Friday, January 22, 2010

Why Kettlebell Training Has Not Taken Over The World

If you're a fitness pro or kettlebell fan you've probably heard about the recent ACE study verifying that kettlebell training burns up to 20.2 calories per minute, which is roughly equivalent to the calorie burn you'd get from running 6-minute miles (fun!) or cross-country skiing uphill (whee!).

So why aren't more people training with kettlebells?

For much the same reason that more people aren't running at 6 mph or cross-country skiing uphill. None of these workouts is exactly entry-level. I know a lot of novice runners, but I don't know any who can sustain a 10 mph pace for more than a few minutes. Likewise I've seen enough kettlebell newbies to know that very few would be capable of doing the workout performed by the test subjects in the ACE study.

Let's take a closer look at that study. The test subjects varied in terms of age, gender, bodyweight and experience level, but none was a kettlebell novice. The workout protocol was lifted straight from Kenneth Jay's Viking Warrior Conditioning: timed sets of kettlebell snatches, 15 seconds of effort followed by 15 seconds of rest, repeated for 40 total rounds, or 20 minutes. The kettlebells used were 12, 16 and 20 kilos depending on the test subject's gender, size and experience level. Good times. And all in a day's work(out), if you've been training with kettlebells for a while. If you haven't and you were to try this workout, you'd end up with shredded hands and banged-up forearms at best, a dislocated shoulder or wrenched back at worst. It's not that kettlebells are inherently unsafe, any more than running is inherently unsafe. But just as running with a faulty gait causes injuries, so too does using kettlebells with poor technique. And just as runners who try to add miles too quickly end up with overuse injuries, so too do kettlebell users who try to do too much too soon.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from getting started with kettlebells. Rather, I'm just counseling the use of a little common sense. Keep your expectations reasonable, and don't plan on burning 20 calories a minute right away. Perfect your technique, then work on adding volume, always stopping one or two reps short of complete fatigue. Be patient and persistent, and before long you will be able to perform the ACE study workout and reap the calorie-burning muscle conditioning benefits of this amazing form of exercise!