Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kettlebells: The best damn workout in the gym

For those who don't know what a Kettlebell is, a) it's not KettlebAll, and b) imagine a cannon-ball with an iron handle welded onto it. If you ever have the opportunity to take a Kettlebell class from a certified instructor, commit to going to at least three.  The first class gets you used to the shape of the weights and the basic movements.  The second class lets you find some more comfort with the moves and hone in on what weights work well for specific exercises.  For the third class, you should have a reasonable understanding of the mechanics and be able to choose weights to challenge you.

What I like about Kettlebell training is that it's total body, strength, and cardio.  Ignore the fad crap you see on QVC and even Jillian's workout & funky Kettlebell is weak.  I haven't picked up one of Bob Harper's contour Kettlebells yet, but I think he's on the right track.  The problem with the infomercial junk is that they tend to run way too light.  5 pounds is admittedly more than some may be able to handle for overhead work, but where Kettlebell workouts really come into their own is with controlling inertia.  If you can't move an 8kg Kettlebell, dumbbells will work adequately to fill in the lighter weights.

A traditional Russian Kettlebell is about 16kg (learn the conversion, people; 2.2lbs per kg. Now do the math!).  The exercises that have been created around this thing are designed to move WEIGHT and to use large muscle groups or coordinate multiple muscle groups to hoist it around.  When you go too light, your body naturally cheats the movement and you either don't hit the right muscle group or simply don't end up getting a good workout.  If you're doing squats with a 5lb Kettlebell, you might as well just do body-weight squats and save the fifty bucks.

So as you take that series of Kettlebell classes, when you show up for that third class, go up in weight from the previous session for every exercise.  Then do it again the next time to go to class.  Keep doing it until you can't complete all reps in the set at the chosen weight.  If you're close to getting all the reps in, stay with that weight! If not, drop back a level for a few sessions, but every few classes, push yourself and try to move up.

In my class at Synergy Fitness (Mike Blount, instructor) I typically pull out a 12kg, 16kg, 24kg, and 32kg Kettlebell.  The 12kg weight is used for over-head work or as a drop-down if the 16kg is too much.  The 32kg is used primarily for lower body work (squats, deadlifts, swings) and the 24kg is used as the drop-down weight.  Some days I go lighter overall (8, 12, 16, & 24kg), but I always have a range of weight at my fingertips or will share with a neighbor who's not likely to be using the same weight for the same exercise.

My segue from yesterday's blog has to do with yet another Personal Challenge I've set for 2011.  There's a Kettlebell exercise known as the Turkish Get-up (video below) that starts with you curled up in the fetal position and ends with you holding the Kettlebell over your head before reversing the movement and ending up back on the ground.  Last year I worked up to being able to do one rep of this exercise with the 24kg weight.  For 2011, my goal is to be able to do that with the 32kg weight (okay, I'll do one conversion for you; that's 70.4 lbs).  Will that be the "push" that breaks the envelope?  Time will tell...

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