A new kettlebell gym does a lot of sweating with minimal equipment.
By Ashley Goodman
You know those cute little weights that look like cannonballs with handles? They’re not so cute on your muscles.
They originated in Russia in the 1700s. Now they’re getting huge here. I set out to understand why. And how.
In old mother Russia, farmers originally used them as counterweights to measure feed, grain and meat. The Soviet Army also used them as part of their physical training programs in the 20th century. Over time, their popularity spread throughout Russia among athletes, gym users and even circus performers.
Pavel Tsatouline, a former Soviet Special Forces physical training instructor, introduced the kettlebell to the West 13 years ago. Since then, kettlebell training facilities have been popping up all over the United States.
Iron Republic, the area’s only strictly kettlebell training facility, landed in Sand City just this summer. I stopped by on a Tuesday, one of their most intense days for training (along with Thursdays) because of something called “The Deck of Cards” game.
I was immediately struck by the lack of equipment. The gym is essentially empty, a bike in the corner, some ropes laying around. So I assumed it couldn’t be that crazy a workout.
For the warm-ups, owner-trainer Seth Munsey asked us to imitate his motions. I figured we had jumping jacks and stretches coming. Instead we were crawling, balling up with our knees to our chest and rocking side to side, then laying flat and kicking to the ceiling.
These exercises – what Munsey calls primal movements – are meant to improve mobility and engage your core.
“We look at kids moving around on the ground and we say to ourselves, ‘Man, I remember those days.’ But I ask people, ‘Why not re-live those days?’” Munsey says. “It’s so exciting to see people in their 40s, 50s, 60s crawling around on the ground.”
After the child’s play came hell to pay. Munsey and his business partner, Keri Syme, laid 10 different playing cards on the floor that told us each corresponded to a different exercise, like goblet squats – when you pulled a queen – or deadlifts (king), pushups (jack), “rows” (ace), “battling ropes” (10), bike (9), plank with bag pull (8), crawl (7) and fallouts (6).
We’d exercise for 30 seconds, then we’d rest for 30, then move onto another card. We did this for 30 minutes. That meant 30 sets in a half hour. I know, I know. It was mean.
I kept getting the king – deadlift.
I’ll be honest: I haven’t really worked out since last summer. But somehow the speed and fury of the sets kept me upright for the first 20 minutes. The last 10 minutes, though, I was quivering. My arms were dead. I just wanted to lay down and go to sleep. Forever.
I was down to my second-to-last card when I drew a 10, the battling rope, which means you have to do squats while simultaneously trying to create waves in two heavy ropes. My arms were Slinkys. A piece of rope kicked my ass.
The next morning I woke up more sore than I’ve ever been. Not even close, really. Everything hurt, even my palms. I could feel every muscle. If someone bumped into me, I would’ve collapsed.
I finally felt like a normal person after the third day. Munsey later told me some people stay floored for a week.
He also says every time you move your body, you create new neural pathways in the brain – you can’t move a muscle in your body without your brain being somewhat involved. That’s why he thinks integrated exercises, rather than free weights or machines dedicated to one muscle, are superior.
“Our brain only thinks in movement patterns,” he says. “When we train movements, we will always train muscles. If you train isolated muscles, you won’t always train movement.”
Munsey further loves kettlebells because they’re small and portable, and show results quickly. He believes as little as 20 minutes twice a week will get you a lean, athletic body in a few months. He sounds like a late night pitchman but he’s much more of a fitness guru.
“You can build noticeable muscle size while working with kettlebells, but that has to be your specific goal and is structured into your programming. For the person who’s just looking to get in shape and live a better life, I haven’t found a better tool that gets them there faster, safer, and more efficiently,” he continues.
Before I went to class that day, I called my mom and told her I wasn’t lifting anything over five pounds. At the end of class, I asked Keri how much my kettlebell weighed, and she told me it was 18. I was shocked. I think we’re all capable of more than we realize.
Written by Ashley Goodman. Original article posted at www.montereycountyweekly.com