Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Kettlebell Science.....or maybe not!

Sometimes you come across science that just doesn't add up. First of all a video:

That is a video of Rif and his wife towards the end of a workout aimed at building the VO2 max (the aerobic base or, technically, the maximum capacity to transport and utilize oxygen during incremental exercise). They are working 15 seconds on then 15 seconds off. You can see it is hard work.

Ok now compare that to a study that I just came across:

Cardiorespiratory Responses to Kettlebell™ Training Exercise: 1162 Board #17 2:00
PM - 3:30 PM
[D-20: Free Communication/Poster - Cardiac: Acute Exercise or Exercise Training: THURSDAY, JUNE 2,2005 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM ROOM: Ryman C2]
Bishop, Emmett; Collins, Mitchell A. FACSM; Lanier, Angela B. Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA. (Sponsor: Mitchell A. Collins, FACSM) (E. Bishop, Dragon Door Research Grant Recipient.)

Although resistance training using Kettlebells™ is not new, the popularity of Russian Kettlebell™ training has recently grown in the U.S. due to promotion by Pavel Tsatsouline. However, at the present time there appears to be little scientific literature on Kettlebell™ exercise.


Therefore, the purpose of this study was to describe the cardiorespiratory responses to a typical 30-minute bout of Kettlebell™ training.


Five males and five females (24-58 yrs) were recruited to participate in the study. Each performed five sets of ten repetitions for three Kettlebell™ exercises each separated by 1 minute of rest. The exercises consisted two-arm swings, one-arm snatches (half performed with each arm), and one-arm clean and presses (using right and left arms). The females used a 4 or 8 kg Kettlebell™ based on strength and the males used an 8, 12, or 16 kg Kettlebell™. The cardiorespiratory responses to the exercise were measured using a Parvo Medics TrueMax™ 2400 metabolic system. The data were analyzed using simple descriptive statistics.


The cardiorespiratory responses varied greatly among the subjects and were related to the size Kettlebell™ each used. After the intial adjustment to exercise, ventilation (BTPS) ranged from about 24-39 L/min. This corresponded to tidal volumes and respiratory rates from 0.9-1.4 L/br and 24-41 br/min. Oxygen consumption values were from 0.65-1.28 L/min or 9.7- 18.0 ml/kg/min. Respiratory exchange ratios were from 0.88-1.07 with values typically below 1.0. Exercise heart rates were found to be between 101-143 bts/min and mean (±SEM) blood lactates following exercise were 4.3±1.8 mmol/L.


The cardiorespiratory responses to Kettlebell™ exercise were relatively low. The values were less than reported for traditional weight training exercise performed at 40% of one-repetition maximum. The low response found for Kettlebell™ exercise was probably due to the incorporation of momentum in Kettlebell™ training along with the size of Kettlebell™ used by the subjects.

So the scientists say that cardiorespiratory responses to Kettlebell™ exercise were relatively low. ?! (I came across the study here BTW). You read that and you think that kettlebells are crap! Rubbish for cardio work! eh? I bet Dragon Door research wanted their grant back for this one!

What's wrong?

I do not want to be an apologist for kettlebells (and when did that word become a trademark?) but there are so many problems with this study. What where they comparing this training to? Why did they pick this particular protocol? - if you want to stress cardiorespiratory response then you wouldn't train like they did you need to stress the right energy pathways and the protocol that they chose is not doing that. Rif's protocol will hit the right systems, doing 5x10 with a minute rest between sets will not.

The conclusions that they give are dodgy too. Momentum has nothing to do with it! Look at that video again and you will note that the momentum doesn't seem to limit the effects!

Unfortunately you cannot go much further with this study since it is only a poster at a conference rather than a published peer reviewed article, but it is instructive that you need to think critically about the science. Just because I put up an abstract here doesn't mean you should accept it as gospel. Think about it a bit. Be critical.


Bryce said...

force applied/unit time=Fatigue factor as loosely defined by me.

Its hard to get around that one. Put more effort against a resistance in a smaller unit of time, or increase the resistance and you have to work harder, if you work hard enough it gets closer and closer to the limit at which you can work until you fail.

If you know what percentages to play between "easy" and "tag and drag" you adapt.

If you work hard enough with Kb's, it is indistinguishable heart and lungwise from anything else you do that requires the same of them at a steady state or in defined intervals completed successfully. --Well Duh ;-)

This isn't the KB's fault, it just riding along with the force one applies to it. Dumb chunk of metal, just like other dumb chunks of metal we use.

Take any dumb chunk of heavy stuff and apply force to it in the right way and you get similar metabolic effects, big rock, ball with handle on top, obnoxious football fan?


Besides, as you say, where did this "momentum" come from was it imparted by the parcel post, Chris Angel, Iron gnomes?


billmcphersoniii said...

If you wish to find studies about KBs emial Pavel. He will tell you where to find them, though they may be in Russian. Also, Kenneth Jay conducted a study in 2006. I am a level II RKC. I have the data provided from that study. Email Kenneth and request it.

I can also tell you that when I recieved my physical screening to work for the local Sheriff's Dept., the PT doing the testing commented that my Cardio-vascular capacity was in the excellent range (based off their standards). I had done on other cardio other than high rep KB ballistics and had only seriously been work with them for 6 months. At the academy I had the Highest PT score. This is why the russian military favours the tool.

I'd suggest you look at what that study had to prove or disprove.

Chris said...

Bill - thanks for the comment.

I have no doubt that KBs can have a great CV effect. That was the point of my post.

Rif's routine in the video was inspired by Kenneth Jay's studies as I recall.

Bryce - great stuff....as ever

billmcphersoniii said...

The main advantage that KBs provide are improved shoulder and hip flexiblity and stability. Lower back endurance. Tendon strengthening (when used ballisticly and/or high reps). Increased CR and Muscular endurance and a displaced center of gravity (which is an advantage for numerous reasons).

They tend to recruit and reinforce proper motor patterns and work the body as a whole system or unit, instead of isolationism. They are small compact and most individuals will really never need more than a 24kg (53lbs) for general health and conditioning. Although, there are many tools to choose from, KBs should be on the top of the list for athletic proformance and conditioning

Mark Reifkind said...

kjs study used the snatch because the swing caused too much tension and afterload on the heart. the snatch has enough of a relaxation phase so the afterload was lower and the change in the left ventricle size of the heart chamber could occur and increase max o2 uptake.4 weeks of doing this workout just once a week and my resting pulse dropped by almost 8 bpm!I would regularly get 175-183 hr rates that I could maintain for 15-20 minutes with just that 16 kg bell.If you really try to accelerate the bell as fast as possible the momentum creates much more force to deal with and increase work rather than diminishing it.
the 36:36 protocol is even worse than with much more lactate buildup. hate that one.

Bryce said...

(grouch mode) A bit of self indulgent philosophy here...why not.

We often consider ourselves at some peak in intellectual history. We're not of course, we just gotten so sloppy about how we ask questions that we are awash in meaningless answers.

We have so many "answers" from studies like this that the argument (if any) is over what the question was. That's an odd thing to consider.

Even odder a thing to consider is that we (you know "we") are so enamoured of swimming in a shiny sea of conveniently selectable answers that the questions no longer matter. (/grouch mode)


Chris said...

Bryce - feel free to enter grouch mode. you are right, I think intellectually most of us are declining as a society now. We need a bit more rigour in our thinking

Rif - thanks for the feedback on your experience with this.

Mark Reifkind said...


the question kenneth asked was would kettlebell training cause an increase in max o2 uptake comparable to running or cycling? And if so what specific protocol was necessary to elicit that.
All the info is on his new DVD. I'm sure if you emailed him he would be willing to explain the basic parameters for you.

Bryce said...

I'll go with that. I can be curious as well as grouchy.

I can picture alot of things happening except very much of that particular one.


Anonymous said...

KB's are a closed chain exercise, with the unusual characteristic of being repetitious pyro movements. As such, the total calorie burn would not just come from aerobic burn, but also lactosesis and phoso-creatine synthesis.

ie: it taxes all three systems and moves between them. It would be impossible to measure the total calorie cost of such exercise through o2 uptake alone. Heart rate and blood lactic levels would also have to be measured.

Plus, any activity which is not continuous is not aerobic - a minuet rest is not continuous. That's not even circuit training.

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Anonymous said...

Los Angeles, CA (PRWEB) January 21, 2010

Scientists at University of Wisconsin are stunned by the research: Kettlebell calorie burn is off the charts.

Pavel Tsatsouline and Dragon Door Publications introduced kettlebells to America in 2001 with their landmark Russian Kettlebell Challenge programs. Their claims that the kettlebell delivers superior fat loss to any other method have finally been vindicated by scientists, in research funded by the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Kettlebell training is all the rage in the U.S. -- sparked in great part by enthusiasts’ claims that kettlebell drills strip off unwanted fat faster than aerobics, running, treadmills or any other popular weight loss programs. “You get twice the results in half the time” is the claim. Truth or just hype?

Funded by the American Council of Exercise (ACE), research published in the January/February 2010 issue of ACE FitnessMatters proves that there’s plenty of scientific truth to back up the fat loss claims.

The research team led by John Porcari, Ph. D and Chad Schnetter, M.S at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse Exercise and Health Program, used a VO2max kettlebell snatch protocol developed by Dragon Door author and Master RKC kettlebell instructor Kenneth Jay, in Jay’s bestseller Viking Warrior Conditioning.

After only a 20-minute kettlebell workout, research subjects burned an average of 272 calories. However as, Dr. Porcari states in his research conclusions: “We also measured the blood lactate, so anaerobically they were burning another 6.6 calories per minute, which is off the charts. That’s equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace.”

The scientists credit the startling level of calorie burn to the fact that the kettlebell workout is a total-body movement that is also done very quickly, due to the interval-training format. Added researcher Schettler, "The kettlebell workout gives you a big bang for your buck in a very short amount of time.”

Gerard Butler supposedly used kettlebells in part to hone his chiseled physique as Leonidas in 300. Now, modern science has provided the proof that this “Spartan” exercise tool offers new hope for those still struggling to lose unwanted body fat -- or wishing to lose that body fat far faster than traditional methods.