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Kettlebells as science

yin_yang_and_trigrams Had the great pleasure of meeting another soon to be kettlebeller last week, and we spent a an hour and a half on a basic introduction to both fundamental mobility and two important lifts, the swing and clean.

Coming at this now, ten years after the introduction (or reintroduction) of the kettlebell back into general consciousness, being a kettlebell teacher is more about correcting common misconceptions than starting from an empty plate.

My new student’s smile at the end of it all confirmed it- the fact that he had felt that there was much more to the sport than is commonly known, the fact that each movement, be it the most simple of moves or a more complex lift, each have its own unique art and technique. When we separated a few hours later, with him ready to head back to the Japanese countryside, I was happy that walking away was a person who would apply himself to the ‘bells as he would to his martial art. As a discipline.

A way.

I find that the whole “hard style” reputation that has been placed like an umbrella over the kb sport is a misnomer. The girevoy sport is an exercise in rhythm, pure explosive power and energetic potential, focused into short, controlled and fluid bursts of energy, over and over again till the whistle blows or beeps. If your body is unnecessarily tense in any way in any part of the body,  long cycle work will make you pay for it sooner than later. For me, that tension resides in my hands, forearms, hips and lower back, and I am working gradually on each element to gain the necessary smoothness of motion and seeming effortlessness that marks the greatest purveyors of the sport.

Last week, I had the privilege to watch John Wild Buckley, an absolute mountain of a man (and one of the nicest guys you could ever meet) teaching a seminar here in Tokyo, showing his students some long cycle work, and his gracefulness at moving the weight was inspiring. The actual moment of exertion with each rep a mere split second- 90% was just pure play with the forces of gravity. Yet, as he told his students, there were for him no shortcuts- thousands of repetitions, each done with concentration on form, posture and breath, are the key to mastering the elements.

Now to go slightly off tack, but in a related direction, lets talk about equipment.

Kettlebells are not an expensive sport, considering that you can do a lot with just one,  but there is a basic safety minimum with design If you are after displays of feats of strength, then the cheap iron you can buy at most low price sport stores will suffice. That goes for online too, where the profusion of #$%& is astounding and sad. Most of it is designed and modified by people who really dont practice the sport, and think they can reinvent the wheel.

As a wise man once said: if it aint broke, dont fix it.

My strongest and sincerest advice to those of you looking to start but concerned about the initial outlay: You cannot short cut on cost- if you plan to do it you are headed for disappointment and injury.

Think about it- what are you wiling to invest in your health? Are you willing to shortcut on that too?

If you want to train your body to its maximum physical potential, gaining stamina and endurance along the way, then you need equipment and a methodology that will get you there- safely.

I read a blog the other day where the person herniated a disc doing some version of cross fit and a “kettlebell thing” exercise she had seen on the internet. Apart from my commiseration on the obvious pain that she must have been feeling, that fact that the exercise was attempted without knowing what it was astounds me, but confirms my awareness that there is a lot of information out there on the internet that is incorrect.

If you really want to learn kettlebells, go see an expert, someone who is recognized for knowing what they are talking about. You cannot substitute one on one instruction- that’s just the way it is. Your health and safety is worth it.

Start simply and get the basics addressed- the fundamental movements that mark the entry into the kettlebell sport.Make sure you know what they are, what they do and how to do them properly. At the same time address any physical issues that you may have, and get strategies for you to do something about it. Being consistent about your fundamental mobility will give you huge gains when your body is ready

Three minutes of a long set of swings is enough for many new practitioners to realize that kettlebells is all about technique. You cannot brute it. Five minutes, if you form is poor, the body will start letting you know that problem areas exist. Ten minutes, and you will be praying for a miracle or divine intervention to save you.

Kettlebells as a way of exercise are a science, there is no other way to say it. Any serious sportsperson who wants to gain the full benefit of the sport needs to invest time in both confirming all round mobility and flexibility, understanding the “what for” of the exercise technique, then add the load of the kettlebell, and understand that corrections will occur over time naturally as the body grows stronger.

Kettlebells are a journey, not a destination. It is a legitimate path as much as any martial art, and if approached with the same mindset, will give enormous benefits to the practitioner


The physical aspect is one thing, but the mental aspect is the crowning jewel of benefit. What you can learn about yourself when you are under stress, what you can learn about yourself when the end of your timed set is no where near in sight ,learning about your own resilience along the way, is where the fruit is found. Muscles will fail you, technique will save you, but the mind and being in the present with each repetition of this seemingly harmless chunk of metal is a lesson that you carry into normal life.


About Marc

international businessman and consultant, life coach, world traveler and wandering mystic who loves keeping fit and is endlessly learning how to lead a healthy life.

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