Two years ago today I led my first kettlebell training group at AFE in Montague.  Wow! I am amazed! Kettlebells can be insidious characters, insinuating their way into your life.  Soon you can’t remember life before them.  I think this is how kettlebells have survived so long – since their humble beginnings back in the 1700’s until their current bid to take over world fitness.  Devious even.

I can clearly recall how excited I was to finally start kettlebell training, to share it in a small group. When I look back over my dayplanners for that time, as I prepared for those first sessions the exclamation marks attest to my enthusiasm.  Two years later my enthusiasm is even more expansive and assured.  Kettlebells are indeed brilliant pieces of cranky metal.

In 2005 I came across a magazine reference to kettlebells and therein began my persistent fascination.  The thought of what could be achieved with kettlebell training kept beckoning me, taunting me.  But kettlebells and information about kettlebell training were not easy to come by at that time.  North America was in the early stages of the kettlebell invasion and kettlebell intelligence was fairly hush hush.

If you googled ‘kettlebell’ in 2005 the only reference that came up was Pavel Tsatsouline’s RKC certification in Minneapolis.  Too far away and expensive for an underemployed personal trainer in rural PE, I sulked and cussed and connived, but I could not see my way clear to the time and expense.  Time and again I visited the internet posting, hoping for what?  That something more realistic would magically be there.

I couldn’t get information on Youtube either. Youtube was a burgeoning new internet phenomenon in 2005 and there was not a single thing kettlebell to be found there.  Imagine! That seems so strange now, when the ‘net is filled with experts, some self-appointed and frightening, in all things kettlebell.  Youtube offers a plethora of best practice and worst practice videos.  But when I was first interested, my searches for knowledge and information were stymied.

I purchased Pavel‘s books and poured over them.  Andrea duKane, in From Russia With Tough Love,  became my bed time reading.  I kept googling ‘kettlebell’.  I still wanted to travel to Minneapolis, and wished hard for a training program closer to home.  I wanted to find some place I could purchase a kettlebell at a reasonable cost and I ran into stonewalls for months.

Then, one day early in 2006, the name Shawn Mozen came up in my search.  He was in Montreal and selling kettlebells.  He had a dvd too!  I called Shawn right away and arranged to purchase the dvd and my first three kettlebells.  Shawn, now a larger-than-life kettlebell guru in Canada, was struggling to bring this amazing workout tool to the masses in early 2006.  He literally hoofed it around the McGill campus carrying my three kettlebells (one each of 8kg, 12kg and 16kg) in search of my partner who was there on a conference.  That service epitomizes Shawn’s passion for kettlebells and for sharing them with the world and earned him the loyalty of this customer.

With kettlebells at hand, some pictures in some books, and a dvd,  I began moving kettlebells. Not always sure what I was doing, I knew this was one great tool.  There was no way this tried and true tool, coming out of a sport history in Russia, was a ‘fitness craze’.  The continuing boom in kettlebell training around the world has not yet peaked.  Good things persevere.

Shawn at the 2007 certification

Mozen, still plugging away on the kettlebell road to fame, finally put together an instructor certification course.  I’m not sure when he started these, but when I trained with him in Toronto in the early fall of 2007 he was tweaking us as one of his early groups and still feeling his way through certification standards.  That much was apparent.  His benchmark workout, the Chrissy, was not yet in place, as Pavel’s snatch test was not yet in place when Shawn trained with him in 2003.  Shawn’s passion, dedication and crazy-assed training style was infectious.  He didn’t take our hundreds of dollars and call us certified.  No.  He took our hundreds of dollars, put us through grueling hours of drills and workouts, and if we survived, then he called us certified.

When I touched down on the Charlottetown runway after that certification training, I loudly bemoaned the stairs from the plane and I resented the clutch and shift on my car.   Every fibre of my being ached, my forearms were swollen and massively bruised, I was mentally and physically exhausted – and I was ecstatic! Pumped! Hopping crazy!  I hadn’t passed out or tossed my cookies (like the young woman next to me in training), and I completed my first tabata stronger, with more repetitions, than when I started it.

I was confident in my ability to execute movements with the kettlebell.  This, combined with my other certifications and training experiences, meant I was uniquely qualified in the fitness profession in eastern Canada.   I was the only certified Kettlebell Instructor east of Montreal. 

Finally, I was bringing kettlebell training to Prince Edward Island, more than two years after contracting this virulent bug.

It took a number of months to convince the owner of the gym where I worked that kettlebells needed to be purchased and a training group put in to place.  This was not an easy sell, though today she is offering 10 kettlebell classes weekly! In the meantime I was happy to use the kettlebells myself and to train private clients with them.  These clients were able to extol the wonders of kettlebell training to others…sort of got the kettlebell rolling, so to speak.  Training myself and private clients was a lot of fun and was the beginning of my learning curve as a Kettlebell Instructor.

So, with much persistence and persuasion, the first Island Kettlebell Training group started on January 28, 2008.  A small group of people who placed their trust in me, who believed me when I told them they would get a great workout with this crazy tool signed up for an 8 week 2x/week session.  They were eager to take on this ball with a handle that you moved in various ways, combine it with body weight exercises and jumping rope and be the leaders in kettlebell training.

It was a closed group — there were only 6 kettlebells (plus my own).  We were relegated to the archipelago of the gym – a very cold racquetball court where frost literally lined the walls, lights were harsh, our voices and heartbeats echoed and doing floor work required being prone on permafrost.

We loved it.  We worked so hard we were unaware of our surroundings.

We grew stronger, more able to endure.  We could focus and hold that focus through tremendous challenge.  We walked taller, straighter and were more self-possesed.  We were kettlebell warriors; we were a very special breed.  We were a bit smug about it all but we wanted to share our training discoveries and results with others.

Eventually more kettlebells were purchased, ongoing classes were offered and I began training groups in other locations, lugging a trunk full of kettlebells around on a regular basis, spreading the good and killing my rear springs – um, in my tired old car.  CBC radio and television caught wind of this kettlebell hotness and did features on my classes – the reporters, in both cases, began kettlebell training with me as a result.

I traveled to Toronto a second time on account of kettlebells.  In May 2009 I attended the first Canadian Kettlebell Convention and audited  Shawn’s first Level II certification course (shoulder injuries prevented me from participating in this cert but I think I worked up a sweat just watching) and to benefit with a day of training with Steve Cotter.

Steve Cotter and I, May 2009

I could hardly believe my good fortune in the Universe of Girya!  Steve Cotter is a wonder! Despite my shoulders I was able to complete most of his ‘zoo’ warm up and joint mobility exercises (I think some of this ‘animal’ stuff has leaked into agatsu training programs as a result).  This ‘warm up ‘went on for about an hour!  Steve’s sport work is pretty cool too.  If you are interested in kettlebell competition or long endurance work with the kettlebell there is a specific style to handling the kettlebells and Steve is the person with whom to train.

One of the women who participated in the daytime inaugural group two years ago, Susan Walsh, completed her kettlebell certification last year and continues to spread the kettlebell goodness.  She was able to pick up the classes I left behind at AFE when I opened my own studio in Charlottetown and she has amassed an enthused kettlebell rabble of her own.

Time, as anyone in the middle of a tabata can tell you, is a strange, watery concept.  That first class feels like it was just yesterday and at the same time it feels like years ago.  That class was not my beginning with kettlebells, but it was the birth of Island Kettlebell Training (join the facebook group of that name if you like!).

Since that day I have instructed well more than 300 groups in addition to presentations on kettlebell training, charity events, media interviews, personal kettlebell training sessions, and dozens of skills clinics.

Kettlebells create kinship.  The people who train with them have created a strong, supportive and collegial community.  A kettlebell coterie might best describe this cleaving . . . or maybe it’s just that if someone isn’t next to you sweating, grunting and muttering at least as much as you are, you just might take that annoying piece of cast iron, heap it with the most colourful adjectives you know, drop it down a deep hole and cut your losses.

Kettlebells are like that.  They attract and repel at the same time.  It is truly a love-hate relationship of immense proportions, and you can’t help but return time and time again because you know, in your heart, your bones and sinews, at the most molecular level of your being, that kettlebells can make you a better person.

Whatever your reason for kettlebell training, I am immeasurably grateful for all the richness kettlebells have brought into my life.  When my class programs are stolen and hidden, when I am barricaded out of the room, when I am blessed with names crude and creative, when folks come late to avoid jumping rope, when my instructions are questioned and my corrections/exhortations are met with belligerence – I know it is good.   And, even better, so do you.  The indescribable feeling of accomplishment and triumph which comes with relief at the end of every session…that’s why we keep doing it.

Two years strong, bring it on!