If you've been inside enough gyms -- particularly inside enough weight rooms -- you've probably seen kettlebells lying around, or maybe even spied one being used. But unless you've gotten awfully adventurous, it's possible you've never actually picked one up.
What does any of this have to do with running?Well, as it turns out, a growing number runners are using kettlebell exercises to develop both core and leg strength.
In early June of this year, I received an e-mail out of the blue from Cyrus Peterson of Advanced Training Concepts regarding kettlebell training for endurance athletes. He wrote a very appealing message about the sport of kettlebell lifting and its benefits for endurance athletes. I'm usually receptive to trying new things so we corresponded for awhile and set up a Kettlebell Introduction Seminar for the Charlotte Track and Triathlon Club (CTTC) where I am a board member.
Since I have never seen anyone use kettlebells except the miniature "toy bells" at the Y, I wasn't sure what this lifting concept would entail. I was enthralled during the seminar where three members of ATC were lifting the competition size kettlebells effortlessly while Coach Cyrus gave a detailed explanation of the movements and the body mechanics involved . It made me tired just watching them! During the hands on session for the CTTC members, I was astonished at the liter of sweat that poured from my body after only two to three minutes of kettlebell lifting! After Coach Cyrus provided more details about the history of kettlebell lifting and the benefits for runners and triathletes, I was intrigued to try it out and go into the EFP program. I could tell from Cyrus' presentation and physique that he had a great deal of training experience and education and I respected that.
After the seminar I joined ATC and commenced my training in the Kettlebell Elite Fitness Protocol (EFP). The timing of signing up for the EFP came in perfectly. 2010 is the year where I wanted to take a break from the monotony of running and triathlons. One experience's different terrains and towns during endurance events but there comes a point where it becomes just plain old running, cycling and swimming over again. I have been running seriously (marathons, half-marathons, and various smaller distances) since 1999 and participating in triathlons since 2006. The body and mind sometimes need a break from the repetition of speed work, hill work, cycling speed intervals and just trying to stay afloat in swimming.
I have 39 marathons, 30 half marathons, over 150 5K races, 20 sprint, and 6 Olympic distance triathlons under my belt. The common misconception I hear from runners and triathletes is that they are in good shape and can eat whatever they want. This is true to a point but we are only using a portion of our muscles and under-utilizing the rest, i.e., upper body, core area, hips and hamstrings. Most of us are guilty of not performing weight bearing exercises during marathon or triathlon training and as a result we lack the resiliency to injury that a solid strength and conditioning program can deliver to us. I thought I was in good shape until I started the EFP program!
Once I finished my last triathlon for the season and finished the Assessment and Orientation Program, I started EFP the second week of August. This new type of soreness I felt from training with kettlebells let me know where my weaknesses were and motivated me to become stronger in those areas . I was ready to take on a new challenge!
Week 1: A real eye opener. I realized quickly that I needed to consume a few more calories before going into an EFP session. I barely made it through two timed sets (we work for time not for repetitions) and was very fatigued at the end. Fortunately, Coach Cyrus was easy on me and very patient. I can be slow to learn new things but he was very attentive to make sure that my technique and form were correct. Patience and attention to detail...two must have qualities in a Coach.
Week 2: After consuming a high carbohydrate meal an hour before the session, I finished the three timed sets in style! I was very surprised of how fun the EFP sessions can be. Cyrus had a different routine every time which is so refreshing! I am still running on other days preparing for the Blue Ridge Relay where I am part of a 12 member team. The relay covers about 206 miles and is very hilly. TheWednesday morning run route entails some hill work where my girlfriends and I try to charge them. I noticed after my second week of EFP that taking hills seemed much less difficult. These hills were starting to feel like a piece of cake!
Week 3: It's dawning on me that Coach instills a lot of confidence in his students. I never thought I could do swings with almost half of my bodyweight, or graduate to the pinky competition size kettlebell (8 kilograms). This is what Cyrus has been referring to as the progression in this program.
I have not cycled or swam since the first weekend of August but I am curious to see the results once I get my mojo back on these and will blog about it. This is the week where I am scheduled to run the half-marathon in Disneyland. I have been a slacker on speed work so my goal for this event was to run it under 2 hours while giving the "high five" to all the Disney characters along the route. The route is relatively flat with a couple of bumps and I was not in any mood to push myself either. I was very pleased and surprised with my time and the way my legs felt strong during the race. Running felt effortless the whole time that I really enjoyed the sport! My legs usually feel fatigued around mile 10 but my legs had a lot of power left to keep on trucking for the last 3.1! I was also in my second week of running in orthotics so that was another variable to add to the mix.
Week 4: time for measurements and body composition again! I was tickled with the results from the body composition: lower body fat and a toner physique. My friends have been teasing me about my "peanut" sized biceps. One more week of EFP before the Blue Ridge Relay. Mountain goat hill...here I come!
One of the things I'm learning about kettlebell lifting is that it involves using your whole body to perform the movements. I'm actually enjoying the "juice" (sweat) pouring out of me while going through the sessions. This is something I did not experience from working out with the nautilus machines or free weights in the commercial gyms. I never anticipated how effortless running can be. My core area and legs feel much stronger only after one month. I can't deny the fact that with age and time, you lose muscle mass more quickly. I really dread the back fat and the "salt and pepper" jiggle creeping upon me so I am tickled to see lately, the transformation in the arms, shoulders and back.