When it comes to getting and staying in great shape, people often over-complicate things. Exercise fads come and go, but the most effective techniques and tools tend to be the most basic. Kettlebells have been enjoying a major surge in popularity lately, but they've been around a lot longer than you probably think. What makes these funny-looking weights so popular? When used correctly, they allow you to enjoy a strength-training, muscle-building, cardiovascular workout in the comfort of your own home.

What is a Kettlebell?

Like many people, you may not have the foggiest idea of what a kettlebell even is. The name may be unfamiliar, but chances are that you've seen them around. They look like miniature bowling balls with looped handles, and they're encased in a rubbery plastic material. Like dumbbells, they are available in many different weights. Indeed, some weigh less than 10 pounds while others exceed 100 pounds. Unlike dumbbells, though, they aren't usually used in pairs. They may seem new, but in fact, they made their first appearance in Russia in the early 18th century.

What are the Benefits of Using Kettlebells?

If kettlebells have been around for centuries, why are they suddenly getting so much attention? There's more than one reason for their resurgence in popularity. The benefits of working out with kettlebells are considerable and include:

  • Build Core Strength - When working out with a kettlebell, the weight isn't distributed evenly. You have to stabilize and counterbalance it, which promotes the improvement of core strength.
  • Improve Endurance - The typical kettlebell workout is similar to intense cardio interval training, so it really improves endurance.
  • Build Muscle - Working out with a kettlebell engages all major muscle groups, and stabilizing muscles get into the act too. When these exercises are done regularly, muscle tone improves dramatically.

How Much Weight Should You Use?

Like any type of exercise, you should start slowing when using kettlebells. Resist the urge to push the envelope in terms of weight. For safety's sake, you should master the most basic exercises with lighter kettlebells before upgrading to heavier ones. Most women should start out with kettlebells that weigh between 12 and 16 pounds while most men can safely begin with kettlebells that weigh between 25 and 35 pounds. Get Started with the Kettlebell Swing There are tons of different exercises that incorporate kettlebells, so it's easy to feel overwhelmed at first. Focus on mastering the kettlebell swing, which is one of the most effective options, before moving on to other exercises:

  1. Begin in a low squat position. Your feet should be six to 12 inches out from your shoulders, and they should be pointed slightly outward. Keep your shoulders down and back.
  2. As you pull the kettlebell up and forward, your arms should brush slightly against your inner thighs. Extend your knees and hips along the way, keep your arms straight and pull the kettlebell up and away from your body.
  3. The top position should be almost exactly above your head, and the kettlebell should be facing slightly forward.
  4. Your body should absorb the weight of the kettlebell as it follows the same trajectory back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the same process immediately.

As you master different exercises, upgrade to heavier kettlebells. You'll start noticing major improvements in your strength, endurance and overall fitness in no time!

Photo Credit: Victor via: imager.io, cc