Are kettlebells really a viable fitness regimen?
November 28, 2009 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Will a kettlebell regimen take me from 'skinny fat' to relatively in shape?

I'm currently what's considered a healthy weight for my height, but there's hardly any muscle mass there. There was at one point, but two years of sitting on my duff at an office job have proved significantly less active than the construction and serving jobs I held prior to this. I've been running 12-15 miles a week, which has helped, though not much.
I'm not looking to get 'ripped' or anything, I just want to be able to do things like help friends move without embarrassing myself.

Looking at previous questions indicates that a kettlebell workout program might remedy this.
Would this be a somewhat quiet workout? I'm in an upstairs apartment, and work evenings, this is a must.
What weight should I start with? The websites I've found give conflicting info.
Where can I get setup on the cheap? Target wants $50 for a 20lb weight. This seems steep, though I could be wrong.
posted by piedmont to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Regular weights are best. Choose Kettlebell workouts if you're interested in building your power/explosiveness, otherwise weightlifting is most effective for strength training and building muscle. Also quieter and easier in an upstairs apartment. Given your situation you might want to look into resistance bands as an alternative to a rack of dumbells - cheap, quiet and effective.
posted by fire&wings at 1:58 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bowflex machines are actually quite good. I don't know what they go for used now, but it'd be very quiet and you can do whatever you want with it.
posted by cmoj at 2:41 PM on November 28, 2009

Kettlebells can be useful, but are not the foundation of an effective strength program. They do not allow for progressive loading, i.e. incrementally increasing weight, nor are they capable of producing the amount of stress that barbells are. As a complete novice, there are things you can do with a 20lb. weight that will make you stronger, but your gains will only continue for a short time. If you want to gain strength and muscle mass as a novice, a program based on heavy compound lifts with barbells will be most effective. It will probably be difficult to do an effective workout quietly in your apartment, but I guess it depends on how much space you have and what kind of equipment you invest in. Read Starting Strength if you want to learn how to get strong. You can also read this answer from a previous thread.

Bowflex machines are useless.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:30 PM on November 28, 2009

I love my KBs - my first was 16kg, followed 3 months later by a 24kg. However, I wouldnt recommend them for an indoors/ upstairs workout - especially for a beginner - a moment's loss of concentration and you have a broken floor and angry neighbours :(

And KB workouts involve alot of explosive movements - swinging, snatching, letting go - so you will drop that lump of metal!

Adjustable barbell and dumbell sets are cheap 2nd hand and more prudent bet for the beginner. Build up incrementally, doing compound exercises of course.

Get yourself a dip station and doorway chinup bar thing too - these are great bits of kit.

Think about KBs once you can comfortably lug around a 16kg dumbell.
posted by the cuban at 3:34 PM on November 28, 2009

There is nothing inherently bad about kettle balls, but free weights and a high protein diet are the best way to build strength, muscle mass, and definition.
posted by dfriedman at 3:44 PM on November 28, 2009

There is nothing inherently bad about kettle balls, but free weights and a high protein diet are the best way to build strength, muscle mass, and definition.

Kettlebells are free weights.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:50 PM on November 28, 2009

The Iron Core Kettlebell DVD is a pretty good place to start:

Amazon Link:

While the DVD has been officially discontinued, I think if you buy a GoFit brand kettlebell the DVD is included.

Good luck. Kettlebells are great.
posted by gb77 at 4:08 PM on November 28, 2009

Sorry, edit to my above post: Kettlebells are a great addition to any regimen, but you'll have to mix it up to achieve what you're after. As for cost, goog "homemade kettlebells" -- there're a lot of DIYers out there who've made their own.
posted by gb77 at 4:18 PM on November 28, 2009

There's nothing inherently wrong with kettlebells. IMO, (as an ex personal-trainer), they'll probably do a better job building functional strength and cardio than traditional weights. On the flipside, you might not build muscle as well due to lack fo ability to increase the load.

"Will a kettlebell regimen take me from 'skinny fat' to relatively in shape?"

What you want is to lose fat and gain muscle? There's two components to that:
1. A muscle building stimulus comes from progressively increasing the load.
2. Diet. You're either bulking (overeating) to gain muscle, or cutting (undereating) to lose fat.

Can kettlebells fulfill #1? Probably. Though if your goal is more aesthetic than functional I'd recommend traditional weights.

For the record, don't get caught up on what the "best" exercise method is. Just pick something fun that you know you'll stick with.
posted by dualityofmind at 4:37 PM on November 28, 2009

Have you tried One Hundred Pushups? Totally silent, unless you are like me and pushups make you cry, no special equipment, and visible results are surprisingly fast, although early on they're more of the "jacked up for a little while right afterward" variety.

I've been doing a combination of running, pushups, and a fairly vigorous yoga routine, and it seems to be working.
posted by padraigin at 8:44 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kettlebells are pretty cool, but nearly anything you can do with a kettlebell you can do with a dimbbell. The prices people are paying for kettlebells are absolutely ridiculous. I tend to think of a kettlebell as more of a conditioning tool and less of a hypertrophy tool. Dualityofmind nails the most important idea: progressive overload. The problem with using a fixed weight (35# kb) is that it's difficult to progress. Sure, you can add more reps to a workout, but that's probably not going to do much for you hypertrophy-wise. To add weight to the 'bell, you have to buy a new 'bell.

If you really want to build muscle, join the church of Starting Strength (see ludwig_van's link) and prostrate yourself before the altar of the capricious god Squat. Don't worry, you won't get ripped for a few years, at least. If Squat finds your offerings acceptable, you will get more muscle on you.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 3:50 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bowflex machines are useless.

Cite? Rationale? This whole area is already full to the top with superstition and blind factionalism without this kind of help.

It resists and you push on it, just like all possible forms of exercise.
posted by cmoj at 9:08 AM on December 1, 2009

-Why machine-based workouts are a waste of time. And yes, this includes Bowflex.

-Kettlebells don't develop the big, puffy display type of muscles. My experience with them is that you develop a denser, leaner musculature which I personally prefer. Plus, you're working out from your feet at all times, so your entire body is involved in the exercise, rather than isolating particular muscles.

And no, there is a vast range of kettlebell exercises that you can't do with a dumbbell. The basic swing between the legs for one, the snatch for another. Those are two of the fundamental ones, and I know first hand of people who tried w/ a standard dumbbell and smacked their inner knees something fierce.

I live in a top floor apartment and have several KB in my "courage corner". Just don't go dropping them on the floor.

I'd recommend getting a copy of Pavel's Enter the Kettlebell, both the DVD and the book. Pavel's KBs are top notch and currently reduced in price. With a KB, the smoothe, evenness of the handle is maximally important as the KB handle, in some moves like the snatch, will rotate almost 270° in your hand, and an uneven surface will catch on the calluses you'll develop. It will also affect your grip. An uneven handle completely fucked with my technique for a while, keeping me from properly crushing down on the grip.

But yeah, kettlebells are the bomb-diggety. Best investment you could make in your own strength & well-being. But I would counsel that I've seen a bunch of cheap KBs on the market. I personally pony up for the quality tools, because I've found that it makes a massive difference. Pavel teaches that technique is everything.

Power to you.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:46 AM on December 4, 2009

Kettlebells don't develop the big, puffy display type of muscles. My experience with them is that you develop a denser, leaner musculature

There is no basis for this. Different muscular adaptations will occur based on the load used and the rep scheme employed; this has nothing to do with dumbbells vs. kettlebells vs. barbells. There is no way to develop "leaner" musculature. Leanness is mostly a function of diet.

And no, there is a vast range of kettlebell exercises that you can't do with a dumbbell. The basic swing between the legs for one, the snatch for another.

You're right about KB swings being a good movement, but dumbbell snatches are quite common.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:33 AM on December 4, 2009

The basic swing with a dumbbell. The one-armed snatch with a dumbbell. The people in the vids don't have super form, but you get the idea. Similarly, cleans and presses are also doable with the dumbbell. The difference is that the weight is distributed differently, so the form varies slightly from what you'd use with a kettlebell, but the overall effects will be the same.

As for the smacking of inner knees, it doesn't take many smacked knees to figure out how to not smack the knees. Pain is a very effective teacher. I've done thousands upon thousands of swings with a kb and a db and haven't sustained inner knee injuries.

But I'm happy to see that we are in agreement regarding working with free weights. Being an inveterate cheap-ass, I can't recommend that anybody pony up that much cash for so little weight. A set of adjustable dumbbells with plenty of weight will cost much less.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:02 PM on December 4, 2009

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