You may think the title of this post is a little drastic. How can an iron ball with a handle change someone’s life? There might even be a kettlebell in your house, and now you’re glancing at it with hopes that some life-changing energy will radiate in your direction. It’s not quite that simple. More specifically, kettlebell and barbell training, along with great coaches and a supportive gym family, have changed my life.
A Look Back
In high school, I didn’t care about strength training because I never really had the opportunity or guidance to explore that realm. Instead, I focused my energy on running with the track team and playing soccer. In college, I was fortunate to have access to the awesome campus rec center at UAB and took advantage of its equipment often but never consistently. The “Freshman 15” turned out to be a very real thing, then the “Marriage 20” happened. Unsurprisingly, I started to lose my self-confidence.
I stopped and started many fitness routines after college, during grad school, and then in the “real world”. Running was usually my go-to. There’s minimal equipment required, and I figured my days on the track team naturally translated into keeping up a running routine in adulthood. Here’s the thing: I ran sprints and short distances on the track team because I never liked running for long periods of time, yet every time I tried to pick up running, I pushed myself to run miles. I’m sure you can guess what happened. I don’t enjoy running long distances, which meant I didn’t enjoy what I was doing to stay active, which meant I stopped doing it a few weeks after starting. Every time. I got a membership at the Y, where I used the treadmill and elliptical machine, but I got bored. Boredom leads to a lack of motivation. I tried P90X and did the Insanity program from Beachbody a couple of times, but after I finished, it didn’t take long to go back to the same old habit of being sedentary. Also, working out at home may be great for some, but I found it very hard to stay disciplined when my only accountability was a DVD.
I was weak, mentally and physically, and it was disheartening.
In 2015, after getting out of a travel-heavy job, I decided to give kettlebell training at HMG Fitness a try on the recommendation of friends and my then-husband, who had lost his “Marriage 20” and gained a lot of muscle from the programming and guidance of Jody and Jenni. I was pretty intimidated before my introductory class and during my first week at the gym, but once I gained some base knowledge and a little confidence, the intimidation changed to excitement.
Side note: If you’ve never done kettlebell swings and then try to do them after watching a video, you’re most likely doing them wrong.
Guided classes led by supportive, knowledgable coaches and camaraderie with my fellow gym members were game-changers for me. They were truly the missing pieces in my search for motivation and consistency. The daily workouts are always a little different, so the variety keeps things exciting. There’s also always something new to learn and techniques to improve.
Some things I had to remind myself when I was a gym newbie and still keep in mind today:
- Everyone starts as a beginner.
- Practice is important.
- People aren’t going to stare at you, they’re going to be focused on their own workout.
- There’s always room for improvement, even if you’ve been doing movements like cleans and Turkish get-ups for years.
- Consistently being active does wonders for mental health.
- You can always get stronger.
- Have to train at home or while traveling and don’t know what to do? Go back to the basics: kettlebell swings and Turkish get-ups.
- Your only true competition is yourself.
Moving On Up
One of my favorite things about training with my gym group is that there’s always something to work toward. When we achieve goals, we set new ones and train for them. The difference between where I was years ago compared to where I am today is profound. I had zero upper-body strength when I started at my gym, and last year I was able to do a one-arm overhead press with a 53lb kettlebell. I’ve done 113 kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes. I even had to buy a new leather jacket because I hulked out of my old one (yes, strength training leads to buying larger clothing sizes, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it).
Do I still have bad self-image days? Sure. But I’m also more confident, and I’m healthier physically and mentally. If I hadn’t found my gym, I would probably still be struggling to stay consistent with exercise, and I would definitely not be as strong. Everyone has a different way to stay active, so what has worked for me may not work for you. In the end, it’s all about the right tools, the right coaching, and the friends you make along the way.