Recall my previous blog post on exercise selection where I mentioned the Kalashnikov analogy. The bottom line up front was a quote from Pavel Tsatsouline, “The fewer parts something has, the less likely it is to break down. The success of the famous – or infamous – Russian Kalashnikov assault rifle is a case in point.”
Now imagine if you have a budget of less than $200.00 (US) to budget towards your general physical preparation. What would you spend it on? I have two recommendations that will spell out good mileage for your dollars. The first is a kettlebell, a pullup bar (the type you can hang from a doorframe also works), and the book Enter the Kettlebell by Pavel Tsatsouline. The second is a 45 lbs bar, about 300 lbs worth of barbell plates, the aforementioned pullup bar, and the book Power to the People also by Pavel Tsatsouline. This post will cover the first of the two alternatives to maximize your returns.
I’ll start with the kettlebell, first off with explaining why each alternative is a good option First off I shall answer the question, “What is a kettlebell?”
As Pavel puts it, “It’s a cannonball with a handle. It’s an extreme handheld gym.” It is quite a true statement. Traditionally kettlebells come in poods, equivalent to 16 kilograms (roughly 35 pounds). The most popular sizes are the 1 pood, 1.5 pood (24 kilogram/53 lbs), and 2 pood (32 kilograms/70 lbs).
As to being an extreme handheld gym, this is most certainly the case. According to Pavel Russian military units have ‘gyms’ known as Courage Corners, where kettlebells are featured rather prominently.
Enter the Kettlebell goes into quite a bit of detail as to not only the benefits of kettlebell training but also quite a few good programs. Two of these programs will be the subject of this blog post. The first is the Program Minimum and the second is the Rite of Passage program.
THE PROGRAM MINIMUM
Both of these are built around a press and a pulling motion with the kettlebell. In the case of the Program Minimum it is built around the kettlebell swing and Turkish getup. This is four sessions a week with two each of the following:
- 12 Minutes of kettlebell swings and jogging, walking, jumping rope, or swimming. Basically to do this swing a kettlebell repeatedly (generally between 10-20 repetitions is what I’d recommend, go for the lower numbers if you are a beginner) and use the cardio (walking/jogging around the perimeter of a field, swimming a lap or two, jumping rope, etc…) as active rest not more conditioning. Believe me, swinging a kettlebell for the double digits of repetitions will cause your heart to hammer inside your chest.
- 5 Minutes of continuous Turkish Getups, switching hands each repetition. Of great importance is keeping your arm locked out throughout the range of motion of the exercise. This exercise builds the shoulders, sort of like a static press.
RITE OF PASSAGE
For an even greater challenge there is the Rite of Passage, which is built around the kettlebell snatch, clean and press, and kettlebell swing. My personal favorite variation on this involves integrating pullups into the mix.
Gireviks, or kettlebell men, as the Russians call kettlebell athletes do not typically do swings or snatches for sets or reps as barbell athletes do. They typically train for time periods at certain intensities. So if you endeavor to follow the Rite of Passage, add a pair of dice to the mix. If you roll two threes you’ll be swinging or snatching a kettlebell for six minutes, which can be a fairly intense bit of work, especially with heavier kettlebells.
The press and pullup component work differently via the ladder method (i.e. clean and press the kettlebell with your left arm, then do so with the right arm, then do a single pullup, and then rinse and repeat with two reps, etc…).
Again, with Kalashnikov-like simplicity the entire body is worked with these kettlebell exercises plus pull ups. The swings and snatches work the core, legs, back, arms and shoulders (with the snatch). The getups and presses work the shoulders even more as well as the arms. The pullups work the forearms, lats, and shoulders even more, complementing the overhead press with a pulling movement.
So for the sum of $200 the purchase of a 16KG kettlebell (for your average man) or an 8 kg kettlebell (for your average woman), a pullup bar that can hang off a doorframe, and a well written book that details a roadmap for how to use your two newly bought fitness implements is your material gain. As to your gains in strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and everything else, well that is up to you to maximize your return on the investment. Are you willing to do so?
Kettlebell Swing: The Center of the Kettlebell Universe
Kettlebell Clean & Press
Kettlebells eventually return their value many times over. There is perhaps no other piece of equipment that is so functional, durable, and effective. We are fans of the Primal brand of kettlebells from Onnit because there is something deeply satisfying about training with a beast.
In your hand, you are wielding a weapon of nature. Train to become one. (click on image)