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.

My Training Adventure in Graduate School

by Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre, of the JWC, pulling a 604 pound Peoples Deadlift at the 2013 Dino Gym Challenge, his first USAWA competition. (caption courtesty of the webmaster)

I am a graduate student at A.T. Still University, an Osteopathic medical school in Kirksville, Missouri. I have had the pleasure of meeting many great people while working on my master’s degree. I have also found the time and motivation to re-discover my passion for weightlifting. This is something I had been away from for many years prior to moving to Missouri. One of the people I have formed a great friendship with is Thom Van Vleck. Thom has written a story about the Osteoblasters before and I’d like to extend upon it. Thom has introduced me to the USAWA and Highland Games, both of which I have come to love for the competition and camaraderie. A few weeks ago I was able to experience my first USAWA event at The Dino Gym and this was just awesome! Well, that’s a little about me, now, on to my story.

“You are your own first healer”… “I am my own first patient”… These principles are repeated hundreds of times throughout the educational adventure known as medical school. However, the time crunch and fast paced learning environment make it very difficult for students to truly embrace this attitude. It seems as though one of the first things to be put on the back burner is personal health and wellness, especially when it takes so much time, commitment, and energy to stay afloat in such a demanding curriculum. Motivation quotes are plastered throughout the internet but one of the easiest to believe, and one of my favorites is that “a one hour workout is only four percent of your day, no excuses.” This is the very attitude that is pushed at A.T. Still University by the Osteoblasters Weightlifting Club (OWC). I put in so much time and work to officially establish the OWC as a University club because I honestly believe that the benefits of exercise go far beyond the body; to the mind and spirit. This trifecta, “Body, Mind, and Spirit” is another principle that is mentioned countless times at any Osteopathic medical institution. With the help of Thomas Van Vleck, the director of counseling, Dan Martin, the director of the Thompson Campus Center and Jared Nichols, a medical student, I was able to see my dreams for this club come true.

Mike performed a 410 pound Hackenschmidt Floor Press. He was one of only 3 lifters who exceeded 400 pounds at the meet. (photo and caption courtesy of webmaster).

With the New Year (2012), came the beginning of the Osteoblasters. I started to design a fitness approach that would be fun, effective, and fit within the confines of about an hour. Even if I could reach out to only a dozen students I was going to consider this a successful endeavor. I designed a blend of circuit training, powerlifting, olympic lifting, strongman training, Crossfit, and I even incorporated exercises to promote the maintenance of basic movement skills, and what I came up with has evolved into the “Osteoblasters.” If people who cherish time so much are willing to devote an hour to me several times a week I figured I owed it to them to make every minute worthwhile.

At the end of my grueling workout, with several people near complete exhaustion, some people seemingly in pain, I walked around to ensure that everyone was okay and get some feedback. What I got back were “high-fives”, some “wows”, and even some comments that are inappropriate to put in print. Thinking I may have scared some people away I prepared for the next class to be smaller and have less energy overall. What actually happened was over 50 people showed up! It did not take more than a few days for the word to spread about how great this “Osteoblasters” program was and how much everyone enjoyed the challenge. I was in no way prepared for this influx of people and was forced to scramble to adapt a workout that would accommodate fifty or so people. It was not easy but I made it happen.

This blend of so many exercise styles seems to be appealing to everyone. We are not training for a competition, a race, or even to get better at a sport, we are training for life. Everyone can find at least a few things they are good at, and I force them to work through things that they may find difficult. One of the things that I never imagined would become part of this workout “class” was the camaraderie most people experience when being part of an athletics team. The majority of people do not continue competitive athletics after high school so this is an area that is easily lost as we “grow up.” The Osteoblasters are just that, a team. We are a team of individual working towards a common goal, not to win a competition or break a world record, simply to get better. Everyone is always looking to break their own personal records whether it is the number of pull ups, weight of a deadlift, or the duration of a hand stand, everyone shows up to get better. This camaraderie extends far beyond the gym as well. I see these people studying together, working together, and hanging out together. This makes all the time and work that I put into this program completely worth it.

I have been able to reach beyond the student population as well and have members of the faculty, staff, and even significant others of students as members of the OWC. We have established a great program that I hope will last for many years. Sometimes people need a push to remember that you are your own first patient. It is extremely important to study and do well while in school but it is also very important to remember your own personal health and wellness. The OWC takes this responsibility to the core of its mission statement: “The OWC will work to improve the well-being of its members through strength training and conditioning. The OWC aims to reach out to people of all levels of experience and offer a safe and structured platform for physical health and wellness.”

Hope you all enjoyed this little story of how I am keeping weightlifting and competition alive and well, even in the demanding environment of a medical school!

Osteoblasters Weightlifting Club

by Thom Van Vleck

The Osteoblasters Logo.

I work at A.T. Still University in Kirksville, Missouri (and we have a sister campus in Mesa, Arizona).  The University centers on several programs that are all healthcare related.  The “granddaddy” of them all is the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine which was founded in 1892 and produces some of the finest Doctors in the world!  I am the Director of Counseling and I really enjoy my work helping these students who will in turn help so many in their career.

For years, I have wanted to start a weightlifting type club.  We have a fine fitness center (Thompson Campus Center) run by Dan Martin who is very supportive of weightlifting and fitness in general.  Since I have worked here, I have had many students involved in the Jackson Weightlifting Club, my Scottish Highland Games, and in a few of the USAWA meets as well (last year Joe Costello, an ATSU graduate, competed in the Old Time Strongman Nationals).  Recently, I finally found a couple of motivated students who helped me get this done.   Their names are Mike McIntyre and Jared Nichols.  Out of that, the Osteoblasters Weightlifting Club was born.  The sports teams of the past at ATSU had a skull and crossbones as their logo and an “O” as their “letter”.  So I created a logo that had crossed barbells with a skull surrounded by an “O” as a tribute to the school’s past.  The world Osteoblaster comes from the name of a cell that helps break down bone to rebuild it stronger after stress (such as exercise).  That cell is called an “Osteoblast” (I can’t make that up!).  Plus, KCOM is an Osteopathic school so it just seemed right.

I had hoped we might get 10 or so to join the club. Imagine my surprise when over 50 joined!   We had a wide range of students from many different athletic backgrounds.  Some had been outstanding college athletes, some just weekend warriors, but they all had the common thread of using weightlifting to reach their goals and wanted something more than a weight room full of machines, benches, and squat racks.  They wanted to be able to do Olympic style lifting and training, strongman training, and more dynamic type stuff than is typically allowed in the average gym.  So, we got Dan Martin of the TCC to buy us some bumpers and other equipment and we utilize the basketball gym area by pulling out large rubber mats for platforms.  We started 4 sessions a week and this fall we will move to 6 a week!  We will go out back of the TCC and lift off the parking lot, throw Highland Games weights, toss kettlebells around, pull sleds, you name it and we’ve probably done it.  Today’s youth want to lift, but they don’t want to be boxed into powerlifting, weightlifting type meets.  They want variety, and I’m hoping the USAWA will give them some variety.

My hope is that the OWC will help the JWC when it comes to the meets that I do.  The JWC is hosting the Old Time Strong man Championships again this fall and I’m hoping that students will volunteer to help as well as compete! I am also hoping to sanction a meet for the OWC this fall!  This could be a beautiful relationship!     Plus, I can help these guys lift and train….and I”m “on the clock”!   Can’t beat that!