To Kettlebell or Not

by Thom Van Vleck

Here's a photo that shows a handle like the one that my grandfather used to convert his dumbbell into a kettlebell.

I work at a University and we have a rec center on campus.  It’s a small school so the rec center is actually pretty decent for our size but still small.  The guy that runs it has been there for 30 plus years and he is very upbeat and positive.  Dan came out of the 70’s running craze and still runs to this day.  Nothing wrong with that, but he’s not really a weightlifter and he knows it.  I am a weightlifter and not much of a runner…so we keep each other balanced.

Dan tries to stay on top of the latest trends and has bought a handful of Kettlebells.  They get used a great deal in the Osteoblasters “crossfit” style workouts that we have 4 days a week.  We have a more traditional weightlifting group but the ratio is about 10 to 1 (the crossfit wins hands down).  If you don’t know what that type of training is just imagine multiple stations where people move rapidly from one high rep, low weight or bodyweight exercise to another done in an open area and NOT in the regular lifting area)  We have both been surprised at the success of the workouts.  He likes the cardio aspect and I like the lifting aspect…..but neither of us would have guessed how well this would have went over.  The problem is…we’re old and we don’t know what’s “in” these days.  At least that’s the only explanation I can think of.

So we try and keep each other up to date on what’s “hot” in the fitness and lifting world.  Dan wants to appeal to all the students including the students who lift heavy…like us.  He asked me the other day if I thought he should get a set of Kettlebells for the gym.  His concern is that the space is small and most of what he sees is people doing dynamic movements with them such as swings and flipping them to arms length.  He’s worried about somebody getting conked on the head or a kettlebell going out a plate glass window.  I’m worried NOBODY will use them enough to justify valuable gym space as the place is often packed!  Plus that money could go for other things that would get used more often.

Here's what standard kettlebells look like.....as if you really needed to see them! But there are an ever increasing list of variations of them out there much like how the globe dumbbells became all different shapes.

Now you have to understand that me and Kettlebells go way back….well…sort of.  I have never….EVER…trained with them.  Sure, I’ve pulled them out and played with them and I even bought three of them for my gym that were close to the weights used in the highland games.  Right now I’ve loaned them to the club because after I bought them and built a cool shelf to put them on….they were pretty much paperweights and novelties after that.  Now before you Kettlebellers get your panties in a bunch let me go on.

My long relationship with kettlebells was that my grandfather had a kettlebell handle that went on a regular York 1″ loadable dumbbell making it a makeshift kettlebell.  He also had some block scale weights that were kind of like using kettlebells.  He would do high reps and sometimes would just grab it and do a few reps between chores around the house.  My grandfather never trained to max out…always for fitness.  He lived a very healthy and active life to the age of 85….when he was hit by a car!  I think he would have live to be 100 and been one of those guys that would be in fantastic shape his entire life.  But we all thought his lifting routine….especially the kettlebells was….uhhhhh….well….we called it the “fruitcake” routine because it seemed to have a little of everything and a lot of nothing and appeared thrown together most of the time.  However, I think he may have had the last laugh.

So, what’s all this mean in regards to kettlebells.  I told Dan that I thought they were a great idea to be used for the Osteoblaster workouts and we needed some more for the 45 to 90 people that show up for each workout.  But as far as having a rack in the gym….so few would use it that it would be not worth it in my opinion.

There used to be a business supply chain centered locally that went out of business.  It seemed to be a powerful business and I wondered why.  I met someone that knew.  He said his grandfather (who was the patriarch of the business) said, “Computers are just a fad…typewriters are where its at and where its always gonna be”.  We can laugh now at that business decision but some of us older guys probably all had a typewriter at one time (Bill Clark still does).  Kettlebells are kind of like typewriters in my mind.  But again…before the kettlebell nuts get a screw loose…one more story.  When I was in the Marines 30 years ago I copied Morse Code.  We used teletypes (a cross between an electric typewriter and early computer) and actual computers.  When the power went out….we pulled out our trusty “Royal” manual typewriters.  I still have one in the closet in case I need to continue to write after the zombie apocalypse.  So my point is, Kettlebells can be useful and every once in awhile pulled out for something different and they can be VERY useful in the crossfit type workouts.  But their use is limited for those seeking pure strength and cannot, in my opinion, be a central part of your training like the dumbbell.  The dumbbell….with the dumbest name next to the “Jerk” and “Snatch” (that’s another story altogether about stupid names in lifting) is still the Prince of the gym next to the King Barbell!   Okay, I’m done and I’m sure there’s some kettle bell heads out there ready to burn my house down.

Kettlebells: Homemade, Cheap, and Adjustable

by Jarrod Fobes

A homemade Kettlebell, built by Jarrod Fobes.

When the kettlebell craze started several years ago, I wasn’t impressed.  It seemed to me that they were expensive, took up a lot of room, and were redundant besides, since you could do the exact same exercises with dumbbells.   But over time I found they were a worthwhile piece of equipment to have around.  Kettlebell Swings have begrudgingly become a favorite exercise of mine, and there’s fun grip training to be had with them as well.  So that takes care of the redundant part, but still left them expensive and bulky.

Well trouble yourselves no more friends!  It’s easy to make an adjustable “kettlebell” yourself.  If I can put this together, anyone can.  Here are the materials you will need:  (All fittings 3/4″ diameter)

  • One Tee
  • Two 3″ Nipples
  • One 4″ Nipple
  • One 6″ Nipple
  • One Coupling
  • One Cap

The 3/4″ pipe will fit the smaller weight plates like you can find at most department stores.  If you don’t have any other use for the 3/4″ plates, just buy one to put at the bottom, just above the cap to keep standard sized weights from slipping off.  Slap the thing together as pictured, put some tape around the handle so you don’t cut yourself on the threads (not pictured), and there you go!  Ugly, but cheap and it does the job.

What Goes Around….

Arthur Saxon would probably be considered "cutting edge" with most of his training techniques today!

by Thom Van Vleck

Recently, I had a young guy come out to my place to try out the Highland Games.  He was in his early 20’s and had done some weight training at the local YMCA and in high school, but was not a hard core lifter or iron game follower.  What was funny was I gave him a tour of my gym and he started pointing to things I had like they were new and cutting edge.  As if my gym was equipped with “all the latest”.  In particular, he pointed to my Kettlebells and said, “Wow, you have some kettlebells, I would like to try training with those, I’ve heard they are really good to train with”.

This was in contrast to when my Uncle Wayne Jackson saw the Kettlebells right after I had bought them.  Wayne gained the bulk of his training knowledge from reading S&H, MD, and Ironman in the 50’s and 60’s.  He said, “So what are you going to do with those old things”.  As if I had raided the York Barbell museum!   Wayne’s comments leaned towards how Kettlebells were never us used in his day and you couldn’t find those for years and he wasn’t sure what good they were going to do me.

In 2009, I got to go to the Arnold Fitness Expo.  It was there I found out just how “popular” Kettlebells had become again. They were having a competition that centered around doing all kinds of different maneuvers with the kettlebells, some of which I could see a lot of benefit, some….not so much…but hey, I swing a hammer in circles and flip telephone poles in my spare time….so who am I to judge.

I have a lot of stuff in my gym, most of it is pretty old or “well used”.  It is funny to me how things go in and out of style.  It got me to pondering “WHY”?  A lot of times exercises and equipment get run out of town by the “latest thing”.  Usually being sold by some guy looking to make a buck more than he’s trying to “revolutionize” the fitness industry.  He tells us that the old stuff is dangerous, useless, or inferior and enough people buy into it that it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and the old stuff falls to the wayside.  But form follows function and eventually, what works is rediscovered and comes back again.

Now, this wasn’t intended to be an article on the benefits of Kettlebells, they are just an example.  I’m not trying to sell you on the and I don’t sell them!!!  Just remember, in our effort to get better (whether that be bigger, faster, stronger at lifting, throwing, team sports, whatever) we need to gain a broad understanding of what’s out there.  We need to know our history, we need to know what works and what doesn’t and filter what comes from the so called “experts” so that we may find the tools we need to achieve our goals.  We need to constantly look at what’s been used, what’s on the “shelf” (so to speak) and how can it be used to freshen up our training and lift us to victory!  (no pun intended!).