By Susan Cass: Kettlebells – those cannon balls with handles on them – are a great way to tone, shape and build muscle, yet women often pass them by. Now is the time to stop and start training with them.

Where did kettlebell training start?

Kettlebells are round cast iron balls with handles that vary in size and weight. They originated in Russia and date back as far as the 1700’s. Even today the Russian Military still use them as well as their Olympic athletes.


Kettlebells can look pretty scary, so are often thought of as being for men, but they’re not – they’re not stamped ‘men only’. This old school method of training exploded on the fitness scene about four years a go – don’t miss out on what they offer.

They originated in Russia and date back as far as the 1700’s

How is Kettlebells training different to free weight training?

Unlike a barbell or a dumbbell the main weight of a kettlbell is offset by the handle, this means that the weight constantly pulls against your hand/hands holding it. This not only requires strength and coordination from the main muscles used in holding the kettlebells handle, but all the stabilising or supporting muscles in your upper body and with some exercises, the lower body as well.

When using dumbbells and barbells, the center of gravity is centered within the user’s hand/hands. However, with a kettlebell, the center of gravity is 10 to 18cm below your hand. This means that the weight comes ‘alive’ in your grip – you’ve got to guide it and control it and absorb it as well as perform the exercise with it.

Get in the swing

Kettlebell training is often based around swinging movements, which means you are working to control the momentum of the exercise across numerous body part muscles. This in turn means more calorie burning and a great cardiovascular workout. Above all kettlebell training is great fun.

There are a numerous kettlebell exercises and as you gain confidence and knowledge you can get more creative, so that no two workouts are ever the same. Kettlebell training is perfect for training on your own or in a group and is a virtually do anywhere form of exercise.

Kettlebell training what’s in it for you?

The more muscles an exercise works the more energy you require and the more calories you burn. It’s not uncommon for a kettlebell workout to only last for 15-30 minutes and yet you’ll get all the benefits of a standard resistance training workout three times the length.

By swinging, pressing, snatching and pulling the kettlebells you can create a workout that not only burns a huge amount of calories, but also carves out a physique like no other.

Burning up to 500 calories in one short session is perfect for those of you who are short on time, but want maximum results. And the calorie furnace will continue burning for hours long after your session is over, due to its metabolic demands.

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How do I use them?

The clean, snatch, swing, jerk, Turkish Get-up are all kettlebell moves and no, it’s not a new language! These are just a few of the exercises designed to engage hundreds of your muscles and stimulate your mind in a unique way.

As mentioned most of the exercises are based on momentum and swinging the kettlebell in various directions, but you can also use them for dynamic stretching and posture enhancing moves. You can progress from the more basic swing, to hand to hand passing or even juggling for the development hand-speed and eyeto – hand coordination.

Kettlebell training is often referred to as ‘anti-mirror muscle training’, which basically means that it targets the posterior muscles (upper and lower back and bum) those that you can’t see in the mirror.

Will I ‘bulk up’ from training with kettlebells?

Training with medium to heavy weights is vitally important for women and especially for those looking to burn fat. Firstly, weight training increases muscle tone, which in turn increases your metabolic rate, as muscle requires more energy to exist.

If you are worried about bulging biceps or monster thighs then have no fear, as in order to build large muscle mass we require the anabolic hormone testosterone. This is present in large quantities in men, but on a much, much reduced basis in women. In addition we have up to 60 times less of this hormone and so find it very difficult to gain large muscle mass.

Kettlebell training can be really fun and a varied form of training that will promote weight loss and perhaps more importantly make you a fit, strong, confident and efficient calorie burning woman.

How much weight should I be lifting?

Most women will start with a 6kg or 8kg kettlebell (men usually start with a 12kg or 16kg). Ideally, you’ll need guidance and supervision the first few time you train with kettlebells.

You should be able to source small group classes and qualified instructors (contact your gym). Even if you are strong and train with weights regularly, you should start at the beginners’ level. Kettlebells permit very dynamic movements and your body will need time to get used to these.

Killer Kettlebell workout for women

Warm up with 2-3 minutes of CV exercise and perform some functional movements, such as arm swings and walking lunges Always start with a light kettlebell – no matter how fit you are.

The swing

Targets: legs, glutes, abs, back and arms

The Swing is a foundation move for all kettlebell training. Your heart rate will elevate quickly due to the exercise’s large recruitment of muscle and its dynamics. The exercise can be performed with one or both hands.

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Single-handed, two-handed

Technique (for two-hand version)

– Assume a squat position with the kettlebell placed on the floor, slightly behind you with both hands gripping the handle.

– Lift the kettlebell explosively by driving your feet into the ground and straightening your legs powerfully.

– Keep arms relaxed as the kettlebell rises in front of your body to shoulder height.

– Control the kettlebell as it drops, pushing your bottom backwards to absorb the fall of the kettlebell. Let it swing between your legs beneath your body.

– Repeat.

– Contract your glutes and core muscles throughout.

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Dynamic upright row

Targets: shoulders, back (torso and legs to a lesser extent)

– Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding the kettlebell in one hand.

– ‘Hang’ the kettlebell approximately in line with your shins.

– Extend your hips and pull the kettlebell up quickly to shoulder level.

– Your elbow should lift above your shoulder.

– Control the fall of the kettlebell by moving with it.

– Repeat


Targets: core and shoulder muscles and assists flexibility.

– Stand with your feet turned out to 45-degrees and placed beyond shoulder-width.

– Grip the kettlebell with one arm and press it overhead.

– Keeping the kettlebell locked in position, push your bottom and hips out in the direction of the locked out kettlebell arm.

– Turn your feet through 45-degrees in the direction of the kettlebell.

– Flex from the trunk, sliding your non-working hand down the front of your lower body. Whether you touch the lower part of your lower leg, ankle, foot or floor will be dependant on how flexible you are.

– Pause for a second and reverse the motion back to the starting position.

– Repeat.

– Keep ‘strong’ throughout.

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