FITNESS FRIDAY: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Photo Credit: It's Holly, flickr.com

Spent much time to work on your posterior deltoids lately? No, didn’t think so. Fatherhood, along with a full time job leaves little time for other things and, if you are somewhat similar to me, you then want to spend some time with your wife and friends as well. All this makes it very hard to work on your posterior deltoids, not to mention the rest of your body. Slouched down in an ergonomically outrageous position in my office chair, I decided it was time to do something about this. I did, and increased my strength and general fitness with leaps.

A popular training magazine suggested I get up an hour earlier and go to the gym before work. They are obviously mad. My teething eleven-month-old daughter has me operating close to my minimum sleep already, so the last way would be to go to bed an hour earlier, leaving me with zero hours for wife and friends. Not going to happen. I borrow some of the highly popular P90X videos and watch them with great anticipation. This actually looks very good but the trainer guy is annoyingly lively, talks way too much and he wants me to work out every single day. Sorry, no time.

A while later I find something that catches my eye because it looks weird: a crazy Russian that lifts large iron balls with some sort of handle. Could this be something? An iron ball is not very expensive, at least not compared to a gym membership, so I get a 20kg ball of iron (that’s 44 lbs to you people) and I try it out. I chose 20kg since my reference was a dumbbell and that’s what I figured I could handle. Once I try to lift the thing I am certain I have made a mistake.

I am exhausted in no time performing something as simple as a swing, swinging the ball between my legs and then up in front of my face on straight arms. I am drenched with sweat and my grip on the ball is weak and slippery. I am trying this inside and I imagine what will happen to the floor if I drop this thing. Now, I could of course use the floor as an excuse to stop, and in that way save my body from certain aching in the morning. I am, however, and my wife will definitely agree with me on this, of a somewhat stubborn nature. I refuse to lose to a stupid ball of iron by not finishing the goal I foolishly set for myself before I knew what I was getting myself into, so there is only one solution. I march to the bedroom closet and in less than 30 seconds I am back with my bag of climbing chalk. Obviously, there is no winning over this cannonball so the only result is, of course, that I am severely beaten the next day which I notice the second I try to sit up in bed.

While I recover for three days from my first escapade with this iron beast, I spend my time trying to find out why it is so damn hard to lift this thing. First of all, a kettlebell has a very thick grip which makes it much harder to just hold onto it than a normal dumbbell. Its asymmetric nature turns it into a rather rebellious piece of iron that at times seems to almost actively work against you. Also dynamic exercise, like when you swing the bell, tends to be enormously strenuous because of the kinetic energy that is generated. If you think pushing a car up a hill is hard, imagine stopping it while it is already in motion down the hill.

After the three days I am back in the saddle and this time I am smart enough to take it easier. Over the course of a month I work my way through some different exercises with this ball and it does not take long to notice a considerable difference. I am still drenched with sweat but my grip doesn’t weaken and my back feels like it’s made of steel (the swing exercise was actually first designed for curing back problems). The greatest thing is that I have worked out for 30 minutes, three times per week. This was no problem to fit into my day and since I can do it at home I don’t lose time travelling to and from the gym. I can even keep my daughter sitting, at a safe distance of course, watching me while I do this. She will undoubtedly grow up with a feeling that her father is mad.

Most other strength training regimes require dozens of different exercises. This is logical since they are mostly body building training programs that isolate the muscle groups, like the posterior deltoids, remember those? There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it requires a gym with lots of equipment and it requires a lot of time. If you want to be a body builder I think this is what you have to do, but if your goal is a short workout that will make you strong and keep you out of the “chubby dad” category at work, kettlebell is the way to go. It is fast because it challenges your entire body in every exercise which leads to shorter workouts.

Highly effective without being time consuming, that is brilliant. That being said, lifting iron balls is not for wimps. It is extremely hard work and if performing high rep dynamic exercises your entire cardiovascular system will hate you every minute of it. I promise you. Let me also, without being condescending, recommend 16kg as a starting weight if you are not already a strong guy and used to heavy weights. I am sure I will never set my foot in a gym again to lift weights. I will move serious iron in my backyard ignoring the occasional look from someone passing by and ignoring what the neighbors might think. I feel great; I will continue this and be the strongest dad in the office.

Henrik Ekstrom is the author of the book “Kettlebell Training,” which is availble for download at http://www.henrikekstrom.com/Download.html.

2 thoughts on “FITNESS FRIDAY: For Whom the Bell Tolls

  1. I’ve been working of the chubby dad doldrums since January of this year and am doing really well just with running, jumping rope and some light lifting in my little fitness room at work. I’d love to beef up just a little and I’ve been contemplating trying kettlebells but can’t afford to hire a personal trainer to show me the best routines, nor do I ever particularly enjoy or learn proper technique from videos. Do you have any suggestions there?

  2. Hello Bradley,

    God job, I agree that books and videos may not be the optimal way of learning new training moves. It is doable but it takes more time and patience. If you don’t like books or videos I would say to try a trainer, it shouldn’t take him/her more than one hour to show you enough so you can work the rest out by practicing on your own. Otherwise I know many gyms now have group kettlebell training. Maybe that could be an option for some basics?

    take care!
    / H

Leave a Reply