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Losing Weight With Kettlebells – the Ultimate Guide

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November 18, 2022
A man is trying to lose weight with kettlebell

In this article we’re going to talk about losing weight with kettlebells. We’ll look at what the kettlebell is and how to program weight loss workouts with it. There’ll also be advice on what to do to maximize your chances of success.

Across the article you’ll learn which kettlebells to use, how to program the workouts and what to expect from your weight loss journey with kettlebells. 

I’m a coach with over 20 years experience using kettlebells and have used these approaches successfully throughout my career…

What the kettlebell is – and how it helps you to lose weight

A kettlebell is a heavy ball with an attached handle. There are only two types worth buying – the cast iron kettlebell and the competition kettlebell.

The cast iron kettlebell is the more commonly-seen one in CrossFit gyms. The handle is often wider than the bell itself, until you start to get to the heavier bells.

Competition kettlebells are made from stainless steel and are a different shape. They’re often hollow inside and the handle is the same width as the bell. The handles are usually 33mm-35mm thick.

See the image below for a comparison of them both… (cast iron on the left, competition on the right)

The kettlebell is a fantastic tool for weight loss. It allows you to train at a high calorie burning intensity with relative simplicity. You can program versatile and effective workouts using them, sending your fitness levels sky high.

Here’s more reasons the kettlebell is a great choice for weight loss…

It’s easy to program HIIT workouts with kettlebells…

Any weight loss is a matter of calories in versus calories out. If you want to lose weight, you MUST get this balance right. The role of exercise in a weight loss plan is to increase the number of calories your body is burning every day.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is an effective way to maximize calorie burn in a short amount of time, as evidenced in research…

In a study titled ‘Energy Cost and Relative Intensity of the Kettlebell Workout‘, researchers from University of Wisconsin learned that ‘the kettlebell snatch workout meets ACSM guidelines for exercise intensity and duration.’

Practically speaking, a kettlebell is a perfect tool for high intensity workouts. With it being a single item, you can quickly switch between exercises without time consuming equipment set ups or changes. It makes the workout run smoothly.

Kettlebells offer incredible exercise versatility…

Losing weight with kettlebells is easy because of the variety of training approaches kettlebells allow you to perform. Exercise versatility is important in weight loss workouts for a few reasons…

  • It makes the workout more interesting, improving motivation
  • Mixing exercises prevents movement efficiency making the workout too easy
  • Makes full body workout programming easy, maximizing calorie burn every time

By training your whole body with different exercises, loads, set lengths and rest periods, you’re stacking the deck in your favor. You don’t want the training to become routine, otherwise you’ll blunt your outcomes.

Kettlebells are perfect for compound exercises

Here’s a simple outline of exercise types…

Compound exercises are multi-joint exercises that train a lot of muscle in one go. They’re effective, they’re efficient and they’re usually your go-to exercises when it comes to any form of resistance training. Think squats, presses, deadlifts, swings etc.

Isolation exercises are single-joint exercises that target a particular muscle. They don’t offer much in the way of calorie burn (so aren’t great for weight loss), but they’ll help to ‘bring up’ a lagging body part. They have their place, but not in a weight loss workout. Examples include bicep curls, calf raises, lat raises etc.

Kettlebells are perfect for compound lifts. The common exercises with a kettlebell such as swings, squats, rows, presses, cleans etc are all compound exercises. It’s a training system designed around compound lifts, making them great for weight loss.

Why losing weight with kettlebells is so effective – the evidence base

In this section we’re going to look in more depth at what the science says about losing weight with kettlebells. If you like an evidence-base for your workouts, look no further…

Kettlbell workouts are quick

In a study on ‘Oxygen cost of kettlebell swings‘, researchers put subjects through a 12 minute kettlebell workout. They recorded that the heart rates of the participants were 165 bpm (+/- 13bpm) through the workout, leading them to conclude that…

‘Continuous kettlebell swings can impart a metabolic challenge of sufficient intensity to increase Vo2max. Kettlebells provide a useful tool with which coaches may improve the cardiorespiratory fitness of their athletes.’

The entire kettlebell workout was 12 minutes yet delivered great results. That removes ‘I’ve got no time’ as an excuse! Depending on the workout intensity, you could be burning up to 20 calories per minute. This is much more than most traditional workouts. 

Low injury risk from kettlebells

Losing weight with kettlebells can be convenient because there’s a low injury risk. There’s evidence they can improve symptoms in previously existing injuries too. Research by the legendary Stuart McGill in 2012 concluded…

‘Abdominal muscular pulses together with the muscle bracing associated with carries create kettlebell-specific training opportunities. Some unique loading patterns discovered during the kettlebell swing included the posterior shear of the L4 vertebra on L5, which is opposite in polarity to a traditional lift. Thus, quantitative analysis provides an insight into why many individuals credit kettlebell swings with restoring and enhancing back health and function.’

If you’ve avoided exercise because of a low back injury, kettlebells may be able to help.

Losing weight with kettlebell workouts is convenient

A kettlebell workout needs very limited space and equipment. If you train in a busy gym, a conventional workout needing lots of equipment can be a problem. Losing weight with kettlebells only needs a kettlebell, some space and a bit of effort. 

Full body workout in limited time

The compound nature of kettlebell exercises means you can complete a whole body workout in less than 20 minutes. If you’re stuck for time, set up a simple circuit of swings, cleans, presses and squats. You’ll have completed a whole body workout in no time at all!

Types of kettlebell training for weight loss

Just like barbell and dumbbell training, not all kettlebell workouts are the same. Here’s a couple of ideas for training with kettlebells which will help you lose weight

Strength workouts with kettlebells

Kettlebells are available in a huge range of weights. If strength training is your thing, kettlebells are great. Heavy swings, presses, squats, rows, deadlifts etc are all excellent at building strength.

HIIT workouts with kettlebells

Any workout mixing periods of high intensity training with low intensity rest periods is HIIT. You can perform a simple workout of 30 seconds work 30 seconds rest with any of the kettlebell exercises. You can even use them in combination with weights. Just don’t overcomplicate things!

How to work out with kettlebells to lose weight

Now you know that losing weight with kettlebells is possible, here’s how you make it happen…

Picking the right kettlebell exercises for weight loss

A weight loss workout needs a lot of reps and high intensity, so you need a kettlebell that you can perform a lot of reps with. This rules out anything too heavy. Likewise if it’s too light, it won’t give you a tough enough workout.

As a guideline, most men will work best with a kettlebell weight of 16-24 kg (35-53 LBS). Most women will use a kettlebell weight of 8-16 kg (18-35 LBS).

Either cast iron or competition bells will be suitable. Don’t get plastic kettlebells, they’re generally unfit for purpose.

How to maximize calorie burn with kettlebells

Workout tips to increase your calorie burn – this can be the difference between success and failure…

Making your kettlebell workouts high volume

Aim for high rep sets with your weight loss workouts. I personally shoot for 15 reps or more to help muscle endurance. In some exercises (swings, snatches and cleans in particular) I train for time rather than reps. This helps to stop you quitting when you reach a rep target. 

Those extra reps all benefit you!

How reducing rest periods helps with weight loss…

Here’s a simple rule… The more training you do, the more calories you burn. Keep a strict cap on rest periods and watch your results transform. In an hour workout you may spend 40 minutes of it resting. 

Cap rest time at 30-60 seconds between sets. You’ll keep your heart rate and calorie burning high. 

Short rest periods can make kettlebell training a great cardiovascular exercise plan.

Optimal kettlebell training frequency for weight loss…

I like my weight loss clients to be training 4 times per week. This means they get plenty of exercise, but sufficient time to rest. There’s evidence this is an effective amount of training for weight loss.

Example weight loss kettlebell workout

We’ve covered equipment and training frequency. Now here’s the ‘how’. In this section I’m going to share exercises with you that will help lose weight with kettlebells…

The kettlebell exercises

Below are some of the common exercises you could use if you were losing weight with kettlebells. You can play around with the amount of sets and reps. As a starting exercise plan, try 30 seconds of each exercise, one after the other. Once you’ve completed a circuit of them all, rest for 2 minutes. 

Complete as many circuits as you can in 30 minutes. You’ll burn hundreds of calories in an average workout.

Swings

Kettlebell front squats

Kettlebell clean and press

Kettlebell gorilla rows

Alternating single arm kettlebell snatch

Kettlebell SDHP

Losing weight with kettlebells – what to expect

If you’re new to this, here’s a few things to expect…

Rate of weight loss

If you’re following a calorie controlled, healthy diet (MyFitnessPal helps with this) and are training hard 4-5 times per week, expect to lose an average of 1-3 pounds per week. This depends on your body weight (heavier people tend to lose weight faster in the early stages). 

Stay in a calorie deficit and perform 5-7 exercises in a circuit. You won’t stay at your current weight for long!

Strength improvement

If you’re new to kettlebell training you’ll see your strength absolutely rocket in the first few weeks. Don’t be surprised if you double the weight of the bell you’re swinging within a couple of months. 

You’ll develop your core muscles and become stronger in multiple movement patterns.

DOMS

Delayed onset muscle soreness is the tax we pay for varying our training. You may get sore, stiff muscles after your first few workouts. Don’t worry – you’re not injured and it goes away. Just eat protein, drink lots of water and keep moving!

Weight loss with kettlebells – what to do next

Hopefully you’ve been inspired to start losing weight with kettlebells. Re-read the article, select the appropriate kettlebell for you and get busy! If you’re unsure of the technique, ask a coach for help. Kettlebell training burns calories and provides you with a great deal of muscle activation

Hit 4 or more full body workouts per week for an extended period of time. You’ll see your physical fitness, muscle mass and strength increase.

Get these movements right and you’ll love your fitness journey – it’s one of the most complete exercise plans that exists.

About Steve Hoyles