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Editor: We are delighted to bring you the following sneak preview of Pavel Tsatsouline’s upcoming book (now available - see Products page) on kettlebell lifting. You might say that kettlebell lifting is the poor man’s version of Olympic lifting. It’s much easier to learn, and the emphasis is on repetitions rather than maximum weight. For most people, those two factors make it more appealing and accessible than Olympic lifting, which is very demanding and difficult to master.
As Pavel explains below, kettlebell lifting is widely practiced in the states of the former Soviet Union. It’s almost unknown in the West, however. Hopefully, that will soon change with the publication of Pavel’s book. Happily, his video is now available. Check it out on our products page, but read the excerpt first.
After watching Pavel’s video, we are excited about kettlebell lifting and have been practicing with dumbbells, until authentic Russian kettlebells are available (now available from Dragondoor.com). We believe you will share our enthusiasm after reading the excerpt -- and viewing the video. As Pavel would say, "What are you waiting for, Comrades."
We took this photo from the jacket of Pavel’s new video. It shows him pressing a 97-pound "bulldog" kettlebell. Very impressive! Don’t worry, you won’t be required to lift that much. Standard kettlebells come in three sizes, starting at 36 pounds.
The Russian Kettlebell Challenge:
Xtreme Fitness for Hard Living Comrades
by Pavel Tsatsouline, Master of Sports
An excerpt from the about to be released book of the same title
The Russian Weightlifting Yearbook stated, "It is hard to find a sport that has as deep root in the history of our people as kettlebell lifting."
The 'kettlebell', or a girya, is a cast iron weight that looks like a basketball with a suitcase handle. It was the tool that forged the formidable power of Russian dinosaurs like Ivan 'the Champion of Champions' Poddubny, an undefeated wrestler with six world champion belts to his name. Thanks to K-bells, Poddubny would toy with much larger opponents, lift them over his head, and slam them into the ground!
A century ago iron legends in Europe and America, the likes of Arthur Saxon, favoured kettlebells as much as their Russian colleagues. Then the West got prosperous and soft and the hardcore kettlebell faded into history along with many other manly pursuits of our grandfathers. Everywhere but in Russia, a rugged land that never knew easy living.
Russians have known kettlebells for as long as they have known vodka. Then Communists came to power and put kettlebell training on a scientific basis. Shortly after World War II, in 1948, the organized sport of kettlebell lifting, or girevoy sport, was born. Of the many stunts practiced by the old timers, only the one arm power snatch, the one arm military press, and the two K-bells power C&J, all done for reps with a standard weight, were chosen for officially sanctioned meets. In the 1980s girevoy sport followed the suit of Olympic weightlifting and the press was eliminated from competition.
Kettlebells come in 'poods'. A pood is an old Russian measure of weight which equals 16kg, or 36 pounds. There are one, one and a half, and two pood K-bells, 16, 24, and 32kg respectively. Occasionally heavier K-bells, or 'bulldogs', are custom made for the greats of Russian sports and circus. Yuri Vlasov made K-bells an integral part of his championship regimen and was very upset when someone stole his 56kg giryas. Sixty-year old circus strongman Valentin Dikul who recently pulled a semi-official All Time Historic Deadlift of 460kg - I say semi-official because it was the Guinness people rather than the International Powerlifting Federation who certified it - spends a lion's share of his training time with heavy kettlebells. [Editor: We’ll believe that 1015 deadlift when we see it.]
For a lifter KBs offer a unique auxiliary tool of training. Peter Kryloff, a Russian old timer famous for jerking overhead two beefy soldiers who sat inside two hollow spheres on the ends of Kryloff's specially made barbell, even was nicknamed 'the King of Kettlebells' after his favorite tool of strength development. Many famous Soviet weightlifters, such as Vorobyev, Vlasov, Alexeyev, and Stogov, started their Olympic careers with old-fashioned kettlebells. Recalls two times Olympic champion and world record holder Leonid Zhabotinskiy: "We kids got into the habit of visiting the local blacksmith. Among the metal scrap in his shop we found a one pood kettlebell. So we tried real hard lifting it with one arm, then with the other, so we would hurt all over the day after! …It was my first competition in lifting weights."
Occasional bulldogs notwithstanding, most Russian athletes stick to 32, 24, and 16kg. In competition these standard weights are lifted for repetitions. To earn a national ranking in girevoy sport I had to power snatch a 32kg kettlebell forty times with one arm, and forty with the other back to back - over 40,000 foot/pounds of work - and jerk two such bells forty-five times. I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, it is a puker.
The strange fixed weight/high rep competition format is explained by the counterintuitive discovery of Russian scientists that such training happens to be one of the best tools for all around physical development. Voropayev (1983) observed two groups of college students over a period of a few years. A standard battery of the armed forces PT tests was used: pullups, a standing broad jump, a 100m sprint, and a 1k run. The control group followed the typical university physical training program which was military oriented and emphasized the above exercises. The experimental group just lifted kettlebells. In spite of the lack of practice on the tested drills, the KB group showed better scores in every one of them!
More good news. Surprised researchers at the famous Lesgaft Physical Culture Institute in Leningrad (Vinogradov & Lukyanov, 1986) found a very high correlation between the KBL total and a great range of dissimilar tests: strength, measured with the three powerlifts and grip strength; strength endurance, measured with pullups and parallel bar dips; general endurance, determined by a 1000 meter run; work capacity and balance, measured with special tests!
So why waste iron - "We could make more Kalashnikovs!" - if you can get awesome results with the traditional moderate poundages, reasoned Russian scientists and coaches? They could not explain the spectacular all around fitness gains from the standpoint of specificity but were too practical to be phased by this mystery. "Understanding is a delaying tactic…," as one novelist put it. "Do you want to understand how to swim, or do you want to jump in and start swimming? Only people who are afraid of water want to understand. Other people jump in and get wet."
Russians got so serious about their kettlebells that they even started offering a free KB course for kids by mail. The Red Army, too pragmatic to waste their troopers' time on pushups and situps, quickly caught on. Every Russian military unit, even outposts remote as the Mars, has a gym. For some strange reason, maybe because it makes your sweaty basement dungeon look like a yuppie health spa, it is called a 'courage corner' (I wish it was a joke). Every courage corner, including the permafrost crusted cave in one of the units I served in, is equipped with K-bells.
Spetsnaz, or Special Forces, personnel owe much of their wiry strength, explosive agility, and never quitting stamina to kettlebells. K-bell high rep ballistics kick the fighting man's system into the warp drive in the best traditions of twenty rep squats - minus the chafing thighs which would be a nuisance to a combat diver or a paratrooper.
Repetition snatches and C&Js are also very popular with law enforcement in the former Soviet states and now these brutal drills are getting adopted by elite American SWAT and special response teams that I train.
For law enforcement officers, military personnel, and athletes from combat sports who contemplate WL as tool for developing explosiveness, KBs present a powerful alternative to barbell snatches and C&Js. Weightlifting is a wonderful sport, but let us face it, it is an elitist sport like polo or sailing. WL requires state of the art equipment and constant expert coaching. It is a rare lifter like Clarence Bass who can achieve success on the platform without the above. [Editor: I taught myself the Olympic lifts by studying the photos in Strength & Health magazine. I thought it was easy at the time. Now, I don’t know how I did it.] Girevoy sport, on the other hand, is a working class sport. Kettlebells are cheap, no platform is required, and anyone can master the girevoy sport skills in a short period of time from a book or a video.
And you shall gain a lot more than just explosive strength for your efforts. Ballistic kettlebell lifts' ability to develop superhuman cardio and melt fat through its sky high metabolic cost must be experienced to be appreciated. A martial artist capable of 500 straight Hindu squats observed on the dragondoor.com forum that 25 reps per arm with a forty-five pound dumbbell left him 'completely whipped'.
And, I would add, when you try these snatches with a kettlebell you will throw up a lung. A kettlebell forces you to pull a good foot higher than you would pull a dumbbell because you need to flick the former over your wrist. Steve Maxwell, M. Sc., a Senior Brazilian Jiu Jutsu World Champion, stated flat out after he had trained with his makeshift kettlebells for a few months, that "kettlebells are a great conditioning tool for a martial artist."
The added wrist action also makes KB ballistics a superb tool for developing one's ability to absorb ballistic shocks, a necessity for hard living comrades. Repetitive ballistic shock of KBL builds some serious tendons and ligaments in your wrists, elbows, shoulders, and back with power to match!
Ironically, if it is done with care, it appears to be healthy! As Drs. Verkhoshansky and Siff state in Supertraining, "…joints subjected to heavy impact are relatively free of osteoarthritis in old age and those subjected to much lower loading experience a greater incidence of osteoarthritis and cartilage fibrillation… It appears that the cartilages of joints subjected to regular impulsive loading with relatively high contact stresses is mechanically much stiffer and better adapted to withstand the exceptional loading of running and jumping than the softer cartilage associated with low loading. Thus, joint cartilage subjected to regular repetitive loading remains healthy and copes very well with impulsive loads, whereas cartilage that is heavily loaded infrequently softens… the collagen network loses its cohesion and the cartilage deteriorates (Swanepoel, 1998)." [Editor: We don’t doubt that KBL is good for the joints, but we urge you to take your time and be careful while learning the skill. Start light and give your body plenty of time to adjust.]
Indeed, many Russians successfully rehabilitated hopeless back injuries with kettlebells. The most famous one has to be the earlier mentioned superdeadlifter Valentin Dikul who broke his back when he was a young circus acrobat but came back to become a great strongman!
I could go on about the many benefits of kettlebell lifting forever but it is time to cut to the chase. Soldier, Be Strong!, the official Soviet armed forces manual on strength training approved by the Ministry of Defense, called exercises with kettlebells "one of the most effective means of strength development" and "the new era in the growth of the human strength potential". Enough said.
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Copyright ©2001 Advanced Fitness Solutions, Inc.
(Editor: Don’t forget to check out the companion video: GO VIDEO)
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