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Kettlebell Cardio Training for a High-Intensity Fat-Burning Workout

fit female with a kettlebell

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Tony Rovere of Weight Loss Tips After 40. The views in the article are those of the author.

Let’s face facts…most cardio exercises are boring.  Why? Because they are repetitious, requiring us to either run, walk, step or row on a machine over and over.  Even if I do these exercises outside and have the advantage of seeing different scenery, the boredom does eventually become a factor.

So I went searching for a new type of cardio exercise that would be different.  I didn’t want to do it every day, but a few times a week to break up the monotony of some of my other workouts.  I was hoping to find an exercise that…

  • I could do at home (if you can save money off of a gym membership and turn your living room into your gym that is a best-case scenario)
  • Required either no equipment or a small investment in equipment
  • Would give me both muscle building and cardiovascular benefits at the same time
  • Could be done as high-intensity intervals (HIIT training is the best way to burn fat because of what it allows your body to do AFTER the workout.  The intervals charge your metabolism and cause you to burn more calories after your workout.

And surprisingly, finding such an exercise wasn’t as difficult as I thought.  That exercise is kettlebell swings.

Kettlebell Cardio Training

I first saw them profiled in Men’s Health magazine as the one of the best overall exercises you could do. While you hear that type of talk about a lot of exercises, it intrigued me enough to investigate things further, and having tried kettlebell swings, I have to say that I have fallen in love with them.

Here is the premise. A kettlebell looks just like a cannon ball with a handle attached to it and can be used for an assortment of exercises that serve to not only add muscle but also burn fat and build dynamic power.

The Kettlebell Swing

The exercise I am going to go over is the classic kettlebell exercise, the kettlebell swing, and how you can integrate it into a home-based kettlebell program. You can do this exercise with either one arm holding the kettlebell or two, whichever you are most comfortable with. I would recommend that you start with two and then build up to one.

But what you will do is straddle the kettlebell on the floor, with the kettlebell directly below. Squat down slightly to pick up the kettlebell, and while keeping good form with your lower back to avoid injury, pick up the kettlebell and bring it back between your knees into the “prime” position.

Then, thrust forward with your hips keeping your arms straight until your arms are parallel to the ground at shoulder height. Then repeat the movement, returning the kettlebell to the prime position to begin your next swing.

When I first did this, I will admit that it bothered my lower back (so start out with a light weight and slowly build your strength up) but my body quickly adapted to the kettlebell swings and now I do them regularly.

Best Way To Do Kettlebells

I personally think that kettlebells are the perfect high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise.  HIIT training has been shown to be a far more effective form of fat burning than steady state cardio.

The way that I do this is simple.  I use a 20-lb kettlebell (I bought a light one for safety reasons) and will do 20 single arm kettlebell swings with the right arm and then 20 with the left arm.  I give myself 30 seconds to rest, and then I do another 20 swings for each arm.  I keep that up for about 15 sets until I am officially wiped out.  But when I am done it feels wonderful.

Incorporating Kettlebell Swings Into Your Routine

Obviously you won’t be doing them every day, but I make it a habit to do my kettlebell swings about every third day, giving myself 2 days to rest between workouts.  And the best part for busy people is that this type of workout only takes about 15-20 minutes to do, so it’s not like you can’t find the time to do this.

  • Allison

    I have been wanting to try this type of workout. I’ve heard great things about it. I’m just not sure what size to purchase. When I work with free weights I use 5, 10 and 15 pound weights. Any suggestions?

    • http://twitter.com/tony_rovere Tony Rovere

      In my opinion you don’t need that much weight. I personally use a 20 lb. kettlebell and after a few sets of warm up, switch from using both arms to one arm at a time to increase the load.

      For me the most important thing is to get my heart rate up and take care of my lower back. That’s why I personally use a lower weight.

    • http://www.facebook.com/tony.rovere1 Tony Rovere

      Allison, kettle bells comes in similar sizes to use. I have seen a package of 5, 10 and 15 lb. kettle bells being sold for around $35. So this way you could get a variety of them without breaking the bank.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kim.berube.9 Kim Berube

    I am almost 5’10″ and 170lbs and I use a 25lb bell for all my swings, etc. and a 20 when doing presses, rows, halos, etc. My instructor says he thinks I could go up in kettlebell weight for swings.

  • Julia

    I use 20 pounds and I could go up to 25 for swings. I am 5’6″ and about 135 pounds. I take a one hour kettlebell class on Thursdays and wouldn’t do without it!! I agree it is the best overall body workout. I am looking into purchasing one for home.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathleen.m.cooley Kathleen Markey Cooley

    Any video I could view of this exercise ??

  • Erica

    i liked your article until u mentioned “And kettlebell swings aren’t just for men, ladies. I have seen smaller kettlebells, in the 3-5 pound range, that would be ideal for women who are looking to get a great workout in at home without the gym.” be careful, u shouldn’t assume women want to or have to use lighter weights. 3-5lbs? thats much too low for alot of women! i started with 12-14kg (26 to 31 lbs) and now can use 16kg (35lbs) or 18kg (almost 40lbs) on most exercises. i still stick to a 12kg for one arm snatches and a 14kg for one arm cleans though but still don’t jump to such conclusions on your article. if i were u i wouldn’t have suggested a ladies desired weight for bells.

  • Constant Energy Fitness

    My husband and I own a gym. Michigan Kettlebells Strength & Training Center in Michigan. We have seen many men and women gain strength, lose body fat, and have fun working out with Kettlebells. A full body workout that involves core, cardio, balance, and strength all wrapped up into one iron ball with a handle! Awesome results fast!

  • Leanne

    I know there is divided opinion about kettlebells which has always stopped me from using them. I would be curious to know what you say to the detractors, who say they can cause injury to the inexperienced, ie, the at-home user like myself.

    • http://twitter.com/tony_rovere Tony Rovere

      To me, the biggest risk of injury is to your lower back. I know that I felt that the first time that I started to use them.

      The way that I deal with this is…

      1) Stretching-I make sure to warm up before doing the kettle bells. i have also found that the yoga pose “Upward dog” is a phenomenal pose to deal with this (just Google it for a picture)

      2) Use a lighter kettle bell. I have seen some of the comments from people about the weight of the kettle bells that they are using. I started out light (a 20 lb. kettle bell) and would rather add reps to the number of kettle bell swings I do as opposed to adding a heavier kettle bell.

      3) Proper rest-I do the swings twice a week, making sure to give myself enough time to recover because I do not want lower back issues.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.thorpe1 Sara Louise Rijk

    I use kettlebells religiously myself and with my clients .. For my newbies I give them ridiculously light kettles to practice form and technique , then we progress once they have the hang of the momentum .. It’s too useful an exercise with too many functional and fat burning benefits to eliminate I’m my opinion !!

    And I never use particularly heavy kettles as I only ever use mine as 1 component of a tabata or circuit session , so I usually stick with 10-12 kg

  • Amie Pejcic

    I use weights two days a wk. but they r 5lb ones. Where can i buy one pls, as im really trying to build up my muscles.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Try Amazon.com if you want to buy online. Just about any sports/outdoors store has them.

  • Sandy Ellis

    Dicks sporting goods or any sporting good store

  • rachel

    Even Walmart has them. I got a set of 3 at Walmart for $20. It came with a 5lb, 10lb, and
    15lb.

  • Beth Ann Getz

    Kettlebells are awesome, but proper form and technique is KEY! I’ve seen too many inexperienced people pick up kettlebells and hurt themselves due to improper training. My first trainer was RKC certified and was an amazing instructor. I always utilize his teachings to help my clients maintain proper form, or suggest they seek a class with a properly trained instructor.

  • Laura

    I am a certified kettlebell coach who has competed in girevoy (kettlebell) sport. Form is very important. If your back hurts, it means your form needs work. Use the hips and legs to drive everything and squeeze the glutes as you swing the bell and your hips go forward.

    There are many kettlebell videos on youtube, along with DVDs and books on Amazon. My favorite book is the one by Lorna Kleidman. You can turn any strength-training workout into a simultaneous cardio session when you use kettlebells! It’s like getting twice the benefit in half the time. Kettlebells also burn up to 20 calories per minute. There’s a lot more to do with them besides swing, but if you like swinging, check out the DVDs by Tracey Reifkind (also on amazon). I currently use a 12 kg (26.2 lbs) and 14 kg (30.8 lbs) without any ill effects.

  • Anne-Marie

    I worked out pretty intensely for over a year with Kettlebells 4 times a week and loved it. Took a break and have just gotten them back out again. My biggest delight was when I could plank on 2 x 12kg bells and row each of them for 5. Think it may take me a while to get back there! Fantastic workout. I’m 5 3 and 128lbs. I tend to do a 20 minute non stop workout which incorporates approx 500 movements between swings, lifts and floor work. Love it.

  • CS

    Also looking for a video to workout to…any advice?

  • Cecile Vargo

    I saw someone on one of your other articles mention kettlebells three weeks ago. So on a whim, looking for a change, and needing more strength training, I read up on them then immediately went out and bought a really light weight set. I am only using 5 – 8 pounds since I haven’t done any strength training in years and years, and I am being very cautious. I am doing a pretty simple workout, but I feel fantastic, and am beginning to see the difference in my shape already. I absolutely love them, and have been touting them so much, a couple of my non-exercising friends have told me they are going to try them too. I am 61 years old and an on and off again Tae Bo fanatic, just trying to keep myself healthy, mobile, and fight the weight battle that menopause has brought me. I think this is a big plus for me.

  • Cecile Vargo

    I saw someone comment about using kettlebells on another article here and it peaked my interest. I immediately went out and bought an adjustable kettlebell set by a company called Empowerment that came with a DVD by Gin Miller. I use 5 – 8lbs..and do a 40 minute workout, 3-5 times a week. Within 4 weeks the scales started moving again…within 6 weeks, even though the scales weren’t moving, my clothes were loose and people started commenting on the definition in my arms and legs. I have been addicted to Tae Bo on and off, but it just wasn’t working for me any more. Kettlebells are my new favorite workout! This will be week 9 of using them, and I can’t see where continued use will take me. I not only am pleased with how I am starting to look, I feel fantastic!