If you take a quick scroll through Instagram, chances are you’ll find a shirtless fitness coach doing a kettlebell exercise reminiscent of a dance.
These workouts are called kettlebell flows, and right now, they are taking Instagram by storm.
But OPEX Fitness Founder, James FitzGerald, wants you to think critically about these kettlebell flows before giving them to clients or doing them yourself.
A kettlebell flow is a type of exercise in which you seamlessly flow between kettlebell movements, alternating every repetition, typically performing 2-3 exercises back to back. You then repeat the kettlebell flow as many times as prescribed.
Kettlebell flows are popular for three reasons.
First, these workouts are visually pleasing. They look very cool and receive a lot of social praise when shared online. We will also add that they're pretty fun. When you nail one of these exercises, it feels good.
The second reason they’re popular is that they’re considered primal. It’s believed that the seamless flow between exercises replicates human movement from an earlier time. Learn the seven fundamental movement patterns here.
Finally, they have the effect of making people feel like they’ve done work. Increases in heart rate and the complexity of the flow will result in a metabolic effect.
So we’ve discussed why these exercises are popular. But are they a useful exercise?
Any exercise can be effective depending on the goal.
If the goal is to move and have fun in the gym, kettlebell flows could be effective.
But what if the goal is to gain muscle?
For this purpose, kettlebell flows aren’t as effective as resistance training. To gain muscle, you need time under tension. In a kettlebell flow, the quick movement between exercises limits the muscle’s time under tension. Tempo prescriptions, which control time under tension, are also left out in kettlebell flows. This tension is needed to overload the motor units in the muscle to create mechanical fatigue, which is the key to gaining muscle.
What about using a kettlebell flow to build the aerobic system?
Kettlebell flows are probably not the best way to build the aerobic system. For most, muscle endurance will be the limiting factor before the aerobic system. Some advanced trainees could get an aerobic response from this exercise. But for most, if the goal is to build the aerobic system, it’s best practice to start with cyclical modalities like the Assault bike or rower.
(Learn more about how to build the aerobic system here.)
While you might see your favorite social media influencer hitting a kettlebell flow, we don’t believe they are the highest order prescription for everyone.
Chances are, if you looked at that coach’s history, you’d find that kettlebell flows didn’t build their current level of performance or physique.
We believe that most clients who want to live healthy lives and look good naked should do resistance training and aerobic work.
Resistance training, focusing on quality over quantity, has a host of benefits, including positive effects on metabolic health, the immune system, and the skeletal system.
Further, sustainable aerobic training has a plethora of benefits and will improve anyone’s performance and function in their daily lives or goal-oriented fitness journeys.
While kettlebell flows may fit inside resistance or aerobic work for some, most of the population will get the greatest benefit from keeping exercise selection simple for resistance and aerobic progressions.
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