Gym Class: Kettlebells
While I love being physically active and am constantly seeking news ways to challenge my fitness, I’m no strongman, so I wondered if I would be able to hold my own in an intense style class where the people lift and swing large balls of iron with what they make look like relative ease. Was I hardcore enough to put my fitness level to the test? Because kettlebells have been touted as 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 is it?
Kettlebells truly give pumping iron (or should I say, swinging iron) a whole new meaning! With roots dating back to the early 1700’s in Russia, kettlebells are cast iron weights, which resemble a cannonball with a handle, that are 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 kettlebells took place at Pacific Coast Kettlebells, a new kettlebell studio in Pacific Beach, California. The class I attended, Kettlebell Conditioning, was taught by Dee, a highly motivating and extremely knowledgeable Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) 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 using kettlebells. Although the particular class I attended was geared more toward those at an intermediate level (who already have experience working with kettlebells), Dee did a great job providing options for those who were a bit newer to working with kettlebells, while also providing progression options for those who were a bit more seasoned in their training. The small class size of seven people allowed for a more individualized, intimate class experience with personalized instruction, which was a huge plus as a newer student to kettlebell training.
A great highlight from the class was learning four key moves that were later combined together to form a fun, yet challenging sequence. These exercises, which included alternating one arm swings, cleans, squats and shoulder presses, challenged just about every major muscle and worked up one serious sweat.
What I wore
For class I sported a microfiber mesh t-shirt and crop pants, which worked well since the material of the top helps to wick away moisture, keeping me both cool and dry (which was important considering the sweat factor with this style of training). Whether you decide to go tee shirt and crop pants or perhaps shorts and a tank top (all of which would be appropriate options), be sure to consider the type of material to minimize chafing and maximize comfort.
What it worked
Talk about a total body workout! This class not only got my heart rate up, but it also 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.
Who is it best for?
This particular class was best suited for regular gym-goers who have an established level of fitness; however for those who are 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 session, which is another great option to consider for working closely with a qualified instructor to really hone in on form and proper execution of each exercise.
What to watch out for
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 is both safe and effective.
All I can say is, I’m hooked! My experience at Pacific Coast Kettlebells was both 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 a little more hardcore than I thought after all.
Jessica Matthews is an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. As a contributor to The Juice Bar, she'll be giving you the scoop on the latest fitness classes, decoding newfangled gym equipment, debunking exercise myths, and more.
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