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The Russian Kettlebell is the Answer!
Everywhere you look in America, whether it’s at your local health club or newsstand, you see a stronghold of the “bodybuilding” mentality that has permeated our society for decades. Up until September 2003, I had fallen victim to this type of thinking and didn’t know any better until I ran into a man known simply as “Pavel”. Russian sports champion Pavel Tsatsouline has taken America by storm with his simple yet effective training methods that have been widely used in Eastern Bloc countries for years. This explains why so few people are open to the methods of the “Party” (all of Pavel’s students). Most Americans are too selfish to think that some other country has the answers to OUR WAY OF LIFE. Russian kettlebells are the ANSWER to American health problems!
Have you ever made your friend throw their back out by tying their shoe or picking up a box or a child? Each of us has experienced it either ourselves or temporarily through a friend or relative. Could you have “trained” to prevent that injury? I don’t necessarily have the answer to this particular question, but I’ve generally found it to be true with exercisers in the kettlebell world, including friends, clients, colleagues, and myself.
The problem is that we LIVE in a 3D world, but in most traditional fitness methods, everyone trains in ONE plane of motion. We move groceries from the store to the car to the cupboards opposite, we bend, twist and lean and we do it subconsciously. We usually take and keep our children on our dominant side. We mow and rake the lawn, dig a hole for a new tree, move furniture, and do thousands of other daily activities that we never “practice.” If that’s the case, then why would we strap a bunch of people onto some gadgety machines with a predetermined range of motion and force them to perform a mindless exercise in ONE plane of motion? Our society has been wrongly programmed through all media to always pursue the elusive BODY IMAGE instead of seeking FUNCTION. Society has wanted us on a constant mission to achieve “perfect appearance” vs “functional development”. Let me define the difference between the two.
The “perfect look” is a magazine model with perfect genetics, perfect tan, perfect hair, perfect eyes, etc…, etc… Now enter plastic surgery, airbrushing and a few THOUSAND dollars. That’s what the average American strives to become in the name of massive marketing (or propaganda) dollars, right? When will Americans realize that every time we try to achieve the “perfect look” we are at odds with the “functional development” that is essential to accomplishing daily tasks?
The ideal development would be to combine strength, cardiovascular activity and mobility/flexibility in such a way that we could MOVE through everyday life with ease. A type of “concentrated workout” with a “dynamic feel” meaning PURE movement. Increase mental concentration, remove weak links and previous injuries that hinder our movement, you will become more durable in the process and you have found the exercise in its intended form.
Kettlebells defy almost all the rules of traditional “fitness culture”, where the focus is on exercising MUSCLES. General rules in traditional weight training are:
1) Don’t use more weight, your form will suffer.
2) Never squat down parallel to the knee joint.
3) Protect your back with a weight belt.
4) Wear tall boots or shoes to ensure ankle stability. (They go well with green sweatpants.)
5) Never drop weights.
6) Always look at yourself in the mirror to get the right shape. (Or to flex your biceps.)
7) Divide your body into muscle groups to achieve the “perfect look”.
8) Always perform “beach muscle exercises” such as biceps curls as much as possible.
Anyone who has spent a couple of days in the gym can vouch for these unspoken rules of the fitness world.
In contrast, kettlebells teach the body MOVEMENT by default. Let’s take a look at 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 movement pattern to perform the exercise correctly.
2) Kettlebell squats encourage you to squat “butt to ankle” which develops a full range of motion.
3) Ditching the weight belt forces your body to use proper compression breathing and tension techniques that will significantly strengthen your core naturally.
4) When working with kettlebells, you want to “feel” the ground for maximum impact. Proper footwear includes flat shoes (e.g. indoor soccer shoes, Converse Chuck Taylors, etc…) or just bare feet.
5) The ideal place to practice kettlebells is outside on some type of surface that you don’t mind damaging – grass, sand and dirt work well as you are encouraged to drop them or forced to drop them (attend the first practice of hand-to-hand juggling exercises). That way, you don’t have to apologize to your spouse for putting a kettlebell-sized print on your living room floor or garage concrete.
6) Kettlebells rarely require the use of mirrors during practice. The main reason is that you are more concerned with the “feel” of the movement rather than being “pumped”.
7) Kettlebell exercises are rarely performed on compartmentalized body parts. Rather, they take advantage of movements that require the simultaneous action of multiple muscle groups and also multiple energy systems, and are therefore superior as an exercise of choice.
As you can see, kettlebells don’t obey traditional American fitness culture, but let’s explore them a step further.
Kettlebells also challenge your brain for some of you – for a few reasons. One reason is that you are swinging a balanced weight in the air, which requires your full attention. Another reason is that the weight moves through different planes of motion simultaneously, requiring your ENTIRE body to direct communication and awareness. I’ll give you the opposite example. A standard bench press uses a few muscles – chest, main shoulders and triceps. I know there are others out there for those of you who have been really influenced by “the party”, but bear with me. Now let’s take a kettlebell. Name one muscle not affected by this movement. You probably can’t. If you can, you haven’t tried kettlebells.
Your body needs to be CONNECTED from finger to toe so the weight doesn’t fall on your head and also control the pendulum-driven weight swinging dynamically in the air. This is not only a reprogramming of the muscles, but also of the nervous system. Our nerves are responsible for our body’s balance, consciousness and muscle coordination. A good analogy would be fish in water vs. out. The fish merges with the water, its natural environment and sinks and flows with the current and its environment. If we catch a fish and bring it to land, it wobbles madly until it dies. Translate it to people and movement. If you study 1.5-3 year old toddlers, they are not afraid of falling. However, quite early in life, children are constantly programmed to “Watch yourself, don’t fall” and “Be careful”. Our body wants to mold and adapt to our environment. The American way is to avoid hurting ourselves in what “they” think is protection, when it’s the exact opposite of training your body to handle the bumps and bruises of “life.” Look at the geriatric population and tell if they move like a two year old. They do in the Eastern world because they have found that BREATHING AND MOVEMENT prolongs life. Great bodybuilding collection of body parts exercise type shorten life.
Kettlebells are not “everyone’s” solution. However, they apply more than any other single piece of exercise equipment on the market, and they don’t become the traditional American coat rack for two reasons. One reason is that they are too close to the floor and you don’t want your coat on the floor. And another reason is that they are addicted! Once you choose one and understand the principles, it will be hard for you to stop your practice. Go ahead, buy one. You will not be disappointed.
Now it’s your turn to experience the Kettlebell Revolution!
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