An old low-tech training device from Russia has become a trendy new training gizmo. It's called the kettlebell, and it's being used by Hollywood fitness trainers to shape the physiques of such celebrities as Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz and hunky Matthew McConaughey.
These strange-looking cannonballs with handles originated in Russia in the 1700s, where they were first used as cast-iron counterweights on farm equipment. Russian field workers couldn't help but notice that they got bigger and stronger handling them, so they handled them more.
Their popularity as strength-training devices grew behind the Iron Curtain, and by the 1940s, kettlebell-lifting became Russia's national sport. Even the Russian Olympic team, from figure skaters to deadlifters, incorporated the use of kettlebells, resulting in increased strength, stamina and stability.
Seemingly graceless and clumsy in design, these simple devices use weight, momentum and leverage to provide a low-impact, aerobic, total body workout in less than an hour.
Dynamic routines available on DVD are far from boring, ranging from beginner levels to more advanced abilities. It's been reported that Tour de France idol Lance Armstrong even uses them.
The workouts use full-body movements consisting of swinging, lifting and balancing weighted kettlebells, which generate fat-burning, aerobic exertion. Unlike most strength-training routines, which isolate single muscle groups and require quick bursts of energy, the constant full-body motion of kettlebell training achieves an effective cardio workout. Stabilizing the weights while pressing them overhead, doing squats and other full-range motions is said to improve flexibility, strength and balance.
Judging by reactions from local gyms when questioned about this new/old method of exercise, it's a fitness wave that has yet to crest in Rogue Valley, though these handy little gems can be purchased locally, starting with small 5-pounders.
"We're selling more and more of them," says Chris Van Horn, manager at Sports Authority. "Seems like they are becoming more popular all the time."
Freelance writer Cindy Quick Wilson is a certified trainer at the Women's Fitness Company in Medford. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.