They may look like dumbbells, but make no mistake: The kettlebell is a smart choice for a great workout.
A kettlebell is a cannonball-shaped weight with a thick handle, first made popular among weightlifters in Russia in the 1700s. The 18th-century Russian technology has seen a 21st-century revival at fitness clubs across the United States.
But as with any exercise fad, there were skeptics — including the American Council of Exercise, which conducted a test on the benefits of kettlebell workouts in 2009, with surprising results.
“[Kettlebell proponents] make these all-encompassing claims about increasing your muscular strength, endurance and aerobic capacity, like, ‘If you do this, that’s all you need to do,” said University of Wisconsin physician John Porcari, who conducted the test. “We wanted to see how much of an aerobic workout you really do get.”
The results of the study, which tracked 10 volunteers between the ages of 29-46, proved stunning: a 30-minute workout with a kettlebell consistently burned 1,200 calories per hour.
“[It was] off the charts,” Porcari said. “That’s equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace. The only other thing I could find that burns that many calories is cross-country skiing uphill at a fast pace.”
Another major upside to the kettlebell workout is the efficiency, with exercises such as squats and a two-handed swing working multiple muscle groups.
“We knew it would be extremely intense,” said study co-chair and UW physician Chad Schnettler. “You get a big bang for your buck in a very short amount of time.”
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