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I've been working through Ripptoe's Starting Strength and Practical Programming books and training schedule, mostly aiming for basic fitness and building muscle mass. My current workout is mostly squats, deadlifts, bench & standing presses, and a few variations on the plank. True to the full title of starting strength, both of these books focus almost exclusively on barbell training. I've found that I was able to incorporate dumbbells into my workout as necessary (particularly for the standing press). I've recently begun simply playing with the kettlebell - not really using it as part of my workout, just getting to know the basic exercises and motions. So far it seems to me that barbells are typically used for increasing core strength, and dumbbells are typically used for targeted muscle group workouts.

My questions are twofold:

  1. Is there a "typical use" for kettlebells?
  2. Given my goals (fitness & muscle mass increase), are there any kettlebell exercises that would better suit me than
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When you mentioned Practical Programming I briefly thought I was on stackoverflow instead of fitness. –  Moses Feb 1 '12 at 23:59
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Kettlebells can be great assistance work in the world of strength training, so they should be placed after the main lifts in your routine.

  • Use them for mobility: halos and windmills. For the windmills, you are looking for light weights to help strengthen the rotator cuff muscles.
  • Use them for conditioning: swings, cleans, and snatches are good conditioning (not to mention hit your hamstrings pretty well, too).
  • Use them for grip training: farmer's walks, wrist strengthening, etc.

The thing about kettlebells that is somewhat unique is the fact that the weight hangs below the grip. They are deceptively hard, and will induce some delayed muscle soreness the first few times using them. The hanging weight is great for forcing your body to compensate. Just holding the kettlebell overhead with your wrist straight will help your bench press grip.

Just be careful not to overdo it, which is quite easy to do. Any time you do assistance work, you want to limit it to about 2-3 extra exercises in any give training day. With Starting Strength you have three main exercises. Probably best to limit yourself to no more than 5 exercises per session to prevent from burning out too soon.

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Your questions

1) Is there a "typical use" for kettlebells?

Yes. Kettlebells are most commonly used to mimic olympic style lifts. There are some unique movements and many advanced athletes use kettlebells for conditioning drills. If you are really interested in this than you can look around your area for Kettlebell training classes or seminars. Obviously you may not be able to access those so...

You can find a wealth of variations through searching Google. Dragondoor has a fun book. Look it up.

My favorite creative training blog is rosstraining. Look it up. Loads of fun variations. Lots of DIY tips.

I'm not in any way affiliated with Ross. He's just a boss.

2) Given my goals (fitness & muscle mass increase), are there any kettlebell exercises that would better suit me than

Than Starting Strength? You should read this - http://startingstrength.com/articles/clarification_rippetoe.pdf

TL;DR - The answer is no. If you strictly want more fitness AND size... than eat more, rest better, and follow the program.

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+1 for the link to his clarification. –  eykanal Feb 2 '12 at 12:32
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