile proteins (myosin and actin) and increased efficiency of contractions (meaning you become more efficient at a movement)!
Don’t let anyone tell you that training strength endurance is “bad”. Bad in the context of freaking what??? If you are working on increasing your limit strength, it may not be the most effective way to train ALL of the time – but even when chasing maximum strength, many times an individual may greatly benefit from some strength endurance work. Everything is contextual. Nothing is ever just “bad” or “good”. Except for the “butterfly pull-up” that they do in Crossfit. That is bad. All the time. I don't care what you are trying to do - nothing is worth destroying your body over. Well, I guess that is just my opinion. But I'm sticking to it!
I mean, just look at it… (Thank’s to Chris Foehl for putting his rotator cuff on the line…)
The Kettebell for Fat Loss
Ceteris Paribus (including “proper” nutrition) - in my experience (and I know more than just a thing or two about fat loss), metabolic conditioning via kettlebell complexes has been hands down the most best training methodology I have ever used for fat loss. It is both highly effective (moves you closer to your fat loss goals than most other methods) and highly efficient (quite economical with regards to how little time is actually required).
CLICK HERE (and go about 1/6 down the page and watch the video) to learn exactly why metabolic conditioning is so ridiculously effective for fat loss.
(Full Disclosure: Yes! Another shameless product plug! You don’t have to buy my Birth of a Hero metabolic conditioning eBook. But it’d be sweet if you did – especially if you want to turn heads on the beach this summer, and help me feed my St. Bernard puppy Lola! Or, if you already have it, tell everyone else how much you love (hate, but hopefully in a “good-hate” kind of way) it in the comment section)
The kettlebell lends itself beautifully to metabolic conditioning, due highly in part to compact size of the implement and the fluid nature of the movements – which grants you the ability to seamlessly switch between muscle groups and energy systems. Can you perform complexes with a barbell. Absolutely. Are they as effective for fat? I don’t see why not! Are they as sexy? No.
I mean, look how good Chris Foehl looks as I put him through The Great Destroyer (one of the many harrowing complexes found in the Birth of a Hero)