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This article is being reprinted with permission of author, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, RKC Russian Kettlebell Certified Instructor and website owner, Adrienne Harvey, of giryagirl.com.
Google Webmaster Tools told me your collective dark secret: you want to know what you’ll look like if you train with kettlebells diligently over a long period of time.You may have heard enough about functional strength, athletic ability, optimum health, stamina, and fat loss, your search terms have given you all away… you want to know…
WHAT WILL YOU LOOK LIKE if you train with these barbaric looking (I like that about them) arguably heavy solid iron kettlebells?
Short Answer: kettlebell use will cause your forearms to be visibly stronger, upper arms and shoulders toned and more defined as fat is lost, legs and rear tighter and more shapely, posture will improve. You will appear (and be) balanced, stronger and more graceful with a general air of healthy athleticism. Hopefully you will also make peace with and come to LIKE your own body as I have!
It’s a perfectly valid question, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for asking. Like it or not, our world is highly visual. Everyone notices your physique, and will make judgements (sometimes subconscious, but often otherwise) almost instantaneously based on how you look. In a “perfect world” we would like to think that this wouldn’t matter, but how we look says a lot about us, so before diving into this whole “kettlebellthing” it would be wise of you to consider what you may end up looking like!
If you watch competitive sports at all, it’s obvious that certain types of builds seem to favor a certain sport, OR certain builds result FROM a sport. The Olympics provide a great, internationally diverse situation to observe this effect – swimmers seem have a certain build, all the individual track events seem to have their particular builds, etc. In some way we are dealing with a chicken vs. egg situation, however no matter what you start with, the body will begin to adapt to the specific stimulous of a given activity in a specific way. Which is why kettlebell training is so interesting, in many cases it seems to help a person “balance” their physique. In The Russian kettlebell Challenge, Pavel talks about the type of changes men can expect after training with kettlebells – that you can choose to bulk with heavy work, or slim down to a “Greek Statue” classical physique with more standard high repetition ballistickettlebell practice. In other words, you can control your look to a fairly high degree depending on the type of exercises you choose.
Generally speaking, most men and women adapt in the following ways – forearm development, latissimus dorsi development, slight chest development (but not in the sometimes “too much” way commonly seen in bodybuilding), and nicely toned arms including some development in the forearms corresponding with the grip strength incidentally developed with high repetition ballistic kettlebellexercises like the Swing and snatch. (RKC Melody Schoenfeld reports that her forearms stole the show in a recent photo with several other attractive women!) Assuming you’re not overeating the wrong things (more on this in an upcoming ebook!), the general physique looks similar to the sort of trim but strong look of a gymnast or martial artist The main thing people seem to notice right away is the amazing effect kettlebell training has on the back, buttocks, and hamstrings. One of my favorite “side effects” has been the development of a whole “new curve” that comes with hamstring development – without waxing too poetic about it, the powerful but graceful effect of this curve on the entire leg is seriously notable. Also, it serves to demark the upper leg from the rear – and this looks fantastic at the beach, with shorts of a certain length (nearly caused an accident on Park last week… sorry…..) and in Brazilian jeans :)
Most women (myself EXCLUDED*) seem horrified of “bulking up” in the slightest way, thankfully it is easy to train with kettlebells without gaining any sort of excessive muscular “bulk” – sticking to the high intensity cardio and keeping calories under control will focus more on the generic “toning” and fat loss. You may appear “bulky” at first if there is a layer of fat above your newly growing muscles, but rest assured, those muscles are helping you to shed that layer. Did your P.E. teacher or other fitness instructor ever show you those amusing rubber models of a pound of fat and a pound of muscle? Remember that the little teeny pound of muscle was sooo much smaller than the big chunk of fluffy fat. Keep this in mind especially when/if you start to lose inches without the needle on the scale moving – more on this later too!
With kettlebell training, there will be some adaptive changes to your musculature of course, but nothing drastic. Your legs and arms will tone – as will your abdominal muscles and rear – you are doing full body movements with most of the RKC standard exercises – which is why you can get a great workout in less time.
Some people seem to think I look “drastic” or a little overbuilt, rest assured, I look this way because I really really like looking this way and have been willing to effect the lifestyle changes and self-discipline necessary to do so – it doesn’t happen by accident. I have a rather strict (by modern American standards) eating strategy – a version of Primal Blueprintand Paleo diets (more on this in an upcoming ebook!). In addition to habitual kettlebell training, I practice Convict Conditioning and Naked Warrior style calisthenictraining beyond what is considered to be “normal” for women. So if my visibly developed upper trapezius and shoulder muscles freak you out – rest assured that these have come from extensive non-kipping strict tactical pull ups done in high volume over a long period of time. kettlebell swings won’t do this to you – but they will shred the fat off of you and TOTALLY tone your backside in ways that those wimpy machines at the gym will never ever touch.
The other thing which will effect how you end up looking after training withkettlebells is your genetic predisposition – where you store fat, your bone structure, etc. So someone could do identical workouts while eating the same meals I am and still end up looking a bit different than I do. Now, that being said – coming from a long long long line of genetic “big booty havers” nothing, I repeat NOTHING has had the shaping, toning and thankfully lifting effect on my rear that kettlebells have had. Seriously, before starting with kettlebells a few years ago I had literallly tried everything – every gym machine (I regularly lifted the entire 220lb weight stack on the “butt blaster” for multiple sets of high reps with one leg at a time), barbell squats,VERY heavy leg presses, hamstring curls, endless boring cardio, goofy women’s magazine “toning exercises”, extreme diets (4 years vegetarian,1 solid year vegan, raw veganism, a full 10 day “lemonade” detox fast), you name it. As early as high school, I threw myself into step aerobics (it was the 1990s!) several times a week at the YMCA hoping to get my rear under control. All to no avail – then… as the book title goes – Enter thekettlebell – problem solved. A lot of men and women talk about getting a “kettlebell booty” BUTT the opposite is also true – it seems that kettlebells will balance out a given physique into it’s more athletic, capable, and hopefully aesthetically pleasing version. While many people have gained inches and extra curvature to their rears, I have brought mine under control – losing over 3 full inches in circumference. (Much like abdominal training, some of your work will be done in a workout setting the other critical component is what you allow yourself to eat.) While many men and women have reported getting a rounder and in some cases larger rear, other people will find that their proportionally large rears will tone down. Unlike traditional bodybuilding exercises, kettlebells seem to also have the ability to help you slim down “heavy legs” I always hated my “short, heavy legs” but doing a LOT of kettlebell swings, snatches, and cleans helped to reduce the circumference of my thighs – nothing else has done this. Cellulite, which seems to also plague other members of my family and had started appearing around age 30 has completely disappeared. The confidence gained from this fact alone was worth the effort. RKC Dave Clancy, 46 of Buckeye Kettlebells also reports that he has gained strength but lost thigh circumference as a former “heavy legs haver”.
Devil’s Advocate Corner:
One thing which surprised me was the development of my abdominal obliques – mainly due to all the abdominal stabilization involved in each and every kettlebell exercise. I will admit that at first I was not pleased with this as it can sometimes give the appearance of a “thicker” waist depending on what you are wearing. After shedding another few percent body fat, and realizing what they allow me to do functionally (I LOVE being able to do impressive exercises like Dragon Flags now…) I have made peace with their appearance. Also, they have partially solved a problem I had always had with pants which fit at the rear being too large at the lower waist. Go obliques! It is completely obvious that they are not a “muffin top”, and this is a very very athletic look, which I think is a plus, but honestly it did take some getting used to. Some women may not like extreme oblique development – at least not on themselves – though they do seem to like men with the tale-tell “Adonis Belt”
*I adhere to a self-made physical ideal partially shaped by extremely old school natural female body builders (look up Rachel McLish), gymnasts/acrobats and certain strength/power athletes. The look I strive for favors visible strength, grace and dramatic curves. Some people love it, others are intimidated and/or have expressed negativity. People will do that with whatever you do – so figure out what you want to look like and GO FOR IT!