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Kettlebells and Spinning®:  An Unlikely Pairing (?)

Actually, no—not an unlikely pairing at all. No doubt many of you are now familiar with these odd-looking tools that seem to be popping up everywhere these days. When KettleBell Concepts (KBC) started in 2002, the CEO Dave Ganulin lugged kettlebells from one NYC gym to another (in a backpack!) trying to convince anyone who would listen that “these are poised to make a huge return.” He was laughed out of nearly all of them, and KBC was generally ignored at conferences. Spas? Forget it. “Swing iron weights around and ruin my wood floor?!” “They’re bad for your back.” “You have to be super fit to use them.” “They’re the same as dumbbells or med balls.” “It’s a trend.” “They’re dangerous.” It went on and on.

And then a few years later, bam! Lance Armstrong showed up in Men’s Health swinging kettlebells. The entire cast of the movie “300” used them as a main part of their conditioning protocol. And before we knew it, more and more celebrities and pro athletes were using them.

Today, kettlebells have been accepted info fitness conferences, and we’re starting to see a significant amount of studies around kettlebells in academic, peer-reviewed research journals. A study that ACE sponsored at the University of Wisconsin showed that people exercising with kettlebells were burning at least 20.2 calories per minute. “We estimated oxygen consumption and how many calories they were burning aerobically, and it was 13.6 calories per minute,” explains John Porcari, Ph.D. “But we also measured the blood lactate, so anaerobically they were burning another 6.6 calories per minute. So they were burning at least 20.2 calories per minute, which is off the charts compared to other forms of resistance training. That’s equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace. The only other thing I could find that burns that many calories is cross country skiing up hill at a fast pace.”

Keep in mind however, that this protocol was executed with advanced weight lifters using very heavy kettlebells.  Another study by Dr. Benjamin J. Fung PT, DPT published in the ACSM June 2010 supplement to Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise found that when the kettlebells were less than or equal to 13% of the lifter’s body weight that the workout was strictly aerobic. This sheds some light on what would be considered a “heavy” weight.

History of Kettlebells

Kettlebells are not new. They started originally as counterweights on scales in Eastern European markets. Farmers started throwing them around and eventually over time, it became a tool to condition the masses. Organizations were founded, regional and national competitions were formed, and the bells soon found their way into the hands of the military and Olympic teams.  In fact, many people in the United States may be unaware that kettlebell competitions (Girevoy Sport) are a highly regulated sport all over Eastern Europe with thousands of competitors globally. The International Union of Kettlebell Lifting (IUKL) is the largest body of kettlebell competitors with over 23 member countries and thousands of competitors. Check out a video on KB competitions here.  Over time, the bells made their way across the ocean and they became staples in many gyms in the early 1900s.

What is Kettlebell Training?

One of the distinguishing features of kettlebell training is the shape of the weight. The addition of another lever and variable resistance arm has a significantly different training effect on the body. Another notable difference with kettlebell training is the inclusion of momentum, which is a part of everyday life and is something to be mastered not avoided.  The kettlebell swing, pull, competition-style snatch and other movements all teach the user to control and master momentum, a skill that can transfer to sports, work, hobbies and other activities of daily living. Even more important is the concept that any activity uses some muscles to the exclusion of others. Kettlebells offer a great way for athletes to train opposing muscle groups and balance their bodies so they are less likely to sustain injuries due to imbalance and overuse.  Kettlebells are also a great way to train a variety of energy systems (phosphagen, fast glycolysis, slow glycolysis and aerobic) while not getting the same wear and tear patterns from doing only one movement pattern.  The full body nature of traditional kettlebell exercises also transfer to most sports movements (sequential segmental summation or triple extension) and condition the upper body, a component which may be lacking in many endurance athletes’ regimes. 

For athletes that require a strong “core” or center from which to generate force and protect their backs, a recent study by Stuart McGill published in NSCA found that the bottoms-up carry was an extremely effective way to strengthen the trunk stabilizers and showed that the swing was not unduly stressing the lumbar spine.

Cycling and Kettlebells

Cycling is done in one plane and is fairly static. The kettlebell, conversely, is very dynamic. “It’s not the same as a dumbbell,” says Anthony Musemici, a Level 1 and 2 Instructor with KBC, as well as a Spinning Master instructor. “The kettlebell moves around the lifter and forces the user to respond according to acceleration and deceleration.”

Muscemi taught an extremely popular class called 30/30 at New York Sports Clubs, which consisted of 30 minutes of Spinning and 30 minutes of basic kettlebell work. “It was really popular and the members loved it,” says Musemici. He has also presented a kettlebell power class two years in a row at the WSSC conference, and the response was fantastic. Musemici continued, “My students took to the kettlebells quickly because cyclists tend to have tight hips and tight pectorals because of the constantly flexed position. The bells showed them quite quickly where they were weak and they loved it.”

Kettlebell Education

As Muscemi explains, since kettlebells are so dynamic, “education is huge. Every time I used the kettlebell early on—prior to getting any formal instruction—I tweaked something. I wasn’t using my hips properly, I was using too much of my upper body, I wasn’t decelerating properly, I was using my back, the list goes on. Education is absolutely critical for something like this.”

Along with formal, ongoing education, Musemici also suggests easing the students into using the kettlebell. “Start them gradually. Get them used to holding the bell, the rack position, squats in the rack position, pressing it overhead with two hands, then one, and so forth. It must be done slowly and carefully.” 

KBC is very excited to be able to help start you down the road of personal education in terms of what kettlebells can do for you, how they can improve your cycling, and how you may consider slowly integrating them into your cross training protocol. While misconceptions about this ancient tool are rampant, the good news is that the fitness industry as a whole is starting to learn what the Eastern Europeans have known for hundreds of years: If implemented safely and effectively with ongoing education, kettlebells can be an incredibly valuable tool for both the general population looking to get fit and for any athlete. 

We hope that this article helped clear up any misconceptions you may have held about kettlebells, what they are, and what they’re not. Most importantly, we hope we conveyed to you that they are—like cycling, yoga, martial arts, or any other skill—something that you need to constantly study, evolve, and improve upon.  And that, of course, will only benefit you as a cyclist and as an instructor—ultimately benefiting your clients.

To learn more, click here.

Contributing Author Bio:

Anthony Musemici

Anthony is a Spinning® Master Instructor and founder of AMFit personal training, a home training business based out of Queens, NY. He is an ACE, AFAA and NASM certified personal trainer, as well as a former Category 4 amateur cyclist. Anthony has been in the fitness industry for 14 years and has trained athletes of every age. As a master instructor, Anthony has presented workshops and trainings all over North America as well as presented at the WSSC Conference, KBC Galvanized Convention, and many others on the fitness conference circuit nationally.

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