Want to know the secret of the best workout you’re not already doing? It’s a single word: kettlebells.

If you already know what a kettlebell is, pat yourself on the back. If you think a kettlebell has something to do with letting you know when your coffee water is boiling, keep reading.

You’ve probably seen kettlebells around the gym or in fitness stores. They look like a cast-iron kettle with a big handle on top and the weight on the bottom. They’re specifically designed to be different from regular dumbbells. In a kettlebell, the weight is unevenly distributed.

Kettlebells have been used by Russians for strength training for decades. Some of the world’s most effective advances in exercise science came from the Soviet Union in the 1970s and ’80s. Elite athletes gathered in sports academies where their training was supervised by teams of scientists.

And what did scientists find helped athletes gain strength and power most effectively? Kettlebells.

A kettlebell workout is different than most conventional weight workouts because it involves swinging motions that engage entire groups of muscles. Train on a bench press machine and you’ll become strong at bench presses. But if you’re an athlete, nothing simulates the coordinated muscle movements of sports like basic kettlebell movements.

Coordinated power is key for football linemen trying to become more effective blockers or tacklers. Skiers use kettlebells to become faster and stronger while they’re reacting to rapid turns at high speeds.

Even endurance athletes can use kettlebells to develop strong core and shoulder muscles that power them through swim workouts or sprint sessions at the track.

Local athletic programs are becoming popular. Several prominent Maine high schools have revamped their football strength programs to emphasize work with kettlebells.

Kettlebells make workouts more efficient. A typical kettlebell session lasts about 30 minutes. Routines rarely call for multiple sets. A single movement, like the kettlebell snatch, might take the place of five exercises for the legs, shoulders and arms.

The same features that make kettlebells so effective can also make them challenging to master. Because of their uneven weight distribution and swinging motion, kettlebells can cause injuries if they are used improperly. It is essential to learn good technique before beginning a kettlebell program.

The most widely accepted accreditation is the Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC), which has two levels. An RKC-approved trainer has shown the ability to use and teach kettlebell exercises safely.

So if you’re looking for a challenging workout to take your strength to the next level, follow the lead of some of Maine’s most elite athletes and trainers. Find an RKC-certified trainer to properly teach you kettlebell technique. You’ll be surprised at how hard they make you work.


Dr. James Glazer is a sports medicine physician for Coastal Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Freeport. He serves as a consultant for the U.S. ski team.