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The Russian Secret Weapon Breaks Out Into Mainstream Popularity

For centuries, the iron kettlebell was Russia’s best kept strength and fitness secret. Just a few years ago, there were but a handful of Americans who had ever heard of the Russian kettlebell (known in Russia as a “girya”). Of this handful, a few of those began to actually train with one. Thanks to the propaganda of Pavel Tsatsouline (aka “The Evil Russian”), along with the backing of John DuCane’s Dragon Door Pubications, the western world watched as the iron curtain was drawn back to reveal this most effective and efficient piece of exercise equipment.

Suddenly, the 100 lb. bag of fertilizer seemed lighter. The sledge hammer swung with greater force. And playfully tossing junior up into the air could end up accidently throwing him into orbit.

While many scoffed at the appearance of the kettlebell and at the odd exercises performed with one, the open-minded gave the kettlebell a chance and discovered what is known to gireviks (the Russian term for “strongman” and usually used to refer to one who uses a kettlebell) as the What-The-Heck (or, for preference, you may substitute the other H word) effect. The return on investment for a kettlebell was unheard of in the strength training world. Atheletes were consistently reporting new PRs (personal records) in strength, speed, endurance, and so on. But not only were the gains great in the areas specifically trained for, these same people found that working out with the kettlebell also gave them unexpected, residual side-effect strength for everyday life. Suddenly, the 100 lb. bag of fertilizer seemed lighter. The sledge hammer swung with greater force. And playfully tossing junior up into the air could end up accidently throwing him into orbit. Hence the term What-The-Heck (WTH).

So eventually, the handful of gireviks became a community of people from all backgrounds, from Olympic powerlifters to wrestlers to basketball players to couch potatoes, all gathering together on the Dragon Door Forum to discuss with Pavel Tsatsouline the principles of girevoy (the Russian term for the sport of Kettlebell lifting) as discussed in his articles in Muscle Media magazine as well as in his first kettlebell training book, “The Russian Kettlebell Chalenge”, and his unorthodox weight training book, “Power To The People”.

Was this the beginning of a new paradigm for the Western fitness world? Or was this just another new fitness craze or fad? While outsiders may have debated this question, gireviks knew that the kettlebell was something special. It had already been around for hundreds of years and it certainly wasn’t going to go away now. How could it, when the kettlebell gave them better results than anything they had ever trained with before? While it is not the miracle cure-all for strength training, it was clear that the kettlebell was here to stay and that it should have a prominent place in one’s exercise repretoire.

Sylvestor Stallone presses the kettlebell in the latest Rocky sequel "Rocky Balboa".  Click the picture to view the movie trailer.

Sylvestor Stallone presses the kettlebell in the latest Rocky sequel "Rocky Balboa". Click the picture to view the movie trailer.

Gradually, the girevik’s best kept secret continued to leak out to the general public, via venues such as The Arnold Expo (aka “The Arnold Classic” and “The Arnold Fitness Expo”), sporadic newspaper articles and local television news reports, and an occassional secular magazine (such as “People”) or body building magazine, including Pavel Tsatsouline’s regular contributions to Bill Phillips’ Muscle Media (of the Body For Life fame). Eventually, reports of various celebrities and high-profile atheletes using kettlebells began to circulate as well.

Today, the kettlebell continues to pick up speed on its road to mainstream fitness. While there are still many who have never seen a kettlebell in person, there are very few that have not at least heard of the thing that “looks like a bowling ball with a handle on it”. And the kettlebell’s visibility is sure to reach a new level as the newest sequel to Sylvestor Stallone’s Rocky franchise called “Rocky Balboa” hits the big screens. Gireviks were pleasantly surprised to see Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa (played by Sylvestor Stallone) pressing a kettlebell in the latest teaser for the film. Whether or not the film is viewed as a success or failure in the box office, this is definitely a significant step forward for the popularity of the kettlebell.

What does the future hold for the iron kettlebell? We know one thing… from now on, the kettlebell is going to become and remain a permanent and critical fixture in America’s fitness culture. There are gyms that are beginning to pop up from coast to coast that offer kettlebells in their plethora of equipment. The classes to become certified to train others to use kettlebells are busting at the seams. And as of the writing of this article, a Google search on the word “kettlebell” returned 302,000 results.

If you are already working out with kettlebells, a huge congratulations to you. If you haven’t tried them yet, what are you waiting for? Join the biggest revolution in the strength and fitness industry since Arnold Schwartzenegger starred in “Pumping Iron”. It is the coming of age for the Russian kettlebell. The world is finally ready for it. Are you?