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Why Kettlebells?

With Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC

Season 4, Episode 8 | October 26, 2021

Kettlebells are a ballistic tool that can be used for building strength, endurance, and mobility. They’re versatile and modifiable, and can benefit everyone, regardless of fitness level. In this mini episode, Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, senior fitness editor at Experience Life, shares the benefits of and tips for making kettlebells part of your fitness regimen.

Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, an Alpha Strong Coach and the senior fitness editor at Experience Life.

In this mini episode, Fazeli Fard offers this advice for those looking to incorporate kettlebells into their exercise routine:

  • Perfect your form first. Proper form is essential, so if you’re new to kettlebells, Fazeli Fard encourages taking a class or working with a coach or trainer to ensure you’re doing the movements accurately.
  • Try favorite moves. Fazeli Fard loves kettlebell swings, kettlebell cleans, kettlebell snatches, and kettlebell windmills.
  • Substitute them in. If a barbell deadlift feels funky on your lower back, doing a deadlift with a kettlebell may feel a lot better and get you the same benefits. Or if a dumbbell overhead press causes your shoulders to feel funny, using a kettlebell can be a lot safer.
  • Let them be your cardio. Kettlebells can be used for metabolic conditioning and endurance training. The effect you get depends on how many reps you do and how long you go for, but it can be a great option to improve cardiovascular fitness if you’re not a fan of traditional efforts such as running or cycling.
  • Find the right weight. Choose a kettlebell that’s heavy enough that if you were to stand still and try to lift it forward, you couldn’t. However, you want it to be light enough that if set up to do a kettlebell swing, you could push it behind you. Fazeli Fard says starting with a weight around 12 kilograms is usually good for the average medium-fit person.

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Transcript: Why Kettlebells?

Season 8, Episode 8  | October 26, 2021

Jamie Martin

Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy-living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor-in-chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman

And I’m David Freeman, Life Time’s national digital performer brand leader. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we are working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin

In each episode, we’ll break down the various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real inspiring stories of transformation.

David Freeman

And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond, who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

[MUSIC]

Jamie Martin

In this mini episode, we’re talking about kettlebells with Maggie Fazeli Fard, the senior fitness editor with Experience Life magazine who also carries a variety of fitness certifications, including one for Russian kettlebells. So Maggie, thanks for being back on the pod. You were with us in season one.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Season one. Thank you for having me back and to talk about kettlebells of all things — my favorite.

Jamie Martin

OK, you got to tell us why. Why do you love kettlebells? And what are they, for those who may not be as familiar with them?

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Absolutely. So if you don’t know if you’ve seen a kettlebell, you probably have. It is usually just like a ball that has a curved handle attached to it. It looks a little bit like a bowling ball, sometimes comes in different colors, all sorts of different sizes. And it is a ballistic tool for strength training, endurance building, mobility. And what I love about kettlebells is that they are that versatile. You can use them for all sorts of different goals.

David Freeman

Yeah. When you think about all certain goals and then you can use them any and everywhere, you do not have to be at the gym, right? You can do them at home. So what are some of your favorite kettlebell moves that you would probably say, hey, if you’ve never done a kettlebell before, these are some starter moves that you can kick off with?

Maggie Fazeli Fard

So if you’ve never worked with a kettlebell before, I would actually encourage you to take a class, work with a coach, work with a trainer, because they’re very accessible. And kettlebell moves are modifiable to every fitness level, many body types. But form is so key. And so you don’t want to just pick up a kettlebell and start swinging it.

If you have some background, the core kettlebell moves that I love for an at-home program are swings, cleans, snatches, windmills. Those four, I think, probably cover it for me.

Jamie Martin

And just so everybody knows, we’ll share links to kind of demos of all of those moves in the show notes when we get around to this. So just to be — is there anybody who shouldn’t use kettlebells? Or who are they for in general? Who are they for? Who are they not for?

Maggie Fazeli Fard

It depends on what you want to use the kettlebells for. I would argue that there’s nobody that kettlebell training is not for. That being said, a standard swing or a standard kettlebell snatch might not be for everybody. But the nice thing is you can sub kettlebells in for a lot of dumbbell moves and barbell moves. So if, for example, doing a barbell deadlift feels kind of funky on your lower back, just the natural weight and center of gravity and line of movement of a kettlebell, doing a deadlift with a kettlebell can feel a lot better, and you can get the same benefits.

Same — let’s say you want to be able to do dumbbell overhead presses but it causes funny things with your shoulders. Again, the line of movement that a kettlebell’s weight can help encourage can be a lot safer for the shoulder. So in that case, the kettlebell can be subbed in, and you can also modify the kettlebell movements themselves to suit just about anybody. I would challenge anybody to come to me with an issue that they can’t figure out. I would love to problem solve it.

David Freeman

That’s a commonly asked question. You kind of just touched on dumbbells. So when you look at the comparison — kettlebell, dumbbell — I don’t want to say one is better than the other, but why would one pick a kettlebell over a dumbbell?

Maggie Fazeli Fard

I think that you can use a kettlebell for a wider range of things. You can use it for standard strength movements, like I just described. You can also use it for more dynamic ballistic movements that can help build power and endurance.

Jamie Martin

And you talk about form being so key with this. And so let’s just talk through the kettlebell swing, which is one of the basic movements. Let’s talk about that. And I know not all of our listeners will be able to see you, but let’s talk through it because there’s some — I know you can verbalize and cue pretty well.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Absolutely. So with the kettlebell swing — and I would say, all of the ballistic movements that we could talk about — the clean, the snatch — the hip hinge is the thing that you really want to be able to drill down first. So what a swing looks like is you would set up a kettlebell. Then you’re going to want to hinge your hips back. Imagine that you are keeping your back in a neutral position while pushing your butt toward the wall behind you, soft bend in your knees, and that will naturally cause your upper body to lower toward the floor to the point where then your arms, which are straight below you, can grasp the handle of the kettlebell.

That is kind of the first place where people get tripped up, which is they try to just bend over or they’ll round their backs to reach it. You have to think, it’s not a bend. Your goal is not to get your upper body closer to the kettlebell. It’s to — you can almost imagine the bend of a straw, right? You have a straight straw and then that part where you pull versus bringing the tip of it down, if that makes sense. If your hips are that bendy part of the straw, you’re drawing it back.

Jamie Martin

That makes sense.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

So that’ll be the first thing that you want to think about with a kettlebell swing. The next piece is what we call the hike, and that’s where you are building momentum. And I always think of that as drawing a rubber band back, like a rubber band that you want to snap. Don’t snap rubber bands at people’s faces or at people’s anything. But if you wanted to snap a rubber band, you would draw it back.

That, again, is what’s happening with your arms. You are hiking the kettlebell back very aggressively. You’re using your lats to do that. Once your hips and the kettlebell is back behind your hips, the only place that you can go is forward now. That’s how that momentum works. So you now have power. Your hips are moving forward.

That’s where we run into the next issue. If you are doing this correctly, momentum will drive your hips forward, and that power from your hips will cause your arms to become weightless, and the weight will just kind of glide up.

Jamie Martin

Kind of floats.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

It will float. You will feel weightless to the point where, if you released your grip on the kettlebell, it would continue to move up. You want to hold on to the grip because you don’t want to fling it forward. But you are not pulling.

So with kettlebell movements, unless you are specifically doing a row, you are not pulling the kettlebell. So in the swing, you are never pulling up. Your arms are floating up, and the weight is coming with you.

At the same time, there’s this idea of the full hip extension, right? You want that. You want your glutes to engage and for your body to be nice and straight as you stand up. It’s like a plank. Something that people run into is that they will push their hips too far forward because they really, really, really want to emphasize that hip drive. And now your hips are in front of you, and you’re out of alignment. That would be the equivalent of doing a plank with your hips sagging down, right?

So again, it’s a standing plank with your arms out in front of you. The next piece is how high do your hands and the weight go? There are two styles that are typically done. One is the Russian kettlebell style, which is what I’m trained in. And then there’s the American kettlebell style.

Russian is often considered to be safer for the shoulders, and that is when the bell comes to float just to about shoulder height. You can still see over it. The American style, your arms will come completely overhead. That requires a great deal of shoulder mobility and stability through the core. Something that — a pitfall In that is that people will swing their arms up really high and arch their backs and use their backs instead of improving their shoulder mobility to get their arms overhead.

So that’s the first half of the swing, right? We’ve gotten the kettlebell up. The next piece is you want to recreate that initial momentum that we got from the hike. So as soon as your kettlebell reaches that apex — let’s say, just below eye level — you want to aggressively push your hands down into that handle and push the kettlebell between your legs.

When you’re pushing the kettlebell between your legs, it is not coming down to the floor. You can imagine that the handle, the triangle that the handle creates, is going can be up between your upper thighs. So the triangle that your thighs and knees kind of create, that’s where you want the kettlebell to be. And then you just repeat for as many reps as you happen to want to do or that your program calls for.

David Freeman

I like it. Let’s break it down. So it’s almost like that good morning to kick off with as far as with that hinge motion — slight knee bend. And then you’re hiking that kettlebell back. Hup, hup. Alright, a little football action for it.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Exactly.

David Freeman

Yep. Then you’re going to end up — once that kettlebell is past the hips, you’re going to drive back through. Shoulders align to the hips and the power generating that kettlebell up so it becomes weightless. And then you’re going to push that kettlebell back down. You’re going to continue to cycle through those movements.

So if you continue to do this for 10, 15, 20 reps, it starts to transition from strength training a little bit, and now you got a little bit of a metabolic effect going on there. So can you talk a little bit about the benefits behind training with a kettlebell in that space?

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Yes, absolutely. So one of the great benefits of training with a kettlebell is that you have the opportunity to do metabolic conditioning and endurance training. And the effect that you get is going to depend on how many reps you do and how long you go.

But it can be an incredible — I know a lot of people who want to do cardio and just don’t like running or don’t like cycling, don’t like the traditional forms, and kettlebell training is such a wonderful way to improve your cardiovascular fitness.

Jamie Martin

So if somebody’s getting started and they think, I typically do this weight in the gym, is that going to translate with kettlebells? How about selecting the weight with those?

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Sure. So with selecting weight, you want to be able to have something that — we’ll use the swing as an example. You want something that’s heavy enough that you cannot lift it in front of you. So if you were just to stand still and held on to the kettlebell and tried to lift it forward, you couldn’t because that tendency is to — it’s too tempting, especially when you’re a beginner, to really pull on the kettlebell. And with a swing, it’s really about the push, right? It’s that hike, that push down that helps generate the power.

So as a rule of thumb, find a weight that’s heavy enough that you cannot just lift. The other — lift in front of you, to be more specific. The other piece is, what happens if you set up to do a kettlebell swing and then just push the kettlebell back behind you as far as you can? Is it a weight that is light enough that you can push behind you and then take a step back and push? That’s actually a really great way to practice engaging the lats, to push back.

Jamie Martin

Oh, interesting.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

So that — you will be able to, with trial and error, find something that fits there. For the average, medium-fit person, I think starting with a 12-kilogram weight is probably a good place to just get your bearings and take it from there. I don’t think you need to — most people won’t need to go lighter than that for swings. And certainly a lot of people can go heavier.

Jamie Martin

Yeah.

David Freeman

Yeah, I think the mechanics are so key from a foundational standpoint. And I actually had one of my virtual clients send me a video. They were like, I don’t feel like I’m doing the kettlebells right, right? And that’s the words. I’m like, alright, I need to see what you’re doing.

And exactly what you ended up saying is they kind of just slightly hinge over, no slight knee bend or anything, and they’re generating nothing but a shoulder raise. So I was able to videotape myself doing it. And I even said, maybe we take it a step back even further. Put the weight down, and I just want you to get the mechanics — if that’s wrapping up a band and having them actually pull it through the legs or something along those lines so they can just build the mechanics over and over. Just like with anything, the more reps you get with something, the better you’re going to get with it. And then you start to progress once you have the consistency, and then you start to increase the intensity.

Jamie Martin

So you’re practicing that movement pattern and getting really familiar and comfortable, especially with that hinge, which is so key with several of these moves.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Yes, that hip hinge will carry over from the swing to the clean to the snatch. And that is a front to back hinge. But then you can look at moves like the windmill where you have to be able to — a lot of people talk about you have to be able to have a sassy hip. You have to learn how to shift your hips from side to side as well. So the hips are — it’s all in the hips.

David Freeman

Yeah, you got to channel your Shakira.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

It’s all in the hips. Shakira, Shakira.

David Freeman

You got to channel your — you got to channel your Shakira, your inner Shakira.

Jamie Martin

Inner Shakira. Alright, Maggie, anything else about kettlebells our listeners and viewers need to know?

Maggie Fazeli Fard

No, I don’t think so.

Jamie Martin

That covers it.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

I love them, and I hope that everybody can find a way to love them as well. They’re wonderful.

David Freeman

That’s awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much, Maggie.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Thank you.

Jamie Martin

Thanks, Maggie.

[MUSIC]

David Freeman

Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today, and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help?

Jamie Martin

And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us, too. Email us at lttalks@lt.life, or reach out to us on Instagram, @lifetime.life@jamiemartinel, or @freezy30, and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at el.lifetime.life/podcasts.

David Freeman

And if you’re enjoying Life Time Talks, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Feel free to rate and review, and share on your social channels too.

Jamie Martin

Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time, healthy way of life. It’s produced by Molly Schelper, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins, and video production by Kevin Dixon, Coy Larson, and the team at LT Motion. A big thank you to the team who pulls together each episode, and everyone who provided feedback.

We’d Love to Hear From You

Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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