Five years ago, a serious man named Pavel Tsatsouline, a lean, muscular Russian who listed his former occupation as a physical trainer for Soviet special forces (which I assumed meant KGB), took me through a workout with an odd, low-tech device I'd never seen before called a kettlebell, a dense cast-iron weight, with a handle, that looks like a solid tea pot.
FOR THE RECORD:
As I swung it through my legs and overhead, dead-lifted it, curled it, and pressed it in flowing, natural, joint-friendly movements that weren't difficult but instantly turbocharged my heart rate and beaded me in sweat, Tsatsouline cracked a rare smile.
"This is the fitness secret of Russian strongmen," he said. "Everyone will use these someday." He was right. Today, kettlebells are a hot fitness trend; shelves in sporting goods stores bulge with them, alternative designs are sprouting left and right (see below), gyms are rushing to offer kettlebell classes, and "experts" abound, all kneeling before the now-legendary Tsatsouline.
When I left that day, relieved it was over and still obsessed with the man's Soviet past, I casually asked, "Have you ever killed anyone?" Tsatsouline smiled a second time. "Only in workouts," he said.
-- Roy M. Wallack
New York Barbell Kettlebells: Conventional cast-iron kettlebell.
Likes: Good value. Among the lowest-priced of the traditional kettlebells. Wide handle makes for comfortable two-hand swings.
Price: $42 for 35-pounder; models start at $15 for 10-pounder. (800) 446-1833; www.newyorkbarbells.com.
Power Systems Kor Kettleballs: Weighted, semi-hard, rubber-coated spheres with a built-in polypropylene handle. All weights are 6 1/2 inches in diameter.
Likes: House-friendly construction won't scratch or dent wood floors the way iron kettlebells can. Although bigger in size with a slightly different balance than iron bells, it can be used for all the standard kettlebell exercises.
Dislikes: Rather expensive.
Price: $109.95 for the 35-pounder; models start at $39.95 for the 5-pounder. (800) 321-6975; www.power-systems.com.
FlexTrain K-baG: The world's only adjustable-weight kettlebell, this soft, round fabric bag with a zipper is filled with smaller bags of shot that can be added or removed to achieve a desired weight.
Likes: The adjustability (1 to 20 pounds or 1 to 35 pounds) allows you to use different weights for different exercises, eliminating the need to own several kettle bells. And the soft fabric won't scratch the floor.
Dislikes: The flexible handle, which collapses when the K-baG swings overhead, can be irritating for those used to a standard kettlebell.
Price: $89.95 for the 1-to-20-pounder; $129.95 for the 1-to-35-pounder. (310) 955-0515; www.flextrain.net.
Ready to swing
GoFit Ultimate Kettlebell: A well-made iron kettlebell coated in floor-friendly vinyl
Likes: The heaviness of iron and the protection of vinyl allow an aggressive workout in your living room without any destruction. Nice instructional DVD and small exercise booklet included.
Price: $69.99 for 35-pounder; models begin at $26.50 for 10-pounder. (888) 530-4441; www.gofit.net.
Wallack is the author of "Run for Life: The Anti-Aging, Anti-Injury, Super-Fitness Plan to Keep You Running to 100." firstname.lastname@example.org