An old tool for a new workout

Photo by Mike Ong

By Mike Ong
For FirefighterNation.com

Kettlebell History

For this information, I had to refer to our department’s kettlebell subject matter expert, Bob Ross, a 52-year-old firefighter/paramedic who’s been on the Phoenix Fire Department for 27 years. He’s also a Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) certified instructor who rehabilitated himself from back surgery after sustaining an injury in 2003 that could have ended his career. He began using a kettlebell after reading an article about a new exercise program that involved using a “cannonball with a handle.” After two short weeks, Ross’ back felt stronger and less painful. He also noticed that his cardiovascular strength was starting to increase. In 2005, he became certified by the RKC. The RKC was the first kettlebell instructor course offered in the United States, and continues to certify instructors today. I’ve worked with Ross and can attest to his excellent fitness level as well as the applicability and benefits of working out with kettlebells.

According to Ross, the kettlebell is more than 200 years old and was initially used by Russian meat butchers as a counter-weight for their meat scales. Although it’s not certain which butcher was the first to recognize the kettlebell’s potential as an exercise tool, it’s safe to say that the idea caught on and even became popular among Russian strongmen. Eventually, the kettlebell became a tool for training Soviet soldiers, and in particular, the Soviet Special Forces. Pavel Tsatsouline, a physical training instructor for the Soviet Special Forces, introduced the kettlebell to the United States in 2001. Tsatsouline remains one of the most experienced and knowledgeable kettlebell instructors to date.

Key Kettlebell Characteristics

The kettlebell’s functionality and applicability comes from its design and the exercises that can be done with it. The first thing you notice when hoisting a kettlebell is its comfort. The weight hangs in your hand and is easily balanced. This is because the weight of the kettlebell hangs below your grip. It’s this design that allows the kettlebell to be held loosely and rotated or “flipped” in your hand without dropping it when performing movements like the kettlebell swing. You can’t do that with a dumbbell. A dumbbell requires a stationary and firm grip; otherwise you run the risk of dropping it.

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