It’s 10 a.m. on the first Monday of January, and Precision Kettlebells is jumping. Actually, it’s swinging, as 25 PK members sweat their way through Michelle Cleaver’s mid-morning class. Another 30 people packed the 5:15 a.m. class led by Mike Barbato, who owns the Malvern gym with his wife, Kate. “It started in 2009 with Mike leading a small group at a local park,” says Kate. “Now, we have 250 members.”
It’s easy to be intimidated by kettlebells. They look unwelcoming and somewhat foreign, probably because their history lies in Russian athletics. Made of cast iron or steel, they were used to measure grain and other products before sportsmen incorporated them into weight training. It’s why many kettlebells are stamped with kilogram measurements instead of pounds.
Lifting too much weight is one of the first mistakes newbies make. A 10-kg kettlebell seems like a reasonable place to start—until you realize that it weighs 22 pounds. It’s no surprise that improperly lifting kettlebells injures backs, shoulders, wrists and other valuable body parts. “That’s true of any weights and any exercise equipment,” Kate says.
To use them properly, you must learn to clean, snatch and swing. No one is quite sure where those terms originated, but they’re a few of the building blocks. In a clean, you lift the kettlebell from the floor to the chest and rack it against the shoulder. The snatch takes it between the legs then overhead in one movement. A swing sounds self-explanatory, but it takes practice to separate the motion from lifting the kettlebell. Deadlifts, presses, squats and other techniques are added to the exercises.
At Precision Kettlebells, Cleaver demonstrates the moves again and again during each 45-minute workout. The sessions also include cardio blasts on ski ergs or bikes, TRX band intervals, and core work. Each day has exercises that deploy different muscles. “We’re adamant that no one does the same workout twice,” says Kate.
Kettlebell workouts are rigorous—you’ll definitely feel it the next day. Legs and core must be engaged, not to mention parts of your arm you didn’t know existed. It takes patience and practice to perfect the techniques, so it’s not a one-and-done deal.
Is it worth it? There’s no denying the results: lean muscle, toned arms and tight quads. For a new challenge and to build strength, say “da” to kettlebells.