Looking for a new fitness challenge to keep you going through lockdown? One writer explains how starting kettlebell workouts have made her feel stronger over the last 30 days – so much so, that she can now do press-ups.
At the start of the year, I reluctantly said yes to a five-minute plank challenge. As someone whose exercise routine usually involves running, cycling and a weekly 80s aerobics workout, I was pretty scared of core-strengthening exercises. But I did it! And it actually left me wanting to try more fitness challenges that would make me stronger.
That’s why I confidently accepted the 30-day kettlebell challenge.
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“I absolutely love using kettlebells as they improve overall strength, power and coordination, as well as improving core balance and strength,” Strong Women trainer Emma Obayuvana told me when I asked her for help with a training programme.
I explained to Emma that I’d started kettlebell classes before we went into the second lockdown back in November and had found them incredibly hard. I wanted to become confident in using a kettlebell and feel invincible! I also told her that my goal was to focus on strengthening my weak arms and my core. And I wanted my kettlebell routines to compliment the three 5ks that I do per week.
Emma sent me a four-week programme with different workouts to do three days per week. They each included three parts, along with a warm up and cooldown. “The aim is to get you stronger, while getting you familiar and comfortable with different kettlebell exercises, so you can perform these with confidence in any of your future workouts,” she said, along with the advice to alternate kettlebell, rest and running days.
Without further ado, it was time to start the challenge with my 8kg kettlebell…
Kettlebell challenge: week 1
It took a while to get to know the new moves – I’d highly recommend giving yourself some extra time and having YouTube on hand to double-check your form. The novelty of the new exercises quickly wore off and I soon felt like I was working hard, but it still seemed manageable. I liked that I could easily fit each 20-30 minute workout into my day.
I realised that I truly hate squats (even though they benefit my running), but I have so much love for the kettlebell swings and drags. Each workout ended with a five-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) and I’ll admit that I know I could have pushed myself more. However, it was a good introduction and I was determined to push it further the next week.
Kettlebell challenge: week 2
The new week brought more new exercises (high pulls, push presses) and my arms really felt it – they felt like jelly! I had a sore thigh and, after speaking with Emma, decided to swap out some squats for swings (which, of course, I didn’t mind at first…). However, I did end up finding it quite frustrating – I like following things properly, so it was a challenge to keep going while also being cautious about my thighs. But the important lesson here is that you need to listen to your body and change the routine accordingly.
While I was still enjoying learning new techniques, it did mean that the workouts weren’t getting any swifter. Each one ended with a five-minute EMOM (every minute on the minute), which I liked because you get some rest time.
Kettlebell challenge: week 3
By the end of the first workout in week three, I realised I’d just done some actual kneeling press-ups – I can’t manage many but they are something I’ve always avoided because I couldn’t do them. The workouts just felt like part of my routine by this point and I was getting into the swing of things (literally). I was also getting used to a lot of the moves (apart from the windmill and Romanian deadlift – to this day I cannot do them properly because I lose my balance and fall over, grrr!).
Each of this week’s workouts ended with a five minute ladder: you start by doing one repetition of the first exercise and 10 reps of the second exercise. You then do two reps of the first exercise and nine reps of the second exercise, and so on, until you end up doing 10 reps of the first exercise and one repetition of the second exercise… I did NOT enjoy this, but that just made it even more of a challenge, right?
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Kettlebell challenge: week 4
By this point, I had to start doing my workouts in my bedroom instead of my living room, and this made me realise that you don’t actually need that much space for kettlebells. I felt confident taking on more repetitions and a more intense mix of moves throughout each workout, but I did end up still finding it challenging. I also accepted that it’s OK to take my time with learning to get my form correct – it’s pointless rushing through and I’m still getting to grips with all these new exercises.
The last part of the final workout was a dreaded five-minute ladder of thrusters and press-ups… but I did it and felt bloody fantastic afterwards.
Kettlebell challenge verdict
I definitely want to continue including kettlebells into my fitness routine about twice weekly. I do feel stronger and I was so impressed at myself for keeping it up. I still can’t believe I can actually do a kneeling press-up! I also like how it slows me down, unlike cardio, so that I’m really in tune with my body and can have the radio playing in the background to keep me company. I’m going to carry on developing my form so that I nail the moves, then aim to progress onto a 10kg kettlebell.
Kettlebell challenge tips
For anyone who wants to try a 30-day kettlebell challenge, I would suggest:
- Finding a ready-made plan, putting your own plan together or asking a PT for a plan that seems challenging but manageable.
- Scheduling the kettlebell workouts in your diary so that you can fit your rest days and other exercise days around the them.
- Giving yourself some extra time to watch YouTube videos and practicing new moves so that you get the form right.
- Listening to your body and taking time out or swapping exercises if you need to.
- Making a note of the number of reps you do, as this is likely to increase over the 30 days.
- Congratulating yourself after each workout, because it’s definitely not easy.
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…