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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2007
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Chris Wells of Angrygoat Athletics trains Chrystal Hicks of Madison during a kettlebell workout. The all-over fitness technique is designed to create lean muscle mass and reduce body fat. Hicks gained muscle and flexibility and has lost 11 pounds.
Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer
Chris Wells of Angrygoat Athletics trains Chrystal Hicks of Madison during a kettlebell workout. The all-over fitness technique is designed to create lean muscle mass and reduce body fat. Hicks gained muscle and flexibility and has lost 11 pounds.

Kettlebells
ring in Valley

While few in area know about the old-school Russian technique, those who practice the all-over fitness routine swear by its results

By Danielle Komis Palmer
dpalmer@decaturdaily.com · 340-2447

It looks like a bowling ball with a handle.

But rather than throwing it down a polished wood lane, people use this strange black contraption for the Turkish get-up, the windmill and the snatch.

The Russian kettlebell, a cast-iron weight, was largely unknown in the West until the workout arrived in the U.S. about 10 years ago. It was commonly used for training members of the Russian Army after World War II, and became better-known in America after Russian expert Pavel Tsatsouline began to tout the workout here.

Russian kettlebells are cast-iron weights that look similar to cannonballs with handles. Thousands of different kettlebell lifts exist. The moves improve strength, endurance, agility and balance with aggressive results.
Russian kettlebells are cast-iron weights that look similar to cannonballs with handles. Thousands of different kettlebell lifts exist. The moves improve strength, endurance, agility and balance with aggressive results.
The comprehensive body workout is designed to create lean muscle mass and reduce body fat. It is popular with some professional sports teams and law enforcement agencies.

However, few in the Tennessee Valley have heard of the centuries-old method of lifting that is touted to be “weightlifting times 10.”

Personal trainer Chris Wells of Angrygoat Athletics in Decatur is one of the only certified kettlebell instructors in the Valley area and is slowly turning local people on to the old-school workout. The closest instructors Wells knew of are in Nashville, Montgomery and Mobile.

“We’re all over the country but there’s a lot of space between us,” he said. Wells opened his studio in June, but has been independently training people in the area with kettlebells for two years.

The workout

Twenty-six-year-old Chrystal Hicks of Madison began kettlebell training with Wells in June. She trains at his Second Avenue Southeast studio three times per week for two-hour sessions.

“My first week out, I couldn’t breathe at the end (of the session),” she said. “At first I could only do three swings in a row, and now I can do 30.”

Hicks, who used to work out on her own using cardio equipment and dumbbells, saw a major difference once she started using kettlebells. She’s gained muscle and flexibility and has lost 11 pounds. She was never into athletics before kettlebell training and says she walks differently now because of her increased strength and confidence. Plus, she can avoid the part of working out she always hated — treadmills and elliptical trainers.

Kendell Cox of Lacey’s Spring remembers the first time she tried a kettlebell workout and woke up with abdominal muscles so sore she was worried something might be wrong. The personal trainer and group fitness instructor said she had not had her body pushed to that limit in a long time.

“It is deceptively hard,” she said of working out with kettlebells. “I walked in with this ‘I-can-do-this attitude’ and left quite humbled.

“It definitely is an all-over workout. ... My heart rate went way up as much as it would in a step class, yet you weren’t running all over.”

Wells said most people who come in to train with him have no idea what kettlebells are. People of all ages work out with them, because the workout can be catered to anyone, he said. While most are initially skeptical, they often soon like the workout, though a few never get comfortable with the swinging and twisting motions involved.

Unusual weights

Kettlebells are more difficult to lift than a dumbbell or barbell of the same heaviness because of their offset weight, trainers say.

“It’s very awkward and that’s why it’s worthwhile,” Wells said. “It’s very central nervous system challenging.”

The weights range in size from small shot-put-sized balls to standard bowling balls. They are weighed in “poods,” an ancient Russian measurement equal to 16 kilograms (35.3 pounds).

Chrystal Hicks works out at Angrygoat Athletics in Decatur using kettlebells routine — an old-school Russian technique that incorporates the benefits of strength training, muscle conditioning and aerobic exercise in an all-in-one workout.
Chrystal Hicks works out at Angrygoat Athletics in Decatur using kettlebells routine — an old-school Russian technique that incorporates the benefits of strength training, muscle conditioning and aerobic exercise in an all-in-one workout.
Thousands of different kettlebell lifts exist. Most of them build off the two primary kettlebell lifts: the clean-and-jerk and the snatch. Some motions are quick swinging movements using one kettlebell in each hand, while others are slow, gradual lifts with only one kettlebell.

As Hicks began her second set of clean-and-press swings using 70 pounds of weight, Wells watched her form closely.

Hicks swung the kettlebells between her legs in a squatting position, up to her shoulders, and then above her head with straight arms.

“That looks nice!” he said excitedly.

Hicks set down the weights and took a break to get a drink of water.

“It took me a long time to get it right, but once you get it, you have it,” she said, breathing heavily.

Uncommon in area

While the kettlebell routine became the latest “it” workout on the West Coast a few years ago, it is difficult to find workout centers in the Tennessee Valley that offer them or have even heard of them.

“They’re really not super common for our area,” said James Arthur Jones, manager of Sports Fit on Danville Road. “I would doubt that any of the fitness centers would have them, quite honestly.”

However, many gyms in town have group classes that emphasize strength training, though with the more common dumbbells and barbells, he said.

It’s just not very practical for many gyms to offer kettlebells, said Amanda Bender, owner of Bender’s Gym in Decatur.

“It’s a specialized thing. You’d want somebody trained to teach it,” she said.

Few gyms would allow the kettlebells to be available to members without training and supervision, she said. Even in a class setting, the classes would probably have to be under five people to keep it safe, trainers said.

“I definitely see it being more geared to a personal trainer setting versus a group setting,” Cox said. “More for safety than anything else. ... I would definitely love to see it more available. The benefits are amazing.”

On the Net

Visit Angrygoat Athletics’ Web site at www.angrygoatathletics.com.

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