How kettlebells saved my life

How less than one year of training with kettlebells reversed a years of self-destruction

Heart health advice comes in all forms. Even cartoons

I’ve heard just about every bit of heart health advice one can hear. As the only 30 year-old, two-time heart attack survivor I know, there’s never a shortage of experts, pundits, friends, family, and acquaintances ready to dole out advice about how best to keep my ticker going strong, be it a special diet or a certain exercise or meditation to keep stress in check. And as with any life-altering decision or plan, I’ve taken into account virtually every bit of information I’ve read or been given. But sometimes, you have to go against the grain, relying on your gut and an educated guess to make the right choice. As most people already know, in July 2009 I went against the grain and picked up a kettlebell for the first time. Six months later, my love and passion for kettlebell training has only grown stronger and more pronounced. For that, I owe a special debt of gratitude to Josh Hills and to the rest of the kettlebell community (RKCs, HKCs, and enthusiasts alike) for fueling my desire and providing invaluable advice and information.

Goin’ to see the Doc.

I figured with the grueling RKC workshop coming up in April, now would be a good time to visit my cardiologist to lay out on the table my plans and ambitions and to get a professional opinion of the precautions I may need to take while undertaking such a rigorous program.

"You did all this using kettlebells? Impressive!"

I wanted to gauge my health in the presence of a professional and quietly boast my progress. And, of course, I wanted to see if I’d need a doctor’s note when attending the RKC, just in case.

This was my first visit in about a year. Because of time constraints—and moreso because of my woeful health insurance situation—I hadn’t been able to muster up anything more than a quick trip to the lipids clinic for blood work, something I need to do again soon. As the nurse took my blood pressure and pulse, she noted almost alarmingly how much weight I’d dropped (20lbs. since last visit), how perfectly in tune my bp is (106/70, and I hadn’t even taken my medication in several days because I ran out) and how low my resting heart rate is (58, low is good in this case). And, naturally, the cardiologist shared in her excitement.

The kettlebell swing

He asked what I’d been doing, how I’ve been feeling, and how I’m reacting to the medications overall. I replied that I’ve never felt better (physically or mentally), and that I’d done it all by managing my diet and busting my ass in the gym with kettlebell training. It was a bit shocking to me that my cardio was unaware of kettlebells, but I suppose that just sort of underscores where the iron bells stand in terms of notoriety in our society. Nevertheless, he was ecstatic with my progress, noting that my blood pressure is exactly where he wants it. Naturally, I had to temper my excitement a bit because I still have to do more blood work to see my cholesterol and triglyceride numbers, which I’ve historically had just a god-awful time managing. But I feel safe and secure adding a new goal for 2010:  removing at least 2 medications from my daily routine.

Kettlebells, heart health, and safety concerns

Curious, Doc asked me more about kettlebell training:  what it is, why I like it, and how it makes me feel.  After a brief discussion about the basics of kettlebells—and a suggestion that I may want to consider putting on a clinic in the future for the staff—we got down to real business. What risks does a 30 year-old heart attack survivor take when engaging in high intensity cardiovascular and strength training? Understand that this next sentence is solely the opinion of my doctor and that if you have any concerns of your own to see your doctor. My doctor’s response was that I’d only be at risk if I put myself at risk. That is to say, know your body and know when to quit.

Heart Rate Monitors are great tools, but only your body really knows the limits

Any time I’m doing an intensive cardiovascular exercise, I wear a heart rate monitor. I want to not only see how big the heart rate spikes are, but I also make mental notes of how I feel at certain levels. But surely I’m not a cardiologist and, therefore, am no expert when it comes to risks associated with elevated heart rates. My expectation, frankly, was that he’d help me set an absolute maximum heart rate by which to abide based either loosely or strictly on the 220-age formula for finding max heart rate (which he explained is clinically the most accurate indication of max heart rate). To my surprise, he actually encouraged me to push as hard as I can without overdoing it, regardless of the number of beats per minute.

Surprised as I am about that advice, I’m equally excited. I actually feel less constrained, free to push my limits without needing to constantly glance at my watch to make sure I’m not going too hard. I’m free to continue gaining strength, fitness, and health, expanding upon the gains I’ve made so far. And I’m free now to listen to my body and go harder when I can and back off when I need. It’s liberating, it’s encouraging, and it’s just what I wanted to hear.

It’s not over yet

Since my last visit to the doctor, I’ve dropped 20 lbs., gained lean healthy muscle, essentially corrected my blood pressure using only intermittent or less-than-consistent medication, improved my posture, and gained significant functional strength. But I’m far from finished. I have goals for scale weight, body fat percentage, resting heart rate, blood pressure, and blood lipid levels that I’m hell-bent on achieving in this calendar year. Some I’ve accomplished, others are still far off. But the message here is about what impact even the smallest, slightest, insignificant achievements can have. By achieving the results I have in such a relatively short period of time, I’m driven harder each day to make the other goals realities as well. Better stated, I’m now completely demotivated to return to the lifestyle I once had, the one that put me in the hospital on 3 occasions (the 3rd was for periocarditis, an infection of the fluid lining around the heart) and caused my friends and family extreme grief.

The ultimate goal

Having reached a point of no return, it’s onward and upward for me. In my mind, I’ve transformed myself from an unhealthy, unhappy, floundering schlub into a dedicated, healthy, and dynamic evangelist. I feel both obligated and proud to spread the message about the physical and emotional (and hopefully someday financial) benefits of kettlebell training, and I think many would agree that I have a pretty compelling story upon which to base my message. It may not have the same ring as “The Boy and the Magic Kettlebell,” but From Fatness to Fitness may be just as effective.

Swing hard and bring it!

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14 Comments on “How kettlebells saved my life”

  1. Cath Says:

    Wow scott! Congratulations on ur progress! Totally inspiring to read! I’m sure u’ll do amazing at the RKC workshop!


  2. Very cool post. If your triglycerides aren’t where you want them on your blood work, I strongly suggest you take a trip to Barnes and Noble and buy and then read “Good Calories, Bad Calories” I know far too many folks who’ve improved their numbers dramatically not to sit up and take notice. I don’t know what my own changes have been but will tell you that I certainly have new found and greater energy that most folks near 50.

    Train with purpose,

    Sandy Sommer RKC

    PS email if you’d like as I have notes on the book.


    • I probably will read it anyway. I’m not sure where my tri’s are at the moment. Have to go for bloodwork sooner or later and find out. Last time, they were a bit too high, but it was also well before I started training. Not to mention, I’ve made some serious adjustments to my diet, both over the summer and in the last two weeks or so. We’ll see how it goes.

  3. Wendyi Says:

    Fantastic story and results! All the best to you Scott.


  4. […] Read his story here:  how kettlebells saved my life. […]

  5. jewettsnc Says:

    Great article. I am getting the Kettlebell bug. I love the intense workout I get while using them. ACE Fitness Matters is a monthly newsletter/magazine that had a great article about working out with Kettlebells. I couldn’t find the link, but it was a good read.

    Dean

    • jewettsnc Says:

      Meant to say Great post! Sorry.


    • Dean,

      It’s definitely contagious, working out with kettlebells. I was hooked after a couple of weeks, so much so that I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be an instructor when “I grow up.” As for the article, are you referring to ACE’s study about the the calorie burn a kettlebell workout can give (up to 20 calories per minute!)? I saw that last week and nearly flipped. So great that the word is finally getting out. Thanks for the kind words and readership, greatly appreciated.

      Swing hard and bring it!


  6. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fatness2Fitness: New Blog Post! From Fatness to Fitness: How kettlebells saved my life: http://wp.me/pHknJ-3M

  7. Karyn Says:

    Can you recommend some good sites and or books to help one get started with kettle bell training?


    • Hi Karyn, I think the best place to start is DragonDoor.com. Pavel and the team are the kettlebell experts, with him having essentially introduced the US to the iron bells nearly single-handedly. You’ll find a TON of great information, books, DVD and even a forum there that can help you get started. You can also find some of Pavel’s books at the local bookstore. As for buying KBs, depending on where you live, some of the local specialty fitness shops (i.e. NOT Dick’s, Sports Authority, et. al) should have some pretty decent quality ones from Ader, TroyUSA, or Apollo. Hope that helps, and thanks for reading!


  8. How wonderful to hear your story! Congrats and keep up the great work!

    I’m a KB newbie- found it through Girl Heros blog Jenn. So far I’m loving them!


    • They’re fantastic! I love them so much that I’m heading to Minnesota in 2 weeks to attend the RKC certification workshop. I’d love to hear your thoughts on training with kb’s as you get more and more into them. And if you have any questions, feel free to ask! As always, thanks for reading!


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