Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kettle Bells: The Newest...Oldest Fitness Rage

What do you picture when you think of a gym?  Do you see a bunch of weight benches, barbells, machines, and treadmills?  How about a rack of dumbbells?  It’s no surprise if you do, seeing that these tools have always played a vital role in American fitness centers.  Nowadays there are a ton of different machines and tools lying about on gym floors.  So many that it’s almost overwhelming thinking about which ones are the best to use in a workout.  With this level of freedom and variety in equipment many questions come up for trainees and trainers alike.  People might wonder about things like which type of bar is best use for a deadlift.  Should you use a barbell, a hex bar, or just a pair of dumbbells?  Should you use the EZ Curl Bar or the Olympic Bar for biceps curls?  Which handles are better for the wrists?  Should you do your triceps extensions with a rope or a straight bar? Can you use something other than this barbell for power lifts?  Are any of the tools your using hurting you more than helping you?   Much of the confusion from a having smorgasbord of equipment to choose from can be resolved simply by reintroducing people to one method of training that has stood the test of time.  

You might have seen old sketches and photographs depicting pomaded strong men lifting ginormous weights overhead that look like over sized cowbells.  These are kettle bells. If you look up pictures of kettle bells now you’ll probably see an Victoria's Secret model hurling the weight overhead instead.  It might surprise you that as advanced as these exercises look, people your grandpa's age were doing them as part of their daily fitness routine.

              What’s interesting is how kettle bells disappeared from the fitness world and earned a spot in the same corner of the gym as Indian clubs, climbing ropes, and "lifeline chest expanders." These kinds of items remained popular in other parts of the world where resources were limited while the free market had its way with America's fitness centers.  It’s no mystery that people appreciate novelty and they like to try new things.  This may help explain why classic training methods were pushed aside as manufacturers introduced the craziest arrangements of iron and plastic they could imagine.  They made them shine with a bunch of bells and whistles like heated seats and televisions.  Some things just have to pass a generation or two before they can appear "fresh" to a whole new group of people looking to get off their uncle's treadmills and Ab Lounges.  While each device fell to the next, the strength of kettle bells continued to grow along with observable long-term results that were steadily being supported by the latest research.  What’s “fresh” about kettle bells is that they actually work!  They were working long before the invention of the infomercial and they continue help dramatically improve fitness and function.  

         One of the reasons for their effectiveness is their greater crossover to daily activities.  This is primarily due to their off-center structure.  To explain why this feature is important, think about any kind of weight you pull, lift, push, press, or carry outside of the gym (e.g. grocery bags, furniture, children).  None of these things are balanced like dumbbells. With bars and dumbbells the center of gravity is always in line with the handle.  With kettle bells this center of gravity lies outside the handle so you have to work harder to keep the weight closer to your center of gravity.  This helps train your body on a subconscious level to engage all of the stabilizing muscles in order to keep everything in optimal alignment for handling unstable forces of the weight.  They are also unique in their versatile grips allowing for a greater variety in exercises which includes a whole world of swings and other dynamic movements great for improving overall body strength and conditioning.

         Since kettle bells have greater freedom for performing different exercises it is even more important to exercise good form and proper technique while using them.  It's easy to err with machines and not get injured.  The risk factor increases as you move on to free weights and even more so when you’re doing multi-planar movements with kettle bells.  However, the care needed to use them safely only adds to their numerous benefits.  To put it briefly, you HAVE to have good form when working with kettle bells!  There's just no way around it.  They are self-correcting tools.  It is difficult to self-correct with machines, seats, and centered weights because they allow you to let your guard down, slouch, and move comfortably without having optimal alignment.

           Yes there are risks to using kettle bells but no more risks than there are with other equipment.  With proper care and instruction you'll get tremendous rewards.  One of the best things you could do is attend a workshop, seminar, or training session geared towards learning how to handle kettle bells safely and effectively.  Aside from that just give it time and you’ll become more efficient with consistent practice.  If you are going to practice with them yourself, it is advised that you do not work with kettle bells when you are fatigued.  Begin learning how to use them when you are fresh and you are able to place the greatest amount of focus on your movements.  Optimum form can only come from optimum mental control, so keeping the work sets between 5-10 repetitions is ideal when learning to do complex total-body movements like swings or the Turkish Get-Up.  We have a tendency to lose our concentration after performing numerous repetitions of the same activity and even more so when this activity is rapidly causing fatigue.  Keep the risks from outweighing the rewards by keeping your workout based on quality and not quantity.

        Even though you just read nothing but praises for kettle bells they should be considered a healthy addition to a strength and conditioning program that includes a healthy variety of training methods.  Throwing kettle bells into the mix will only improve your performance with other activities since they always require you to check your form and alignment.  Try adding just one kettle bell exercise into your current routine for starters.  For example, begin the strength training portion of your workout with a kettle bell deadlift and then follow this up with the rest of the exercises in your program.  You could even try ramping up a total-body circuit with a few kettle bell swings.  Don’t worry about looking silly or not knowing what to do.  If an alien to fitness training walked in, we’d all look pretty silly.  If you’re unsure about the exercise, there are plenty of people out there willing to help.  The question shouldn't be about what you see when you picture a gym.  It should be about what you want to see.  If it’s a place that can produce results that you can carry outside then LTS may have just the right tool for the job.

Noel L. Poff, CSCS, CPT, LMT, LTS Trainer, Recently Certified CrossFit Kettle Bell Instructor (RCCFKBI) 

No comments:

Post a Comment