Are You Really Missing Out?

by Josh Henkin on January 15, 2014

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Josh_HenkinEvery New Years my wife feels like we should do something big! To be honest, I am not all that into going out when so many people are liquored up. I ask her, “why do you want to go out so badly?” She often replies, “cause I don’t want to miss out on anything great!”

The same fear that my wife has about missing something great during New Years is the very same emotion that I think many people in fitness experience. How so? People end up doing everything, every training method, they want to have ever training tool, they have to go to every program under the sun. Why? When I ask people why they do such things, it is often, “I don’t want to be left out”.

I find that staggering, but not shocking. I went through that process in my early career as well. Pretty much any new piece of fitness equipment I got it. Any new program, I had to try it! Then something happened. I changed.

I went from having a extremely packed facility full of equipment to rather bare bones. It wasn’t in an effort to be hip or cool, I just started to realize what I REALLY needed and what really helped the people that I trained. Pretty soon I wasn’t worried that I didn’t perform all the “cool” exercises, I had figured out what worked for what person. I learned the dirty little secret that no single exercise is vital, you have to find the right exercise. Since then, I can’t tell you how much better my own training and that of my clients has been.

That is why I find it interesting when people make strong statements like, “you can’t train only with kettlebells!” Hmmm, you don’t HAVE to train with just kettlebells, but can you?

I hear lots of reasons, “kettlebells don’t go heavy enough”, which leads to “you can’t get really strong”, and of course, “you can’t perform THIS so very important essential exercise.”

Instead of thinking of how training with kettlebells exclusively would make you feel limited. I actually believe it would make your training much smarter! Let me explain by dispelling some of these very common myths.

Kettlebells Don’t Go Heavy Enough

Years ago I heard a well respected strength coach make the argument that kettlebells aren’t that powerful because they only go up to 70 pounds (at the time they did) so they aren’t that great for strength. Ironically, a rather strong person is someone who can manhandle a pair of 70’s (32kgs). How do we have both?

The problem is that most people try to compare the weight of a kettlebell to that of a dumbbell or more problematically a barbell. Sorry, trying to compare the weight of a kettlebell to a barbell is almost apples to oranges. Whether is has to do with the independent movement of the kettlebells, to the different weight distribution, or the fact the holding position of the kettlebell is very different from a barbell. In the end we know one thing and that is weight is not all equal.

I might believe that kettlebells aren’t heavy enough if I routinely saw people throw around double 106 (48kg) bells with ease. However, I find that to be a very rare find.

You Can’t Get Really Strong

To be perfectly honest, this is the one that gets me more wound up. Unfortunately, most people totally screw up the governing principle of strength, the overload principle. The idea of the overload principle leads people to becoming consumed with the idea of load. However, that isn’t what the overload principle actually means. The concept is that we have to provide a stress to the body to cause changes greater than the body experienced before.

The reason that most programs fail is they fall into that trap of just load and forget about the many other variables that actually can play a very important role in improving strength. By not having the small jumps in weight available in kettlebells we can focus on these other concepts.

Other Overload Variables:

-Speed

-Load Position

-Body Position

-Range of Motion

-Volume (amount of work)

-Density (amount of work in a given amount of time)

-Direction of Force

-Type of Muscle Contraction

Each one of these concepts could be an article within themselves. My point though is to show how many other variables most programs fail to actually consider. If we look at each and think about how they play a vital role in strength training and program development, we can see that kettlebells can work incredibly well in all these variables and how the weights of kettlebells could be greatly altered in conjunction with manipulating these different ideas.

We often hear the legend of old time strongmen performing incredible feats of strength. Ironically, most didn’t sit there focusing on adding 2 1/2 pounds to a lift. They intuitively used these other methods to manipulate load. The deadlift didn’t really become a staple lift till 1910-1920 when South African Strongman, Hermann Goerner, made it a focused lift. Bob Hoffman of York Barbell Company really popularized the more familiar barbell that we know in the early 1930’s. My point is that these things we consider soooo important to get strong are really rather new ideas. We have seen people become incredibly strong without the luxury of small weight increases or a wide array of weights for centuries.

The Fitness Cynic

I don’t blame people for being more than a bit skeptical about the idea of getting stronger by JUST using kettlebells. However, since Dragon Door helped bring back kettlebells to the modern fitness world, there have been hundreds of real world stories of people getting darn strong!

Some may feel a bit cynical because there was marketing of kettlebells that helped the movement and therefore, their popularity. Few realize that the barbell become popular because Bob Hoffman and York Barbell were advertising and promoting the benefits of barbell training. Why? They wanted to sell barbells, but also because this is what they truly believed, the barbell was a great and powerful tool that could change people’s lives.

A third reason that I think many people have issues with the idea of kettlebell training only goes back to an interesting piece I saw on CNN about social media. The story told of how less and less young people are using Facebook as their primary social media outlet. Why? Much has to do with the fact it went mainstream. When the grandparents started becoming active on social media, it started to become deemed “less cool” by the younger generation.

Now that you can find infomercials on kettlebells, fitness ads using kettlebells, and just about any fitness media that wants to appear cool. I think some people have fallen victim to the idea that kettlebells aren’t cool because anyone can use them. Funny enough, I think that is what makes them a beautiful tool.

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About Josh: Josh Henkin, Senior RKC, CSCS has been a RKC instructor since 2003 and has implemented kettlebell programs for major Division I programs, SWAT teams, and many different general fitness programs. Josh is also the creator of the DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training system where he is a highly sought after presenter worldwide. He can be reached at info@ultimatesandbagtraining.com or http://DVRTFitness.com.

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  • Redd

    Hermann Goerner was a German strongman; not South African.

  • Josh Henkin

    Yes, it was meant to read as some of his best feats were done in South Africa including a record deadlift. Hopefully this wasn’t the most important idea you got from the article.

  • Joe Daniels

    great article josh. since i hate to type long responses to people i will just site this article.

  • Nick Zaninovich

    Josh, I agree with you on every count. Being a life-long (and until recent years, frustrated) weightlifter, I’ve really come to appreciate both the simplicity and complexity of the kettlebell, body-weight exercises, and basic barbell movements. A special thank-you to both Pavel Tsatsouline and Dragon Door for some really great publications that have gotten me pointed in the right direction.

  • Barry Givens

    People just don’t understand kettlebells at all. Most of the drills we do are the same as you do w/ barbells, but w/ the different joint angles, the differing levels of loads in both eccentric and concentric phases, and the versatility of getting a super cardio, anaerobic, strength and power practice in one, it’s hard to believe people miss the point about kettlebells.

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