There are so many different workouts and structured exercise plans to choose from that it can make a newcomer to fitness want to give up before they even start. Where to begin? Which to choose? These are just some of the questions asked.

Two popular workout programs are Crossfit and Kettlebells. Both have their advantages, similarities and differences. Let’s see how they compare.

What Is Crossfit?

The best way to describe CrossFit is high volume training with equally as high intensity.  In a perfect world, high-intensity is a good thing and probably the best way to approach exercise when you want to get in shape fast and melt away adipose tissue.  However, there is always an ugly side to everything.

The fast-paced nature of CrossFit and the expectancy of you to do lots of reps in as little time as possible have raised a lot of concerns and eyebrows.  In reality, a novice has no business attempting workouts of this magnitude.  You need to earn you way up to this level.  And even then, once you are fully taxed and your form starts breaking down, it is in your best interest to stop and rest, instead of pushing onward.

Kettlebells Versus Crossfit

When it comes to comparing kettlebells to CrossFit it’s a bit of a grey area because kettlebells are often used in CrossFit workouts.  By themselves, kettlebells are some of the greatest tools the fitness industry has to offer.  But if used with high-volume and sloppy form, they’re no better than any other equipment that is used the same way.

Getting good with kettlebells alone takes hours and hours of practice.  If you do not take the time to learn proper mechanics, you will suffer the consequences, regardless if you do a CrossFit class or strictly do kettlebell workouts.

The bottom line is, both forms of exercise can be safe or dangerous, and both have similar attributes to the body.

Working Multiple Muscle Groups And Burning Calories

For example, one of the main benefits of kettlebell workouts is that you can do them in a short amount of time and accomplish a whole body workout.  The same can be said about CrossFit.  In fact, rarely does a CrossFit class last more than 20 minutes.

With both programs, you can work all of your major muscle groups and improve strength levels, muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness.  Additionally, you can produce quite a high caloric burn from both protocols.

Along the lines of the high caloric expenditure is a boost in resting metabolism.  Any time you get to a point of hyperventilation while training, you’re exercising anaerobically.  This simply means you are in a state without oxygen and your main source of fuel is stored carbohydrates.

Once you get to this point, especially while doing intervals, you end up cranking your metabolism through the roof.  This effect is greatest for the first few hours after you have finished working out, but it can literally last for 24 to 36 hours afterward.  When weight loss is a pressing concern, this is one of the best ways to make it happen.

Workout Space

When it comes to space, kettlebell workouts beat out CrossFit.  All you need is one or two bells and an open space that you can swing a kettlebell forward and raise it above your head.  CrossFit workouts often require barbells, boxes, rings, walls, pull-up bars, weight plates and wide open space to move from one station to the next. These are set up in what are often referred to as “boxes.”  That’s slang for an open gym.

If you are on the fence between doing kettlebell workouts or CrossFit, just remember that movement always presides over load.  If you are unable to move through a full range of motion with little to no weight, then you shouldn’t be doing kettlebell workouts or CrossFit.

Master the basics first and then move on with confidence.  In both cases, it’s always a good idea to get expert instruction to avoid possible injury.

The Russian kettlebell is well known for its ability to whip the body into shape and often mesmerize onlookers watching a workout in progress.  In stark contrast, there’s nothing really interesting about watching someone run—be it on a treadmill or outdoors.

When you compare these two forms of exercise, they actually have about an even number of similarities and differences.  Let’s go a little deeper and flesh out the intel.

Weight loss ranks high on the list of key motivators for a lot of people that start running.  It’s no secret that you can experience a high caloric expenditure by moving your legs quickly in an upright, scissor-like fashion, but the burn you get from kettlebells should not be overlooked.

Calories Burned

On average, you can burn between 250 to 270 calories, running at 6 miles per hour for 20 minutes.  That sounds pretty good, but not when compared to a 20-minute kettlebell interval workout.  Given the same time frame, you can expect to burn nearly 400 calories.  The work might be more intense, but the effect is far greater.

As an added bonus with kettlebells, you can burn more calories without suffering a pounding on your joints.  This is very beneficial for people who cannot experience impact from past injuries or current joint conditions.

The repetitive stress of running causes your ankles, knees and hips to continually endure shock.  Since your feet stay rooted to the ground with most kettlebell exercises, you feel zero impact.  The only exceptions are exercises that involve stepping, like lunges and Turkish get-ups.  However, this isn’t considered impact.  It’s just transitional movement.

Muscle Engagement

Muscular strength is another area where kettlebells win out.  While you run, it’s true you are incorporating your glutes, calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps, but you are really just improving muscular endurance in these areas.  That’s because running is primarily a cardiovascular exercise.

With kettlebell workouts, you get the best of both worlds at all times.  Not only do they improve muscular strength, but they also improve muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance.  Even if you run up hills, the amount of strength you build in your lower body will be minimal.  By doing double kettlebell squats, on the other hand, you will develop strength, bulk and power in one motion.

Additionally, due to the large recruitment of the major muscles in the legs, as well as the fact that you have to balance the bells in a rack position, your caloric expenditure will be extremely high.

And the strength gains don’t end with legs.  When you run, you might get a little bit of core recruitment, and your arms swing back and forth, but the overall upper-body work you get is minute.  With kettlebells, you can target your shoulders, abs, arms and back in one workout with exercises like cleans, presses, snatches, bent presses, renegade rows and high pulls.

Workout Space

Lastly, kettlebell workouts can be performed in very little space.  In fact, you can target your entire body in as little as a 10 x 10 room.  At the bare minimum, you need a treadmill to run on, which takes up a lot more space than a kettlebell.  You do not even need to go outside to work out either.

If you don’t own a treadmill or belong to a gym, you might have to fight inclement weather to get in your workout.  That’s not the case with kettlebells.

On the flipside, you can still go out to your backyard or a local park and do a kettlebell workout when the weather is nice.  You would still get the same environmental chi hit as well.

Final Thoughts

All and all, both kettlebell training and running are great forms of exercise.  Just know the facts about both and choose the one that best fits your needs and requirements.

For those of you who are unaware, the acronym “HIIT” stands for High Intensity Interval Training.  Simply put, this is a method where you alternate back and forth between a high and low intensity while you work out.

Over the course of time, this training style has gained popularity with all age groups and demographics for its effects on the body and for the fact that it burns more fat than any other workout.

Not only does it cause a high caloric expenditure, but it also cranks up your resting metabolic rate, and boosts your body’s natural production of human growth hormone and testosterone.  This translates to a leaner, more defined body with a low amount of body fat.

It’s hard to argue that this is one of the best ways to get fit and lose unwanted weight fast.  When you compare kettlebell workouts to HIIT, they can actually go hand in hand.  This really depends on how you structure your training.

Since the kettlebell is very versatile and can be moved easily, you have the option of doing an entire HIIT workout with it.  For example, you can do 30 seconds of swings, rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for 30 minutes.  That’s a standard 1-to-1ratio of high to low intensity.

You have multiple combinations to work with too.  In the end, it really all depends on how trained you currently are or how trained you become.  Following a 2-to-1 work to rest ratio, for example, is going to be quite challenging at first.  But over time, and after you have gotten into better shape, it might be the sweet spot for you.

On the other side of the coin, the kettlebell can be used just as resistance to build strength.  An example of this would be doing 5 sets of 5 reps of double presses with 60 seconds or more of rest between each set.

The HIIT model does not have to include kettlebells either.  People who like to run races often perform intervals in their training to boost their anaerobic capacity.  This comes in handy while running up hills or trying to outsprint someone at the finish line.

Instead of going with complete rest, like you would with kettlebells, they just lower their intensity between sprints, such as jogging lightly or walking briskly.  Then they speed back up to the point they are trying to reach.

Kettlebells can also be fused into a circuit-style HIIT program that involves multiple exercises, including running.  The high intensity point would be achieved during each exercise and the rest interval can be short or longer, depending on how fit you are or what you are looking to achieve.

For example, you can do swings, burpees, rope jumping, combat ropes, snatches and running in a workout.
Each one of the exercises can be performed for 30 to 60 seconds and the rest breaks can be the same as the work intervals or shorter.

There is also an option to interval between an intense movement that targets one part of the body and a movement that targets a completely different area.  If you go back to the circuit example, you could do a set of kettlebell presses, then immediately jump rope for 30 seconds and then do a set of kettlebell squats followed immediately by medicine ball slams on the floor.

Your heart rate will still be up, but while one part of your body is spent, another part is not.  It takes practice and mental strength to get proficient at this type of training.

Applying the rules of HIIT to your workouts is not really that complicated, regardless if they are with kettlebells or not.  Just pick a batch of exercises you want to do, determine your work to rest ratios and have at it.

When starting or following a regular exercise regimen it is important to understand the theory behind each type of exercise. Why? Because it helps you to plan a workout that is sound and will fit your goals and needs. A correct workout can mean the difference between gaining results or not, and also in how fast those results can be achieved.

Knowledge is power and king, and this applies to life and fitness. So, let’s consider the anatomies of two popular workouts carefully, here is a comparison of Kettlebell workouts versus good old calisthenics.

Kettlebell Workouts Versus Calisthenics

Kettlebell exercises involve a high amount of motor neurons firing at once to stay balanced and in good form.  Interestingly, the same can be said about calisthenic exercises.

When you look at each workout separately, they can both give you similar benefits.  Lean muscle mass ranks high on this list.  Every rep you do with a kettlebell causes you to work multiple muscle groups at the same time, such as with a clean and press.  The same can be said with a calisthenics exercise like a burpee.

Main Difference

The main difference here is you are only using the weight of your body as resistance with calisthenics.  In some cases, this can make the exercises harder and in others, it can make them easier.

Take pull-ups for example.  These require you to pull the entire weight of your body up to chin-level on a pull-up bar.  It takes a lot of strength to achieve this feat with proper form.

A kettlebell row, performed by pulling the weight up by your side from a half-bent position, works similar muscles, but is not nearly as hard.

On the other side of the coin, a ballistic kettlebell exercise like a snatch, gets your heart rate elevated really high, while also working muscles in your shoulders, butt, thighs and abdomen.  You rarely get this same type of effect from calisthenic exercises.

Combining Calisthenics With Kettlebells

Here’s where things get interesting. You can actually use kettlebells in conjunction with calisthenic exercises.
Let’s go back to the pull-up example. When you are able to do multiple reps with good form, it’s obvious that you have reached a pretty high level of strength.

Since the pull-up is a body weight driven exercise, you need to add resistance to your body to make it harder.  By wearing a dipping belt and strapping a kettlebell to it, you just found out how to do that.  This also applies with dips on dipping bars.

Total Body Workout

Kettlebells and calisthenics actually pair well to create a total body workout.  Since kettlebells are easy to maneuver and transport, you can combine specific kettlebell exercises with specific calisthenic exercises to build a complete, total-body workout.

For example, you can do pushups, renegade rows, presses, jumping jacks, squats, pull-ups and Turkish get-ups all in one workout.  The end result is full body recruitment that improves muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, balance and flexibility.

With all the similarities, there is one major difference.  If you travel and are unable to bring a kettlebell with you, yet you rely on it for a workout, you are out of luck.  However, that’s certainly not the case with calisthenics.  All you need is the weight of your body and you can pretty much work any muscle group.

This is especially beneficial if you are confined to a hotel room and do not have access to a quality gym.

Aside from the obvious exercises like push-ups, squats and crunches, you can also do variations:

•    Alternating t-stands
•    Handstand push-ups with your feet on a wall
•    Pull-ups on the bathroom door with a towel draped over the top
•    Inverted push-ups under a sturdy desk
•    Dips on a desk chair and step-ups on a bed

Bottom Line

All and all, both kettlebell workouts and calisthenics are hard to beat for a one-size-fits-all approach.
Each can stand alone to tone and strengthen your entire body, or they can work in unison.  Just be aware that both forms of exercise take expertise, skill and practice to learn and master proper form and technique.

You are best served getting the basics down and then move forward from there.

Getting the heart pumping has many benefits for health and wellness.

First, there is heart health, which is imperative in this day and age since the numbers of death each year from lifestyle related heart disease has soared to epidemic levels.

Second, there is healthy weight management. Excess body fat leads to obesity, another condition at epidemic levels in the United States and across the world that causes various diseases, and early death from heart attacks, stroke, has been linked to several cancers and others.

Both of these reasons should be more than enough to convince any sensible person to engage in some type of cardio training at least 3 times per week. And, take note that this includes kids as well, since obesity rates have soared for the children of America to unprecedented levels.

Choosing the right form of cardiovascular exercise can be challenging. But in the big picture, it really all boils down to one thing. Well, maybe two things.

What do YOU like the best? And what is best for YOUR body?

Don’t just do a type of cardio because you think it’s fashionable. For example, if you are obese or have lower back or knee pain, do not run! Just because your friend is looking for a running partner doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for you. Always think in terms of safe or dangerous. In this case, running is dangerous. Kettlebell workouts, on the other hand are not.

It all boils down to impact. While doing what are known as ballistic kettlebell exercises, you burn a lot of calories, recruit a lot of muscle groups, and most importantly, endure very little impact on your joints. That can’t be said with running. You feel impact from your toes right on up to your cervical spine.

And kettlebell workouts are not the only forms of cardio that spare your joints from uncomfortable impact. Biking, elliptical training, stair climbing, arc training and compact climbing can also be included.

The difference between these forms of cardio compared to kettlebells though lies in the way they are performed. During kettlebell workouts, your body is not being led by mechanical apparatuses, such as those you would see on an elliptical or exercise bike. You are sort of just being guided along by these machines.

The second you remove a kettlebell from the ground to do an exercise, the fireworks begin. You have to control that ball of cast iron through the entire movement you put it through, and you always have to pay very strict attention to what you are doing.

This causes you to recruit a very high amount of muscle fiber, while always keeping your core tight.

You may get some core recruitment when sprinting or balancing your body on a bike, but it’s pale in comparison to that which you would experience in a kettlebell workout.

People who engage in regular bouts of cardio are always concerned about caloric expenditure too. A well-known fact about kettlebell workouts is they burn a ton of calories. It is not uncommon to burn over 1,000 calories in a one-hour kettlebell workout. Of course, this involves doing a high-intensity protocol and it takes a while to build up the physical stamina to get there.

The complexity of workouts is another factor you should take into consideration when comparing kettlebells to other cardio. A lot of people are turned off by the typical running and biking workouts because they seem brainless. You just keep doing the same thing over and over again for an extended period of time. There’s no versatility.

If you run or bike outside, you at least have a change of scenery, which can motivate you, but you’re still doing the same repetitive motion.

Kettlebell workouts give you metric tons of combinations and variations to choose from. Even if you did one exercise, like a swing, you can create variations that will never leave you bored.

For example, you have a basic two-hand swing, single arm swings, single arm alternating swings and double kettlebell swings. Once you get proficient, you can add more ballistic exercises to the mix like high pulls, cleans and snatches.

The bottom line is, choose wisely when you decide to do cardio. There is nothing wrong with running, biking, cross-country skiing or inline skating. But if you get bored easy, just know that kettlebells can add a whole new dimension to your training.


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