Saturday, December 10, 2005

Russian Kettlebells (Part 2): Observation and Opinion

Overall, the kettlebell workshop was well presented and carefully supervised. No one was injured and kettlebells are fun to work with. I am tempted to buy one but haven’t done it yet. KBs from Pavel’s company come in pound weights of 9, 13, 18, 26, 35, 44, 53, 62, 70, 88, and (one called “The Beast”) at 106lb. Prices range from $90 for a single 9lb KB to $248 for “The Beast.” For a complete price list go to

To begin KB training, an average man usually buys one 35-pounder; a woman, an 18-pounder. In class, we were told to buy a weight that we could successfully one-arm military press 3-reps. Generally, you can get a good all around workout with that weight. You can do most lifts with either a single KB or a pair; but you do not have to have a pair of the same weight to workout. If you decide to buy two KBs, you are better off getting two different sizes. As you get stronger and/or more proficient, you probably will want to move up at least one more size.

Hand to hand combat athletes use kettlebells because they believe KB lifting develops functional and explosive strength, as well as endurance. As for me, a senior, I am interested in exploring any method that provides a good workout, variety, and is fun to use. Today, I mix bodyweight calisthenics, free weights, and “machines” for resistance training. A KB could be another viable addition. Do I think a KB might supplant all my other training methods? That's very doubtful.

There also were a couple of technique and training recommendations that I consider unsafe. We were told that there’s really no reason to warm up before training. The instructor said people are “hard wired” to move into action immediately, without warm ups. Well, I understand about adrenalin rush and “flight or fight.” But for day-to-day workouts, starting training sessions with challenging weights and no warm up at all is asking for trouble, in my view.

A questionable lifting concept that seems to be at the heart of low-rep KB lifting requires 1) total body tension; and 2) either holding your breath or expelling it very slowly while under tension. Purposely creating tremendous overall body tension while at the same time holding your breath can be risky stuff — especially for seniors. One of the major U.S. organizations that certifies personal trainers warns, “Holding the breath [while lifting weights] can not only blow out arteries but smaller blood vessels in the eye, even detach the retina. Not a safe practice.”

I think it is better and far safer to follow the commonly advised practice of inhaling on the eccentric part of movements and exhaling on the concentric, without suppressing normal breathing nor holding your breath.

Kettlebells are fun. But I wouldn't take every recommended training concept at face value. Advice that is contrary to practices endorsed by most reliable sources should be seriously considered before tossing out the rule book.

1 comment:

WanderingUpNorth said...

Kettle Balls? These sound like yet another piece of exercise equipment meant to inflict pain and suffering on us mere mortals. My hat is off to you for trying them. You're a braver man than I.