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Kettlebell Training for a High Quality of Life

February 16, 2006 09:17 AM

Strength training with Kettlebells is an integral part of the equation for health maintenance and a high quality of life. Recently, articles in USA Today stated that "the health of US is precarious" and "the increase in obesity is going to bankrupt the health care system." We, as individuals, should not depend upon the health care system to do 100% of the work required to remain healthy and achieve one's goals of fitness and, subsequently, a high quality of life. There are several important conditions which, acting in concert, help one to achieve a high quality of life. They are spiritual health, emotional health, and physical health. They are all connected in a complex way and truly interact constantly. If, for example, someone experiences moderate or severe emotional distress, the physical body is directly affected, especially the immune system. How often in your life do you experience significant stress only to find that in one to two days you "come down with a cold." Physical stress from overtraining produces the same results.

For the purposes of this article, we will address the physical fitness factor in the equation. Physical fitness is affected greatly by exercise or lack thereof, nutrition, and quality of sleep. All of us should get 8 to 9 hours of good quality sleep at night. For years I thought that I needed only around 7 hours of sleep. However, when I increased my sleep time to 8 hours or more, I noted a marked improvement in how I felt the next day. I must admit that I was surprised. I believe that the most serious problem that we have in the United States and the rest of the "Westernized" countries is obesity and lack of physical fitness. Frankly, I don't know how our country can survive physically and economically unless these serious issues are addressed. Currently, our Western culture, as far as food is concerned, is growing toward a high dependence on "fast food" derived from a restaurant or a take-out service. Fast food usually means a high intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks, catsup and many other foods. High fructose corn syrup will send blood insulin levels through the ceiling. This, along with refined white flour and other refined carbohydrates is one of the major factors in the development of Type II (adult-onset) diabetes. Sad to say, teenagers are now not just overweight, but are obese and are developing Type II diabetes. Diabetes is a serious disease and, in many people, can lead to heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and to small and large blood vessel disease leading to eventual amputation of toes, feet, and legs. Recently, it was stated that one out of three infants born in 2002 would develop diabetes.

Lack of quality exercise and physical fitness compounds the problem of poor nutrition by increasing body fat stores. It is truly a vicious circle. As the population ages-that includes all of us-we see many diseases which are accounted for by lack of physical fitness. It has been said that many diseases of old age are diseases of disuse with the resulting lack of muscle mass and also strength. Arthritis and joint replacements, in large part, are due to obesity and failure of normal joint function related to weakness of supporting muscles, ligaments, and tendons and excess weight bearing. Quick reflexes go hand in glove with strength and flexibility. Balance is also significantly improved with increases in strength and flexibility. Good balance and fast reflexes are essential factors to help avoid falls and injuries from falls.

The prescription for good health is not complicated. Let's consider now the contributions of excellent nutrition and physical fitness achieved by Kettlebell training. Nutrition guidelines are not complex. One only has to be committed to following the principles. Eat fresh fruits (not fruit juice), green, yellow, and other colored vegetables, all sorts of beans (legumes), minimal refined carbohydrates (very little bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta). Avoid high fructose corn syrup at all costs. Minimize red meats (increased risk of colon and prostate cancer), hormone fed chicken, and farm-raised fish. Wild fish has a higher content of Omega-3 long-chain fatty acids. Drink at least 8 glasses of high-quality water daily. Nutritional supplements such as multivitamins, minerals, and high quality fish oil (capsules or liquids). Flax oil and flax seeds supply the short-chain Omega 3 fatty acids and these can be converted by the body to long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids to a certain extent. A freshly ground flaxseed supplement is preferred over the oil. The best source of Omega 3 fatty acids is fish oil. There are sources for "purified" fish oil, usually labeled as pharmaceutical- grade fish oil, on the internet. The pharmaceutical-grade has a marked reduction in mercury and other contaminants.

Consider physical fitness. Significant components are strength, flexibility, and the capacity for short periods of intense physical exertion as well as endurance in an activity. How often does one see a cheetah pounding away on a treadmill for 30 minutes or so? I am convinced that Kettlebell exercises--and there are many of them--hold some of the best answers for achieving excellent physical fitness to equip one to live in this world with a high quality of life at any age! (I am 64 years old and received the Russian Kettlebell Challenge Certification in April 2004.) There are Kettlebell exercises to equip one for almost any physical endeavor such as sports, law-enforcement, and general living. Additionally, I believe that Kettlebell training can enhance one's skills in aviation, especially when flying high-performance aircraft. Aviators definitely need to be in top physical condition to be able to perform at maximum levels when required to do so. I am an aviation medical examiner--the civilian equivalent of a military flight surgeon-- and I encourage all of the pilots I see to achieve excellent physical fitness.

There are many excellent books and videos which describe all of the many exercises by Pavel Tsatsouline and other Senior Kettlebell instructors. With Kettlebell training you will get endurance and a significant increase in anaerobic capacity. A few sets of swings with a good weight load on a regular basis will do the job. I used weight machines and a cross-trainer before I started training with Kettlebells. I have found Kettlebell training to be a much more effective and time efficient exercise. When I started training with Kettlebells, I found that I made more progress in one month than I had made in 6 months with the traditional training methods. I don't know of a more efficient tool than the Russian Kettlebell. Bottom line: Why do I train with Russian Kettlebells? I GET RESULTS!

Post Script:

In 1997 I exercised regularly by participating in several activities--running, treadmill exercise, and weight machine and free-weight training. (At this time, I had never heard of a Kettlebell.) In June 1997, I attended a 4-day wellness seminar in Dallas, Texas. Part of the evaluation included a maximal treadmill stress test. (I had had three routine stress tests previously, and they were all fine.) Before starting the stress test, I was instructed to stop if I had any chest pain, etc. The goal for my age-- 56 years at the time-- was to reach a maximum heart rate of 170, which I did in eighteen minutes. Throughout the test I had no chest pain. However, there was an abnormality of the EKG, namely, ST-segment depression at the higher heart rate. The next step after I returned home was to get a cardiac catheterization. The catheterization revealed a 90% obstruction of a vessel called the LAD or left anterior descending and a 50% obstruction of two other coronary arteries. Fortunately, I did have a large amount of collateral circulation (naturally acquired bypass secondary to exercise) visible on the films. I attribute this to vigorous exercise. The catheterization films were reviewed by local physicians and physicians in Dallas. Bypass surgery was recommended by everyone. A triple bypass was done on July 7, 1997; and, fortunately, I have been well since then.

I have had a long time to think about how I managed to develop significant coronary artery disease in spite of a vigorous exercise program. I also thought that I had a good diet-low fat, etc. I have been thankful to have been so fortunate to discover that I had a significant problem. Other physically fit individuals, such as Jim Fixx, have suffered cardiac deaths after or during exercise. Jim Fixx, marathon runner and author of The Complete Book of Running, according to what I have read, had significant coronary artery disease. So, what is one to make of all of this? I am convinced that most coronary artery disease is primarily due to lifestyle choices-composition of diet, tobacco use, stress, and a lack of exercise. Heredity certainly is a component of many disease processes but you don't necessarily have to play all of the cards you are dealt. In other words, if you plant seeds and there is no sunshine and water they will not germinate. If you have a genetic tendency for coronary artery disease or diabetes and your diet is high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fat, and lacking in fresh fruits, colored vegetables, and fiber, you are supplying the "sunshine and water" for these disease processes. I believe that (aside from tobacco use) a diet high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fat, and stress are extremely significant factors. I do have to admit that I ate a lot of breads and other refined carbohydrates. After the by-pass surgery, I resumed exercise and took a cholesterol lowering medication--a statin. Only in the last two years or so have I really had a full understanding of my main problem--too many calories from refined carbohydrates and saturated fat. Currently, my cholesterol levels are the best that they have ever been since I significantly reduced my intake of all refined carbohydrates. My fasting blood glucose is normal and lower than ever thanks to a changed diet and increased exercise and increased muscle mass and strength through exercise with Kettlebells. I am convinced that the main factor in the equation for health or disease is the composition of one's diet. My conclusion is this: continue to exercise regularly and clean up your diet immediately and strive for normal body composition/weight now.

Evolution of my training program with Kettlebells:

When I first read Power To The People!, I got my introduction to Kettlebells. I ordered 16kg and 24 kg bells. While awaiting delivery of the Kettlebells, I used a 25-pound dumbbell and started performing swings. I was surprised that I could barely do 20 swings--ten in each hand. I was really panting and definitely out of breath. As time went by, I watched the DVD, The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. Eventually I learned to do snatches and worked up to three sets of fifteen snatches in each arm. Then, I progressed to swings and snatches with the 24 kg bell. I really had to work hard to get the required number of snatches for the RKC Certification in April 2004. Since then, I have done a variety of exercises with Kettlebells and, typically, have had three workout sessions each week.

Currently, I do two to three sets of snatches ?ten reps each arm with the 24 kg bell, three sets of windmills--six to ten reps each arm with the 24 kg bell and three sets of military presses with the 24 kg bell ?six reps each arm. I am able to do three to four presses with the 28 kg bell with my right arm and barely one with the left arm. Additionally, I often do a couple of sets of 30 swings with the 24 kg bell and alternate hands on swings. (Sometimes, I do twenty reps ?both hands ?with the 32 kg bell.) Other times, I use a 12 kg bell and do some H2H exercises. Periodically, I do pull-ups, push-ups, Janda sit-ups(four to five reps) four to five days a week, stretches, one-legged dead lifts, etc. Once in a while I do clean and jerks, but I prefer the snatch. All in all, the Kettlebell exercises are the best and most time efficient and fruitful exercises that I have ever encountered. I highly recommend them to every one of all age groups!

Richard M Freeman MD RKC