Monday, June 18, 2012

Does Fitness = Gymness? (Part II: Kettlebells, Comrades)

Just recently I was staying up too late watching my beloved New York Mets get trounced by some team or another.  During a commercial break, a very fit woman in a revealing spandex outfit appeared in an ad for the "Newest form of exercise training sweeping the country!"  For 30 seconds, the woman moved through a variety of exercises using what appeared to be a cannonball with a handle.  She swung the cannonball, pressed it over her head, did elegant one-handed passes...all her in spandex outfit.  Meanwhile, the announcer summarized the benefits of this "modern technology" that "not even large-scale national fitness facilities are using."

At the conclusion of the ad for this piece of wondrous modern fitness equipment, I laughed out loud (LOL'ed for those of you under 25) which was a welcome change from the tears I had heretofore been shedding during the game.  For those of you who might not recognize the description of a "cannonball with a handle", this comical late night fitness ad was for the kettlebell.  You may have seen these pieces of equipment advertised on late night TV or even for sale in large retail stores accompanied by DVD training videos.

What tickled my funny bone wasn't the woman in spandex but instead the description provided by the announcer that kettlebells are a “new and modern fitness training program.”  Kettlebells have been used for athletic training and fitness by our Russian Comrades since the 1700s.  Hardly "new and modern," Russians have been using kettlebells for hundreds of years as a component of strength competitions, military training, and post World War II as a component of Olympic training for a variety of sports.  Kettlebells are typically made from cast-iron and come in a variety of weights.  Traditional Russian kettlebells come in standard weights called POODs.  A POOD is equal to 35 pounds so a 1 POOD kettlebell is 35 lb while a 1.5 POOD kettlebell is ~53 pounds.  You get the idea. 

So what have the Russians known for hundreds of years that we in America just "discovered" in Y2K?  That kettlebells are awesome, Comrade!

One of the draws of a gym is the access that members have to strength training equipment.  But you don't need a gym or its machines, free weights or resistance bands when you have a kettlebell at home.  You have an entire gym in just one piece of equipment.  Tell me that doesn't beat a membership!

Kettlebell exercises are superior because you can use them for high or moderate intensity cardio training as well as strength training that works nearly every muscle in the body.  Doing ballistic exercises such as swings, snatches and clean & jerks are full body exercises that develop strength in the legs, shoulders and core all while jacking your heart rate up and burning a bunch of calories. 

If you want to be fit and never set foot in a gym again, I strongly urge you to buy a kettlebell.  They come in a variety of weights, but America, in typical American fashion, has created a line of "fitness bells" that are too light to maximize the full potential of the kettlebell.  I would recommend that ladies purchase either an 18 lb or 26 lb kettlebell to begin with.  For gentlemen, either a 35 lb or 44 lb.  The cost of kettlebells is such that as you become stronger you can easily purchase higher weights without significant economic burden.

How do you train once you have your kettlebell in hand?  Swings are the standard movement.  You'll want to educate yourself about proper form. Sure you could look-up videos on youtube, but I’d strongly suggest the book Enter the Kettlebell by Pavel which also includes several day-by-day training programs based on swings, cleans and presses.  And for the record, I have no financial interest in this book specifically or kettlebells in general so you won't be aiding me in any way other than my increasing my sense of satisfaction from knowing that there are more fit people in the world. 

When it comes to fitness, there are few things that match the versatility or effectiveness of kettlebell training.  I carry a 35 lb kettlebell in my car (which is strapped into the passenger seat with a seatbelt -- at 70 mph a loose kettlebell can do some damage, trust me!) so that when I travel, I can do a workout anywhere (you don't even need shoes).  Work hard and you can be done with a complete workout in less than 15 minutes -- I bet that's less time than it would take you to drive to the gym!

Happy training, Comrades!  

Posted by Rachel L. May
School of Health Sciences


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