Have you guys seen these things before? As popular across the internet as they are rare in gyms, kettlebells are the province of Russians, fitness fanatics and the truly hardcore. Looking like cannonballs with handles affixed, they seem to be a curious version of dumbbells, primitive tools belonging to strongmen from centuries past. So what about these weird looking workout tools is so effective, so hardcore, so amazing? Why do people practically claim they can cure cancer, help us get back to the moon and make the most beautiful person you ever met fall irrevocably in love with you again? Read on, brave and gentle reader, and learn of the extreme nature of kettlebells, and why you should consider adding them to your workout.

Let’s kick this off with a quick history of kettlebells. I’ll make this short, I promise you, because I know people on the internet have the attention span of angry mayflies. “More substance, less art!” Ok, so kettlebells are Russian. Originally used centuries ago as counterweights in markets, people started throwing them around and found the process to be both fun and excellent for their health. Soon, kettlebells were used across Tsarist Russia, and were declared the choice fitness tool of the people. It’s only when the Russians began to compete in the Olympics and the US military began to compete against the Russians after the Soviets broke up that the rest of the world began to catch on to how phenomenal these things were. Where the US guys were exhausted, the Russians had hardly begun to break a sweat. The 1980 Russian track team trained with kettlebells, and swept the gold.

So what is it about kettlebells that make them so fantastic? Basically, it’s the fact that they’re used in swinging, ballistic motions, or presses. The weight isn’t concentrated in your hand as with a dumbbell, but rather is extended just beyond them, and this causes a whole host of stabilizing muscles to be pulled into play as your body is forced to anchor itself against the swinging pull of the kettlebell. Kettlebell exercises are basically whole body workouts, because they call into play the usage of hips, legs, back, and shoulders when swung or pressed. There is no isolation like in the use of dumbbells, and this usage of core muscles is what delivers the greatest benefit of a kettlebell workout.

People who use kettlebells extensively develop the oldschool look: broad, wide shoulders, a hint of pecs, wiry arms, a chiseled core, huge back, and long, powerful legs. Used in combination with other exercises kettlebells can help round out your workout in a fantastic manner, burning off the fat while strengthening your core and greatly increasing your strength, endurance and tenacity.

The classic kettlebell exercise is the clean. In this you stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width, holding the kettlebell with both hands below. The basic movement is to swing the kettlebell up to about shoulder height, and then allow it to swing back between your legs, and then thrust with your hips to rock it back up high. You don’t use your arms; think of them as ropes with hooks at the ends, simply connecting the kettlebell to your body. Nor do you use your shoulders like you would with a deltoid raise using dumbbells. Rather, all the momentum comes from the hips, which your thrust to cause the kettlebell to rock up. Weight is on your heels when the bell swings between your legs, and then shifts to the balls of your feet when you rock it back up.

There are a number of other exercises that utilize the kettlebell to great advantage, and just a little Googling will reveal them. You can buy kettlebells from a number of online retailers, and then either begin to incorporate them in your home workouts, or take them with you to the gym, or join one of the many kettlebell groups that are popping up around the country.

So get your hands on a kettlebell, and get started!