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What Are Kettlebells?

I'm a Kettlebell Specialist, and This Is Why You Should Choose a Kettlebell Over a Dumbbell

Photographer: Rima BrindamourRestrictions: Editorial and internal use only. No advertising, no print.

I used to be deathly afraid of kettlebells. For a long time, I had this image in my head that I would accidentally swing the kettlebell into the mirror at the gym, loudly — and embarrassingly — shattering the glass (anyone ever see that episode of Broad City?). But since last year, I've been fostering my relationship with the kettlebell; I've fallen so deeply in love with it that it's hard to put it down sometimes. So I got my kettlebell training certification a couple of months ago and haven't looked back since.

Let's back up for a second. ICYMI, the kettlebell is a tool you'll find at any normal gym, and it's a ball-shaped weight with one handle. It can be awkward at first, if you don't know what you're doing. But since I cozied up to the kettlebell and started training with it, I've realized that it has so much more to offer than conventional tools like dumbbells or the barbell. That's because its offset weight and unique shape allow it to move with your body in so many different planes while also requiring tremendous core strength to keep it stable. If you've never considered incorporating kettlebell work into your routine, these are four reasons you might want to give it a try.

You're Able to Do Much More Movement With It

There are a wide range of things you're able to do with the kettlebell that you can't do with dumbbells or a barbell. For example, you can move from one exercise to the next — also called a kettlebell flow or complex — switch the weight from one hand to the other, and generally move more freely with it. And, of course, you can do all the basic exercises you might be able to do with any other basic equipment at the gym: deadlifts, squats, lunges, presses, rows, etc. The possibilities are truly endless with the kettlebell, which means you have more room to grow and get stronger.

You'll Increase Your Level of Functional Movement

"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," explained Eric Leija, senior kettlebell specialist at Onnit Academy. "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."

So it's not all about looking good when it comes to the kettlebell. You're able to achieve a more functional kind of movement that easily spills over into your daily life, as well as any sports you might play. Because think about it this way: when you pick up heavy things off the ground, whether it's a garbage can or your toddler, the weight is never perfectly balanced, so why should everything you lift at the gym be that way? After all, we should be training to move better in our everyday lives, not only for aesthetics.

You Can Burn More Calories

I asked Marcus Martinez, master kettlebell coach at Onnit Academy (who led my certification), to tell us some of the main benefits of using a kettlebell. "Fat loss, for sure," he replied immediately. "Kettlebells are just like any weighted implement in that they can create strength, build muscle, and give the user an incredible training experience, BUT (and it's a big but) the real power in the kettlebell lies in the ability to transition seamlessly from movement to movement," he explained. "This makes it ideal for nonstop circuits and flows that will absolutely burn through body fat like a flame to butter."

When you don't have to stop in between every movement, you're able to move for a longer period of time, which will help you burn more calories with each session. The better you get at kettlebell work, the longer you'll be able to flow without stopping. Trust me — you'll be sweating bullets in no time.

You'll Never Get Bored

"Kettlebells do a great job at bringing up weak areas and helping your body communicate as one, rather than just an assortment of muscles," Marcus added. The more you work with kettlebells, the more you'll discover pockets of your body that may not be as strong as you thought. This lends itself to a never-ending learning process with your own body — so you'll never get bored or feel like you've run out of things to do.

Finally, when you start to get the hang of kettlebell flows, you'll see that there is no end to what you can do. Grab a buddy, create a fun kettlebell flow, and suddenly working out has turned into a creative, rewarding experience that simultaneously sharpens your mind and tones your entire body from head to toe.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kathryna Hancock
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