How a 300-year-old Russian ‘Kettlebell’ Helped Her Overcome a Chronic Back Problem

By Andrew Read

Like many women, Rebecca gained weight during pregnancy. As a new mother she didn't have time for endless gym workouts. Her problems were compounded by back pain so severe she couldn't even play with her kids anymore. Spinal surgery was starting to look like the only solution. A kettlebell, used to weigh grain in Russia now a strength-training …

What made this hard even for me is that I've been Rebecca's friend for more than 20 years. And so I offered to help the only way I know how -- with physical training centered on kettlebell training.

Kettlebells have been around for more than three hundred years. They're literally a bell shaped hunk of iron, with a round ring atop. The originated in Russia where they were picked up and placed on a scale to weigh crops. More recently, though, they've made their way around the world to become a staple in many training regimens, with celebrities such as Katherine Heigl, Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Lance Armstrong, and Matthew McConaughey using them to get in silver screen shape.

What made the kettlebell perfect in Rebecca's case is that recent research by top spine biomechanist Dr. Stuart McGill has shown that the main kettlebell exercise -- the swing -- actually reverses the damaging forces on the spine seen in most weight bearing activity.

The swing is simple. You grab the kettlebell handle with two hands and swing it from between your legs and up to shoulder height. Proper form is important so you don't hurt yourself.

Even though normal lifting was a problem for Rebecca, the kettlebell was actually potentially the only tool she might be able to use and not hurt her back further.

Quite often, when the muscles around a joint (and the spine is a long series of joints) aren't working properly, the joints themselves are forced to deal with the stresses of movement. But when the muscles work correctly, absorbing the force, the joints are spared. So, our first task was to strengthen all the muscles that were supposed to be helping stabilize Rebecca's back.

I remember our first workout. Bec struggled to deadlift an18-lb. kettlebell off a raised platform for a few reps at a time. Because we didn't want to risk worsening her back pain, we proceeded with baby steps.

But weeks went by, then months. After four months of kettlebell training at she had lost 31lbs, and her back is now bullet proof. Last night at training I watched her deadlift 135lbs for with no back pain!

So what's the secret to kettlebell training?

Firstly, kettlebells are fun. If your fitness regime is boring, you simply won't do it long term. The lifts can be done one after another with little to no rest, so instead of doing a single exercise and putting your bar down to rest you may end up doing three, four, or more exercises back to back without rest. The effect this has on the muscles and the heart is amazing.

Modern fitness training tends to segregate our training into strength or conditioning. We do some weights, then we run on a treadmill. But the kettlebell allows us to do strength and conditioning at the same time--the way our bodies were intended to work.

This non-stop style of training boosts growth hormone production--a prime element in fat loss. When combined with a sensible diet the weight literally falls off. And while you may be thinking that Rebecca would have had to devote hours a day, seven days per week to get these results, the truth is she did three one-hour group classes each week plus a half hour of personal training. Three and a half hours a week for four months to lose 31 pounds!

Bec's results aren't out of the ordinary either. As a professional trainer, when you find a tool that allows you to achieve these kinds of results you stick with it. Celebrities know it, my clients know it and now you do, too.

Andrew Read is a former Australian special forces commando and martial arts competitor. He specializes in kettlebell and performance training. And he's helped train three Brazilian Jiu Jitsu champions. He's a regular contributor to BreakingMuscle.com, a site for fitness enthusiasts, elite athletes, their trainers and coaches.