In the April 2012 issue of Black Belt, Dr. Mark Cheng, Senior RKC, one of the magazine’s contributing editors, offered advice on how and why martial artists should start training with kettlebell weights. Here’s some bonus interview content that didn’t make it into the magazine!
When a person is starting out with kettlebell weights, should there be no pain other than normal delayed onset muscle soreness? Or is it normal to experience minor pain like, “Oh, my spine felt strange after my first few workouts”?
DOMS is fine; where the DOMS exists should be of interest. For example, you’re doing Swings and feeling a lot of DOMS in your lower back. If you’re spending the majority of your day sitting and your hips don’t flex as much as your spine does, then that makes sense. The soreness means those stabilizing muscles are learning to play better, learning to get stronger.
But after a couple of workouts, the DOMS should shift. Say you’re doing Swings. The soreness should shift from your lower back to your glutes and maybe a little in your thighs. The Swing actually engages a lot of muscles: Your heels dig in, your knees lock out, your glutes clench, your abs shorten and your lats engage — it’s pretty much your whole body.
How does a beginner know how heavy their kettlebell weights should be?
In general, a guy of average size and strength can start with a kettlebell that weighs 16 kilograms, or about 35 pounds. For ladies, it’s usually the 8-kilogram bell, which is about 18 pounds. Of course, if you’re coming back from an injury, that will be lower. In any case, you should go with a weight you can control. On the other hand, you don’t want one that’s so light you feel like you can do everything with it.
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These days, you can find really small kettlebell weights — a couple of pounds — in big-box stores. Is there any value to them?
They work great as doorstops or paperweights. They won’t hone your pecs very well, though. If a 5-year-old can put one of them overhead for several reps, what good is it to an adult? Those weights exist, in my opinion, only to minimize liability for those who don’t want to pay attention to good form.
How do you know when it’s time to move to heavier kettlebell weights?
If you’ve got a bell you can military-press to a strict lockout for 10 reps with good form, you should up the weight.
How long should kettlebell routines go? If a person starts with a basic routine that lasts 15 minutes, then really gets into it and starts seeing the length of the session grow to two or three hours, is that going too far? Is it a sign the intensity is too low?
People who watch their workouts grow in length are often addicted to the gym lifestyle. They like being there. For them, it’s not just about the workout.
I’ve never heard of anyone doing kettlebells for three hours nonstop. During seminars, we work people for up to three days, but there are plenty of rests.
I’ve taken athletes who are in good shape and, even while erring toward caution and safety, smoked them in five minutes. And it’s not like I was trying to be brutal. It was one minute of Swings, then one Turkish Get-Up, then another minute of Swings, then another Turkish Get-Up using the other hand, then a third minute of Swings.
It seems like that would be a selling point for a kettlebell exercise program: “Get fit in five minutes a day instead of spending an hour and a half in a gym pumping iron.”
I tell people that, but they seldom believe it. Depending on your lifestyle, the minimum program can have as few as two exercises: the Swing and the Turkish Get-Up. The Swing is a ballistic exercise that develops maximum explosiveness with the hips and legs, and the Get-Up is a full-body grind that takes you through the full range of motion with the body learning how to control the bell in multiple vectors.
Those are the two exercises you covered in the first article Black Belt ever ran on kettlebells (March 2009 issue), right?
Yes. People, including many in the rehab community, are still using that article for guidance.