ih8exercise.com is in the process of trying a bunch of different workouts, all reviewed from the point of view of someone who's never done them before—a complete beginner to that type of exercise or workout. In every write-up we'll explain in straightforward language what happened in the class, what it felt like, and whether we'd do it (and pay for it) again. If there's a workout you want us to try, or you want to review a workout for ih8exercise.com please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
I'm not an athlete. Except for a couple of years of girls' softball in junior high a few millennia ago, I've never been on a sports team. But I believe that everyone, even the biggest exercise hater in the world, would love to feel more athletic: faster, more nimble, stronger.
Strength is what comes to mind when I picture kettlebells. They have a sort of innocuous, even cute, shape—bulbous at the bottom with a little handle, not unlike the shape of a six-year-old girl's purse. But the similarity to anything sweet and playful ends there. I knew enough about kettlebells before taking a class last week with Amy Dixon, creator of the "Raise Some Bell" DVD, to know that this class would be intense. Knowing, too, that Amy is a highly-regarded veteran of the fitness world, I had no illusions I would be getting off easy in her class. My goal? Not to knock any of my teeth out with an errant swing.
What I didn't know was that I was also going to experience another kind of workout for the first time: a Vipr workout. The hour-long class that Amy was teaching at the Santa Monica, California, Equinox didn't feature only kettlebells; we'd be alternating the bells with movements using a long, weighted, hard-plastic tube with handles called a Vipr. Yikes.
The hour-long class was divided into two sessions with the kettlebells, two with the Vipr, alternating between the two, and then some core (belly) work on a mat. Amy worked in Tabata-like timing to many of the moves, challenging us to go all-out for short bursts of 20 seconds, followed by brief recovery periods.
For the kettlebell sessions I had chosen two bells in two weights and was glad that I had the lighter weight handy to switch to; if you're not sure which weight you'll need, it's best to have a choice handy. We did swings (holding the bell's handle with both hands and swinging it up to chest height as you come to stand, then letting the kettlebell fall back between your legs as you squat down), cleans, and chops. None of the moves were hard to follow for a beginner, so if you choose a weight that challenges you but isn't too heavy you should be able to follow along well and even hit your stride, as I did.
Amy offered modifications for every move, and you should seek out an instructor who does the same. Kettlebells have something of a reputation for causing injuries—and they are straight-up weight, like any kind of free weight—but there's really no reason to be afraid of them, especially as they are fairly cheap to buy, readily available at most gyms, and very versatile as a tool to keep mixing up workouts, once you get the hang of them.
When it came time for the Vipr sessions I definitely felt less than graceful. Even the lighter weight of Vipr I'd chosen (which I think was 4 kilograms, or nearly 9 pounds) was something of a struggle for me, especially when combined with the length of the tube—40 or 48 inches, depending on which you choose. I definitely wasn't bored during the moves we did, though. I made sure to modify movements lifting the Vipr over my head since I have an old rotator cuff (shoulder) injury and knew that the weight of the Vipr, as with the kettlebell, would strain it.
One thing that surprised me about the kettlebell/Vipr combo class was how much of my core, especially my low back, was being used in the movements. If you're like me you often do a lot of ab stuff while seated or lying down, so I was surprised how much strain my back took from these movements.
Most everything Amy had us doing were full-body movements, including a lot of bending, twisting, and lifting, so when I think about it, the low backache I had the next day shouldn't have come as such a surprise. This is a great class for building strength all over, and there's a good calorie burn too, since you'll keep moving from one thing to the next. It's easy, though, to get caught up in the equipment and not stay focused on what your body is doing (and feeling), so be sure not to put too much emphasis on the toys. Otherwise, you may be buddying up to a heating pad the next day, as I did.
BOTTOM LINE: I'd love to take this class again, though I might use it as the "centerpiece" of a tougher training week--something to build up to. I would also stick with the lighter kettlebell (experimenting with a heavier one for some moves) and definitely a lighter Vipr until I got better at wielding the big plastic tube without looking quite so much like an idiot with a bazooka. The class was fast-moving, fun, and easy to follow and modify as needed without feeling like you're falling behind everyone else.
Disclosure: Equinox kindly allowed me to attend the kettlebell/Vipr class at no charge.