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Fit For You: Kettlebells

From ropes to tires, the fitness world has found ways to repurpose old work tools in the name of exercise.  One of those tools you may be seeing more of in your weight room or health club is the kettlebell.  What has actually been around for centuries is just becoming a standard piece of fitness equipment for group exercise and personal training.

But why is the cannonball with a handle any better than your average dumbbell?  For this month’s Fit For You, we travel to Xperience Fitness in Hales Corners for a group kettlebell class with instructor Kelly Bullard:

When it comes to the history of kettlebells, a lot of credit is due to Russia, Bullard explains. "Actually, they used it back in the day to weigh the dry goods... to help equalize and weigh it in the market."

There have also been historical accounts of Greek and Chinese cultures utilizing a similar apparatus for both function and fitness.

As for exercising with kettlebells, Bullard says they have a lot of physical benefits. "(The class brings) in the cardiovascular, we bring in muscle resisitance, flexibility through movement, so you have gains in everything," she says. "It's much more than just a piece of dead weight."

Bullard adds, "You actually have dynamic resistance so you are getting a lot of muscle endurance and cardiovascular work at the same time, and you have multiple muscles groups working together."

There are many different ways to hold the kettlebell - from the base, the horns, to one-handed grips. Each position off-sets the center of the balance of the apparatus to create more balance work for the body. "It gives it a little bit of a different type of movement pattern engaging different muscles, and one of the biggest things you're going to engage is the core," Bullard explains.

Credit Audrey Nowakowski

Kettlebells also come in a range of sizes - from five pounds to 50. Bullard encourages everyone to give the format a try, but don't go too big, too fast. "Really work on good form and alignment first as priority, and then you can increase the size," she says.

Since kettlebells works multiple muscle groups and emphasizes core strength, "proper form is necessary" as well as good spinal alignment, Bullard explains. "It's a lot of functional training, because in weight lifting we might have one plain of motion going on at a time. In [kettlebells,] we're working the three different plains of motion and getting different movement patterns that are realistic to life."

"We don't move in just unilateral patterns, we actually move in multi-dimensions, and kettlebell is very functional in that way to strengthen the body," she adds.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.