July 12, 2012
I'm always up for a challenge and I love seeking news ways to be physically active, but I'll admit I'm no strongman. When I decided to explore an intense-style class like kettlebells, I wondered if I would be able to hold my own with people used to lifting and swinging large balls of iron with relative ease. I decided it was time to ask myself an important question: am I hardcore enough to put my fitness level to the test? Because kettlebells are known for providing an amazing workout in a relatively short amount of time (actor Gerard Butler credits his chiseled physique in the movie 300 in part to kettlebell training. Talk about impressive!), I'll admit, I was intrigued, so I decided to take on the challenge and give kettlebells a swing.
What are they?
Kettlebells truly give pumping iron (or should I say, swinging iron) a whole new meaning! With Russian roots dating back to the early 1700s, kettlebells are cast iron weights that resemble a cannonball with a handle. They’re lifted using a swinging motion to provide a total body workout.
With research continuing to emerge about the effectiveness of kettlebell training, classes have steadily grown in popularity and are now being offered at both large gyms and small training studios throughout the country. My experience with a kettlebell class took place at Pacific Coast Kettlebells, a new studio in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego, Calif. The class I attended, Kettlebell Conditioning, was taught by Dee, a highly motivating and extremely knowledgeable RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) instructor.
I really enjoyed her teaching style, as she kept the class challenging, yet also focused heavily on technique, safety and quality of movement, all of which are imperative when training with kettlebells. Although the particular class I attended was geared more toward those at an intermediate level (people who already had experience working with kettlebells), Dee did a great job providing options for those who were a bit newer to working with them. She also gave a lot of progression options for those who were more seasoned in their training. The small class size of seven people allowed for a more individualized, intimate class experience with personalized instruction, a huge plus for newer "students" to kettlebell training.
After spending time performing a dynamic warm-up, we learned the proper mechanics of four key moves that were later combined together to form a fun yet challenging sequence. The exercises, which included alternating one-arm swings, cleans, squats and shoulder presses, challenged just about every major muscle and worked up one serious sweat. We concluded the class with some effective core exercises before winding down with yoga-inspired stretches (the instructor who taught the class is also a yoga teacher, which was a great plus!).
Talk about a total-body workout! This class got my heart rate up and challenged my entire body in a way that was much different than my normal resistance training routine. From strengthening the key muscles of the lower body (glutes, hamstrings and quads) to challenging the muscles of the core and upper body (back, shoulders, forearms, triceps and biceps), kettlebells truly are a highly effective training tool for improving total-body strength. Also, because of the high-intensity nature of this style of training, it serves as a great option for boosting your cardiorespiratory fitness as well, which means you get quite a good bang for your buck.
This particular class was best suited for regular gym-goers who have an established level of fitness; however for those new to kettlebells this studio does offer an "Intro to Kettlebells" class, which serves as a prerequisite before advancing to more technically challenging classes. The studio also offers semi-private and private training sessions, other great options for honing in on form and proper execution of each exercise.
Technique is key when it comes to kettlebell training, and mastering proper form takes both practice and quality instruction. Be sure to seek out a qualified instructor to ensure your experience with kettlebells is one that's both safe and effective.
All I can say is I'm hooked! My experience at Pacific Coast Kettlebells was challenging and fun, and something I would absolutely do again. In fact, I've even starting integrating kettlebells into my regular strength workouts using some of the exercises we practiced in class. At the end of the day, I guess maybe I'm more hardcore than I thought after all.
Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYTContributor
Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT is assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College. As a leading fitness expert, writer and educator Jessica is a regular contributor to numerous publications, including Shape and Oprah.com. She holds a B.S. in physical education teacher education from Coastal Carolina University and M.S. in physical education from Canisius College. She is a certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) as well as an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) through Yoga Alliance and trained stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga instructor. Prior to teaching at Miramar, Jessica worked full-time ACE, serving in a number of key roles including exercise physiologist, certification director and senior health and fitness editor. Her past work also includes serving as aquatics director at Conway Medical Wellness and Fitness Center and designing health and physical education curriculum for grades K-12. Full Bio Jessica Matthews »