Physical Training June 2009
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Kettlebells: Believe the Hype

copyright © 2009 Charles Noonan, all rights reserved

When it comes to strength training you have to manage your expectations. What do you want from it? Do you want to look better? If so, strength training is a great way towards a toned body. How about getting stronger? Strength training is probably the number one thing you can do to achieve great power. Perform better in sports? Yep, it will help there too. I think these quests bring people to gyms all over the world to lift weights and work on different body parts from head to toe until they achieve any or all of these pursuits.  However, how far can you go in any or all of these pursuits by going to the gym and working on different machines that work this body part and that body part? The kind of strength training one does will dictate what results are actually realized. If you just want to look good, the gym’s modern machines and weights have a lot to offer. Getting stronger? That is a matter of perspective. Performing better in sports? That too, is a matter of perspective. Kettelbells, I believe, offer all of this and huge dividends in getting tone, becoming stronger, and increasing performance in sporting activities. How can I prove this?  I can share my story and let you decide for yourself.

I was about nine or ten years of age when my dad brought home a weight set for me and my siblings to play with. The set consisted of a bar, bench, curling bars, and about one hundred pounds of differently weighted plates. The first thing I did was slap a couple of respectably weighted plates on the bar and lifted it over my head. Both of my brothers laughed as I fell straight back after I got the bar up. Soon after I got over my embarrassment and fear I approached the weights a little more cautiously. I became very comfortable with them and lifted weights like a madman. I played football even though I was a little too small, but thought lifting weights would help me play better football if anything by making me a bigger person. It helped me some in that regard, but never got me to where I wanted to be. It did help me though. I became stronger and less prone to injury. I also dabbled in high school wrestling and it helped me there, too. My lack of wrestling experience caused me to lose more than win, but I felt stronger than most of my opponents at my weight. I was also able to maintain a fairly nice, toned shape from all of this and developed a blue print for how to maintain that physique. 

For the next twenty years I would become a member of more gyms than I care to remember. Not because they were bad experience mind you, but what I did in the gym never really translated to activities I did outside the gym. Yes, maybe I was always able to keep the same pants size. That’s always good. In the end, however, I just walked around looking like a guy who went to the gym a lot. Somewhere in my early thirties I was fortunate enough to meet my current brother in law, who owned and operated a very popular physical fitness company ( He taught me how much more there was to just lifting weights and redefined for me what being “strong” meant. For all of the years I have been lifting weights and chugging supplements I found myself really challenged and felt like all my hard work in the gym wasn’t doing much for me. It was almost like I was starting over. He had me doing calisthenics, running hills, and biking for thirty miles after all of that. Talk about shock and awe. Here I was thinking I was always in good shape. Heck, I looked pretty good and you would have to search a little hard to find fat on me, yet there I was; huffing and puffing like a chain smoker running around a track.

I soon became comfortable with this kind of training and noticed many gains in the endurance department.  I no longer cared much for sporting big muscles and looking like a gym rat. I wanted something else. I longed for being able to run a race and maybe work my way to doing a triathlon. My brother in law helped me achieve all of that and even more. I ran local races and also did two triathlons. I then felt I had seen pretty much everything I needed to know to get in shape for just about anything I wanted to pursue. Then one day a friend of mine coaxed me into joining him at a mutual friend’s house where they trained in mixed martial arts. At first I was hesitant. I was always curious about martial arts, but wasn’t motivated enough to seek it out on my own. The first time I trained with these guys I was a bit anxious, but felt with a little wrestling background and being in the shape I could hang in a respectable fashion. Boy, was I wrong.

It was around this same time that my entrepreneurial brother in law introduced me to kettlebells. We worked out with them in his front yard, and like before, I found myself huffing and puffing.  I was mystified on how this prehistoric looking “weight” could render me feeling like a novice in the fitness department. I soon felt its benefits, however. I started working with them more and more and loved how convenient it was to incorporate it into some other simple forms of fitness. Right at home I could go for a run and come back and workout with my kettlebell. I would be exhausted after every workout, exhausted like I never felt leaving some big, popular gym. Don’t get me wrong, when I worked out in gyms I went there with the best intentions. I worked my tail end off lifting weights, running on treadmills, using elliptical trainers, and other fancy machines they had there. It didn’t match the intensity of the kettlebell workout, though.

Back to my friend’s house training in mixed martial arts for my first time. To say I had my ass handed to me would be an understatement. They took it easy on me, too. That was probably due to my crying about not wanting to get hurt. Anyhow, I survived and couldn’t believe how alive I felt from it all. I suddenly discovered something that had endless things to learn about and posed huge challenges. This had all of the ingredients of something to keep my interest for a long time. I also developed a competitive nature about it all. I wanted to be good at mixed martial arts, and at the very least hold my own when training.  Plus, it’s kind of cool to know you can deal out an ass-whooping from time to time. Re-enter the kettlebell.

Kettlebells have helped me here more than weights could ever do. Kettlebells offer me functional, usable strength. I feel it when I clinch with sparring partners, practice takedowns, hit pads, and even climb stairs at my home at four in the morning to let my puppy out to relieve himself. I feel stronger all over like I hit every body part at the gym on my best week. Is the kettlebell the be all end all? No. Does anything in life fit that criterion? I doubt it. It does, on the other hand; incorporate well into a workout routine like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. The moves are pretty simple too.

I even had my slightly out of shape, pre-teen daughter join a few of my brother in law’s kettlebell workouts. Her mother says to me “what are you all doing in those workouts?” Our daughter looks different already…

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