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Everywhere you look in the United States whether at the local health club or the newsstand you will see the stronghold of a “bodybuilding” mentality that has permeated our society for decades. Until September 2003 I had fallen victim to that type of thinking and did not know any better until I stumbled upon the man known simply as ‘Pavel’. Russian Master of Sports Pavel Tsatsouline has taken America by storm with his simple yet effective training methods that have been used extensively in Eastern Bloc countries for years. This explains why so few people are open to ‘the Party’ (all-inclusive of Pavel’s students) methods. Most Americans are too egotistical to think that some other country would have the answers to OUR LIFESTYLE. Russian kettlebells are THE ANSWER to American health issues!
Have you ever had a friend throw their back out by tying his/her shoe or by picking up a box or a child? Everyone one of us have either experienced that ourselves or vicariously through a friend or relative. Could you have ‘trained’ to prevent that particular injury? I don’t necessarily have the answer to that specific question, but as general rule I have found it to be true with trainees in the kettlebell world including friends, clients, colleagues and also myself.
The problem is we LIVE in a three-dimensional world but most traditional fitness methods have everyone training in ONE plane of movement. We transfer groceries from the store to car to counter to cupboards all while bending, twisting and leaning and doing it subconsciously. We pick up and hold our kids usually on our dominant side. We mow and rake the lawn, dig the hole for the new tree, move furniture and perform thousands of other daily activities that we never actually “train” for. If that is the case, then why would we stick a bunch of people on some gadget machines that have a predetermined range of motion and have them perform mindless exercise in ONE plane of movement? Our society has been wrongfully programmed through all mediums to go after the ever-elusive BODY IMAGE instead of searching out FUNCTION. Society has willed us into a continual mission to achieve the “perfect look” vs. “functional development.” Let me define the difference between the two.
The “perfect look” is the model in the magazine that has perfect genetics, perfect tan, perfect hair, perfect eyes, etc…, etc… Now enter plastic surgery, airbrushing and a few THOUSAND dollars. That is what the average American is striving to become all in the name of the massive marketing (or propaganda) dollars, right? When will Americans realize that every time we attempt to achieve the “perfect look” we contradict “functional development” which is the essential component needed to perform daily tasks?
The ideal development would be to blend strength, cardiovascular, and mobility/flexibility in such a way that we could MOVE through daily life with ease. A kind of ‘condensed training’ with a ‘dynamic feel’ that translates to PURE movement. Add mental concentration, remove weak links and past injuries that hinder our movement, become more durable in the process and you have found exercise in its intended form.
Kettlebells defy almost every ‘rule’ of traditional “fitness” culture where the focus is training the MUSCLE. Common rules in traditional weight training include:
1) Don’t use more weight, your form will suffer.
2) Don’t ever squat below parallel at the knee joint.
3) Use a weight belt to protect your back.
4) Wear high-top boots or shoes for ankle stability. (They go great with green sweat pants.)
5) Never drop the weights.
6) Always watch yourself in the mirror for correct form. (Or to flex your biceps.)
7) Break down your body into muscle groups to achieve the ‘perfect look’.
8) Always perform ‘Beach Muscle exercises’, such as bicep curls as much as possible.
Anyone who has spent even a couple of days at the gym can vouch for these unspoken rules of the fitness world.
Conversely, kettlebells teach the body MOVEMENT by default. Let’s examine the rules of the kettlebell world.
1) The more weight you use the better your form. Kettlebells force your body to adapt to the most efficient way of movement to properly perform the exercise.
2) With kettlebell Front Squats you are encouraged to squat ‘ass to ankle’ thus developing a full range of motion.
3) Discarding the weight belt will force your body proper compression breathing and tension techniques that will drastically strengthen your core naturally.
4) When working with kettlebells you want to ‘feel’ the ground for maximum effect. Proper footwear includes flat-soled shoes (i.e. indoor soccer shoes, Converse Chuck Taylors, etc…) or just plain bare-foot will do.
5) The ideal training spot with kettlebells is outdoors on some type of surface that you don’t mind damaging-grass, sand, and dirt all work well-because you are encouraged to drop them or forced to drop them (enter the first session of hand-to-hand juggling drills). That way you don’t have to apologize to your spouse for putting a kettlebell-sized imprint on your living room floor or in the concrete in your garage.
6) Kettlebells rarely require the use of mirrors during a workout. The main reason is because you will be more worried about the ‘feel’ of the movement instead of how ‘pumped up’ you are.
7) Kettlebell exercises are rarely performed for a compartmentalized body part. Rather, they exploit movements that require several muscle groups and also multiple energy systems to work simultaneously, and therefore, reign superior as the exercise of choice.
As you can see, kettlebells successfully disobey traditional American fitness culture, but let’s explore them a step further.
Kettlebells also employ your brain-challenging for some of you-for a couple of reasons. One reason is that you are slinging an off-balance weight through the air, which demands your full attention at all times. The second reason is the weight is moving through different planes of movement simultaneously requiring your ENTIRE body to command communication and awareness. Let me give you a contrasting example. In the common bench press you are using a few muscles-chest, shoulders and triceps being the main ones. I know there are others for those of you who have been correctly influenced by ‘the Party’, but bear with me. Now let’s take the kettlebell snatch. Name one muscle that has not been affected with this movement. You probably can’t. If you can, you haven’t tried kettlebells.
Your body must be CONNECTED from finger to toe in order to avoid dropping the weight on your head and also control a pendulum-driven weight dynamically swinging through the air. This is not only re-programming muscles but also the nervous system. Our nerves are responsible for our body’s balance, awareness and operating the coordination of our muscles. A good analogy would be a fish in the water vs. out. A fish blends into water, its natural environment, and ebbs and flows with the current and its surroundings. If we catch the fish and bring it on land it flops around mindlessly until it dies. Translate that to humans and movement. If you study toddlers between the ages of 1 ½ to three years-old, they are not afraid to fall. However, fairly early on in life kids are constantly being programmed “Watch yourself, don’t fall” and “Be careful.” Our bodies want to mold and adapt to our environment. The American way is to avoid hurting ourselves in what ‘they’ think is protection when it’s exactly the opposite of training your body to handle the bumps and bruises of ‘life.’ Look at the geriatric population and tell me if they move the way the two year-old does. They do in the eastern world because they’ve discovered BREATH AND MOVEMENT prolongs life. Big muscle bodybuilding collection of body-parts type of training shortens life.
Kettlebells are not the ‘end-all’ exercise answer. However, they address more than any other single exercise tool on the market and they won’t become the traditional American coat rack for two reasons. One reason is they are too close to the floor and you don’t want your coat on the floor. And the second reason is they are ADDICTING! Once you pick one up and understand the principles you will be hard-pressed to end your workouts. Go ahead, purchase one. You won’t be disappointed.
Now it’s your turn to experience the Kettlebell Revolution!
write by Layton Johnson