The kettlebell is a cast iron weight, which resembles a basketball with a handle. An ancient Russian exercise device, the kettlebell has long been a favorite in that country for those seeking a special edge in strength and endurance.
It was the key in forging the mighty power of dinosaurs like Ivan ‘the Champion of Champions’ Poddubny. Poddubny, one of the strongest men of his time, trained with kettlebells in preparation for his undefeated wrestling career and six world champion belts.
Peter Krylov was nicknamed ‘the King of Kettlebells’ after his favorite tool of strength development. He was known for his stunt of jerking overhead two beefy soldiers who sat inside two hollow spheres on the ends of Krylov’s specially made barbell.
Many famous Soviet weightlifters, such as Vorobyev, Vlasov, Alexeyev, and Stogov, started their Olympic careers with old-fashioned kettlebells.
Although Russians have known kettlebells for as long as they have known vodka, the first official kettlebell competition took place only in 1948 and the first USSR championship did not happen until the fall of 1985.
Kettlebells come in ‘poods’. A pood is an old Russian measure of weight, which equals 16kg, or 35 pounds. There are one, one and a half, and two pood K-bells, 16, 24, and 32kg respectively. They no longer come in heavier weights because the sport has evolved into a strength endurance event. Standard weights are lifted for repetitions: 32kg for men, 24kg for lower ranked athletes, and 16kg for kids and birds.
To earn his national ranking, Pavel Tsatsouline had to power snatch a 32kg kettlebell forty times with one arm, and forty with the other back to back - over 40,000 foot/pounds of work - and power clean and jerk two such bells forty-five times.
In the twentieth century Soviet science discovered that repetition kettlebell lifting is one of the best tools for all around physical development. (Voropayev, 1983) observed two groups of college students over a period of a few years. A standard battery of the armed forces PT tests was used: pullups, a standing broad jump, a 100m sprint, and a 1k run. The control group followed the typical university physical training program which was military oriented and emphasized the above exercises. The experimental group just lifted kettlebells. In spite of the lack of practice on the tested drills, the KB group showed better scores in every one of them.
There was more. Surprised researchers at the famous Lesgaft Physical Culture Institute in Leningrad (Vinogradov & Lukyanov, 1986) found a very high correlation between the KBL total and a great range of dissimilar tests: strength, measured with the three powerlifts and grip strength; strength endurance, measured with pullups and parallel bar dips; general endurance, determined by a 1000 meter run; work capacity and balance, measured with special tests!
The Red Army, too pragmatic to waste their troopers’ time on pushups and situps, quickly caught on. Every Russian military unit’s gym was equipped with kettlebells.
Spetznaz, Soviet Special Operations, personnel owe much of their wiry strength, explosive agility, and never quitting stamina to kettlebells. High rep C&Js and snatches with kettlebells kick the fighting man’s system into warp drive.
In addition to their many mentioned benefits, the official kettlebell lifts also develop the ability to absorb ballistic shocks. If you want to develop your ability to take impact try the official K-bell lifts. The repetitive ballistic shock builds extremely strong tendons and ligaments.
The ballistic blasts of kettlebell lifting become an excellent conditioning tool for athletes from rough sports like kickboxing, wrestling, and football. And the extreme metabolic cost of high rep KB workouts will put your unwanted fat on a fire sale.
There is a great variety of kettlebell lifts and exercises. Russians even compete in kettlebell throwing. See Pavel Tsatsouline’s book and video for the full range of drills.