Kettlebells are Still Overhyped

or

Why Fitness Fads Annoy Me

I recently came across this article on “9 Kettlebell Exercises for Everyone” and it is typical kettlebell ad copy (propaganda?).

It starts with:

Everyone can benefit from kettlebell exercises. Kettlebells have a unique shape which lets you blast your body in ways dumbbells can’t. You can pull, push, twist and swing kettlebells to get leaner, stronger and more powerful. Plus, kettlebells are easier on your wrists than dumbbells. Also, because of their offset weight, the gravitational pull of a kettlebell goes straight down, instead of from side-to-side with a dumbbell (which is shaped like a teeter-totter).

Let’s break this apart.

  • Everyone can benefit from resistance exercises. Kettlebells are not a special kind of mass. Ask a physicist. Or an exercise physiologist.
  • “Blast your body in ways that dumbbells can’t” is such advertising nonsense that I’m surprised that there is not a link to a product the author makes money off of.
  • Any kind of resistance can “pull, push, twist or swing”. Kettlebells are still not special.
  • Every kind of resistance training can help you get “leaner, stronger and more powerful”. If programmed correctly. Kettlebells actually aren’t good at power!
  • How are kettlebells easier on the wrists? No explanation is given.
    • Kettlebells are harder on your hands though, because the handle will twist against your skin causing more abrasion and callouses.
  • Uh, the gravitational pull of a dumbbell is also straight down. That’s how gravity works. Not side-to-side. This is a made-up problem about dumbbells.

Not an auspicious start.

So, what are the exercises?

Exercises with Kettlebells

There is only one Kettlebell Exercise™©®, Bottoms-Up presses. It’s the only exercise where the unique characteristics of a kettlebell are both necessary and useful. An argument can be made also for the swing. But I don’t buy that argument.

Everything else is just exercises that can be done with kettlebells. All of these existed before kettlebells were getting hyped. All of them can be done well with dumbbells or barbells. These exercises, done with barbells and dumbbells, are used for athletic performance development and have demonstrated track records (literally) of being the best approach for athletic development.

So what exercises made the list?

In the linked article we see the following:

  1. Deadlift – like seriously, that’s where you start your article? The deadlift is an exercise clearly best done with a barbell, as that let’s move the most weight. Do you want to do a deadlift with form that mimics the kettlebell? Great, do sumo deadlifts. Problem solved.
  2. Swing – the other exercise that is arguably better with a kettlebell besides the bottom’s up. But this exercise was done with dumbbells before kettlebells. And using a KB causes rotational stresses on your hand that rip up your skin. Some folks find this manageable but other don’t.
  3. Squat – you are limited by your ability to get the weight into place, an upper body limitation more than a lower body limitation. Barbells do this better. And the version depicted – goblet-style – can be done just fine with dumbbells.
  4. Snatch – NO. Just no. Unless you actually compete in kettlebell snatches there is no good reason to do them. They risk breaking your arm for no benefit. Even if you don’t break it, you’re going to get bruises and welts from the weight landing on your forearm. Do them with dumbbells for the exact same fitness benefit without the risk. Or do them with barbells to really train power. The weight limit imposed by doing them with KBs means they can’t do a good job of training power.*
  5. Clean – can be done with dumbbells. Are better done with barbells. Rotating sleeves. Higher weights. Better outcomes.
  6. Turkish** Get-up – can be done with dumbbells. There is no benefit to doing them with kettles.
  7. Push-press – do I have to repeat myself at this point?
  8. (kneeling) Halos – Can be done with anything. I’m not sure why these are being shown kneeling. No explanation is given. Also, do I really want to “blast my core”? What does that even mean?
  9. Counting error in original article. Seriously.

Cults

Seriously. The kettlebell gets pretty cult like. They have certifications and instructors and competitions and great ad copy. They charge a lot of money for a cheap lump of iron.

Nothing does everything well

I love barbells. I own four, and lots of weight to go on them. I do a lot of barbell exercises. And I acknowledge their limitations. Anyone that says something is good for everything is wrong. And they are probably selling something.

Fitness Objectives

On this blog I’ll talk about strength training or cardiovascular training and similar terms. Where we focus on the fitness objective in defining the exercise, instead of focusing on the tool. And that’s one of the big differences between a sensible training program and exercise fads.

 

Also, I’ve talked about kettlebells before on my old blog: Fight with All Your Strength.

 

* Also, the idea that a one paragraph description of how to do a KB snatch is sufficient is just irresponsible and dangerous. The author wrote more on the push press than the snatch.

** I’ve been worried for a while now that this term is racist, just because of human history. But I can’t find anything on that. And what I can find about just it’s origin is inconclusive.

Author: Steven Hirsch, DPT, CSCS

Physical therapist, strength coach, historical fencer.

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