Survive + Thrive

Kettlebells can be the gym in your hand

From therapy purposes to circuit-style intensity, kettlebells offer an adaptable form of training for students of all types

By Morgan Kelly
Kettlebell training has been around for centuries but it has caught on recently in the U.S. as a popular way to efficiently exercise while effectively rehabilitating injury.

What it is

Trainers and experts maintain the awkward, offset weight that resembles a cannonball with a handle provides a one-stop shop for strength, cardio training and physical therapy. Without changing the size of the kettlebell you are using, you can alter the weight and the difficulty of the exercise simply by your grip and your stance due to its offset shape.

DSC00866.JPGMandla Nkosi, owner and trainer at Boston Kettlebell in Brookline, said that the difference between kettlebells and other weights is that they allow people the move more and in different ways than a machine or dumbbells could.

"Kettlebell training and the way it is being presented," he said, "provides people with exposure to exercises that ask for a type of range of motion that they aren't usually asked to produce in a lot of what's been done in contemporary modalities."

The movements that are possible with the kettlebell mimic those that the body does in daily life, making the practice a practical form of training, said Nkosi.

"When we look at picking something up, we're using the whole body," he said. "Segmented training, like on machines, tends to leave gaps in motor learning and gaps in our capacity to understand how to transfer a load or take on everyday tasks."

Why it's popular

One of the primary reasons people are flocking to kettlebells is for the ability to rehabilitate injury.

For Mandla Nkosi, kettlebells improved his shoulder injuries and his overall wellness so much it encouraged him to become educated in the practice in order to spread the word.

Lauryl Smith, 34, who has been practicing kettlebells for two and half years with Nkosi, avoided surgery in both knees with kettlebell training. After months of traditional physical therapy, she found that kettlebells were the first regimen that didn't cause her any pain.

"I can actually run faster and do better at things than I did before my injuries," she said.


Joanna Roper suffered two tears in her knee, the second requiring knee surgery in June of 2008. She tried a regime of typical physical therapy, but she said it was unsuccessful. Now, after practicing kettlebells up to three times a week on a regular basis, her pain is gone and she said she is more active and in better shape than ever.

"Another thing that really helps with these exercises," said Roper, "is that you are really using your entire body. It's not statically addressing a single part of your body so in terms of rehab, it gets all of the parts moving together."

Stacey Schaedler, a kettlebell trainer and yoga instructor at PUNCH, emphasizes that kettlebells can be whatever you want them to be. In addition to the rehabilitation effects, kettlebell training is something that will always pose a challenge for those looking to get in shape.

To see how kettlebells can offer an intense, full body workout, click on the video below.

Where to Start

Before embarking on a full-speed workout regime with the kettlebell, trainers focus on the movements of the exercises by just using body weight.

"The real tool is the body," said Nkosi, "and the body's ability to produce movement has a learning curve." Nkosi noted that it is essential that students learn the way their bodies move and which muscles they are working when just doing the exercises with no additional weight. 

The process for improvement

For Henri Engle, a cancer survivor, bodyweight exercises were all he needed in his first few months back from intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments two and half years ago. After losing almost 100 pounds from his illness and treatments, Engle began building his way back up to a lean and healthier frame with kettlebell training.

"I was starting at such a low baseline," said Engle, "that it was easy to go up."


By first practicing exercises like squats and dead lifts with no added weight, Engle's trainer slowly added kettlebell weights to his workouts over time. In less than six months, Engle had gained 40 pounds of muscle.

"The best thing was that it was an all encompassing muscle growth," said Engle. "It was my entire body felt it. I was getting bigger and stronger everywhere. It was a total body workout, which was great for me because I didn't want to have to work on it piece by piece."

After his experiences with the kettlebell, Engle decided to open his own gym and now runs PUNCH kettlebell gym in Newton.

From therapy to heart-pumping fitness, trainers and students agree that the kettlebell has become more than just another piece of equipment.

"All you need is the kettlebell,"  said Stacey Schaedler, " it's the gym in your hand."


You're the greastet! JMHO

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