I love kettlebells — swingy, lifty, snatchy goodness. I love them so much that I want to make a career out of it — out of loving kettlebells — by teaching other people how to love kettlebells. That was 6 months ago, or that is to say I that the genesis of this new calling all began last summer. Yes, it only took one summer training with Janelle to make my decision — a decision to make secondary my world of computers, cubicles, round-table meetings, and those annoying spinny chairs. During those 2 months, I realized I’m not made for people jobs — but swinging a cannonball, well, that just makes sense. It was time to focus on health and strength.
I am inexplicably drawn to everything Russian — I studied the language in college, rode the TransSiberian Railway from Moscow to Irkutsk, I practice Systema (a Russian martial art). So on that fateful day — the day I glanced at the whiteboard after a CrossFit WOD — the day that would set me on this path, those words written in red marker lit up like scripture next to a single name in a sea of members:
SUB — RUSSIAN SWINGS
This was my last workout for the summer at CrossFit Portsmouth (which is a phenomenal box with some of the best coaches I have ever met), for I was headed to Pittsburgh for a few months on a work assignment. It was an especially kick-ass workout to boot. Something about kettlebell swings make me happy. They just do. End of logic, end of thought. But Russian swings? That night, there was no time for Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix. No time for fragging n00bs on RXG (reflex-gamers.com), my favorite Counter-Strike server. It was time to research. I needed answers — Russian answers!
The search string I entered into Google was “Russian kettlebell swings vs. American.” 15,300 results in 0.48 seconds. So it seems this discussion has come up more than once. The first 2 hits were enticing: “The Great Kettlebell Swing Debate” on CrossFit Invictus & “Rationalizing the Swing: Why the American Swing is Wrong” on Breaking Muscle. Eh. Maybe. But the third result caught my eye: “The American vs Russian Kettlebell Swing” from Primal Fitness Pittsburgh. Huh? Primal Fitness? I like the sound of that. Pittsburgh? Ah! I’m going city for 2 months! *Click*
I gobbled up the whole blogpost in seconds, and, after finishing, immediately read it again. Strained shoulder mobility. Lack of thoracic flexibility. No full hip hinge. In my head, I saw a meme captioned with “Bro, do you even kettlebell?” And who is this Janelle? And what the hell is the RKC? SFG?? The Russian Kettlebell Challenge? StrongFirst?? This must be a Reality TV show I missed. So I gave “RKC” and “SFG” a Google and discovered an entire Kettlebell Culture I never knew existed — and there seems to be some crazy Russian named Pavel behind the whole thing. How had I not heard of this?
So, the blog author says her name is Janelle, and to contact her if interested in this “Primal Fitness Pittsburgh.” At this point, I definitely was. And she did something very unusual — she listed her personal phone in the contact information. So instead of an email, I shot her a text. Within a few hours, I was on the phone with her; and within a few days, I was at my first kettlebell evaluation at Primal Fitness Pittsburgh. Instead of an evaluation on strength and mobility, we got carried away and ended up doing a 45 minute ad hoc workout. In a nut shell, she showed me most of the Olympic Lifting and Power Lifting exercises we do in CrossFit in kettlebell form. Mother of God. I discovered muscles I didn’t even know I had. . .and they weren’t happy about it! This is it. This is the workout I’d been looking for. The next 2 months were filled with dead-lifts, cleans, jerks, snatches, presses, squats, swings, windmills, getups, and rows performed with cannonballs measured in kilograms (pood is a silly word). I loved every rep. Every single one.
For anyone planning to work with Janelle with kettlebells, bodyweight exercises, mobility, understand this — Janelle expects you to get stronger. She will expect that of you until you expect the same of yourself — until you’re twitching with excitement in your day-job-cubicle wonder what todays strength training will bring — wondering what you’ll learn about yourself doing it. And if you train with her, you will get stronger. You will get healthier. You will come to expect nothing less. This is training, and it’s no different from what professional athletes or lifters or soldiers or cops or firefighters do. You are not going to a gym. You are not picking up a new hobby. You are making yourself better — into an ideal version of yourself — and to apply the same work ethic and dedication toward anything else in life: to your family, to your friends, to the hardships you face, and everything in between, “because it is strength that makes all other values possible.” Mental and physical. Remember that.
Like I said, all of this started 6 months ago. The Gods have spoken, and they have sent me back in Pittsburgh and back to PFP for good. Since that fateful summer, I now have a kettlebell cert under my belt — courtesy of the one and only Steve Maxwell — and I am currently training simultaneously for both a Strong First Level 1 and the Beast Tamer Challenge. As I write this, my brain is saying “Good god! Why would you do this to yourself?!” But that’s kind of the point: If it isn’t scary, why would you do it? And if our clients here at PFP have the courage to show up every week to work and sweat — changing their lives for the better — then I can manage to press a measly little 48KG bell over my head…and then do a pull-up with it…and then do a pistol squat with it…ah!
Remember: Chase your fear!