I have been looking for new ways to max out my heart rate and burn calories as part of Operation Suck Less 2014™ and this quest led me to an unexpected relationship with the kettlebell.
Kettlebells are not a glamorous looking piece of equipment, just balls with a handle on them. They are of Russian origin and I vaguely recall a flood of infomercials touting their miraculousness several years ago with they were the new IT exercise. They are simple yet intimidating enough that they sit on shelves mostly ignored at my gym.
I had begun working with a Pilates instructor again and as we talked about my sucking less goals she suggested we skip the reformer for a day and try something new. She grabbed a kettlebell and excitedly demonstrated the kettlebell swing as if I was somehow going to be able to perform this feat.
The swing is a basic move that begins in a squatted position with a neutral spine and with a forceful hip/butt/thigh move you thrust the kettlebell from between your legs to over your head. Keeping your arms straight, the kettlebell glides back to the starting point and then you repeat. And repeat. And sweat. And inadvertently grunt.
This one move is a full body, no impact exercise that burns calories, improves strength and endurance and increases both aerobic and anaerobic capacity. It also tries to kill me I am certain.
When my trainer handed me this ball of weight I started to laugh. I was certain this old body, bionic hip and all, in no way had the thrust capacity to send 12kg over my head and let it glide back to the starting point for a repeat performance; I could barely lift the damn thing let alone thrust it. The word thrust is funny on its own and combined with me standing in front of a mirror and hip-launching a giant ball of metal in the air there was no way I was going to stop giggling long enough to make it happen.
If I did manage to perform the move, I imagined my spine cracking and my lower back collapsing and fusing this my pelvis, requiring arm extensions installed so I can support my hunched over self as I walked on all fours like some ape-like SciFi creature. I thought about some skit I had seen years ago of a weight lifter whose arms ripped off as they attempted to dead lift too much weight. None of my thoughts included successful thrusting.
While I was thinking “no way,” the look on my trainers face was saying, “Yes! Way!” So I decided to try. What the hell, I like SciFi…and apes.
I got in the proper position, holding the heavy weight and tried to focus. I heard the doubts in my head get louder telling me I was not going to be able to do this and I knew if I did not shut them up, they would be right. I channeled every positive affirmation quote I could bring to mind. I visualized that hunk of metal soaring. I took a deep breath and thrust my hips as hard as I ever have. Much to my surprise the weight actually moved! Not so much to my surprise, it did not go over my head completely but at least made it above eye level.
I let the weight fall back to the starting point, took a deep breath and forcefully sent it flying again. Well, not flying but at least moving. I was able to do the whole set although it was not an easy task and keeping the negative voices quieted was a challenge. When I stopped, I was shocked at how fast my heart was racing I paced around to catch my breath and not pass out in front of all the experienced lifters.
I have incorporated kettlebell swings into my regular exercise routine as part of my high interval sessions. I try hard not to, but I often emit the oddest noise as I inhale preparing for a thrust; I have to be careful to not focus on the grunt-wheeze as I will start laughing and throw off my form. When I am working to complete my final set of 20, I feel my body giving out, my legs spasming and my face burning with redness.
I do not enjoy doing kettlebell siwng but I enjoy having done them. There is an emptiness I feel when done. Not an emptiness of the soul, which I feel for different reasons, but a feeling that I am done, that I expended everything and now it is time to rest.
I no longer bruise my legs or feel like I want to barf after a session. I can tell I am stronger, even my back, and I know this is helping me suck less. I plan to incorporate variations of the basic swing once I feel myself hitting a plateau. I even bought my own kettlebell to take with me on my upcoming road trip so I can get in a little swinging with all the hiking and sitting.
The only negative of my newfound exercise, is that I am not invisible in the gym. A grunt wheezing chick with messy hair and uncoordinated clothing swinging a metal ball between her legs tends to draw attention which I would prefer not be the case. But I have talked to a few people, answered their questions and seems much of the attention is out of curiosity and interest so I try to ignore it and not get too self-conscious.
So thumbs up to kettlebells, they suck while I am swinging them but are helping me Suck Less in 2014™ and that feels pretty good. Later. After I catch my breath. And shower. And nap.