What is a “kettlebell”?
A “kettlebell” or girya (Russ.) is a traditional Russian cast iron weight that looks like a cannonball with a handle. As the 1986 Soviet Weightlifting Yearbook put it, “It is hard to find a sport that has deeper roots in the history of our people than kettlebell lifting.” So popular were kettlebells in Tsarist Russia that any strongman or weightlifter was referred to as a girevik, or “a kettlebell man.” “Not a single sport develops our muscular strength and bodies as well as kettlebell athletics,” wrote Ludvig Chaplinskiy in Russian magazine Hercules in 1913. In the Soviet times weightlifting legends such as Vlasov, Zhabotinskiy, and Alexeyev, started their Olympic careers with kettlebells. Yuri Vlasov who defeated mighty Paul Anderson once interrupted an interview he was giving to a Western journalist and proceeded to press a pair of kettlebells. “A wonderful exercise,” commented the world champion lifter. “. . . It is hard to find an exercise better suited for developing strength and flexibility simultaneously.” The Russian Special Forces personnel owe much of their wiry strength, lethal agility, and never-quitting stamina to kettlebells. Soldier, Be Strong!, the official Soviet armed forces strength training manual pronounced kettlebell drills to be “one of the most effective means of strength development” representing “a new era in the development of human strength-potential.”
Who uses kettlebells in the United States?
The extreme kettlebell workout would have remained the exclusive domain of Russian spec ops, had former Spetsnaz instructor Pavel not immigrated to the U.S. The elite of the U.S. military and law enforcement instantly recognized the power of the Russian kettlebell, ruggedly simple and deadly effective as an AK-47. You can find Pavel’s certified kettlebell instructors in outfits such as the Force Recon Marines, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and the Secret Service Counter Assault Team. Once the Russian kettlebell became a hit among those whose life depends on their strength and conditioning, it took off among hard people from all walks of life: martial artists, athletes, and regular tough guys. There is no stopping the Russian kettlebell invasion. Men’s Journalcalled it “a workout with balls.” Rolling Stonepronounced Pavel “The Hot Trainer of the Year”and his Russian kettlebell “The Hot Weight of the Year.” “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”
Can kettlebells deliver all around fitness?
Voropayev (1983) observed two groups of subjects over a period of a few years and tested them with a standard battery of armed forces PT tests: pullups, a standing broad jump, a 100m sprint, and a 1k run. The control group followed a typical university physical education program that emphasized the above. The experimental group just lifted kettlebells. In spite of the lack of practice on the tested exercises, the kettlebell group showed better scores in every one of them! Researchers at the Lesgaft Physical Culture Institute in Leningrad (Vinogradov & Lukyanov, 1986) found a very high correlation between the results posted in a kettlebell lifting competition and a great range of dissimilar tests: strength, measured with the three powerlifts and grip strength; strength endurance, measured with pullups and parallel bar dips; general endurance, determined by a 1000 meter run; and work capacity and balance, measured with special tests! Shevtsova (1993) discovered that kettlebell training lowers the heart rate and the blood pressure. Gomonov (1998) concluded that “Exercises with kettlebells enable one to quickly build strength, endurance, achieve a balanced development of all muscle groups, fix particular deficiencies of build, and they also promote health.” Most methods that claim “all around fitness” deliver no more than compromises. Accept no compromises – choose the Russian kettlebell!
What’s a kettlebell body?
Russian kettlebells are not for Kens and Barbies who want to look like “a collection of body parts.” Kettlebells forge doers’ physiques along the lines of antique statues: broad shoulders with just a hint of pecs, back muscles standing out in bold relief, wiry arms, rugged forearms, a cut midsection, and strong legs without a hint of squat-induced chafing. Kettlebells melt fat without the dishonor of dieting or aerobics; losing 1% of bodyfat a week for weeks is not uncommon. If you are overweight, you will lean out. If you are skinny, you will get built up. According to Voropayev (1997) who studied top Russian gireviks, 21.2% increased their bodyweight since taking up kettlebelling and 21.2% (the exact same percentage, not a typo), mostly heavyweights, decreased it. The Russian kettlebell is a powerful tool for fixing your body comp, whichever way it needs fixing.
Are kettlebells dangerous? Am I too young or too old?
Only 8.8% of top Russian gireviks, members of the Russian National Team and regional teams, reported injuries in training or competition (Voropayev, 1997). A remarkably low number, isn’t it? Note that these were not regular guys but elite athletes who push their bodies to the edge. Which does not give you an excuse to lift kettlebells flippantly; any type of strength training can be dangerous if you use bad judgment. As for the age, at the 1995 Russian Championship the youngest contestant was 16, the oldest 53! And we are talking elite competition here; the range is even wider if you are training for yourself rather than for the gold.
What kettlebell size is right for me?
Kettlebells were designed to give you a super workout with just one or two fixed weights. An average man should start with a 35-pounder. It does not sound like a lot but believe it; it feels a lot heavier than it should! Most men will eventually progress to a 53-pounder, the standard issue size in the Russian military. Although available in most units, 70-pounders are used only by few advanced guys and in elite competitions. 88-pounders are for mutants. An average woman should start with an 18-pounder. A strong woman can go for a 26-pounder.A few hard women will go beyond.