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Friday, May 11, 2012

Susan vs. Kettlebell


I love me some kettlebell ... sort of!

No, it's not a legal battle:  I'm on day five of my self-imposed Two Week Challenge at a local gym, and what a journey it's been so far!  In addition to taking hour-long classes auspiciously named "Body Sculpt" and "Muscle Mix", I've been working with a personal trainer in half-hour sessions.  I found out mid-week that my trainer, Nic, is known as "The Punisher".  He is a Mixed Martial Arts athlete and looks like it.  Like most dancers, I am pretty good at driving myself hard, so I wanted someone who would push me - Nic certainly is tough!

My goals of cross-training and exploring different ways of working my body are certainly being met.  I thought that as a dancer, I'd already learned how to use my muscles in myriad ways, especially with my work in Chinese ethnic dance.  But as soon as I started the challenge at the gym, I learned just how much dance has trained me to use my body in one way: Up and forward, on the balls of my feet, always stretching towards the heavens.  Even Korean dance, the most "down" I've ever had to be, is still forward compared to what I'm working on now.

Back on Your Heels!
One of the first things I learned was the proper "squat" stance.  It is a prerequisite to many exercises, including one that involves holding a kettlebell and swinging it between the legs, then snapping the hips upward to swing the kettlebell up.  After Nic showed me the stance and moves, I gamely picked up the weight and nearly swung myself out across the room.

"Back on the heels!  Sit in your hips!  Butt back into your hips!  On the heels, snap the hips, on the heels!" Nic barked, albeit in an encouraging way.

Wait, what do you mean, "back on the heels" and "sit in your hips"?  This was the very antithesis of everything I've ever learned!  It suddenly dawned on me as I panted and sweated that this was going to be very tough and interesting, indeed.

After a grueling half hour of variations on kettlebell routines, involving single arm swings, presses overhead, circling the kettlebell around the head with elbows tight, and so forth, I was feeling it everywhere.  The next day I could barely bend my legs without acutely feeling all these new muscles that I'd never engaged before, since I am never back on my heels.

By the way, when I first laid eyes on the 18lb iron thing Nic had placed before me on the floor, all I could think of was those weights that would, if you were unlucky, drop on your character and cause his untimely demise in the old sidescroller game Dark Castle.  I certainly wasn't going to let the kettlebell crush me, and yesterday was my second session of kettleball delight - a series of 5 exercises, repeated twice.

And you know what, I felt stronger the second time around!  I felt more secure in the back of my heels, butt so far out that it felt like it was in outer space.  However, this position really does enable you to snap your hips and get that kettlebell up so you're not only using brute force in the arms.  It works your whole body like you wouldn't believe.

Two unexpected side effects of this work:

1) I am acutely aware of where I'm weak and where I've been cheating in dance.  Nearly all moves are done in perfect parallel in the fitness world, and if you're attached to a kettlebell even the smallest imbalance is magnified 100 fold (or so it feels).  I realized that I've been skewing my body in arabesque to the left much more grossly than I'd imagined.  I felt how much less strong I am on that side, and now know what I need to work on.  Bless/Darn that kettlebell!

2) Going to ballet technique class after a fitness workout reminds me of how much I love ballet, and how much it is "home" for my body.  I get to engage those familiar muscles, to lengthen, to stretch to the sky.  It was like a breath of fresh air, despite my soreness.  Ah ...

Week Two, here we come.  I'll best you yet, kettlebell!
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