Essential Gear for Runners: a Kettlebell

Maple doing an at home kettlebell workout

As runners, we spend most of our spare time running, so fitting in strength training, yoga, and general recovery can be a challenge. In an effort to make strength training more convenient, I decided to get a kettlebell. Little did I know I was purchasing my own piece of history!

Did you know that iron kettlebells were first introduced in the 1700s? Initially, the kettlebell was used to weigh crops, but eventually turned into a prop used by strongmen to demonstrate their extraordinary strength. Since then, the kettlebell has established itself as one of the foundational pieces of equipment in gyms across the world. From strength, balance, flexibility and endurance, the kettlebell is one of my favourite pieces of training equipment.

As I was learning about my new piece of equipment, I came across a 2013 study by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that showed that two one-hour kettlebell workouts a week lead to notable strength gains, an increase in aerobic capacity, improved dynamic balance and a dramatic increase in core strength. What runner doesn’t want more of that stuff?

A piece of history

Unlike the dumbbell, the kettlebell is shaped so that you grip its horns on the top with either one or both hands for swings, or hold the ball for movements like weighted squats. I recommend starting with both hands for beginners. The technique requires some practice, but is attainable for beginners and advanced lifters alike. The foundational kettlebell swing requires activation of the gluteal, abdominal and latissimus muscles. You can see a tutorial on proper technique here and here.

For those of you who CrossFit, the kettlebell is not a new tool for you. In fact, kettlebells are often incorporated into CrossFit workouts. As I was planning my home kettlebell workouts, I’ve uncovered a number of reasons runners should incorporate these workouts into their training routine. Here are some reasons I work out with a kettlebell:

It’s convenient AF. 

One of the main reasons why people choose to work out with a kettlebell is because it’s extremely convenient. You technically only need one piece of equipment and can do the workout anywhere. As you advance, you may want to get a wider range of weights, but to start you only need one kettlebell. I started with a 15 pound kettlebell and keep it in the closet. I’ll admit, it’s become such a beloved item that there are days where I’ve left it on the coffee table.

You can crush a strength workout in 20 minutes or less.

Seriously, after I wake up I will ideally foam roll for five to ten minutes. Then I grab my kettlebell and get started. An average workout takes 25 minutes or less. Given the high intensity of kettlebell swings, I can promise you will break a sweat. You can either use a set number of reps, or go by time and use a stopwatch or tabata app to keep track of your work and rest intervals.

It’s simple.

A kettlebell workout is as simple as they come. You can mix up the routine, but remember it does not need to be overcomplicated to be effective. In fact, in my opinion, the simpler the better. Vary the circuit with a few squats and sit-ups or just bang out 50 swings. I have fun creating my own workouts, but you can also find some great ones online. (Seriously, what did we do before the internet!?)

Upper body strength is valuable for runners too.

Strong running form and upper body strength go hand in hand. While many believe running is primarily a lower-body workout, a strong upper body will help propel you forward, especially during hard effort workouts or when you start to get tired (and need to focus even more on your form!). After two weeks of consistent kettlebell workouts, you will start to feel more in control of the kettlebell and, ideally, see these strength benefits transfer to your running form. Keep going, you’re getting stronger!

Maple’s At Home Kettlebell Workout 

5 x Push-ups (you don’t need your kettlebell for this one!)

5 x Crunches with the Kettlebell

5 x Squats with the Kettlebell

5 x Kettlebell Swings

Repeat circuit as needed. I like to do this one at least twice a week and add a few reps each week as I get stronger.

What is your favourite piece of at home workout equipment? If you use them, what’s your favorite kettlebell workout?

I'm a Canadian runner with a knack for training in frigid temperatures and completing 20 milers on the treadmill. I'm currently training for a spring marathon, with the goal of Boston Qualifying. Outside of running, I work in public policy and can often be found cross-stitching or being talked out of adopting another cat.

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