Working out with kettlebells—those weights that look like cannonballs with handles—is the latest fitness craze, and for good reason. A kettlebell workout can get you total-body toning, increased cardiovascular fitness, core strengthening and improved posture and balance—without a big time investment.
"One of the main kettlebell benefits is that it's an effective, efficient workout of cardio and strength training in one," says Sarah Lurie, author of the new book Kettlebells for Dummies and founder of Iron Core Kettlebell Strength and Conditioning in San Diego. Instead of isolating muscle groups as you do when lifting dumbbells, you work all your major muscle groups at once with a kettlebell. That's because you have to work continuously to control the bell's shifting center of gravity as you move it around your body, Lurie explains.
The result: Major—and quick—calorie-burn. A recent study by the American Council on Exercise found that the average kettlebell workout burns 20 calories a minutes—that's a whopping 600 calories in 30 minutes. "So, a half-hour kettlebell workout three times a week is going to produce really fantastic results," says Lurie. Ready to get the calorie-busting kettlebell workout benefits? Here are Lurie's recommendations on how to get started to get all the benefits kettlebells have to offer:
1. Don't be intimidated!
Kettlebells may look a little scary, but you don't need to be a hard-core body builder to use them, according to Lurie. "Start with a light weight and keep your first workout to 10 to 20 minutes," she says.
2. Pick the right weight
Comfortable using 8 to 10-pound dumbbells? Start with a 14 or 15-pound kettlebell, says Lurie. If you don't currently lift weights, try a 10-pound bell. You only need one bell to start gaining kettlebell benefits.
3. Set up your workout space
All you need is a yoga mat or padded or carpeted floor to stand on and a 5x5-foot space so you can move easily in all directions.
4. Go barefoot—or almost
Ditch your shoes or wear flat, thin-soled shoes (like Nike Free or boxing shoes) or yoga socks, so you can feel the ground. If you want, you can get thick, 3-inch wide wristbands to cushion your wrists against the bell.
5. Use the right posture
Stand about one foot in front of an office chair and then reach your butt back to sit down into it, starting the movement from your butt and hips and letting the knees follow. That natural S curve in your back as you reach back is what you want when you're doing a kettlebell workout. "A neutral spine will distribute the weight of the kettlebell throughout your muscles properly and prevent injuries," Lurie says.
6. Check your head
While doing any kettlebell exercise, fix your eyes on a focal point that's six feet away and down toward the ground. This keeps your head and neck in alignment with your spine and avoids strain.
7. Always warm up and cool down
Warm up with two to three minutes of dynamic movements—such as 10 repetitions of body weight squats or downward dog into cobra pose movements. Cool down after your workout with two to three minutes of full-body stretching.