If your current training programme doesn’t include the use of kettlebells at some point, there’s a good chance you’re missing out on one of the best exercises around. And if your goal is to get stronger, look ripped and move better, then kettlebell work should be an essential part of your training.

Strength and conditioning coach and certified kettlebell teacher, Rolandas Mensikovas, is a perfect example of how kettlebells can help you to take your training to the next level.

He says one of the reasons he incorporates kettlebells in his training is because they challenge the entire body, something that the more traditional kinds of exercise equipment cannot do.

“Traditional gym equipment functions on the isolation principle where each machine is designed to challenge a specific muscle group to the exclusion of others. This is not how our bodies are designed to function in real life.

“It’s very hard to prepare a young mother to carry her child by putting her on leg extension or leg press machines. She needs to learn how to squat, lunge, bend, twist, push and pull properly to prepare her for real life, and this can be easily accomplished with the help of kettlebells.”

Building strength

While kettlebells are appearing more often in most gyms, it’s best to have a certified kettlebell instructor show you how to use them properly before you start throwing one around. Kettlebells are amazing for building strength, but if they’re used incorrectly, you can injure yourself.

Once you’ve got the basics, however, and increase the load you’re working with, you can build tremendous strength, flexibility, core stability, lower body endurance and correct your posture.

“With the skilled application of this simple tool you can develop multiple physical qualities in a much shorter time frame than simply doing isolation exercises at the gym and running on the treadmill,” he explains.

Rolandas is a very good advert for kettlebells – one only has to look at him to see how strong and conditioned he is. One of the reasons for his toned physique is that he uses kettlebells regularly as part of his training regimen.

He credits the versatility of the kettlebell as one of the reasons he enjoys working with them.

“Training with kettlebells can help you to work on your specific goal – be it power, strength or endurance – with very few implements and very little in terms of space. All you need are a few kettlebells to design a programme to shed some unwanted body fat, get stronger or improve your performance in, for example, endurance events.

“Currently I have three dedicated training sessions with kettlebells per week, and usually my training sessions will begin with a gentle and progressive warm-up and some mobility drills. I do this to give my nervous system and joint structures some time to ‘wake up’ and get ready for the challenge ahead. I then perform a specific kettlebell warm-up, consisting of the exercises that will feature in the workout, but with lighter weights. I’ll practice some swings (single arm, alternate arms), kettlebell cleans, cleans and presses, and maybe even snatches. This is a specific warm-up, as you’re preparing for activities that you’ll do shortly, but at much lower intensity, so your brain is able to get prepared.

“The main body of my workout often consists of specific kettlebell drills to accomplish a specific goal. For example, if I’m trying to get my hips stronger and more powerful, I might do heavy swings with lower repetitions and longer rests in between. However, if my goal is strength endurance and enhanced work capacity, I might use slightly lighter weight kettlebells and work for longer periods of time with shorter rest periods.”

Kettlebells aren’t just for strong men like Rolandas, they’re for everyone – from regular gym-goers looking to add a new element to their training programme, to the stay-at-home moms who want to get back in shape.

“The beauty of kettlebell training lies in its versatility. Kettlebells range from very lightweight to an absolutely enormous 60+kg. The fact that kettlebells are very safe and allow for a lifetime of use is one of the great things about them,” Rolandas says.

Where to start

If you belong to a mainstream gym, you’ll have noticed that kettlebells are now one of the regular features in the functional fitness section. But if you don’t know how to use them, rather first seek a qualified trainer.

“When executed under proper supervision and with appropriate teaching, kettlebells are a very safe and effective way of training. First, get some expert coaching, though, which is one of the best things you can do to ensure proper progression and injury-free practice, and to help you achieve your goals.”

Check that the trainer you’ve chosen has some teaching experience, as some of the best athletes make the worst teachers. Many of them simply can’t transfer their experience and knowledge to other people.

Once you’ve found a teacher, Rolandas advises that you stick with the programme for a while and learn the proper technique.

“The difference between average technique and good technique is what will save you from dealing with niggles in the future. Once your technique is good, it's so much easier and safer to add extra weight, more reps and higher speed. The body can then handle those stresses with little or no ill-effect. However, people with poor technique have a limited ‘shelf life’ and inevitably have to relearn the technique in order to progress and stay injury free.

“Start well and you’ll enjoy the results for the rest of your life.”