I owe my strength and fitness to kettlebell training. I can lift heavy sacks of rice, carry the groceries, and be an all-around go-to guy when someone needs help moving or carrying something because of kettlebell training. But like I mentioned in my New Year blog I was already a well-developed runner before my fascination with kettlebells took my fitness to a higher level. In fact, I am inclined to think that kettlebell training is simply one the most effective training styles of all time when it comes building strength and endurance. They’re pretty versatile and having just one good quality bell can mean having your own home gym simply because of the number of awesome exercises it can offer. Of course, everyone probably has their own say on this, specially the barbell guys and gals, but I’ll keep my bias towards kettlebells forever anyway.
Going back, when I look at the two exercises I can’t help but notice some similarities not with how they are as training methods but how they are when it comes to their “abstract” qualities. We all know just how physically capable kettlebell training is (fat burning, strength building, improves endurance, etc.) but what about the “philosophical” side or abstract reasons? No, I’m not going to be doing a Platonic take on kettlebell training but rather put emphasis on how it trains the mind without going all philosophy professor on you.
I had these thoughts when I ended my usual run and I came up with these 3 reasons. You can agree or disagree with me but when you read the list and my opinion about them you know I’m not just making this all up.
1. UNDIVIDED FOCUS
The one thing I noticed about running is how when you’re “in the zone” it’s like you no longer feel the slowly increasing fatigue. Oftentimes the focus I get while running enables me to run past limitations, going over distances I usually can’t with consistent speed. This kind of focus puts your goal to finish upfront and your whole body is in sync with what you set your eyes on.
Kettlebell training also has a similar type of focus specially when it comes to exercises that require lots of volume such as swings and snatches. Whether you’re doing a rep or time challenge, the undivided focus you acquire during training enables you to hit past the numbers, all this without sacrificing form. I can relate this when I did the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge.
Before this challenge I was not exactly a “swinger” and prefer training with kettlebell complexes. When I did start I naturally didn’t have much endurance to do just one exercise and caused me to take short breaks every 20 or so swings. I simply didn’t have the kind of focus needed for such a monotonous workout. It wasn’t until Day 3 that I decided to just do it and not think of anything else. I quit playing music while training, dimmed the lights just enough (this one was weird but I was experimenting), and just stared at the line that connects the wall to the floor. Then I swung away.
With the silence came laser focus. I was swinging away and barely stopping until I realized, by counting, that I reached 500 for the day. I was a swinging machine and not only did I complete the challenge it didn’t became as boring as I thought it would be because I didn’t think about it being one at all. I kept my mind busy with counting and staring at the line I mentioned. The dimmed room helped by not letting my eyes wander off to other objects in the room. I was also conscious of my form but as the days went by swinging became so “natural” it was like breathing.
When I did finish the challenge I realized I became better at focusing on my workouts. And no, I no longer dim the lights 😉
2. RELENTLESS WILLPOWER
Aside from focus, running also resembles kettlebell training when it comes to willpower. It’s similar to focus but willpower is more of how you are aware of your weaknesses yet power through the challenge facing you. Willpower is the one thing that enables you to finish when your focus somehow gets zapped out of you or when it’s just not there. Your willpower is like the emergency fuel you keep in case gas runs low and there’s no gas station nearby. Many times I kept thinking about what it would be like for me to finish this run despite the fatigue and numerous aches that seemed to have jumped on me all at once.
When it comes to kettlebell training, willpower is all about finishing what you started. Again, this applies mostly to volume exercises like snatches. Here’s one awesome “snatcher” I met in one of the kettlebell Facebook groups. (Video embed is buggy and I’m trying to fix the size so you can just press “full screen” for now)
I can’t even imagine myself doing half of that even with a 16 kg bell. What he did basically embodied what having willpower is about. You know you’re tired, you’re gasping for air, and each rep feels like a hundred yet you finish the exercise anyway despite what your body is telling you. You might have a number to reach or a time to beat so you decide to embrace the pain and dance with it. But don’t injure yourself along the way.
When you hear the word meditation you usually think of Yoga or being still and chanting “ohm” indefinitely until you reach nirvana. Well, running is capable of getting you into a meditated phase too. It’s when you “tune out” while running which puts you in semi-autopilot mode. When this happens, you’re not really thinking about running, the speed, the pace, or the distance anymore.
Your mind is in the zone and all sorts of physical limitations such as fatigue no longer occupies your mind as much as it’s supposed to. You may not even realize how far you’ve gone out until you do. When you’re in the zone, you get to reflect on your life, your past, present, and what you think will be your future. You get to reflect on the mistakes you did, your regrets, and maybe the reasons why you’re okay with your life right now. Heck, you might even think about what you had for breakfast!
When I train with kettlebells I sometimes enter the zone and end up remembering things I never really thought about and focus on them. It’s no longer “focus” or “willpower” but rather a form of mental distraction that only occurs when your training has become a part of you. For me, this usually occurs when I do any kettlebell complex that’s hurting my ego. When this happens, I end up thinking about why I’m doing this in the first place. I question my motives, my current level of fatigue, and whether I’m actually going to achieve what I want to achieve after all this hard work.
Why do I torture myself everyday like this? I can just drop the bell, call it a day, and start anew tomorrow, right? It’s okay to take a break and let the clock run on its own. No one would know…
Then I think about how fat and weak I was before I started. Thinking about my weak self while on the verge of giving up gets me the right kind of guilt trip that provides me a good boost of energy and renewed motivation. When I get myself in the zone, I become at peace with myself and I finish the routine I set out to complete.
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