Using Kettlebells to Improve Strength and Power

Even though you enjoy getting in the gym to work hard and break a sweat to relieve stress and feel better, the daily routine will eventually get well… routine.  Sure, some people can seemingly find motivation whenever they need, but for most of us the daily grind can lead us to go through the motions.  This leads to an apathetic approach which may end up in skipped workouts or workouts that you should have skipped.  Overall, an argument can be made that the body can’t tell the difference between one exercise or the other and instead it only knows the stimulus that is placed upon it.  More stimulus equals a greater need to change by the body.  Hopefully the stimulus is telling the body more strength, more endurance, more power, more muscle, etc.

Kettlebells entered the mainstream health and fitness field and they have increased in popularity.  For starters, they are different and this alone can be good.  But the nature of Kettlebells and the exercises commonly performed with them require a great deal of movement by the body and with how much sitting is a part of our professional lives, this can be a great thing.  But outside of these general health and fitness purposes, can Kettlebells really provide a good workout?  A workout on the order of a traditional strength and power workout?

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recently examined this question by having study participants complete two different styles of exercise over a six week period that were intended to help increase lower-body power (Lake and Lauder 2012).  Each group performed their prescribed form of exercise two days per week.  One group performed a kettlebell circuit workout that consisted of a 12-minute exercise of 30-seconds performing the exercise and 30 seconds of rest.  If the participant weighed less than 154 pounds (70 kg) they used a 26.4 pound (12 kg) kettlebell and if they weighed more than 154 pounds they used a 35.2 pound (16 kg) kettlebell.  The other group performed jump squats and completed at least four sets of three jump squats with a load that was shown to maximize their power production.  In this group, volume was adjusted to accommodate different training loads.  Subsequently, volume ranged from 4 sets of 3 repetitions with the heaviest loads to 8 sets of 6 repetitions with the lightest loads.

The authors found that both traditional strength and explosive strength increased with both types of strength program.  If one first considers that previously very little scientifically controlled outcomes were available for the impact of kettlebells these findings were valuable.  Certainly, one could say that if more sets and reps were included the results might have different or these results aren’t useful because the programs used weren’t “real-world” and I would have to disagree.  Overall the programs fell within published guidelines put forth by different experts and professional organizations and until a research study is completed to support these claims, these scientific findings need to be considered.

OK, well how much change occurred?  In both groups, strength increased by 9.8% to where the entire study could half-squat 165 – 181% of their body mass.  Their findings indicated that improvements in both groups were not different than each other.  For those athletically minded people where being explosive can be helpful, the results from this study also indicated that both types of training increased explosive strength by almost 20% and again study results indicated that improvements in both groups were similar.

Overall, these authors completed one of the first studies that used kettlebells versus a more traditional style of resistance training to examine changes in strength and explosive strength.  A word of caution with interpreting their results would be to not view the Kettlebells to not work.  This isn’t true at all.  In fact, they worked just as well as traditional jump squats.  Therefore, if you want to change things up, don’t be afraid to grab a kettlebell and put yourself through a challenging circuit.  This might help keep you from waiting too much at the squat rack and will also introduce your body to a new and enjoyable type of exercise.



Lake, J. P. and M. A. Lauder (2012). “Kettlebell swing training improves maximal and explosive strength.” J Strength Cond Res 26(8): 2228-2233. 

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