When you go to the gym for a strength training session, the first thing you go for is probably a pair of dumbbells, right? They're the most accessible equipment, and most workouts require at least one dumbbell to get the job done. But you might be missing out on some major fitness benefits by neglecting this one thing that's also lying around at your gym: the kettlebell.
POPSUGAR spoke to Eric Leija, kettlebell specialist and coach at Onnit Academy, who you may know as primal.swoledier on Instagram. With over 105,000 followers and countless workout videos and tutorials (most of which are done shirtless, thanks be to the fitness gods), we like to call him the Kettlebell King. He has a lot of experience designing kettlebell workouts and training people in functional movement, so we asked him to share his fitness knowledge with us.
When we asked him why it's useful to use kettlebells rather than dumbbells, Eric replied, "Some of the advantages that kettlebells have over dumbbells are their unconventional shape, which is great for building grip and core strength — one of the reasons martial artists and other athletes incorporate them into their workouts."
The funny shape of kettlebells may seem intimidating at first, but it's this very shape that "makes movements accessible that are not possible with barbells or dumbbells." In short, you can do so much more with a kettlebell than you're able to do with a dumbbell.
"Being able to add load to various movements can help increase strength and mobility, which can be more easily translated into real-world strength for sport or for everyday life," Eric explained. Although it's important to get strong and build muscles, it's just as important – if not more — to have a flexible, mobile body that is injury-free and can adapt to any kind of movement you may encounter in your everyday life.
So if you've never picked up a kettlebell before, where do you start? Don't worry, you don't have to do the advanced kettlebell flows you see Eric doing on his Instagram (did we mention he does them shirtless?!).
"I love incorporating kettlebell swings in almost every workout because they target the legs, specifically the hamstrings and glutes, while also targeting the upper body in the upper back, lats, shoulders, and abs," Eric said. "Swings are great for building strength in the posterior chain, which is what most modern day people lack due to our sedentary lifestyles, from sitting all day at work, driving, or looking at our phones and constantly living in a state of flexion with poor posture."
In addition to kettlebell swings, Eric recommends "various types of carries, like farmer carries, racked carries, and overhead carries." These movements "help build foundational core strength." OK, maybe that's why he's got a six-pack.
In addition to giving you more core strength and mobility, kettlebells are "easily accessible and easily transportable." You can pretty much train with them anywhere. Eric insists you could sneak in a killer workout with just one kettlebell, whether it's at the gym or in your backyard.
"The versatility of kettlebells helps you get a full-body workout in a short amount of time," he continued. "With a little bit of creativity, you can mix and match your favorite movements to get an effective and fun workout session that keeps you engaged and burning calories." This is sounding almost too good to be true.
If you need some inspiration, check out this four-move beginner kettlebell workout or this basic kettlebell workout. And of course, you can always look to Eric's Instagram (and abs) for more inspiration.