Increasing levels in obesity have seen an expanding number of fitness crazes enter the health industry.  Since the fall of the Eastern Bloc, a number of training methods have been unearthed from behind the iron curtain. One such craze that entered the fitness industry is the kettlebell revolution.

Formerly used by Russian strongmen and wrestlers known as a Girevoy, it is similar in appearance to a large metal football with a handle. Kettlebells come in one or two ‘poods’.  A pood is a measure of weight which equals 16kg, or 36kg’s, and as a sport the weights are lifted for repetitions.  Studies done in Russia by Voropayev (1983) and Vinogradov & Lukyanov (1986) showed that regular lifting of kettlebells improved the performance of running, sprinting and pull-ups.

Strength and endurance are the basis of kettlebell lifting. Girevoy sport delivers unparalled cardio benefits, and this is one reason why it’s so popular with the Russian Navy, as you can get a great workout in a limited space while improving strength, agility and stamina. These cardio benefits are also beneficial to the person who cannot handle the pounding of the roads on their joints. Ballistic kettlebell drills involve a snapping action of the hips and back, plus the strengthening of hands and all the pulling muscles.

Russian KettlebellIntrigued by the claims of the advantages of the kettlebell, I decided I wanted to learn how to use them. I travelled to St. Paul’s Minnesota in 2004 to learn from Pavel Tsatsouline, a former Russian Special Forces drill instructor who launched the kettlebell craze in America.  Other people there included US Marines, SWAT team members and FBI agents.

We spent the week being put through punishing training sessions to learn how to use the kettlebell and a number of ‘forgotten exercises’.  Ohio-based power-lifting strength coach Dave Tate said that some of these exercises were forgotten for a reason. This is where the experienced coach can weigh up the pros and cons and decide whether an exercise will achieve the prescribed goal.

The kettlebell is kind to your wrists for swings, unlike dumbbells. It is great for improving fitness but, unless you have a set of differently-weighted kettlebells, you will be limited in the exercises you can choose from.  The increments in weights are too big, so the variation in repetition becomes more important when choosing exercises. The ones I generally use for the kettlebell are for the lower body. For developing tone and tightness in the butt and the thighs, it is rivalled by few.It enables women to have a lean, graceful, athletic- looking body and to build important muscle tissue, whilst having the energy to get more done in their day.

In Russia, kettlebells are cheap and it is considered a working class sport, but if you are stuck for time, space or finance, it may be a missing part of your fitness puzzle. So, comrade, try out the kettlebell and you may soon be benefitting from Russian strength training secrets.

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