The benefits of kettlebell training are numerous, and while it is an increasingly popular form of training it has actually been around for much longer than most people realise.
If the sight of others swinging these weights around has made you want to learn more about what they can do for your own fitness, you’ll be glad to know that we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the many advantages of kettlebells right here. Read on to find out exactly why you should give them a try for yourself!
Before we dive in, are you in search of a career change? Perhaps something more dynamic and practical? Take a look at OriGym’s REPs and CIMSPA accredited personal trainer packages, or download our free course prospectus for more information on careers within the fitness industry.
This guide covers the following topics:
- What Are Kettlebells?
- Benefits of Kettlebell Training
- How To Use Kettlebells
- Starting Weight For Kettlebells
- How Many Kettlebells Do I Need?
- Where To Buy Kettlebells
Let's jump right in!
What are kettlebells?
The use of handled weights falls as far back as the padlock-shaped Chinese stone locks of Shaolin Monks, and the handled weighted clubs of the ancient Middle East, also known as Persian meels.
In fact, this even falls back to the ancient Greeks who used handled weights back in the 6th century, which you can read more about in our article on kettlebell history.
The kettlebell as we know it today likely takes its modern form from 1704 Russia, where the word 'Giyra' (the Russian word for ‘kettlebell’) made its first appearance in Russian vernacular.
A kettlebell is a ball or 'bell' of cast iron or steel, which may be coated in urethane for shock absorption or vinyl for floor protection, and has 'horns' that shape into a handle.
Unlike barbells and dumbbells which displace their weight evenly across their handles and centre their weight in the user’s hands, kettlebells have a unique design with an off-set centre of mass. Their weight is centred away from the user’s hand, around 6-8inches from the handle, requiring users to work harder to keep them under control.
Depending on which exercise you're performing, the kettlebell can target the entire body by working multiple muscle groups, and also train it through multiple components of fitness at once such as strength, cardiovascular endurance, and power. This benefit cannot always be obtained through the likes of dumbbells, barbells, and machines.
A staple training tool for those looking to get better at CrossFit, weightlifters, and pro athletes, kettlebells are perfect for metabolic workouts, circuit training, mobility training, and more.
Kettlebell benefits can offer full-body strength conditioning, power conditioning, endurance training, balance and flexibility training, are also a versatile way of switching up your workouts and challenging muscle groups from different angles.
A good starting weight for kettlebell workouts is 8kg-16kg, especially if you haven’t attempted moves such as the kettlebell clean and press yet.
Benefits of Kettlebell Training
For anyone asking why kettlebell training?, let’s jump right into OriGym’s top 13 benefits of training with a kettlebell.
#1 - Increases Core Strength
High-intensity kettlebell workouts that incorporate compound exercises such as the renegade row, kettlebell swing, or the turkish get up will contribute to building core strength.
This will in turn support hypertrophy exercise programmes, as added core strength allows users to lift heavier, making it a useful benefit for bodybuilders or those looking to work on their body composition!
In a 2013 study by the University of Wisconsin’s La Crosse department, athletes undertook kettlebell training over a period of eight weeks. The results revealed that the athletes experienced a dramatic increase in core strength, by up to 70% (alongside other additional kettlebell workout benefits like increased aerobic capacity).
Kettlebell exercises are classed as either ‘ballistic’ or ‘grind’. Ballistic exercises are designed to produce power through higher speeds, while grinds are movements that are performed at a slower speed to develop strength.
As a form of ballistic training (or power training), these movements are performed in short and intense bursts, where each rep maximises the kettlebell's acceleration phase and minimises its deceleration phase.
Controlling the kettlebell during these exercises engages the core muscles, which in turn builds strength in the area and contributes to muscle growth, even when they aren’t chiefly targeting the core.
The main type of abdominal strength built up here is functional strength, building muscle through multi-directional movement. This form of strength is one of the great benefits of kettlebell training, as it’s of more value to athletes who may need to switch directions, twist, turn, accelerate or decelerate, with increased effectiveness and with less risk of injury.
If you're aiming to target your abdominal muscles with kettlebell exercises, unilateral movements force the core to engage further in order to maintain stability, maximising the core-strengthening potential of your exercise.
When performing unilateral kettlebell exercises, keep your body guessing, switching from single kettlebells to doubles to keep your routine dynamic.
#2 - Improves Balance and Coordination
Unlike machines which require force input in a predetermined direction, or the linear direction of barbells, one of the best advantages of kettlebell training is that a kettlebell’s weight is not evenly distributed. This means these exercises require you to engage more muscles to control the weight and remain in a stable position.
A kettlebell's centre of gravity is between 6 to 8 inches away from your grip on the handle, making it harder to control. Kettlebell exercises teach the body how to contend with a changing centre of gravity, which not only improves coordination, focus and balance, but it also replicates the forces one would encounter when playing sports or performing everyday physical activities.
As the kettlebell is unevenly balanced, so too are the exercises performed with it: when moving through exercises the body is forced to employ stabiliser muscle groups to counterbalance the kettlebell's moving centre of gravity.
This means that even though a kettlebell movement targets a specific muscle group, you’re engaging a further range of muscles to help balance the body and centre the kettlebell. An example of this is the Kettlebell Push Press which targets primarily the triceps yet still engages the lower back muscles for stability.
One of the benefits of using kettlebells is 'proprioception', or a coordinated sense of where your body is in motion. Controlling the kettlebell's moving path, you may swing the kettlebell above your head, from side to side, or between your legs, all of which train the brain to be aware of where your body stands relative to the moving kettlebell.
Adding a kettlebell to Pilates is another great way to further strengthen muscles used for balance and posture correction.
#3 - Boosts Mobility Through Multiplanar Exercises
Imagine a forward-facing human body, divided into two halves (left and right) by a vertical line stretching from the forehead down to the toes: this is the sagittal plane of motion. Squats and deadlifts are performed through the sagittal plane as they utilise forward flexion.
Now imagine that same human body intersected by another vertical line, but this time dividing the two halves into the front and back: this is the frontal plane. Then, there is a third line, this time horizontally dividing the body through the hips into two halves (top and bottom): this is the transverse plane of motion.
Kettlebell exercises are more effective than squats in functional movements as they train through all 3 planes of motion, and in different ways: forward and back, side-to-side and twisting movements, and stretching from left to right, seamlessly transitioning from movement to movement.
One of the best benefits of kettlebells is that kettlebell exercises are multiplanar exercises which force total body engagement, thereby building total body strength and fitness.
As we discussed before, kettlebell training engages a multitude of muscles groups. Whilst you may recognise the activity of 'Primary Mover' muscles (the muscle groups you're actively engaging to perform each exercise) your stabiliser muscles are also engaged. Whilst not directly moving the load of the kettlebell, these are being worked to keep the body stable.
This occurs through the multiplanar nature of many kettlebell exercises!
Multiplanar exercises build functional strength, unlike weight training which typically works muscle groups in isolation. Kettlebell exercises are 'in action' weight training, working the body and building strength from multiple angles.
Kettlebells build a similar amount of muscle and strength to that which you might have if you'd become powerful through outdoor survivalism, combat training, or manual labour.
Sports and real-life physical activities do not respect the artificial difference between strength and cardio set up in most gyms, whereas kettlebells combine the two.
If your aim is three-sixty fitness at the level of an athlete or fitness professional, the Turkish Get Up is a challenging but extremely effective multiplanar exercise for training in positions and at angles most standard sagittal movements can't achieve, and therefore most people don’t normally train at, for total body strength conditioning.
#4 - Burns Calories and Contributes to Fat Loss
In a prominent study of 2010, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found the average calorie burn per minute during a kettlebell workout is 20 calories, which equates to as much as 400 calories per 20 minute workout. This is the equivalent of running a 6 minute mile; the high-bar threshold of fast endurance running.
Kettlebell workouts have an impressive calorie burn due to the multiplanar nature of these exercises that we mentioned above; the more muscles a single exercise activates the more calories you burn.
Additionally, kettlebell exercises are great for supporting an individual’s performance during powerlifting exercises, such as barbell deadlifts.
This is due to their ability to aid the strength and conditioning of the muscles, which in turn leads to an individual being able to perform heavier lifts. This then results in increased muscle mass, which contributes to overall fat loss, as it’s a well-known fact that muscle burns fat.
Kettlebell exercises are also high-impact, metabolic exercises performed in short, powerful bursts, boosting metabolic rates through afterburn. EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, is where the body will burn calories at a higher rate even after completing your workout, and is the calorie-burn principle behind High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Sprint Interval Training (SIT).
If you're interested in the benefits of kettlebells for weight loss, the Clean & Press performed with a lightweight kettlebell is a great compound movement to get your heart rate up and maximise afterburn. This also builds endurance and stamina through working the core, lower body, and upper body.
#5 - Enhances Cardio and Power Endurance
The benefits of training with a kettlebell include improving both cardiovascular fitness and boosting power endurance, which are both crucial components to total body fitness as well as athletic performance.
Classic kettlebell movements are high-speed which develops power endurance, or the ability to sustain high-impact movements over an extended period of time.
Exercises like the Clean and Jerk or the Snatch demand fast execution, which essentially means you’re training your muscles to generate explosive power over quick yet extensive intervals (this also develops strength endurance, which is the ability to keep up muscle output over an extended period).
In a 2020 study, 30 volleyball players, ranging from 18 to 25 years old, were assigned randomly to 2 groups of 15 subjects, where one group performed circuit training with kettlebells and a control group conducted circuit training alone. Training twice a week for 6 weeks, the group who trained using kettlebells had significant improvements in explosive power and strength endurance compared to the control group.
Whilst strength endurance can be built using sagittal movements, it is power endurance and strength endurance together which will usually determine who wins in, for example, a sporting competition.
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In regards to cardiovascular fitness, the compound nature of kettlebell training along with the boost in metabolic rate means you will build your cardiovascular health whilst also training for endurance.
Lighter kettlebells are a brilliant addition to cardio workouts: a power-packed cardio session with a kettlebell is a high-intensity workout which will maximise muscle endurance and improve cardiovascular health through increased muscle engagement and the added weight.
For example, the 2013 study by the University of Wisconsin found a 13.8% increase in aerobic ability when athletes trained with kettlebells over 8 weeks.
Similarly, a 2015 study examined the benefits of kettlebell training for women for 3 days a week over 4 weeks. The study found a 6% increase in maximum oxygen uptake concluding high-intensity kettlebell exercises can significantly improve aerobic capacity and improve cardiovascular fitness.
Kettlebell exercises are dynamic and many involve holding the kettlebell overhead, which forces the muscles responsible for assisting breathing to engage as primary movers in keeping the kettlebell stable and not allowing them to assist in respiration.
The result is that muscles not usually engaged in breathing are employed by the body to assist respiration, positively impacting cardiovascular fitness.
#6 - Builds Lean Muscle
Instead of the intense muscular definition and vascularity favoured by bodybuilders, kettlebells instead build gradual, lean muscle with much more natural (yet still toned) results.
Developing strength through kettlebell training further enhances muscle mass. This results in increased ability to lift heavier weights, which means you can then incorporate heavier kettlebells into your routine to further your progress.
The advantages of kettlebell training extend to body aesthetics: kettlebell exercises are a brilliant way to sculpt a toned and firm physique without excess carb loading or monotonous sagittal movements. If you’re new to fitness you’ll gain muscle mass quickly, while experienced bodybuilders can maintain (or build!) their strength by tightening muscles and creating a leaner physique.
Kettlebell workouts can also accelerate muscle development. This training can be a combination of plyometric, resistance, and cardio training - all of which stimulate growth hormones and therefore contribute to the fast development of lean muscle mass.
Similarly, metabolic workouts are proven to boost testosterone levels whilst impacting lactate and cortisol levels; these are all essential hormones for building new muscle.
If you're not after massive muscle bulk then the benefits of kettlebell training will provide a much more advantageous program for a lean, toned and strong physique.
Replenishing your electrolyte content after a workout is important, so have a look at our 17 top electrolyte drinks to find the best way to recover!
#7 - Enhances Flexibility and Mobility
As mentioned earlier, kettlebell exercises are multiplanar and functional and this has other additional benefits to the ones we have already discussed.
The dynamic movements utilised in kettlebell training require involvement from ligaments, muscles, and joints; by working these together flexibility and mobility can be improved over time.
Not dissimilar to plyometric exercises (which also focus on working with maximum force in short periods of time) in that the muscle fibres are stretched and strengthened to build overall strength and power.
Kettlebell training enforces focus on control. The result of this is basically a controlled stretch when you swing or lift a kettlebell, which ultimately works on your range of motion and will improve flexibility of the muscles.
Interestingly, a relatively unknown practice has recently emerged: kettlebell yoga. This is basically the integration of aspects of kettlebell training into yoga sessions, where yogis will often perform poses with the addition of a kettlebell weight.
Yoga is well-known for its ability to significantly improve flexibility and mobility, so combining these two types of training results in a highly effective flexibility training programme! It is a more niche practice however, so it may be difficult to find a yoga class that offers this training: you can easily practice this at home though by adding kettlebells to some yoga poses.
A more common exercise that is effective for improved mobility is the Goblet Squat. This predominantly works the glutes and lower body, and strengthening these muscle groups will make general moving around easier.
#8 - Develops Hip Strength and Speed
Hip strength and hip movements such as the hip hinge are essential not just for effective and injury-free training, but also for everyday movements.
The hip hinge movement can be seen during the kettlebell swing, and involves the hips bending backwards before exploding forwards again. The spine stays neutral throughout this movement, which is designed to target the posterior chain (the lower back, hamstrings and glutes).
It is simple yet essential for basic tasks, such as bending over to pick something up as well as during important exercises such as the kettlebell swing or deadlift. It encourages proper form and builds hip strength when trained during these exercises, which in turn means less likelihood of injury and lower back pain!
If you're looking for another way to develop explosive power then check out the benefits of medicine ball training too.
The kettlebell swing builds hip power through combining strength training and functional movement with cardiovascular conditioning in one exercise. Increased hip strength ultimately means higher efficiency when jumping and sprinting, as well as enhanced explosive movements, from being stationary to accelerating.
In a 2020 study 30 adults performed hip-hinge style kettlebell swings with the purpose of investigating the effectiveness of kettlebell training on hip strength. As the kettlebell weight increased during the training, so too did the force exerted by their hips. The study concluded that kettlebell exercises, such as the Kettlebell Swing, result in greater strength gains in the hips, increasing both power and strength endurance.
#9 - Improves Joint Health
Kettlebell exercises are compound, whole-body movements that are ideal if you want to improve or maintain joint health.
One of the health benefits of kettlebell training is that stronger stabiliser muscles mean better joint support, especially for the knees, elbows, and shoulders, and kettlebell exercises help strengthen ligaments and tendons too.
Plus, the fluid swinging movements used in kettlebell workouts are often much easier on joints overall. By starting off with lighter weights you can easily build your strength gradually, especially those that support the joints, meaning your joints will be protected and reinforced.
Similarly, the benefits of using a kettlebell include positive impact on joint flexibility; improving the elasticity of tendons and ligaments of your joints whilst reducing joint inflammation and swelling will also improve general joint health.
For those particularly concerned with their knee joints, Kettlebell Swings strengthen the flexibility of the pelvis with greater utilisation of the hip joints rather than knee joints. These kettlebell benefits mean you can strengthen muscles and joints with reduced impact on your knees!
Kettlebell benefits are noticeable in regards to joint health, and positively supporting the joints will help prevent future injury and general aches and pains.
#10 - Identifies Muscle Weaknesses
"Kettlebells get you comfortable in uncomfortable positions” is a commonly circulated saying when discussing kettlebell training in the fitness industry; this is especially applicable for anyone who has relied on the linear reps of barbells and machines for their strength training and wants to switch up their workouts.
Kettlebell workouts allow you to explore your body's mobility and identify muscle imbalances and weakness. By incorporating challenging movements based on your body’s abilities into your routines you can pinpoint weaknesses in strength, movement and coordination.
You can then target specific areas of muscle weakness and perform movements to strengthen them and rebalance your body.
Another one of the top health benefits of kettlebells is that these exercises can be used for active recovery.
Active recovery is a rest day (or rest interval) where muscle recovery is facilitated with a gentler workout (such as walking or yoga), maintaining circulation and metabolism and sending oxygen-rich blood to muscles to help them heal and build.
Interestingly, active recovery has been found to increase the benefits of exercise, for example in this study in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology which stated:
“Results indicate that active recovery provides superior performance to passive rest in repeated short-term, high intensity power activities.” (Signorile, Tremblay and Ingalls, 1993)
So it is definitely worth considering incorporating active recovery exercises into your regular routine for increased effectiveness.
In the same way kettlebell workouts can help identify and rebalance muscle weaknesses, kettlebell exercises are a brilliant way to support muscle recovery, with movements designed to continue muscle engagement but with less intensity.
Using lighter weight kettlebells, kettlebell swings, lifts, and rotations are a few great options for active recovery.
#11 - Builds Grip Strength
Whilst you may think grip strength isn’t overly important to overall health and fitness, it is actually crucial to the majority of functional movements and weightlifting exercises. Grip strength is needed for a variety of everyday tasks, from opening jars to lifting weights.
Not only is grip strength critical in breaking personal records in deadlifting, but is also essential for training in Judo, submission grappling, MMA, and rock climbing.
The benefits of kettlebell training for men and women include the effective strengthening of grip. This is partly due to the basic design of the kettlebell: kettlebell handles are thicker than barbell and dumbbells which means that they require better grip and forearm strength for usage.
Additionally, a kettlebell's centre of gravity is usually in motion during exercises which means that along with the weight of the kettlebell, the wrists and fingers are forced to work harder to control the kettlebell, ultimately improving grip.
In kettlebell workouts, the combination of an off-centre centre of gravity and ballistic movements means you are forced to keep a flexed forearm whilst the kettlebell is in movement. This strengthens your grip from every angle (and increases bone density in the wrists and elbow joints).
Important to note is that when you are weight training it is your grip that will buckle under the strain before your muscles fatigue; this limits your rep count or max weight, and ultimately can impair overall strength performance and muscle gains.
OriGym have a list of the best grip strengtheners so you can boost your grip with ease.
#12 - Improves Posture and the Posterior Chain
The most important muscle group for athletes is without a doubt the posterior chain. This group of muscles includes all of those on the rear of the body, including the upper and lower back, hamstrings, and glutes, which all contribute to functional movements and explosive power needed in sports.
Kettlebell exercises that utilise the hip hinge movement force the posterior chain to engage, meaning these will be worked and strengthened every time this hinge movement is performed.
Some effective examples for working the posterior muscle include the reliable Kettlebell Swing and the Clean & Snatch.
There’s plenty of scientific literature to back up the importance of the posterior chain, as well as the benefits of training with a kettlebell for these muscles. For example, in a 2020 study, classical ballet dancers underwent a 5-month kettlebell-based training program.
Participants were divided into two groups: a kettlebell group and a traditional dance training control group. Compared to the control, the group training with kettlebells experienced an on average 53% improvement on jumping performance and balance as a result of engaging their posterior chain with kettlebells.
Kettlebell exercises can work all of the posterior chain muscles, which make up the body's muscular centre for explosive speed, jumping, running, kicking, and for proper posture.
For back protection and good posture, using kettlebells alongside stability balls can increase the impact of a regular workout and therefore improve posture and reduce back pain.
With stronger back muscles, there’s less chance of experiencing back and neck pain, and you’ll experience better posture.
#13 - Provides a Full-Body Workout
One of the key advantages to kettlebell training is the way it provides a full-body workout. The majority of kettlebell exercises are compound and functional exercises. This means that these exercises will work multiple muscle groups and multiple joints simultaneously. This even includes smaller, and harder to target groups, such as stabilisers.
This is advantageous as it means your workouts are overall more effective: even if you’re targeting specific areas of your body to train, the nature of the kettlebell exercises means you’ll be training your entire body as well as the specific muscles!
Many of the previous benefits of kettlebells that we’ve discussed stem from the fact that the whole body is utilised during these types of workouts: it's easier on the joints, it improves mobility, flexibility, and posture, and builds leaner muscles.
The use of a higher number of muscles groups further increases the effectiveness at burning higher amounts of calories. The more muscles involved, the more fat is burnt!
To help repair your muscles after a full-body workout why not try some of the best BCAA supplements on the UK market?
#14 - Cost Efficient and Effective Training
Simple, cheap, yet hugely effective - kettlebells are a versatile and inexpensive piece of equipment that are easy to incorporate into most training programmes.
With a single pair of kettlebells you can train for strength, stamina, endurance, balance, and flexibility, whilst simultaneously reaping the additional health benefits of kettlebells of improved cardiovascular, joint and respiratory health.
The simplicity of kettlebells reduces the likelihood of being overwhelmed by the minefield of marketed fitness equipment; who really needs a pair of Kangoo Jumps in their gym anyway?
Simplify your program to two kettlebells and an understanding of easy to learn kettlebell movements. Swings, Goblet Squats, Clean & Presses, Push-ups, and Pull-ups: incorporating these into your regular routine will provide a full-body workout with only 1 or 2 pieces of equipment.
Space-saving as well as cost-effective, kettlebells are a great option for beginning a home gym as you’ll be able to target the four key components of fitness (strength, endurance, balance and flexibility) without the huge investments of a squat rack, weighted plates, barbells, bench, and dumbbells.
With much less clutter, a set of kettlebells take up little space in garage gyms, home gyms or even living rooms, and can be taken outside for training in the park or easily packed into a gym bag when travelling.
Another cost effective and versatile way to exercise is through TRX training. Read about all of the benefits of TRX training here!
How To Use Kettlebells
It’s important to realise that a kettlebell is a completely different piece of equipment than a barbell or a dumbbell, and needs to be handled slightly differently.
First off, never lift a kettlebell directly above your head. If you’re not used to the change in grip (and even if you are!) a kettlebell can be easy to drop and you don’t want this to happen on your head!
Whilst kettlebells are an easy and versatile tool to incorporate into your workout routines, they do come with certain risks if not used correctly and safely. A lot of potential risks with kettlebell exercises stem from poor form or using a kettlebell that’s too heavy for your level of strength, and this usually leads to a neck, shoulder, or back injury or lower back pain.
Some general tips to help avoid injury include:
- Engage your core and keep your torso stable for the majority of kettlebell exercises. If you’re not sure exactly how to do this, read our guide on How To Engage Your Core here.
- Generate the majority of your power needed for kettlebell exercises from your lower body, not your back.
- Take your time and learn the correct form for the exercises: for some clear instructions and how-to videos, check out our guide on 17 Kettlebell Exercises: Beginner & Advanced.
- If you’re not sure what weight kettlebell to start with, go for a lighter one (lighter than you’d normally use for weights) as this will ensure that you don’t strain yourself, and it will give you room to practice proper form.
What Is A Good Starting Weight For Kettlebells?
Starting off light is generally good advice for anyone starting out with kettlebell workouts. This is applicable to people with some weight lifting experience too, start off with a lighter weight than you’d normally go for so you can get used to the equipment.
For men, starting out with kettlebells at 10kg or 12kg is a good place to start, whilst a weight of 6kg or 8kg is recommended for women.
Once you have built up some strength and practiced the form for kettlebell exercises you’ll be able to increase the weight and increase your gains.
How Many Kettlebells Do I Need?
A lot of kettlebell workouts only need one or two to reap all of the kettlebell benefits. You’ll be able to get a full body workout with just one kettlebell, but if you’re looking to do more advanced exercises then two could be helpful!
Where To Buy Kettlebells
Since they're incredibly popular within today's fitness industry, there are plenty of places where you can buy kettlebells. Big homeware retailers with sports sections are likely to sell kettlebells, as well as fitness and sports shops.
Failing that, you’ll easily be able to buy them online!
For such a simply designed (and incredibly old) weight, the humble kettlebell has a huge range of health benefits that everyone can take advantage of. Whether you’re an amateur weightlifter or a professional athlete, this varied and dynamic style of training is hugely effective.
So to briefly sum up, what are the benefits of kettlebell training?
Improved balance and flexibility, better posture and grip strength, and the huge impact on weight loss and strength gain to name just a few.
If you’re looking to take your passion for fitness (and kettlebells!) to the next level, then why not look into becoming a personal trainer with OriGym? We’ve got a great range of online personal trainer courses available, including a CPD in kettlebell instructing. You can also download our latest course prospectus for more information.
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- Schnettler, C., Porcari, J., Foster, C. and Anders, M. (2010). kettlebells: Twice the Results Half the time? ACE Fitness Matters, pp.6–11.
- Signorile, J.F., Tremblay, L.M. and Ingalls, C. (1993a). Kettlebell Training for Female Ballet Dancers: Effects on Lower Limb Power and Body Balance. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 1(1).