I THINK OF kettlebells as a strength technique to be endured rather than loved. I have done enough kettlebell work to know I could learn a whole lot more, but mostly I think of it as hard.
I also haven’t trained at a place that focuses on kettlebells, like Kettlebility in the Roosevelt neighborhood, which teaches Russian-style kettlebell technique. Advocates of kettlebells say you can get stronger than you ever thought possible, from core to grip strength with kettlebells.
I want that. I also figured the trainers at Kettlebility should get a shot at changing my mind.
Newcomers to the studio must take and pass the studio’s “Groove Your Swing” class, where you learn basic techniques. Once you get the baseline moves down, you can take other classes.
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I noticed right away everyone trains barefoot. When I mentioned it to a regular, she said the trainers talk about feeling pressure in your feet on the carpet for stability. I had a feeling these trainers would have something to say about my form.
We warmed up with active stretches; then our instructor, Kathleen, had us gather several “bells,” as they call them, of varying weights.
We started with the halo. You take the kettlebell, turn it upside down and move it in a circle around your head, as close to hair and ears as possible. Halos warm up the shoulder girdle, strengthen your back and mobilize your shoulders.
Next, we worked hinges versus a squat. In a squat, you bend your knees deeply and your hips go toward the floor. For a hinge, you fold at your hips, so your chest moves forward, your back engages and backside sticks out.
This was our setup for the dead lift. We stood on either side of our heaviest kettlebell, hinged at our hips, squeezed our armpits into our ribs, took a sniff in, let out a hiss exhale, and stood up with our kettlebell.
The deadlift felt familiar, though Kathleen kept reminding me to keep my toes on the floor.
My real nemesis was the swing. Kathleen had us hinge at our hips, drag the kettlebell back, feel our weight in our heels, then swing. For each round, we swung the bell 10 times, using the sniff/hiss breath technique to engage our core.
I thought my swing was tolerable. After watching me, owner Andrea U-Shi Chang put her hand in front of me and told me not to let the bell hit her hand. Keep your arms straight, she said. My bell kept hitting her hand. We also practiced using lighter bells with a towel threaded through; my bell flipped up a few times.
Andrea told me I was leaking power out of my core. I don’t hinge enough at my hips, she said, and I need to extend my head to stay out of my neck. I also lose power at the top, pushing my hips forward instead of standing straight up. I was muscling my kettlebell up with my shoulders to compensate, which is tiring.
It became clear I would need to take this class again. And again.
The studio’s goal is to firm up your technique so you don’t lose form even in classes where you swing the kettlebell hundreds of times. In the more advanced classes, you learn additional weightlifting techniques, and I’m sure have a crazy sweat fest.
I dream of the day where I have a beautiful kettlebell swing. The only way to get there is, well, more kettlebell time. Here I go.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.