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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kettlebells, classically a training tool of Russian strongmen, has become a go-to group fitness workout for women in pursuit of strong and sexy bodies, according to fitness experts.
Lorna Kleidman, a world champion in kettlebell competition, said a modern kettlebell workout effectively combines cardiovascular, resistance and range-of-motion training, all in one hour.
"It's all in the swing," said Kleidman, who teaches kettlebell classes at the Fitness Cell Collective in New York City, where women constitute up to 70 percent of her students.
"You can lift the kettlebell as if it were a dumbbell," she added. "But to get the most out of it you need to use it in circular, swinging movement."
Essentially cast-iron, handled balls, the modern kettlebell became a fitness tool when Russian weight lifters took to lifting market counterweights for strength training.
Kleidman said the idea dates back to ancient Greece, where athletes trained by lifting stones with holes in them.
She believes the appeal for women is obvious.
"Kettlebell training keeps lean muscle, burns fat, and gives you a nice round butt you're not going to get with yoga."
Classes typically start with 15-pound (6.8-kg) kettlebells, and can go up to 25 (11.3). Men start with 20-pound kettlebells (9 kg), progressing to 35 pounds (15.8) and above.
Kleidman said it takes about an hour for most people to learn the proper technique of driving, or initiating movement, from the leg and hip while keeping the spine straight.
"There are hundreds of movements," said Kleidman. "Swing it, bring it to hold, rest it in the crook of your elbow."
There are also presses, pushes, and figures-eight, side-to-side twists.
"You're limited only by your imagination," she said.
Paul Katami, group fitness center director at the Equinox fitness center in West Hollywood, California, said more women are overcoming their initial fear of the kettlebell.
He said by lowering the weight of the bells used in classes, people are able to do more complex moves.
"We're keeping the essence of kettlebell training while moving it from personal training to group fitness," said Katami, creator of the upcoming DVD "Ultimate Kettlebell Workouts for Beginners."
He added the swing is the cornerstone kettlebell exercise and that the power of the workout lies in its ability to displace the center of gravity, creating more core involvement.
"If you're holding a dumbbell your center of gravity is fixed in the middle of the palm," he explained. "But with a kettlebell you're dynamically fluctuating the resistance: your center of gravity is off."
Even simple moves, such as squats and bicep curls, are enhanced.
Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE), describes the kettlebell advantage as a matter of the position of the mass, the use of momentum and the need to control that momentum.
"We found that the energy expenditure of the kettlebell for one workout was similar to cross country skiing, which is seen as one of strongest physical activities you can do," he said.
McCall is pleased that more women are getting comfortable with weight lifting in general.
"It's a misconception that in order to weight train, women want to stay lighter," he said, "because then they're not really activating the muscles responsible for the definition and tone they want."
He urges would-be kettlebellers to find a certified trainer to teach the technique.
"It's all in the technique," he said. "People look at it say it's dangerous. If you have good technique it's not dangerous at all."
Editing by Patricia Reaney