I’m (Finally) Lifting a Heavier Kettlebell

It’s the 35-pound weight, or “one pood” in Russian

Melissa Toldy
Oct 27 · 5 min read
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Kettlebells are everywhere these days. The exercise weights are so popular, that when the pandemic hit the US, they sold out immediately.

When I decided to try kettlebells, I bought a 15-pound weight. My partner balked — No, that’s too light for you. And he was right, but he didn’t understand something: I’m scared of weights.

My partner introduced me to kettlebells, about ten years ago. He’s from Russia, and he claims Russians invented the weights. He also claims a 16kg (35 lb) bell is the standard size for women in the Russian military. I can’t verify his claims, although I did find evidence that the term “kettlebell” first appeared in a Russian dictionary from 1704.

I witnessed the benefits of kettlebell training (by observing my partner’s physique), but I preferred yoga for physical fitness. I don’t exercise to a certain way; I exercise to a certain way. I want to feel strong, centered, balanced, solid.

Yoga gave me the results I was looking for, for a long time. Depression and anxiety have plagued me since my teen years, and yoga calmed my nerves, but sun salutations didn’t “pump me up.” As relaxing as downward dog felt, I still struggled with low-energy levels.

Then my sister asked me to run with her in the mornings. We chose a beautiful lakeside path, making the exertion bearable. My calves locked up initially, but my energy shifted. I felt more alive.

Yoga helped me recover from daily stress, but I was missing the healthy stress that cardio provided. Running made me re-evaluate my exercise routine, and weights seemed like a logical addition.

When I decided to try kettlebells, I bought a 15-pound weight. My partner balked — , . And he was right, but he didn’t understand something: I’m scared of weights.

In my mind, weights equal pain, or worse, injury. That’s another reason I preferred yoga. Low-impact exercise felt safer, less harmful. Of course, that’s not true. There are plenty of ways to injure yourself in yoga.

It’s possible the 15-pounder helped me gain confidence. I don’t want to discredit the smaller bell completely. But when I worked up the courage to try the 35-pound weight, I understood what my partner had been talking about.

Fitness trainers make the same recommendation, citing form as the main reason. With a heavier weight, your muscles tighten, making your movements more stable. Lighter bells may encourage you to overextend, compromising your alignment.

Of course, the reverse is also true. If you don’t have good form, and you use a heavier bell, you risk hurting yourself.

A month after I switched to the heavier bell, I noticed a change in my posture. You would think 15 years of yoga would give me perfect posture, but the resistance (from the extra weight) toned the muscles in my back — the posterior chain. It was as if I had grown taller.

I’ve been lifting a heavier kettlebell for a few months now, and I’m amazed by the results. Again, I don’t focus on how I ; I’m more concerned with how I . My partner says I look great, but I’m really happy with the extra energy I’ve gained.

What’s nice, too, is how kettlebell training easily fit into my exercise routine. I like to sandwich a KB circuit between cardio and yoga. The cardio gets my blood pumping — a good warm-up before lifting weights. And the yoga stretches and cools down my fatigued muscles.

The crazy part is, I only do 10 minutes of kettlebell exercise, three times a week. I’m planning to gradually (very gradually) increase my reps, but I think it’s impressive that such a short sequence could create a noticeable impact on my fitness.

I’m not trying to convince everyone to lift heavy kettlebells. I’m not a professional trainer, and I’ve relied on my partner’s influence, for the most part. I guess the ideal reader for this post would be anyone who is already familiar with kettlebells, but they’re afraid of using a heavier one.

My background with yoga has given me an advantage, in that I’m aware of my body, internally. I’ve spent thousands of hours on the mat, tuning in to my breath, muscles, and movements. Without this awareness, I would be more susceptible to injury.

Weights still scare me, and maybe that’s a good thing. A healthy fear might keep me from hurting myself. Finding the courage to give it a try, though, has boosted my confidence and my energy. I can’t tell anyone else if it’s worth the risk for them, but for me, I’m happy I switched.

On the flip side, I’m influencing my partner to do more yoga. He uses kettlebells for a total body workout — doing everything from swings to Turkish get-ups to windmills. The exercises keep him toned and fit, but he often neglects the recovery aspect. Like, stretching and resting.

We share a small apartment, and before the pandemic, he was going to the gym, whereas I was exercising at home. I went to a yoga studio on occasion, but mostly, I rolled out the mat in the living room.

My partner loved his gym routine, and he tried to get me on board. It seemed like a waste of money, or at least, that was my excuse. Really, I think I was intimidated. Or maybe I have bad memories from being corralled into year-long contracts. I guess I could have given it a shot. After all, when I invited my partner to yoga, he joined me at the studio.

Weights still scare me, and maybe that’s a good thing. A healthy fear might keep me from hurting myself. Finding the courage to give it a try, though, has boosted my confidence and my energy. I can’t tell anyone else if it’s worth the risk for them, but for me, I’m happy I switched.

Now we’re both home, and we’re encouraging each other to stay fit. The space is not ideal, but we make it work. Luckily, both yoga and kettlebell don’t require a lot of space. When I was thinking about writing this piece, I asked my partner what he likes about kettlebells, and “space” is one of the first things he mentioned.

Also, he said, it’s a workout you can do at home. His response got me thinking about how yoga has always been an at-home practice for me. Even when I first started to learn at studios, I would go home and practice the postures. I loved how I could roll out my mat anywhere, at any time.

I’m not sure if I would have ever tried kettlebells, if it weren’t for my partner. But here we are, influencing each other, and besides, there’s not much else to do these days.

EPISODIC

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