Fitness enthusiasts are always seeking new and exciting ways to stay fit and motivated. How about Kettlebells and Battling Ropes as the latest craze.
By Lisa Ziegel:
Fitness enthusiasts are always looking for new and exciting ways to stay fit and motivated. It also helps if the mode of activity provides the most “bang for your buck” – that is, expends the most calories while at the same time improving fitness (i.e., strength, aerobic conditioning, flexibility). This is why fitness clubs invest in new equipment to add to their standard dumbbells/barbells/machines and cycling/aerobics classes. Gadgets, such as balance boards, indoor land-bound surf boards and “kangaroo-jumps” (boots with springs on the soles that you can hop in), promise to deliver on all counts. These are interesting “toys” but do they show results, and do they have lasting power (remember slide boards)? More importantly, what does the evidence say?
Two currently popular fitness tools that have been thoroughly studied include kettlebells and battling ropes. One has been around for quite a while; the other for a shorter time, but a recent surge in their popularity has stimulated more research as well as outcomes showing they are capable of fulfilling the promise of enhancing metabolic response. The following article will examine the pros and cons of using these modalities as part of an effective training program.
Kettlebells (KB) may have been around since the 18th century and were previously only seen in “old-fashioned” weight-lifting gyms, but their popularity has endured.
Among the benefits of training with them is the fact that most movements involve multiple joints and thus multiple muscle groups. For instance, the basic two-armed KB-swing primary muscles used are the hips, but the hamstrings, quadriceps, back, shoulders and others all play roles in proper execution of the movement. It also teaches the participant to integrate a complex series of actions into one fluid movement – important for functioning in activities of daily living.
In a study conducted at Southeastern Louisiana University in 2014, a 30-minute 2-exercise kettlebell protocol was compared to treadmill walking at a moderate pace in accordance with American College of Sports Medicine recommendations. In this case, it was found that the kettlebell training resulted in a similar increase in VO2 max and other cardiorespiratory responses, leading to the conclusion that kettlebell training could be a possible substitute or addition to an aerobic conditioning program.
Pros – Kettlebells offer variety in training and can be done at home or in a gym. They are inexpensive in comparison to treadmills and can be used indoors when weather outside does not allow for walking. In addition, their use can help develop overall body strength, power, and agility in addition to aerobic benefits, thus enhancing metabolism.
Cons – Using proper technique and safety precautions are essential. Novices should take instruction from certified instructors or trainers. There is a learning curve in developing skill in handling them.
These are part of a training system developed by a fitness coach/expert named John Brookfield. There are other ways in which ropes are used but in discussion here it is the “undulating wave” system of training. In other words, a long, thick length of heavy rope is anchored to an immovable object, and the participant lifts the ends of it using the arms. However, it is also a whole-body workout. Due to the weight, length and thickness of the rope, exercises engage the mid-section (core) back, shoulders, legs and hips.
A study conducted at the University of Minnesota in 2013 speculated that a 10-minute bout of rope training equates well with the American College of Sports Medicine’s definition of a “vigorous” activity (e.g. – bicycling up a steep hill, or teaching an aerobic dance class, etc.).
The level of intensity does vary with thickness and the length of the rope as well as the height from which it is anchored (the lower the more difficult). But the variations of movements that can be performed with it add variety to any workout program.
Speed of movement can add further variation as well as incorporate other equipment, such as “BOSU” balls (half-dome balance tools), gliding discs, and more.
Research has not yet demonstrated whether ropes can build strength, but it makes sense that lifting a load, such as a heavy rope, can add to any strength-training program, especially to a novice. Certainly power and agility can be enhanced due to the explosive nature and the movements involved in handling ropes.
Pros – Battling-rope training is a fun, unique method of training that can build aerobic capacity due to the vigorous cardiovascular training it provides. Along with varying the type of rope used, speed of movements and other variations can add elements of power, agility and strength training. Although building endurance in handling them and learning how to perform basic movements can be challenging, like in any other activity these can be learned and built-up.
Cons – Proper technique and skill is required to get an effective workout. Beginning exercisers will find it difficult to perform movements without fatiguing quickly. Ropes vary in length but typically require 25-50 feet of room space, and an immovable anchor is needed to safely hold the rope down.
If you were wondering about using either of the above training methods, I would encourage anyone to try either kettlebells, battling ropes, or both. Evidence suggests that they provide elements of aerobic conditioning as well as whole-body conditioning that can enhance any fitness program. It may not be realistic to rely solely on one or the other to achieve your fitness goals, but they can certainly help, and it never hurts to get some fun and excitement as well as much-needed variation with your exercise!