Kettlebells and Weightloss

RKC Aug 2011I’ve seen it, I’ve read it, maybe you have too…KETTLEBELLS BURN A MILLION CALORIES PER WORKOUT!!!! Maybe that’s even why you started investigating Kettlebells. So now you have decided: THIS is it! I’m really going to lose the weight and get more active and maybe kettlebells are the answer! And then you read a bit more on the internet and think…well maybe I should just start running…I mean running burns a lot of calories, right?  Or then you find yourself thinking…no wait…i’ll do a TRIATHLON…that’ll do the trick! And before long, and too many web pages later you find yourself curled up in a ball confused by all the crap on the internet and really just looking for something that makes sense and will help the weight loss really, really quickly.

So…where to start? Obviously I’m going to be a bit pro-kettlebell since I am an instructor and compete in Girevoy Sport. But I used to be an endurance athlete and can draw from some of that experience as well as a generic love of understanding what really do people mean when they say ‘research say’…bla, bla, bla. Here is a reality about science… we are learning new things every day and it does change from day to day. Here is another reality about exercise science articles that are written…many, many are done on fit 18-22year old MEN who are not in terrible shape…OR they are FIT athletes. Does that sound like majority of the population? Not really.

So where to start? I was asked about kettlebells vs. running for weight loss the other day from a client of mine. I’m not against running in any regards…I’ve run multiple half marathons, done a half ironman…even signed up for an ironman. But here is something I learned in the 7 years of endurance exercise:

  • Biomechanics matter: When you don’t have good biomechanics, you are much more prone to injury. I have bad biomechanics. That meant I ended up making the PT my friend.
  • Running can be a jarring activity. If you are a little overweight it can be jarring on your joints and bones…if you have a significant amount of weight to lose, it can really jar the joints.
  • Endurance training made me really, really hungry. I’ll get to this a bit more later. But when I switched to 6 days a week of training, 3 days of kettlebells, 2 days of HIT (high intensity training), an active recovery day and 1 day off, I actually found it was EASIER to eat less food and put myself into a calorie deficit. I was only training 3-5 hours a week compared to 8-12hours of endurance training…but I was crazy hungry all the time with endurance training. Mark Sission seems to think that you shouldn’t go above 4000 calories of exercise per week. I think he has an interesting theory and I wouldn’t be surprised in a few years if the literature catches ups and figures out what exactly that ‘sweet’ spot for exercise is.

The funny thing about exercising is it won’t promote weight loss unless you change what you eat. Period. JB is an expert in this area and explains it way better than I would over at PN.

Back to kettlebells vs. running…there is an interesting article that is out there that shows that in a 10 minute period treadmill running burns more calories in the J Strength Cond Res. 2012 May;26(5):1203-7. Hmmm…that’s interesting. I wasn’t able to read the whole thing, but I did find this little gem:

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 5.02.58 PMWhile in the 10 minutes the Treadmill running did burn more calories, what I found interesting was variable that was kept ‘constant’ was the RPE…or the Rate of Perceived Exertion. What this tells me is that the participants ran according to how hard they thought the kettlebell swinging was equal in difficulty to the running.

Also…something a bit confusing about this study. Does it not seem weird to anyone else that the treadmill running in ten minutes burned 500 calories? I’ve always been told that 1 mile is roughly 100 calories. Runners World seems to think the same and is supported by some data to show it. So how do these participants run equivalent to 5 miles in 10 minutes? Or even 4 miles? In truth,  without being able to read the full article on how they calculated total calorie burn, I am a bit confused on how they calculated total kcal for either exercise. I may have to dig around and re-edit as I find out more information.

My main point is to show that ‘data’ that some people like to use to say “running is better” or kettlebells RULZ sometimes need to be  investigated further. (I’ll talk about the classic ‘Kettlebells burn 400calories in 20 minutes’ study in a later post.)

For an average person looking to get fitter and lose weight…what should they do? What exercise would be best for them? Well…everyone is different but with proper nutrition, one of the biggest benefits to kettlebells or weight lifting is a funny term called EPOC (Excess Post Oxygen Consumption). What this means is whether it is kettlebell swings or a properly designed weight lifting routine…you can actually trick your body into burning calories AFTER you are done exercising! This is an interesting article on how metabolic resistance exercises increases Resting Energy Expenditure (REE or the calories you burn when you are just sitting around) over a different weight lifting protocol.

Why is this important? Endurance exercise has less EPOC than weight training does. Metabolic Resistance Exercises like kettlebell swings or a well designed weight workout will keep your body burning calories when you aren’t at the gym. Alwyn Cosgrove came up with the Hierarchy of Fat Loss over at T-Nation. Basically:

1) Your nutrition is the most important thing.

2) See #1

3) Metabolic Resistance Exercises

4) High Intensity Anerobic Intervals (Those intervals you can’t breath after you are done)

5) High Intensity Aerobic Intervals (These are closer to tempo runs, fartleks)

6)Steady State High Intensity Aerobic work (Hard Cardio)

7) Steady State Low Intensity Aerobic Training (walking, etc.)

Let’s face it…we don’t have a lot of time. Cosgrove goes into to how to prioritize each of these exercise but the BEAUTIFUL thing is with metabolic resistance exercise…you get a lot of bang for your buck and in not a ton of time at the gym. Less time in the gym, more time to do other things while still putting your body in a state that it can lose weight AND paying attention to eating good nutrition.


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