I'm a big fan of Leo Babuta's Zen Habits blog and the philosophies of minimalism and simplifying. Last night I was reading and got totally inspired to write about minimalist workouts with kettlebells, and why they're more effective and more "Zen" than complicated workouts.
In a perfect world, I would have liked to have submitted this as a guest post to Zen Habits (It's minimalism+kettlebell), but as it stands Leo Babuta says he isn't taking submissions right now. And so now I give it to you:
P.S. I'm constantly surprised and humbled by all the amazing people who read this blog, so I've got to ask – if anyone knows Leo and could pass this along to him, please do!
Zen and the Art of Kettlebell Training
In this article you're going to learn exactly how to use one kettlebell to get the best workout of your life.
Kettlebell = "The" Tool for Minimalist Fitness
Kettlebells are particularly cool for the minimalist because they were originally designed in fixed weights, with very few options, and large jumps in between.
With few options of kettlebells, and a little creativity, we find that almost all women will use a 26lb kettlebell and almost all men will use a 53lb kettlebell, all of the time.
If you're committed to a minimalist life, and you're working out, it makes sense to only have to use one tool. Fortunately there is no need to have more than one kettlebell; You can get years of effective, progressive workouts out of just one.
How To Progress When You Only Have One Weight
If you want to get a great workout and to progress in your workouts, but you only have one weight, you have to make intelligent use of variations in exercise selection, leverage, and technical requirements of movements.
For example: Kettlebell swings. Swings are arguably the best, most effective and most efficient fat loss movement a person can do. Here is how you would make swings easier or harder:
- Easiest: Kettlebell Two Hand Pyramid Deadlift (video)
Easier: Low Two Arm Swing
Easy: One Arm Clean (video)
Low Medium: Chest High Two Hand Swing (video1)(video2)
Medium: Overspeed Hike Back Two Hand Swing
High Medium: One Arm Swing (video)
Harder: One Arm High Pull (video)
Hardest: Kettlebell Snatch (video)
So here we have 8 levels of progressive difficulty with one kettlebell.
In pursuit of minimalist fitness, simply doing more repetitions of a movement is not ideal. We prefer better and less.
If it's the same work to do 10 snatches as it is to do 30 swings, then it makes more sense to work our way up to snatches instead of doing endlessly more and more swings.
More From Less: Every Lift is a Full Body Lift
Swings and snatches, as mentioned above, are obviously a full body lifts. But one place where kettlebell training truly excells is turning some seemingly isolated movements into a full body lift.
Where many people would tell you that a seated machine shoulder press is a shoulder exercise (and it is), a standing, one arm kettlebell military press involves almost ever muscle in your body.
By using a machine, braced in, literally the only thing that needs to work to push the weigh up is your shoulders and triceps.
But if you are standing, your body needs to become that strong foundation. Instead of a metal seat to brace yourself against, you must tighten up all of the muscles in your legs. Instead of the back of the chair on the machine, you must brace your core to have a solid foundation to press from.
With your body doing all of the stabilization work, instead of the chair on the machine, you are doing 10 times more work in the same amount of time. You get a better workout, that's more functional, and burns more fat in less time.
Remove That Which Isn't Essential
We say that a solid, full body workout can be created out of just two movements (and their progressions): Kettlebell Swings an the Kettlebell Military Press.
We've ruthlessly cut all non-essential workout movements. Small movements like bicep curls, ab machines and leg extensions are tossed out. They're too small, ineffective, and inefficient to be included in our minimal program.
Instead, we use two movements that hit the whole body. Besides being consistent with our minimalist philosophy, we find that the sum is more than the parts: Doing two big, intense, full body movements is actually more effective than trying to cobble together a full body workout out of dozens of small movements.
When we eliminate the hundreds of movement options to clutter our workout logs and our mind, something really amazing happens.
With only two movements, we are immediately confronted with the quality with which we are doing them. If half of my workout is kettlebell swings, then it would be crazy not to practice doing them well.
In fact, the real joy of kettlebell training pursuing mastery. People find a zen sort of meditaion from mindful, deliberate practice of two movements that just isn't there mindlessly banging out dozens of movements.
Taking the Russian Kettlebell Challenge maxim of "Do less things, but do them better", you can have a foundational workout of just two movements for decades. With your basic strength and conditioning needs met, it allows for more time for you to do things that you love – Anything from fun outdoor athletic activities to maybe just spending more time with the family.
You'll find that you can get an amazing workout with this simple template: Spend 15 minutes “practicing” kettlebell military presses, and 15 minutes “practicing” your kettlebell swing
And after six years of kettlebell training, I'm still finding nuances to the swing and to the military press. Both movements are both simple and complex like a martial art: The basics can be learned in minutes, mastery is pursued for a lifetime.
-Josh Hillis, RKC2 of www.LoseStubbornFat.com