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How to Get Healthy Using Kettlebells & Functional Fitness

William Sturgeon Kettlebell swings
Most people in the public have a false understanding of our profession and those who work in them. Some people still believe that personal trainers are glorified gym teachers or boot camp instructors. There’s a stigma that follows this misunderstanding of our profession which is that we are health snobs who live at the gym and are obsessed with counting calories and solely focused on getting people "shredded".

Now as kettlebell trainers we know that this is the furthest thing from the truth. There’s far more that goes into what we do to help people improve their health and wellness. It’s important that we share with the public that our goal is to help enhance the quality of someone’s life by teaching them how to safely and properly use kettlebells for their health.

I would like to share with you my story of how I used kettlebells to get myself healthy and functionally fit for life, so that we can help others have a better understanding how we are more than just gym teachers. We are educated fitness professionals helping people live better and healthier lives through strength.

Before we get started

I recently read Shannon Lee’s book, Be Water My Friend the Teachings of Bruce Lee. This book is filled with great wisdom from a man who valued his health and wellness. Something Bruce Lee and I share is that we both take an eclectic approach to life. Eclectic meaning one who uses a method or approach that is composed of elements drawn from various sources.

A quote from his teachings goes "Absorb what is useful. Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own."

To me eclectic means is to learn from different sources, take what you find is helpful, let go of everything else, and apply what is most helpful to you and your situation.

Before you read this article take a moment to adopt this mindset for a brief moment to fully grasp the concept of eclectic thinking. What has worked for me may not work for you, but you can take the ideas and make them your own.

Health is Subjective

I believe that we all have our own definition of health, to some it may mean having a certain body fat percentage or weight. It could mean to have lower AC1 levels and blood pressure. It could mean to be more active and to be eating more meals that have vegetables. It could mean to have the strength to get up and off the ground or to have energy to play with the kids. For others it could mean recovering from addiction caused by trauma. Finding new ways to cope with stress and improve your mental health. Whatever your motive is towards wanting to improve your situation, remember that health applies towards your situation and how you can always take action towards improving it just a little.

Avoid using the BMI as a means of measuring your health. There have been numerous reports as to how inaccurate this method is to measure a person’s actual health. Continuously weighing yourself daily is another poor method of tracking your health, because it can fluctuate. Another poor way measuring your health is by focusing on what you can’t do yet. You’re not a number, you can be thin and unhealthy too, your capable of doing what you can right now.

I prefer to go with a more functional health approach to define what healthy means to me. I define my health based on how I feel both physically and mentally along with what I can do today, instead of being a number, how I physically look, and what I can’t do. My willingness to let go of old things and to adapt a new mindset is what helped me improve my health and I would like to share that with you.

That was then, this is now

William Sturgeon Before And After
This is a picture of me January 1st 2018. At the time I was one year into owning my business, I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in exercise science, and the beginning of a divorce. This was a hard time in my life because of all the stress my health had taken a toll. My blood pressure was as high as 143/92, I didn’t have healthy habits that worked for me, and I didn’t realize how unhealthy I felt.

This is a picture of me July 1st 2022 and I’m the healthiest I’ve been. I’ve found healthy habits that work for me and blood pressure is regulated. Most importantly my mental health has improved significantly by seeing the changes I was creating for myself. It feels good being able to do the things I want and how much better I feel. This was a long journey and I’ve learned a lot about what doesn’t work.

What I did to change my mindset

It’s in our biology and human nature to adapt to new environments and stressors. Something we all have in common is the ability to adapt. Adaptation is how we survive, for example, you’re watching Netflix and the AC is too cold, you’ll either adjust the temperature or get a blanket, either way you’re taking action to solve a problem in order to provide a solution towards the stress we’re experiencing. Your mindset was to find the best way to comfort yourself using the least amount of energy, which was to grab the blanket next to you.

Now let’s say the new stress that takes over is the cost of a higher electricity bill. You then decide to change the stress of that you’ll shut the AC off when it gets too cold. Then the next time you get cold your mind will begin to say hey we’re cold get the blanket that’s right next to you because it’s easier rather than getting up and shutting off the AC. But since you changed your mindset towards how you’re going to save money you get up and shut it off. It’s because you reminded yourself that you can make different choices that gives you the power to make change.

Start to change your mindset by taking actions on the words you want to happen by having the willingness to let go of the old mindset that no longer serves you. Change is difficult because it’s exploring the unknown and we want to protect ourselves from harm. This true, but when it comes to replacing old mindsets with new ones, you can use the same feeling of anxiety to be that of excitement for something new because you’re now a person who chases their own curiosity to change. Something to remember is that when you let go of one thing, you replace it by adapting something new.

Don’t stress yourself out and do everything at once, that’s like sprinting downhill. You’ll get there faster, but at what cost? Start with something small that you can do every day, then start adding new things when it gets consistently easier to do daily. There’s no reward for accomplishing something fast when you feel like shit afterwards. Take your time and move with ease rather than disease.

Create habits not diets

Eating healthy is important, but I think that there are plenty of different ways to obtain healthier habits. Diets often times use dogmatic approaches towards their way of eating. Diets can work for a short period of time, but they’re never sustainable for long term results because of how strict and intense they are. Other things that diets don’t do is take into consideration our actual life where we have a family of fussy eaters, full time jobs where we are tired at the end of the day, lack of skills for knowing how to cook or grocery shop, sticking to a budget, etc.

When I focused more on the habits and not the specifics of things I started to feel better. Habits are small things that we can all learn how to do and undo. It’s taking simple steps forward towards bigger changes we want to create. Change is not easy on our bodies because they don’t like change because it’s human nature to keep the body from feeling stressed. This is why you should focus on smaller changes so that the stress isn’t too high so that your body can adapt to the new habit.

Here are the habits that have helped me the most:

Drink more water. Most of us aren’t drinking enough water in our day and sometimes it doesn’t taste good yet because we’re not used to drinking it all the time. If you’re only drinking about 2-3 bottles of water a day, that’s fine, keep being consistent and once that gets easier increase to 3-4 bottles. The goal is to drink water more frequently than you do now. It’s not to get to an ideal number, but to gain the habit then find your specifics.

Reduce overeating. This is subjective, because it’s you who is determining the measure of what you consider to be overeating. To me overeating was me feeling so uncomfortably full that I couldn’t go for a walk afterwards. I read an article by Max Shank that introduced me to the idea of The 80/20 principle. In the article Max wrote about how he applied this rule towards his training. What the 80/20 rule implies is that you should use up 80 percent of available energy and reserve 20 percent for tomorrow. Using this idea, I applied it towards my nutrition, so the new habit I started working on was eating until I was 80% full. This helped me with reducing overeating and not feeling so full that I couldn’t walk. It was hard leaving my old membership of the clean plate club expire, but it was time to try something new that would help me feel better.

Plan to cook most of your meals for the week. Get consistent before you get specific. You don’t need to make drastic changes right away with what you’re eating. You can start by knowing what you’re going to eat first, by planning what you’re going to be cooking for the week. I started with easy fast meals I knew how to cook, they weren’t high in nutrients, but it helped me to get consistent with cooking my own meals. Once I started frequently cooking at home more and planning out my meals, I stopped going out to eat as much. After I got into my routine of planning easy meals, grocery shopping, and cooking, I started to try new things slowly and found what I liked and didn’t like by trying new things.

Always try new things. In order to get any of these habits into action, you need to be willing to try new things. We often set our standards and steps so high that we can barely take the first step forward without the fear of failure. To help you get started with these steps I’m going to bring my friend Bruce Lee back and let him share with you his wisdom.

"Empty your mind.
Be formless, shapeless, like water.
You put water into a cup; it becomes the cup.
You water into a teapot; it becomes the teapot.
You put it into a bottle; it becomes the bottle.
Now water can flow, or it can crash!
Be water, my friend."

Bruce Lee was teachable because he was willing to be a student that was willing to learn new things by challenging his thoughts and beliefs. He was always looking to find a more efficient way of doing things. Be willing to learn new things by asking questions and letting go of things that no longer work for your current situation.

Trying new things can feel scary or it could feel exciting, both words can relate to the sensation, but one can hinder your progress while the other can propel you towards progress. When you try something new and it doesn’t work, you can evaluate what happened and what you can do different the next time. It’s by having the courage to consistently keep trying is what will get you to where you want to go next in life.

The program and workouts

After 5 years of being a business owner, I’ve learned how important it is to set time in for your health, after all who’s going to take care of the business if you’re not taking care of yourself? Creating my own programming template is what has helped me the most with consistency towards my training. Programming is an art and a science because it combines one’s ability to uniquely paint a picture of what they want to do using the principles of exercise science to achieve this goal. The way I train works for me, but remember there’s over a 1000’s ways to write a program, do what’s best for you.

Being that I am limited with the time I can invest towards my fitness I like using functional fitness because it covers everything I need with only having to commit to 3-4 days of training that only lasts 45-50 minutes. Kettlebells are a staple in functional fitness training. I believe they provide a variety of application towards many health and fitness goals such as strength, hypertrophy, endurance, stability, mobility. Here is the templates I use for my own training.

Day One

This day is a squat and upper body pull focus. I begin with an exercise that will help stabilize my spine to keep my body stable during the mobility and strength focuses. The next exercise will be a lower body exercise that focus on improving joint mobility for the squat. The last exercise is lower body push exercise, in this program I choose the kettlebell front squat because of how challenging this exercise is to the entire body and nervous system.

The next series is another exercise to help with stabilization of the spine to enhance the stability of the joints during movement. This will be followed with an upper body mobility exercise followed by a upper body pulling exercise such as the renegade row.
WilliamSturgeon Workout1

Day Two

This is similar to day one regarding the sequence of the exercises, but the things that are different is that the mobility exercises will be hinge and push focused to help promote optimal movement during these exercises. Both day one two and three have conditioning components at the end of the workout to help promote heart health.
WilliamSturgeon Workout 2

Day Three

This day is different because it focuses on unilateral exercises. This day is going to be very neurologically taxing because of the demand on the nervous system to focus on greater stability and mobility with these exercises. Day three is my favorite day because of how hard it is, the movements are still focusing on upper body push/pull and lower body squat/hinge, they’re just done unilaterally.
William Sturgeon Workout3

Day Four (optional)

Day four is a simple cut and dry workout that includes upper body push/pull and lower body hinge/squat with an exercise that stabilizes the spine. This day can be optional for those who are not interested in trying to tame the beast. I’m currently working towards that goal myself, it’s a lot of hard work, but also it’s a fun goal to chase. If you’re unfamiliar with the Beast Tamer Challenge, that’s when you press, pistol squat, and pull up the beast (48 kg). For women there’s the Iron Maiden Challenge where they are performing the same exercises with a 24 kg.
William Sturgeon Workout4

My goal is not to look like a bodybuilder or to have a six pack and look shredded. I’m more focused on my health and what I can do for my body to help it perform the tasks I want to accomplish. Having wash board abs won’t help me climb a mountain, but working on my strength and endurance will.

You can absolutely do anything you want (within reason) because you’ve already accomplished the impossible. I want you to think about one of the hardest days in your life and how at that time it felt like it would be impossible to overcome, but you did because you’re reading this article. If you place yourself in a mindset of someone who can do hard things using your own accomplishments as proof, you’ll get to where you want to go a lot faster. Take small steps consistently because you can only climb mountains with one step at a time.