- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In kettle-bell lifting, there are no complicated dance moves. There’s no need to vary the equipment to bars and resistance bands. Participants in this old-school type of exercise are too busy exhausting their muscles to worry about such frivolity.

Kettle bells, also called giryas, are traditional Russian iron weights that look - and feel - like cannonballs with handles. Think of old-time pictures of European strongmen with exaggerated muscle definition, and you’ve got the inspiration for today’s lifters.

Kettle bells never really went away in Russia, but they are experiencing a resurgence here in the United States. Many gyms and personal trainers have added kettle bells to their offerings in the past few years. They have become particularly popular among a wide variety of groups, including martial artists, military and police officers, and time-pressed women who want to work on muscle tone, strength and flexibility.

“It’s really for everyone,” says trainer Justin Case, who offers kettle-bell classes at his Fairfax gym, Giryafit. “It is full-body rather than isolated exercise. In life, your body encounters momentum, whether it is lifting a gallon of milk or a baby in a carrier. It is the same with a kettle bell. It is surprising how many women are taking classes, since women used to be a little bit scared of it.”

With good reason, too. The main kettle-bell moves involve lifting a 26-pound bell - although one can start with a lighter weight - and swinging it from the floor to above one’s shoulders. Variations include doing swings one-handed and two-handed, planting feet in a squat and lifting the bell one-handed overhead and doing a one-handed clean-and-jerk, among others.

Within minutes, participants in the group training are sweating.

“After the first workout, I wasn’t sure if I loved this or hated it,” says Sara Moore, who has been lifting kettle bells for more than a year. “This felt completely different than anything else I had tried. It is like putting cardio and weights in a blender. I saw results so quickly. It has just melted fat and built strength.”

Ms. Moore, 43, is so enthusiastic about the training that she recently competed in - and won her division in - a national kettle-bell competition in Columbus, Ohio.

“This is the first [athletic] thing where I wanted to take it as far as I could,” says Ms. Moore, a hotel manager.

Mr. Case, who earned a first-place trophy in Columbus, says kettle bells work both upper-body and lower-body muscles. He puts participants through a class that includes working in 15-second intervals, so the cardiovascular system also is working hard.

He says kettle bells can help with all kinds of sports, although some kettle-bell lifters use the exercise for overall conditioning rather than specific performance.

Cristal Siscar, 31, has been lifting kettle bells for more than year. She has worked her way up to the 35-pound bell.

“I had done personal training before, but this really challenges you, both physically and mentally,” she says.

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