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Why You Should Be Using Kettlebells


Why You Should Be Using Kettlebells

First, what are kettlebells?! Kettlebells were first developed in Russia and are traditionally cast-iron rounded weights with a handle. Though you may have seen or used one in an exercise class, they’re actually still used a lot by special forces, martial arts masters, and national champion lifters, as well.

What makes this certain type of weight so special, you may ask? It’s because of how many athletic components you’re able to work. Research has shown kettlebell-specific routines to increase strength, strength endurance, general endurance, work capacity, balance, coordination, and agility, and to lower heart rate and blood pressure. A study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in 2010 found that, during a kettlebell snatch (a type of olympic lift) workout, subjects were burning at least 20.2 calories a minute. This is equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace, and they compared that calorie expenditure to the amount of calories burned while cross-country skiing uphill at a fast pace. With all of these possible benefits that basically cover every spectrum of fitness and athletics, why not train with kettlebells?

If you’re just getting into training and are overwhelmed by all the different machines and weight types throughout the gym, the kettlebell can be your answer to simplify things. I recently earned my StrongFirst Kettlebell Certification, which focuses on 6 lifts that can essentially be the entirety of your workout routine. You may need a couple different weights, but you can basically replace an entire gym full of equipment with just a couple of kettlebells. A national champion track and field thrower, Dan John famously said “with this kettlebell in my bedroom I can prepare for Nationals.” Form and technique are very important while using kettlebells to train, so make sure you’ve got a coach that can introduce you to the basics - as StrongFirst says: “safe execution first, perfect is a journey.” Even with light weight, just because of the nature of the exercises using this modality, you will get a large training effect.

For those athletes out there trying to up their game, this style of training will be hugely beneficial for you, as well. A big component of what makes kettlebell training transfer to sports is the relationship between relaxation and tension that is ever present. To hit a ball it’s furthest, or to throw the most powerful punch, an athlete needs both of these components at certain times. First starting loose so that they can react, then an initial tensing as they initiate the movement, followed by another relaxation period as the arm or bat flies to its target at top speed, and finally when connection has been made, tensing with everything the athlete has against his or her target. With this order, you can achieve maximum speed in the movement while backing it with power and strength. By training with kettlebells, you’re working on these same ideals, especially during the kettlebell swing which, of the main kettlebell lifts, most closely mimics this order. In the swing, you’re relaxed as you swing in the down motion, followed by tension to initiate the movement, relaxation as the bell starts to swing up, and finally achieving full tension at the top of the swing. The swing, snatch, and clean are all considered “ballistic” movements by StrongFirst and will follow this same basic principle, while the get-up, front squat, and overhead press are considered “grinds” that’ll improve the amount of tension and strength your body can achieve. Prof. Leonid Matveyev, a soviet scientist, noted that higher-level athletes could relax their muscles faster, observing an 800% difference between novice and olympic-level athletes in the speed of tension to relaxation in muscles. If you can’t relax your muscles, then they can’t hit maximum speed, which will ultimately hinder how much force you’re able to produce.

What does all of this mean? It means that any level of athlete can gain big benefits from a kettlebell workout routine, whether you’re training for a sport, competition, or just to look better. If you’re looking to mix things up - or to improve your own kettlebell skills - I suggest looking for a Strongfirst SFG certified trainer and get swinging!


10-Day Ketogenic Diet Challenge


10-Day Ketogenic Diet Challenge

Happy July!  I hope you all are enjoying the summer months.  As an exploration for myself this weekend, I decided to try a ketogenic diet (high fat, adequate protein, very low carbohydrate). I’m one week in and I’d like to give you a day-by-day look at my experience.  But first, why subject yourself to this?  Carbs are so tasty, how have I been able to resist?

A Brief History & Overview of the Diet

There are always new fad diets circulating in popularity, and San Francisco has no shortage of people willing to try them. Ketogenic diets are different, though, because they have then been around for thousands of years. Ketogenic diets have long been present in aboriginal cultures from throughout the world.  Indeed, many native peoples have, sometimes by necessity or circumstance, had to survive on low carbohydrate, high-fat diets. The most recent and memorable introduction of the diet to the west would, of course, be the Atkins Diet.

When first confronted with this diet, I was not very intrigued - eating high amounts of fat simply sounded unpleasant.  And I looove fruit!!!  It was only after I better understood the mechanism by which it affects the body and advantages to the diet itself that I decided to give it a try.

The goal of the ketogenic diet is this: to get the body in a state of “nutritional ketosis” in which the body is safely and effectively producing and utilizing ketones as its energy source.  Ketones are an energy source that comes from fatty acids.  Your body can run on ketones much in the same way it can run on glucose. When your body is in a state of ketosis, it's essentially in fat-burning mode, instead of the usual carbohydrate-burning mode.  Obviously, this can be a great strategy for losing excess body fat, but there are many other benefits, including increased cognitive clarity, better appetite control, increased performance in endurance related events, and the list goes on.

Sounds like a great idea to try.  So why don’t more people experiment with this diet?  Well as it turns out, your body is quite reluctant to go into ketosis!  It varies person to person, but the general consensus is that it takes weeks or more to adapt after weeks of low carbohydrate consumption.  Numbers range, but 20 - 30 grams of net carbs seems to be a general consensus.  And there can be no “cheat days.”  Eating a carbohydrate-laden meal can boot you right out of ketosis and send you back to square one.  Furthermore, one must also limit the amount of protein consumed, as it can be converted into glucose, like carbs. So, your diet must be heavy in fat – somewhere in the range of 75-90% of your daily calories.  That’s a lot of fat!

I am about 10 days into the ketogenic diet.  I’d like to share my observations:

The Good:

  1. The diet has made me very aware of my carbohydrate intake.  This awareness will no doubt allow me to make better decisions about what to eat long after the diet is over.
  2. Overall, I seem to be experiencing less inflammation in my body and less bloating after meals.
  3. There has been a noticeable decrease in fat around my belly and “love handles.”

The Bad:

  1. Eating a high quantity of fat is not enjoyable for me.  I really love the taste of fruit and I wish I could have some peaches or cherries
  2. My energy levels fluctuated a lot for the first week.  Adapting to high fat, low carbohydrate can be a difficult transition, to say the least.

The Ugly:

  1. Working out has been difficult as transitioning from glucose to ketones is a BIG jump.
  2. I could feel an overall higher level of stress in my body over the first 7 days.  I really felt off.

So far, it's been an interesting journey.  The individuals I’ve met that have adopted a ketogenic diet have all raved about its benefits (increased stamina, mental clarity, etc), but have warned me that it takes some time to get there.  So far, I can say with surety that I’m not there.  The last 10 days have been interesting, but overall, not a pleasant experience.  I figure that I’ll stay on the program for another week or so, and then most likely dive headfirst into some carbs.

A final note: everyone is built differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all diet.  

Ketogenic diets are difficult to maintain, but do have some promising benefits.  That being said, it’s not an easy process, and for some, it will not be the right choice. Some people, due to their metabolism or physical routines, will do much better on a diet heavy in carbohydrates. Figuring out what’s best for you is always going to take experimentation, and it will almost always be a dynamic process - the metabolic demands of you today versus you ten years ago are quite different, and the metabolic demands of you when you’re stressed versus not stressed are also quite different.  When it comes to food, no diet book will ever compare to your own food logging and your own observation. I hope this helped clarify ketogenic diets for you all, and gave you all some insight into whether or not they could be beneficial for you!


How Athleticism Could Benefit You


How Athleticism Could Benefit You

May Small Group Class Focus: Benefits of Athleticism

Whether you’re training to improve your overall health or working towards a more specific goal, athleticism will help take your game to the next level. All athletes, regardless of their ongoing goal, can benefit from moving more freely and effectively. Developing athleticism insinuates a focus on speed, agility, quickness, reaction time, coordination, and anaerobic conditioning helps you gain skills that will seep into all aspects of life. Think about it - the more agile, energetic, and sharp you are mentally and physically, the smoother your day-to-day tasks will be!

Speed, Quickness, and Reaction Time

Typically, speed refers to how fast you can move your body in a straight line and how efficiently you use your arms and legs to do so. Although speed and quickness may seem interchangeable, speed primarily relies on a combination of core and lower body strength whereas quickness refers to your body’s reflexes. By measuring your body’s instant and rapid response (quickness), reaction time will also find it’s way into the mix. The quicker you are to get your body into position, the more explosive you are, and therefore your reaction time will decrease. Explosiveness, speed, and quickness are all a part of the formula that helps you to improve your performance, leading to stronger results.

Agility, Coordination

When you use agility training, your balance, control, and flexibility will automatically improve also, allowing the body to maintain proper posture and alignment while moving freely. Teaching correct body placement will simultaneously create a pattern of muscle memory while allowing for more effortless moving.  This is especially true with the shoulders, lower back, and knees, because it’s important to make sure they are protected during more explosive movements. With agility comes coordination - or the ability for your entire body to move smoothly and meticulously. Everything you do requires coordination, although some movements require more advanced levels of coordination, such as playing a sport.

Anaerobic Conditioning

Anaerobic training involves short-lasting, a high-intensity activity where your body uses the oxygen already stored in your muscles for energy, therefore, running out of steam quicker than using unlimited energy from breathing the air outside. This type of training can come in many forms that you may be familiar with, including High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), heavy weight lifting, jumping rope, etc. Anaerobic conditioning is primarily for improving overall strength and muscle mass as opposed to cardiovascular fitness. But building muscle also requires a lot of energy, so it can also help with weight loss if it is alongside the right diet. Whatever your ambition, anaerobic training is a good choice of exercise.

All in all, training in athleticism gives you a wide range of options to maintain an appropriately challenging and engaging fitness regime, all the while being fun by allowing you to mix and match various workout styles to keep it interesting. We all know how running or cycling in place on a machine can get relatively boring, so finding exercises that require little to no equipment and are easy to do at any time is really quite important. And as with any training, repetition, and consistency are key.